Monday, December 01, 2008

On Organized Religion: An Observation and Exhortation

While reading Michael Horton's generally excellent book, Christless Christianity, it struck me with considerable force why so many Americans recoil from "organized religion" and why they favor an undefined "spirituality" over religion.

Would any sane person desire unorganized courts or an unorganized police force or an unorganized medical service? Of course not. In these areas knowledge and authority are recognized as necessary. But when it comes to spirituality, we are on our own. There is no objective and knowable authority, supposedly. The individual soul discerns what it takes to be sacred (for a season--or a weekend).

But organized religion--religion with creeds and offices and a remembered history--well, that just tramples the untrammeled Self. It imposes (another hated word today) on our dispositions. It challenges the authority of the "I."

Yet we fallible creatures need knowable and objective truth that is authoritatively delivered from longstanding institutions based on perennially binding sources (the Scriptures). We do not need to reinvent; we need to remember and repent. We do not need style; we need sacrament. We do not need more experiments with the ego; we need proper worship. We do not need (another) make over; we need to be born again. We do not need a new business model; we need an ancient gospel: Christ crucified for us; Christ risen for us; Christ coming again for his own. We need another new experience; we need faith in the truth of the gospel. We need the knowledge of God in relation to ourselves, others, and eternity.

Organized religion--doctrine based on biblical truth, proclaimed and defended--is just what we need. Moreover, it is what God himself requires of us and gives to us! Jesus Christ is the head of this organized religion, his Body. He is the author and perfecter or our faith, the faith given once and for all to the saints.

Get religion. Get organized religion. Believe in and confess that Christ is Lord before the world and in the company of the committed.


Anonymous said...

My immediate thought is 1Timothy4:3-4.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, 2Timothy4:3-4.

Paul D. Adams said...

"For God is not a God of disorder...But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way." 1 Corinthians 14:33, 40

I wonder if eschewing organized religion (as you've defined here) is in some sense defying the very nature of God.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

What? Do you think I am advocating unbiblical teachings? Of course not. I am emphasizing the biblical gospel and its ecclesiology. I do not put tradition above the Bible, but hold to the biblical traditions.

Katie said...

I am not sure what Lisa is intimating with that scripture reference...perhaps that the wider context of 1 Timothy 4 clearly shows that it is precisely 'in later times some will abandon the (organized) faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons' they are the very ones who 'forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods...which God created to be received with thanksgiving..' (v.3-4) which Lisa cites.

Other snippets from this chapter bear out your point Dr. G. Paul is exhorting Timothy to 'point out these things to the brothers and be a good minister of Christ Jesus brought up in the (organized) truths of the faith and of the good (organized) teaching that you have followed' (v.6) & 'Command and teach these things' (v.11) & ...'devote yourself to the public reading of the (organized) Scripture, to preaching and to teaching' (v.13)
& 'Watch your life and (organized) doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers'. (v.16)

1 and 2 Timothy are hardly a rebuke to 'organized' Apostolic doctrines being the focal point of the ministry of Church leaders. Au contraire. It is precisely because we have rejected the traditional Christian dogma that the Western Church today resembles that of Laodicea, and I wonder how soon the Spirit will vomit up the mess altogether.

There are 'traditions of men' in the church which are not of the Spirit and at best are benign and at worst counterfeits. Then there is the Apostolic tradition, which is carried on in the creeds, in the preaching of the Word, the singing of hymns, praise and spiritual songs. The coming together of the body to worship, encourage, exhort and build up one another. All those things are laid out as examples to live by in an organized fashion in scripture...they are not micromanaged in scripture, but they are certainly, repeatedly set forth in the pastoral epistles and elsewhere as the way to 'do Church' to 'do Christianity' and to 'be' a servant of the most High.

I don't see your message as calling us back to dead tradition Dr. G., but to the faith once for all delivered to the saints, that must be defended.

A random homeschooling, homemaking, mom, who loves the Lord and His word.


Jordan said...

C. S. Lewis put it well:

"Men are reluctant to pass over from the notion of an abstract and negative deity to the living God. I do not wonder... it is always shocking to meet life where we thought we were alone... An 'impersonal God' – well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads, better still. A formless life force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap, best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband – that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (Man’s search for God!) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still supposing he had found us? So it is a sort of Rubicon. One goes across; or not. But if one does, there is no manner of security against miracles. One may be in for anything."

(exerpted from "Miracles")

vanilla said...

Amen, Brother Groothuis. Preaching of the Word as it must be heard.

Katie said...

Lisa's second post and a couple of others were not visible when I posted, so forgive my confusion. Apparently they are ordered in order of receipt now, but they weren't earlier. :-/

I like Jordan's CS Lewis quote. ;o)