Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A note to those who reject organized religion

“I believe in God, but not in organized religion.” I can't tell you how many times I've heard that statement. And in a way, I can't blame the people who say it.

If, by “religion,” you mean a cold list of duties and ceremonies, I completely agree. This kind of religion is despicable. In fact, Jesus reserved His strongest words for the outwardly “religious” people of His day: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27). These religious leaders knew how to act and talk and worship a certain way, but their hearts were proud and self-righteous. They didn't love God. And needless to say, their good works didn’t impress Him either.

However, if by “religion,” you mean a system of beliefs, then the fact is, everyone has a religion. Everyone believes something about God; why we are here; how we determine right from wrong; what happens when we die, etc. In this sense, organized religion is simply gathering together with others who hold certain beliefs in common.

Has church left a bad taste in your mouth? Perhaps you’ve seen all the conflict and scandal over the years and concluded, “organized religion is a sham.” As a pastor, I’ll be the first to admit that churches are full of sinful people (starting with me!). But the surprising thing is, God still wants us to gather and worship Him. In fact, He sent His only Son to die for our sin and to scrub us clean.

Ephesians 5:26-27 says “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.” This is still a work in progress, but Christ is slowly transforming us more and more into His perfect image (Eph. 4:12-13).

Organized religion gets a lot of well-deserved criticism today, but don’t let that cause you to write the church off. The church is still the Bride of Christ (Eph. 5:25), The Family of God (Eph. 1:5), and the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16). Despite her flaws, she is precious to God. And what is precious to God should become more precious to us.