The term “organized religion” leaves a bad taste in the mouth for many people today. Perhaps this stems from the abuses and controversies which have recently plagued many religious groups. More and more people are utilizing the description “spiritual but not religious,” also sometimes known as “spiritual but not affiliated,” to denote their detachment. I believe this rejection of responsibility and accountability goes too far in many respects. More than just getting out from under manmade labels, conventions, and mother churches, some are advocating a break with all structure or authority, even devaluing what has been prescribed by God in His word.
Organized religion comes from God. To be more precise, not ALL organized religion comes from God, but what God has given His followers is organized religion. Organization is not a negative thing—our God is a God of order (Gen. 1:14-18; 1 Cor. 14:33, 40). Neither is religion a dirty word. In fact, the Bible often contrasts the corrupt religion of man with God’s pure and undefiled religion (Mark 7:1-13; Jas. 1:25-27). The design of the true Christian religion comes from the highest authority. As Jesus carried out the will of the Father, He established His church and provided instruction regarding its structure (Matt. 16:18; John 4:34; 14:26; 16:13). God’s plan for His church, as revealed by the Holy Spirit, details how those who obey the gospel are added by the Lord to His church through His blood (Acts 2:37-38, 47; Col. 1:13-14). The apostles taught about Christ’s configuration for His church, including the roles of elders and deacons (1 Tim. 3:1-12; Tit. 1:5-9). Christ Himself is the head of the church, the Chief Shepherd (Eph. 1:22; Col 1:18; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). God has designed a place for us to serve Him together within the one body (1 Cor. 12:13, 18; Eph. 4:4-6). If that’s not organized religion, what is?
Organized religion gives us accountability. A great change happens when one becomes a Christian. We are no longer strangers who are disconnected from Christ and the body of His followers. We become fellow citizens, as those having a place of belonging, as members of the household of God (Eph. 2:19-20). Members of the church are accountable to one another because we are family (Mark 3:31-35). Could a man be in Christ without a connection to the family of God? Of course not. We are all joined together like stones in a house (1 Cor. 3:9; 1 Pet. 2:5), and a man behaves differently when he realizes he is a part of something greater. God never intended for us to try and navigate our spiritual life alone. In the family of God, we must pray for, about, and with each other (Col. 4:3; Phile. 1:4; Jas. 5:16). What’s more, we can know God wants us “organized” for our own good because He has specifically tasked the elders with watching out for our souls (Acts 20:28; Heb. 13:17).
Organized religion gives us support. The wisdom of God’s plan is further seen in the companionship provided to us by the church. Consider Saul’s example after his conversion. He “spent some days” with Christians in Damascus and when he came to Jerusalem, he immediately tried “to join the disciples” (Acts 9:19, 26). After Barnabas vouched for him, Saul was with the disciples, “coming in and going out” (Acts 9:28). A Christian is not an island, serving in isolation. At least, that is not the prescription of the New Testament. Rather, the saints of God are to be a united holy nation, speaking the same things (1 Cor. 1:10; 1 Pet. 2:9). Christians are joined together within the ranks of God’s spiritual army (Eph. 6:10-20; 2 Tim. 2:1-4). Additionally, Christians provide a pure and unfeigned love, continually demonstrating goodwill (Rom. 12:9-15; 1 Pet. 1:22). Spiritually minded servants reject selfish ambition and conceit in order to provide for the interests of others (Phil. 2:1-4). Sometimes this takes the form of physical, even monetary, support (Acts 4:32; 2 Cor. 8:1-4; Phil. 4:10-11). Sometimes this takes the form of loving spiritual correction (Gal. 6:1-2; 2 Tim. 4:2; Tit. 1:13-14). The church of Christ upholds us and aids our struggle against sin.
Organized religion gives us purpose. Here we can see some overlap as we must provide to other Christians the same blessings which we receive from the Lord’s church. This is an obligation, but at the same time, a specially planned and privileged function (Eph. 2:10). We help keep other followers of God from being hardened by the lies of Satan (Heb. 3:12-13). We perceive the needs of our church family and through regular interaction we prompt greater devotion and activity in the kingdom (Acts 2:42; Heb. 10:24-25). The elders’ role should be considered here as well. Part of our purpose according to God’s arrangement is in honoring and showing that we value our shepherds (1 Thess. 5:11-13). Truly, we have great power to impact the lives of those around us. Christians often think of evangelistic work as “soul-winning,” but we also “save souls” in fulfilling our purpose toward those who are already in Christ (1 Tim. 4:16; Jam. 5:19-20; 1 Pet. 4:8). Our spiritual work needs doing, and we benefit from having an area in which to work.
It is dangerous for members of the church to see themselves as independent Christians who “chart their own course” spiritually speaking. God’s plan for us is higher and nobler. In God’s true religion we are organized as fellow soldiers, laborers, citizens, and heirs. We sacrifice for one another and love each other after Christ’s example (John 13:34-35; 1 John 4:7). Let us return to the pattern of inspired scripture, avoiding what man has devised and following the authorized arrangement which God has provided for our good.