Who Wants Disorganized Religion?

Whodunit author Ian Rankin, in Tooth and Nail, seems to capture a common sentiment about religion in his description of detective John Rebus:

Sunday was the Lord's day, which was perhaps why he had packed a Bible along with

his other possessions. He hadn't been to a church service in weeks ... maybe even months. Not since he'd tried the Cathedral on Palmerston Place in fact. It had been a nice place, light and bright, but too far from his home to make for a viable proposition. And besides, it was still organised religion and he had not lost his mistrust of organised religion. SS

Two things seem odd about that. (Three counting the British spelling of organized, but since it was their language first, I suppose it’s my spelling that’s odd.) The first is that “organized” is viewed as a bad thing.

Would disorganized religion be better? I’ve seen that, and it’s not pretty. Would it be better for a church if nobody knew where or when they would meet? Or, if people met only to spend the next hour trying to decide what to do next? What if the funds were handled in a sloppy, disorganized way? What if the preaching was rambling and incoherent? (OK, let’s not go there.) The opposite of organization is chaos, not beauty.

What I think people dislike is actually not organization, but a ritualistic religion which treats programs and personnel as more important than the people to be served. Jesus himself certainly objected to that kind of religion, but he hardly opposed organization.

Which brings me to the second odd thing about Rebus – he packed a Bible, implying that he believed it to have value. Yet, that same Bible records Jesus stating his intention to “build my church” (Matthew 16:18). Sounds organized. It never mentions Jesus suggesting that his followers be independent freelancers without organization.

Rebus’ Bible tells of the first and closest followers of Jesus immediately beginning to organize. As the church grew, they organized a meals-on-feet program to feed widows (Acts 6). As Christianity spread to new cities, the apostles “appointed elders for them in each church” (Acts 14:23), giving quite detailed qualifications for those to serve in that office (Titus 1:6-9) as well as for the deacons who were to serve those churches (1 Timothy 3:8ff).

As a body must have organs to live, the church must be organized to thrive.

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