Organized Religion

People keep talking to me about organized religion.  It’s never positive.

“Hey, let’s go join an organized religion and then get some ice cream!”

Instead, I hear about how Jesus is good for answering prayers and maybe even keeping us out of hell.  It’s just the people for whom he died that cause all of the problems, or so they tell me.

I’ve spent over a decade working as a minister in the local church.  So I guess that you could say that I’m neck deep in organized religion.  But to a certain degree, I can still see where the anti-organized religion crowd is coming from.

A while back I met a guy from another country who is now trying to adjust to life in the south.  He told me that he loved Jesus but then went on to describe how his church is driving him nuts.  At most churches in his home country, the moderate use of alcohol is no big deal.  But in his church here it’s on the same level as triple homicide and not listening to The Fish.

He told me that, in spite of his church’s strong stance on the issue, he couldn’t find anything prohibiting the moderate use of alcohol.  He could, however, find a few verses that condemn taking too many trips to the buffet.  Coincidentally, a lot of the leaders in his church, the ones that have a problem with a glass of wine at dinner, have yet to find those verses prohibiting gluttony.

An excellent observation indeed.

But in addressing this or any other church problem, we have to be very careful not to use a chainsaw when a scalpel will do.

The chainsaw will force us to do away with all forms of organized religion.  The scalpel helps us to see that maybe we just belong to the wrong organization.

It would be easy for my friend to give up on the Church as a whole and sit around in his underwear every Sunday morning watching Joel Osteen.  Or maybe he could find someplace where he could serve without a church getting in his way.  He could even convince himself that he is really following Jesus by doing these things.

Jesus would disagree.

Jesus is the one, after all, who places the Church’s identity on himself (Acts 9:4).

And it is the Church that he rules over as “the head of the body” (Colossians 1:18).

And it was to the Church that the Holy Spirit, through Paul’s pen, gave specific instructions on how to organize (1 Timothy 3:1-13).

And it was the Church that Jesus died for (Matthew 1:21).

God, in his sovereign will, could have addressed the Bible to the guy sitting in his underwear watching Osteen sermons.  But he didn’t.  Under his guidance and will most of the New Testament was written to, Gasp!, local churches.  Rick Warren notes that there are over 50 New Testament commandments that you cannot obey unless you are involved in a local church.

So much for loving Jesus but not his Bride.  It turns out that this is a package deal.

There’s no such thing as a perfect church.  Whether the flaws are organizational, interpersonal or somewhere in between you can be sure that the flaws are there.  If, by some chance, one of us managed to find a church without those flaws, you can also be sure that we’d find a way to mess things up about four seconds after walking through the front doors.

But that’s the beauty of the Church.

Christ died for a mess (Romans 5:5-6).  A mess that he knew would never be fully restored until his return to earth (Romans 7:7-25).

But he loves that mess.

And those who truly love him will too.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.
Hebrews 10:23-27 (ESV)