“And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” Hebrews 10:25
Whenever I hear someone say they don’t like organized religion, the immediate response that goes through my head is, “So you prefer disorganized religion?” You might be pleased to know that eight times out of ten I can keep that thought from escaping my mouth.
I have to say, knowing I am risking offense, that I think that statement is hogwash. I think most people use it as an excuse to stay away from church. These people don’t have a problem with God, they will say, but rather with His people and how they run His church. It is in the running of the church that they take issue.
I don’t even think it is the practices and ordinances that accompany most houses of worship that folks mind. I mean, whether or not you involve yourself in a local body of believers, you still order life by a set of dos and don’ts. We all decide for ourselves those things we will do, and those things we will not.
So I doubt it’s the practices found within the church itself that are problematic, it is when the people of the church, or those leading the church, cannot abide by those practices themselves that people balk and hurl insults at organized religion. Failure in religious leaders hits us hard.
But let’s stop and consider this fact again for a moment. I have a set of standards that I live by. I have decided in my mind the things I will do and the things I will not. I almost always live by that standard.
Except when I do not.
The truth is we all fail from time to time in measuring up to the standard set. (Romans 3:23) So why would it not stand to reason that the same could be true in the church? Of course, we should always try to uphold what we say we believe as a body of believers. It is of utmost importance to do it. After all, the local church is the hope of the world, is it not? We are supposed to be the hands and feet of Christ to a hurt and dying world, aren’t we? Still, we fail as a people, as a church, as often as we fail personally. Why? Well the reasons are as varied as are the failing people.
As a ministry wife for almost twenty-five years, I have been both immeasurably proud of the church and profoundly embarrassed by it. There have been times when I have wondered what Jesus was thinking when He left the hope of the world in the hands of the likes of me. Did He really sort that through? Surely, He did.
I know that, sadly, many have suffered handily at the misdeeds of the church. All in the name of Jesus. And for some, it is just too hard to think of associating with that again. Except that they should, because Jesus did. Jesus died saving the very people who were inflicting His pain and death. While we were yet sinners… (Romans 5:8)
In spite of the fact that Peter turned his back on Jesus not once, but three times, He still said that Peter would be the cornerstone upon which He would build His church. Peter, the king of failure.
Our failures should point us to the infallibility of God. They are a constant reminder that apart from Him we can do no good thing. The church of Jesus Christ has survived the last two thousand plus years not because of our goodness, but because of His. Paul, who wrote a good bit of the New Testament, called himself “chief of sinners”, and yet God still used him mightily in establishing His church. (1 Tim 1:12-17)
The inevitability of our sin and failure in the church does in no way excuse it, but when we all agree that we are a constant work in progress, it should make the fact that failure is inevitable a bit more palatable to those who seek to avoid it in religion.
My husband and I are fortunate to serve in a wonderfully imperfect church. Our children, because of that, are considered daughter and sons of the house. There is blessing and benefit in that for them. The community of leaders and believers they have had invest in them has proven time and again to aid in the growth and maturity of their relationship to Christ.
Could Matthew and I have done this alone? Apart from organized religion? I can promise we teach our children well the things of God, but no. Apart from the local church, our children would be in no way connected to the body or to Jesus, as they are with it.
Scripture calls us not to separate ourselves from the body of believers for that reason. (Hebrews 10:25) We were created to be in relationship with God and with one another. It is through those relationships that we grow, learn, and shed those things that look nothing like Jesus. We cannot do that effectively on our own.
So perhaps you have had an issue with organized religion. Me, too, sometimes. But Jesus thought it was a good idea, so we should go with that. Maybe it’s time to give it another try. Let’s deepen our relationship with Christ, and learn to give each other a measure of grace as we work out the nuts and bolts of Christianity.