Ever hear that before? I am sure you have. It is a common refrain among those who like to hold claim to Jesus in some way, but want to keep their distance from anything that people have their hand in. It is a quick and convenient way to identify yourself with Jesus in some way while maintaining your ability to stay away from those Christians.
The phrase of “organized religion” or the word “institution” make many people queasy. Sometimes because the words are associated with greed, pride, or corruption. For these folks, organized religion equals sinful efforts of Man. But other times, people reject organized religion or institutionalization because they think it is the opposite of what the Bible teaches. For these, man is the maker of organized religion, not God. However, to be frank, that last idea – the Bible is against organized religion – is dead wrong. In fact, the biggest proponent of organized religion is Jesus Himself. After all, He has created an institution, the church, and wants it to be organized.
Don’t believe me? Let’s walk through His Word and see for ourselves.
Jesus Has Given His Church His Word to Build On
Jesus has given His church authoritative writings of the apostles and prophets to obey and be guided, organized, and structured by. The church of Jesus is, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets…” (Ephesians 2:20). Any church not founded on His Word, as taught by the prophets and apostles, isn’t His church. Any group of people or individuals that are not organized, based on, and obeying His Word are not Jesus’ people. Jesus has given the church a foundation to be built on.
Jesus Has Given His Church Leaders to Respect and Obey
Jesus has given His church certain types of people to care for and lead the church so it grows in maturity and unity. “(Jesus) gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13). Notice that? Jesus is the one who has gifted the church with leaders of various kinds for the purpose of greater unity and maturity. To deny or reject the leaders Christ has entrusted the church is to deny or reject the gift of Christ for His church. Jesus has given the church authorities to obey.
Jesus has established authoritative leaders (called elders) to guide and govern the church. Jesus commands His pastors to, “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you” (1 Peter 5:2; see also Acts 14:23; 15:2; 20:17; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5). True pastors who minister under the authority of God’s Word are established by Christ to “exercise oversight” over the people of God. They are entrusted His authority (in as much as they obey His Word) over His people. Jesus has given His church pastors to be led by.
Jesus has called exemplary leaders called deacons to serve his church and increase its unity and witness. Jesus has given His church a second office (under the authority of elders) of deacons to help with the organization and ministry of the church.(See Acts 6:1-7; 1 Tim. 3:8-13; Philippians 1:1).
Jesus commands his people to obey and submit to their pastors/elders. “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17). Jesus commands His people to obey His pastors.
Jesus Has Established Ordinances for His Church to Regularly Practice
Jesus commands his people to regularly take the Lord’s Supper together. Paul wrote, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me'” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). This is a tradition passed down from Jesus Himself for His church to practice together. This isn’t something that is to be done alone or spontaneously whenever folks feel like it. Jesus commands the regular practice of communion.
Jesus commands his people to administer baptism to new believers. “Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” Matthew 28:18-20. Baptism is the ordinance where people publicly identify themselves as one with Christ and His people. Jesus commands his church to bring new believers through the baptismal waters.
Jesus Wants His Church to Be Organized
Jesus rejoices when local churches are organized. The Apostle Paul, an authoritative apostle of Jesus, revealed the heart of Jesus when he rejoiced at seeing the Colossian church in “good order.” “Though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order…” (Colossians 2:5). Jesus loves organized religion.
There is much more to be said here, but the point comes across clear enough: Far from being against organized religion, Jesus is 100% for it. He has given them a foundation to stand on, leaders to follow, obey, and imitate, offices to fill, and ordinances to regularly practice. He loves His church. He spilled His blood to purchase her freedom (Acts 20:28) and to cleanse her (Titus 2:11-14) and He has given us His Word to organize her too.
Jesus did not die to make a bunch of scattered, divided individuals. He died to build a church and He lives to lead her as they stand “firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27).