Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Organized Religion and Ministries and their place through the eyes of the Bible

            At some point, a new believer (or old believer) might consider going to church. The rationale of that person might also taunt him or her into questioning the reliability and credibility of organized religion, or in other words, the question of whether or not church in and of itself is ordained by God. I have often heard it said that organized religion is bad because it teaches people to be what God does not want them to be, or that organized ministries teach that the path to true Christianity is too narrow and does not include Christians that can “come as you are (or, ‘as you were’).”
            Biblically speaking, it is said that we are to encourage one another in the faith and not forsake the fellowship of other believers: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (NIV Heb 10:23-25). There are a few key phrases in this passage that directly define the desires of God: spur one another toward love; let us not give up meeting together; and let us encourage one another  (see also 2 Tim. 3:16). These key phrases point to something we will discuss more in depth below.
            As alluded to above, it is believed by some that organized religion or ministries (ORM) will prevent or hinder a person from becoming what God wants him or her to do or become. It seems that there should be a closer consideration of the will of God. If scripture is God breathed and inspired by Him (2 Tim. 3:16) and is something that should be tested (see 1 Thess. 5:21—which speaks of prophecy, but since the Bible is not only prophetic, but also because it is not logical to say, “test something except the thing which advises to test,” then we know that God’s will for us, as His children, is to encourage one another in the faith, because of this passage of scripture found in the book of Hebrews above, along with several other passages to some of which we shall now turn.
            Galatians 6:1-10 explains that if a brother in Christ is caught in sin, that he should be helped by another believer who will not fall into the same trap, and concludes with the idea that believers are supposed to take extra special care for other believers in Christ (those of the household of the faith). What does this mean against the idea that ORM are evil? It means that a person is to be held accountable to other believers, so how then can ORM be evil?
            What if there are a few people that come together and meet up that is not in a church building in order to not “forsake the assembling of others (KJV)?” I must say, that IS church! Church is not a building but it is the entire body of believers of Jesus. If you are meeting together once a week or a few times a week, then good. You are doing well. But if you aren’t doing ANYTHING, then you are disobeying God and “forsaking the fellowship of others,” and you are “giving up meeting together,” which God deliberately commands against.
            In 1 Corinthians 9:20-22, Paul explains that when he is with Jews, those under the Law, those not having the Law, and those who are weak, he becomes like them to witness to them. Then he covers every other category by saying that he becomes all things to all men that he might save some. This passage tells us several things: 1) It says that people are lost or, without Christ and implies the need for salvation; 2) It implies that one way effective witnessing is performed is by lowering oneself or raising oneself to the level of the lost person; 3) it implies that people aren’t perfect, and in a sense, different. There are four specific types of people mentioned in this passage and their range is extreme: Jews to those under the Law. In other words, Jews—to Jews who do not practice Judaism, and do not obey the Law (The Ten Commandments are but ten of the 613 Laws that Jews were to obey. See Exo. 20 and also Deut. 11:1).
            With this in mind, it can be understood that the entire Jewish nation at the time Paul wrote this passage to the Corinthians was comprised of several types of people. These several types of people are what would become the makeup of the church (the body of believers; see Eph. 4:4-6). Since Paul is getting all types of people saved and converted to Christ, then it makes sense that there are all types and levels of spiritual maturity coming to be a part of the body of Christ. What does this all mean? It means that people who go to church vary (sometimes greatly) in spiritual maturity. ORM is then comprised of diverse groups of people... including people who are not perfect, and people who will sin against God by mistreating those He loves (Eph. 4:29-32). Therefore, when it comes to ORM, remember that it is consists of people who are of all types of spiritual maturity and that they may need someone like you to mentor them for spiritual growth. In the same manner, knowing that there are all kinds of people who go to church, people are not judged for their appearances (like some people have believed in the past) because wisdom comes in many forms (See James 1:5 and Proverbs 12:15, these verses apply to all types and looks of people). Knowing all of this, the pastor is not the only person in the church building from whom one learns.
            Proverbs 27:17, “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another,” makes it clear that not only are people capable of encouraging other people, but also that people are encouraged by other people. The difference is in the direction of focus. One focuses on giving encouragement (subject A), and the other focuses on receiving encouragement (subject B). It seems that one word would sum up this scenario: Relationships (one connection between subjects A and B). This is what God desires for His people... to have healthy, encouraging and uplifting relationships with each other! It is an ingredient to spiritual maturity.
            Paul shows this in much of his writing. Such as, 1 Cor. 13:1, where Paul says, “If I have the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am nothing.” See, what is going on here is the Corinthians at the time believed in this pagan “angelic” practice which consisted of people speaking gibberish and claiming that it was the “language of angels” Paul was not condoning their pagan actions, but he was “becoming like them” in order to witness to them as he tells people to do in 1 Cor. 9:20-22.
            There is another window to this idea as well which is found in Acts 17: “Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you...” (NIV Ac 17:22-23). Here, Paul is not only putting himself on the same level as the men of Athens, but he is also encouraging them by commending them for their intelligence—which seems to be a good way to witness to these types of people because their pride is clearly in their wisdom. Relationships that uplift others in Christ are the will of God (see Matthew 28:19-20); accountability from wise, godly people brings spiritual maturity.
            2 Timothy 4:2 is a command to “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (NIV 2 Ti 4:2). What does it mean to “be prepared?” Preparation to “preach the Word” is the ability to “correct, rebuke, and encourage.” In other words, we must well know and understand that which we are defending—the Bible—and be ready to do so in all seasons (or, at all times). Not only is this another ingredient to spiritual maturity, but being prepared is a requirement for some. A trained, biblical scholar is easily found and is free of charge to learn from—a pastor at your local church. Remember, as made clear above, the pastor is also a part of the body of Christ, who is also an imperfect human. He is the messenger of a message from God. The message he gives is also a message to him.
            “With great patience and careful instruction” is the relationship part of this command. Its desire is for the readers to understand that love is required to successfully correct, rebuke and encourage. Love is obviously a notable aspect in relationships. Reading through the Bible, one continuously sees commands and encouragement to love one another.
            With these things in mind, know that it is your freedom to go to any church you please. You can go to one church and if you do not like it, then go to another one. As long as the church preaches sound, biblical doctrine that correctly points to salvation through Jesus Christ (read Galatians 1:6-9; Romans 10:9; 2 Corinthians 5:17: Ephesians 2:8-9; et.al., I suggest giving a church at least three services before you make a decision. If you are concerned that the church is told by the government about what it says (which I have heard this excuse before), then maybe it is up to you to let them as an ORM know that in America, this goes against the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” In other words, the pastor or anyone in the church is free to say whatever is desired (but should obviously be encouraged to correct interpretation of scripture). This is exactly why biblical training is necessary. The revelation that God has for His people—the Bible—is not always easily understood when reading through its pages.
            There are several things to consider when preaching from the Bible, such as the 1) Historical Background. This is what the cultural setting was at the time of the writing of the biblical book. Another thing to consider is 2) the Occasion for Writing, which is that which prompts the author to write the book. 3) The author’s purpose of writing is what the author wanted the readers of the letter to know in order to change or be enlightened, etc. The context of the book, such as 4) the remote context, which is the entire scope of the book; 5) the near context, which is the context of the passage in the remote context or the book (or letter) itself; and finally, 6) the immediate context, which is the sentence in perspective, must also be taken into consideration. These are but a few things to understand when preaching from the Bible. The list goes on with figures of speech, meaning of words, literary genre, and even the breaking down of parables, epistles, etc., etc., etc. This is precisely why a preacher must have training. In training, he is not always told the meaning of the scripture, but he is told how to find the meaning of the scripture himself through the process of hermeneutics, in which some of these processes are listed immediately above. So, in other words, in seminary the preacher learns how to fish, he is not necessarily given the fish. In any event, biblical training and building relationships are two of the many benefits of church.
            The brother of James—the half brother of Christ—knew the importance of being able to defend the truth. He wrote to his audience, “I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith” (NIV Jude 3). What comes to mind when you hear the word, “contend?” I personally think of the word contender, which, in my mind is a boxer. For the swinging fists that may bring danger, the best thing to do would be to end this danger. In other words, KO. So then, Jude is urging his readers to defend the faith, not only in defense, but in offense as well. In order to do this, one must have a clear understanding of the subject at hand.
            Having seemed to exhaust the idea that a person needs to go to church in order to receive biblical training and to build relationships that encourage and educate (or spur, if you prefer) toward spiritual maturity, we now conclude with something that seems so simple, yet is encouraging in itself, as well as uplifting, comforting, educating, need filling, remarkable and beautiful: Jesus promises that he will be there with you... “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (NIV Mt 18:20). Therefore I urge you and pray that you who read this will seek Him by gathering together in His name.

Written by Nace Howell through the grace of the Lord Jesus

Works Cited
            The Holy Bible: New International Version, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984).

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