"Religion" is the conduct and rituals used within the context of a faith system. An "organized religion" is a faith system with an over-arching structure in place to define doctrine, standardize worship practices, and administrate the organization. Any two people who join together to pray or study the Bible could be seen as an "organized religion," as they have presumably agreed upon a place, time, and action. Developing a system of practices is well within God's desire for the church (1 Corinthians 14:33).
What is organized religion and does the Bible support it?
The New Testament church was organized right from the beginning. The early disciples systematically choose a replacement for Judas in Acts 1. After Pentecost, the church members shared their possessions (Acts 2). Later, the church organically developed more order as deacons were chosen to relieve the burden of service from the teachers (Acts 7:1-7). The New Testament gives several more examples of organization in the church, including the distribution of gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-11), the practice of church discipline (Matthew 18:15-20), and the need for order within the church service (1 Corinthians 14:29-40).
There are great benefits to organized religion. A cohesive unit is better able to provide for the needs of its members (Philippians 4:10-18). Unity in the intent and application of standards can inspire others to live righteous lives (2 Corinthians 2:5-8). With organization, appropriate honor is given to spiritual leaders (1 Timothy 5:17). And it's easier to hold to orthodox doctrine when that doctrine is carefully spelled out.
Organized religion goes wrong when it drifts away from God's expectations and panders to human influence. Most dangerous is the tendency to propagate false doctrine. The existence of organizational practices and administration does not guarantee the accuracy of a group's beliefs or the purity of its motives. Some groups use their organizational system to abuse their members instead of helping them.
Another potential problem is for the organization to become the religion. Administration should never be allowed to take priority over faith, and people should not be encouraged to identify themselves by their organizational label over their religion. This frequently happens, however, when programs are put before people or when errant church leaders are not disciplined appropriately.
Religion is meant to be organized. After all, God provided Moses with hundreds of specifics as to proper worship for the Israelites. However, organization was never intended to replace the Spirit's leading in the church. When we stray from God's intent, organized religion can be harmful and abusive. If the organization supports, and is secondary to, the biblical worship of God, then, yes, organized religion is good. But if sinful man has tampered with either the organization or the religion, then there is a problem.
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