“Organized Religion” and the Christian Church

“Organized Religion” and the Christian Church

And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

~ Ephesians 1:22-23

[The church] is the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel.

~ The Augsburg Confession 7:1

The church is therefore an absolutely unique body in the world. It is the place where the absolutely strange and unheard-of kind of speaking—gospel speaking—takes place.

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~ Gerhard O. Forde, Theology is for Proclamation, 190.

Dear People of God,

There is no Christian faith divorced from the Christian church. Christianity without the church devolves into just another form of paganism. In fact, without a doubt, there is no salvation outside the church. Yet a common buzzword used against the churches is to slander them as “organized religion.” Churches are painted as mere manmade inventions. We do highly value ourselves as independent, autonomous beings (“a law unto ourselves”). From this perspective, we don’t need someone else to tell us about spiritual matters or “private” things like faith. Dismissing the church and taking matters of faith into our own hands may certainly jive well with our uniquely American values; it may certainly be a true and blue American point of view. But it is not a Christian point of view.

Christian faith is not something that is derived from the inside—as if we had an internal, divine spark within us! We do not. We cannot muster up faith for ourselves, we cannot decide for ourselves, we cannot raise ourselves from the dead. We are dead people until Someone makes us alive.

Now I can infer several reasons why someone would dismiss the church as manmade religion. Often, I think it comes from a place of hurt—where someone was hurt by the church in some way. One objection commonly brought up is the idea that churches are out to get your money. In this way a church is more like a gangster organization that dupes people into giving their money; a sort of bait and switch project.

Now there are certainly organizations out there that dress themselves in the word “church” and do those things. But these are not the Christian church. They are wolves in sheep clothing. The true Christian church is not motivated by pipe dreams and riches and private jets. We are not interested in obtaining wealth for ourselves; instead, the Church give its goods to the poor. Christian churches are not into getting into cahoots with the high and mighty, but rather in associating with the lowly, poor, and most despised of people. The church’s money ought to be for the proclamation of the word and for helping those in need.

Another objection of the church, and perhaps a tougher one, is there are sinner in there. Often, the worst of sinners. Abuse, power plays, hypocrisy, partiality, and lies are everywhere-present (note: this is true in all walks of life, wherever there are people). How could God allow such evils to be in the church? How dare there be sinners in the church! But it must be this way. It does help to know that our Lord Jesus said this, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” (Mark 2:17).

Christians are always a unique people, the only ones on earth who are both justified and sinner. God only dwells with sinners (note: not the self-righteous), after all. God does not save plastic, artificial sinners. He saves real sinners. God always saves the wrong kind of people—a people who don’t deserve it. And what great comfort that is. Christ’s righteousness is our only righteousness.

What we must know to be a Christian is that the church is no human invention. It is a divine institution. Christ is the head of the church; the church is his body. If we are the hand we cannot survive long if we amputate ourselves from Christ’s body—the church. We will shrivel up and die. In essence, we all are pagans. We are only Christians that millisecond that the word enters our ears from the mouth of another person—in the human proclamation of the gospel (which is foolishness to those who are perishing [1 Cor. 1:21]). We must hear the gospel again and again because it is our lifeblood. We depend not on ourselves, we cannot be autonomous in matters of faith, we depend on God to send us a preacher to put his word into our ears—to put Christ into our ears.

And then, only then, does the faith that saves occur. God institutes the ministry of the preacher to bring about faith in Jesus Christ. Your sins are forgiven for the sake of Christ, dear people. And God has provided the means to forgive your sins. It is an absolutely unique community on earth which is called the Christian church. There, in his church, he has promised to place his word and his Holy Spirit—to do the work of the gospel. To bring you to himself. Contrary to the popular children’s rhyme, the church is not the people. The church is the people gathered around the word and the sacraments. God preserve this among us always.

Pastor Levi Powers
Mount of Olives Lutheran Church
Rock Springs, WY