I remember when I first started playing music professionally and I was forbidden from playing a couple of places because I was not a “card carrying” member of the musician’s union. Later, I discovered there were other professions that required you to join a union and pay dues if you were going to work at a “union shop”. While I understood the history of the American Labor movement and its benefit in many ways to the American Worker, a part of me resented being “forced” to participate in “organized labor”. There was much about some of these organizations that I DIDN’T like . . . some parts even felt as exploitative as some of the shops themselves may have been before unions.
As some people feel about “organized labor”, some others feel about “organized religion”. Whether its “good” or “bad” really depends on who is doing the “organizing”. As all labor unions are organized by “man”, so many people point an accusatory finger at religion (especially main-line Christian denominations) and condemn them for the same reason, “I don’t need or want to participate in any ‘organized religion’ because it’s just made up stuff by anti-(fill in the blank)(fill in the blank)-phobic men somewhere in the past.” Sadly, not only have I heard this criticism from non-Christians, but also from people who claim to be Christian.
Those who claim to be Christian, yet never darken the door of a church, saying, “I believe in God, just not in organized religion” often further explain that “Organized religions are just a bunch of rituals, rules, and regulations made up by a bunch of men in the past who wanted to control people.” Then they usually top it off by saying, “I have the Bible and prayer; I don’t need anything else.”
But are they right? Is all “organized religion” organized by sinful, error-prone, and even “exploitative” man? Again, the answer depends upon WHO it was who did the organizing. If man is the organizer, then there truly might be no guard against sin, error, and exploitation. In fact, if man is the organizer; sin, error, and exploitation are all but guaranteed!
But what if the organizer of (true) religion isn’t man? What if God is the organizer? If God is the “organizer” of religion, the way He has organized it can’t be flawed or exploitative, since God by nature must be good and without flaw.
We may now have a dilemma. After all, how can one know if a religion is organized by God or by man? Well, if we believe the Bible to be the inerrant, inspired, and infallible Word of God, and we want to know if God has organized a religion, then we ought to be able to find that organizing in the Bible.
The first part of organizing is the call to come together (a concept that is often discounted by “anti-organized religion ‘Christians’”. Yet the Bible is overflowing with corporate worship of God; beginning in Genesis when men first began “to call upon the name of the Lord”, to Noah and his family worshiping God after the flood, to the people gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai, and then all through the exodus. Tabernacle and Temple worship were defined by God, and God inspired the writer of the Hebrews to write “[do] not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:25) So God’s purpose in organizing people “meeting together” is so they might “encourage one another” with His Word.
What about singing together? The book of Psalms is the Bible’s “Hymnal”. What about Pastors teaching, preaching, and forgiving sins? God establishes all that in the Bible too. What about Baptizing with water, and receiving the very body and blood of Christ in, with , and under the forms of bread and wine? Jesus commands that also in the Bible. What about that goofy responsive “back and forth” chanting of scripture? Again, present in the Psalms. What about offerings to support the work of the church and her servants? That’s in the Bible also, throughout temple worship and the New Testament church. What about ornate places of worship (like cathedrals and “fancy” church buildings)? God, himself, designed the first temple. What about that smelly incense? God designed and commanded that as well.
The point is, worship settings and practices “organized” around the things that God Himself designed and commanded are NOT “organized’ by man; they are the result of Divine Organization . . . divinely organized to keep us together as “church”, collectively served by our Savior. “Church” by nature, CANNOT be one individual; it is, by nature, and design, “social”. “Church” is the collective “organization” of all believers who confess Christ as Lord, God, and Savior.
HOW a particular group of Christians practices what God has “organized” to keep them together in Him may differ from group to group and culture to culture, but THAT we practice it is what binds us together as one body; the body of Christ. WHAT we practice (in our “organization”) is God’s “Organized Religion” as long as it is Biblical. Anything we might add is good, as long as it is rooted in the “Biblical Organization”. Anything we might add that stands in contradiction to how God in His Bible has “organized” the Christian religion IS false religion. (Which is why “reformation” always seeks to return to the Bible and the Bible alone.)
So, if you DO believe in God in Jesus Christ, you HAVE to believe in “Organized Religion” (in so far as it is God who has done the organizing) and should be a member of a body where the Word of Christ is faithfully preached and His Sacraments are rightly administered. For it is there that you will find broken, hurting people just like you, who will hold you up with the Christ who forgives your sin and nourishes your soul unto eternal life.
“O Lord, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells”
Rev. Nick Wirtz is pastor of Faith Lutheran Church at 2750 Mogollon Dr. in Overgaard, AZ and can be reached at (323) 717-4390. Pastor Nick resides in Overgaard with his wife Patricia. He has spent over 20 years as a pastor in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod with most of that time spent in bi-lingual (English-Spanish) ministry. He also serves on the board of the local Salvation Army as an advisor, and as Chaplain for Post 86 American Legion Riders. He’s also known to be seen pickin’ a little guitar around town from time to time.