I have been thinking about the value of organized religion a lot recently. I keep hearing people saying that they love God but that they hate organized religion. I can sympathize to an extent. I’ve experienced a certain amount of disdain for the churches that I’ve visited recently. I believe firmly in being involved in your church, so I get involved. The drawback to being involved is that I get to see the less beautiful side of God’s church. I’ve seen the fighting, the false pretenses, and I’ve mentioned in previous posts how I truly dislike the entertainment aspect that seems to have crept into many church services. I’ve seen churches that have become social groups more interested in their own survival as a group than in the worship of God. I’ve also seen churches that were more interested in the generation of revenues than anything else.
The people who are proclaiming a love of God but a rejection of the Church aren’t necessarily complaining about these issues though. More often than not, they are focusing on the angry nature with which many Christians are battling against various controversial issues. They point to extremist groups like the Westborough Baptist Church. They like to talk about the anger with which various church groups protest against abortion. Even when the Church opposes these various issues without the anger, it earns their disdain because the Church would dare to pass judgment. They love to roll these and other arguments into a large straw man argument against the Church, saying that the Church fosters hatred. It is important to realize that (at least in the conversations I’ve had) when those who make this claim say “organized religion” what they are actually talking about is the Christian Church. Also, in my experience, those who make this claim have a very skewed vision of God. Their god is more of a personal invention than the Almighty Creator of the Universe. They take the parts that they like (usually the parts about loving and caring and protective) but discard the parts that they don’t like (holy, strict, just).
I myself am guilty of falling prey to the idea that we can separate God from His church. In the not so distant past I remember having discussions in which I carefully delineated the difference between religion and faith. I would say that religion is an invention of man whereas faith is belief in those things unseen and a true personal choice to follow God. Recently, I’ve been reflecting on my position and I have decided that I was a bit off the mark. The problem, I’ve realized, is that I fell into the same trap that those who are claiming love of God and rejection of the Church did. I was saying, “religion” but what I meant was, “the Church”.
The Church, beyond being plainly identified as the bride of Christ and therefore obviously important to God, does several things for us.
It gives us a body of people with whom we share the same beliefs. If you’ve ever spent an extended period of time with a group of people who didn’t believe as you did, you will know that you begin to tire and even wear down as they argue against your views. The Church gives us affirmation of our beliefs and strengthens us to face a world that is very much against us.
It keeps us in our faith and convicts us. If we spend too much time immersed in the world, it becomes easy to get deceived. The current trend towards Internet piracy is an excellent example. I’ve spoken with Christians who have accepted that it’s fine to download music, movies, and software without paying for it, even though these items were not intended to be free. (Incidentally, all the music on my site is currently still “free”. Please download it and share it with your friends if you like it. I own all the rights so go ahead.)
It gives us collective power to carry out the work of God. I can’t support a missionary alone. I can’t run a food bank alone. I can’t carry out an evangelism ministry or a homeless aid ministry alone. However, with a group of people, it is possible to accomplish all these things. More importantly, as a united group we are a more effective force against the enemy.
Also, organized religion with its rituals and ceremonies can also prevent us from inventing our own God. Of course, if we concentrate on the ceremony for the ceremony’s sake and ignore the meaning behind it then we’ve stumbled off the path. But that doesn’t make the ceremony a bad thing. It is our fault for allowing ourselves to become numb and calloused to the meanings behind the ceremony. One of the issues I have with many modern churches is that they have rejected many of the good things of the older denominations. They’ve forgotten about the value of solemnity and reverence. So many church services forget to concentrate on the power and majesty and might (and even the wrath) of God, choosing instead to simply focus on the pleasant aspects. They forget that we are to work out our salvation with “…fear and trembling.” An interesting side effect of this is that much of the power of God has been removed from the Church. Instead of feeling the power and majesty of God, there is a pleasant but weak ambience with some nice music and a talented public speaker.
A point of concern is the amount of professing Christians who are rejecting the Church. It can be understood, for the reasons stated at the beginning of this post. So many churches fail to uphold the basic tenets of Christianity. They fail to follow the two greatest commandments of loving God entirely and loving your neighbor as yourself. When we consider this, the lack of power, and the constant barrage of statements labeling the Church as an institution of hatred for proclaiming the just judgment of God and there is little shock that many Christians, particularly those who have merely been inoculated against the truth, are rejecting the Church.
My final point is this. We must support the Church. We cannot abandon her. Now as in Martin Luther’s time, strong Bible believing Christians need to step forward and BE the Church. It is true that the Church has fallen asleep. But rejection of the Church is not the answer. Perhaps it is time for a new denomination. I’ve heard it said that the older a denomination gets, further from the truth it gets. The Catholic Church has fallen prey to this. Some of the old Protestant denominations have fallen as well. Additionally, many of the newer denominations have traded in the truth for popularity. It should be common knowledge that God is not Catholic or Baptist or Lutheran or Methodist or Assemblies of God or Christian and Missionary Alliance. These divisions are inventions of man. God is God. His word transcends all these. No matter what the denomination, it must be carefully compared to the Bible to ensure that it is following God’s word. When it fails to do that, however, simply rejecting it out of hand is not the answer. That is the time to work and to bring it back to God’s word.
A final note on “religion”. It might be noted that God himself set up the initial religion. He designed intricate rituals, ceremonies, and customs. There was a dress code even. They had to wear ephods! I’m not even sure what an ephod is, but it was part of the dress code. Of course, I’m talking about the ancient Jewish traditions and the Levites and all that went with it. It’s important to realize that God designed all that. Why do you think He designed it in such a way? What purpose do you think the solemn design of those ceremonies was? It’s worth thinking about.
So, support your local church. Don’t just leave, don’t quit, and don’t give up on God’s church totally. Pray and work and keep your church right with God. Churches are made of humans, and humans are fallen creatures. But churches are gatherings of believers as well, and believers correct and guide other believers. That’s all I have for this post.