Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Organized Religion

It seems to be a modern trend to want no organized religion. “We just want Christ” they say! Some have become so weary of the politics that dominate the church that they just want nothing to do with it. As bad as these things might be in the church, this is not a sufficient reason to abandon it. Those who choose to hold the view that we are to abandon all organized and disciplined religion for a more free-style, ad-hoc sort of worship are going to have to reject a good bit of scripture in doing so.

Consider the big picture. A good portion of the New Testament is addressed to specific churches in specific cities: “To the church of God which is at Corinth…”, “To the churches of Galatia”, “To the saints who are in Ephesus”, etc. I’m sure you can look up all the greetings Paul gives to the various churches. These weren’t just individual Christians out doing their own thing; they were organized into actual churches in their cities. The simple fact that Paul could address a letter to a church and have it reach the intended audience should show that there was an organized church in that city.

Secondly, consider 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 which culminates with the following statement: “Let all things be done decently and in order.” Our church services aren’t supposed to be wildly chaotic events. They should be done with order and without confusion. It is a good thing to meet at the same time every Sunday--that way people will know when the service is and they can make plans to be there. Even within the service there should be order. Paul tells us that at most two or three prophets should speak, and that the others should judge. People should be listening to the sermon and evaluating it according to what the scriptures say. The issue of tongues probably deserves its own discussion, but suffice it to say for now that things are to be done orderly. The idea that people should be doing as they please with regard to the church services is simply foreign to the Bible.

Hebrews 10: 23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.(NKJV)

The writer of Hebrews specifically warns his readers about abandoning the church for a more individualistic Christianity. Perhaps I’m wrong in calling it a modern idea in this respect because obviously some people had the same idea even then. Calvin’s commentary on this passage is worthy of consideration.
It is an evil which prevails everywhere among mankind, that every one sets himself above others, and especially that those who seem in anything to excel cannot well endure their inferiors to be on an equality with themselves. And then there is so much morosity almost in all, that individuals would gladly make churches for themselves if they could; for they find it so difficult to accommodate themselves to the ways and habits of others. The rich envy one another; and hardly one in a hundred can be found among the rich, who allows to the poor the name and rank of brethren. Unless similarity of habits or some allurements or advantages draw us together, it is very difficult even to maintain a continual concord among ourselves. Extremely needed, therefore, by us all is the admonition to be stimulated to love and not to envy, and not to separate from those whom God has joined to us, but to embrace with brotherly kindness all those who are united to us in faith. And surely it behaves us the more earnestly to cultivate unity, as the more eagerly watchful Satan is, either to tear us by any means from the Church, or stealthily to seduce us from it.

Part of the reason that Satan hates the Church is because it provides a good deal of certainty in confessions. It is much harder to go to church and still nurture your own little strange heresy--whatever that heresy might be. Paul exhorts us in Ephesians 4:14 that we shouldn’t be like little children anymore carried around by every wind of doctrine. In a sense, the church provides a solid foundation in which to take refuge from those winds. For more on why confessions are a good thing, consider my pastor’s article on “No Creed but Christ.”

The Belgic confession expresses a nice summary of these ideas:

Article XXVIII
Every One Is Bound to Join Himself to the True Church
We believe, since this holy congregation is an assembly of those who are saved, and outside of it there is no salvation, that no person of whatsoever state or condition he may be, ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself; but that all men are in duty bound to join and unite themselves with it; maintaining the unity of the Church; submitting themselves to the doctrine and discipline thereof; bowing their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ; and as mutual members of the same body, serving to the edification of the brethren, according to the talents God has given them.

And that this may be the more effectually observed, it is the duty of all believers, according to the Word of God, to separate themselves from all those who do not belong to the Church, and to join themselves to this congregation, wheresoever God has established it, even though the magistrates and edicts of princes were against it, yea, though they should suffer death or any other corporal punishment. Therefore all those who separate themselves from the same or do not join themselves to it act contrary to the ordinance of God.


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