Thursday, September 11, 2008

Why an organized religion? (part 1) On Order

Recently I was talking with a good friend who expressed her dislike for organized religion. If I understood her sentiments correctly, her dislike arose from the idea of having anyone tell her what to do. She said that if other people needed churches to help them be moral, then that was fine, but she could be spiritual on her own.

For the record, I want to make it clear that I was not offended. Rather, I felt a measure of concern.

Having been part of an organized religion (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) for my whole life, and having enjoyed the benefits of it, I felt that perhaps there are some misunderstandings out there about the purposes and methods of organized religion. People have questions about why there is a need for groups to gather together to worship, when worship is such a personal thing between an individual and God. People wonder why there is a need for an authority figure, and wonder just how much power the authority figure has or should have over the group. America has such a tradition of individual liberty with balance of power and government of the people by the people for the people that an unopposed authority figure seems undemocratic somehow.

In hopes that I can iron out some of these misunderstandings and answer some of these questions, I am going to embark upon a series that examines the underlying principles of my church’s organization (since it is the one I know the most about) with the help of modern scripture.

It seems to me that the first principle and reason for organized religion is that the Lord Himself is a God of order.
8 Behold, mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion.
9 Will I accept of an offering, saith the Lord, that is not made in my name?
10 Or will I receive at your hands that which I have not appointed?
11 And will I appoint unto you, saith the Lord, except it be by law, even as I and my Father ordained unto you, before the world was?
12 I am the Lord thy God; and I give unto you this commandment—that no man shall come unto the Father but by me or by my word, which is my law, saith the Lord.
13 And everything that is in the world, whether it be ordained of men, by thrones, or principalities, or powers, or things of name, whatsoever they may be, that are not by me or by my word, saith the Lord, shall be thrown down, and shall not remain after men are dead, neither in nor after the resurrection, saith the Lord your God. (Doctrine & Covenants 132:8-13)
Imagine the community of heaven, with the innumerable spirits in attendance upon our Heavenly Father. Do they all rush in and crowd about, pushing and shoving, yelling and waving their arms to catch His attention? Would this be heaven? No, it would be a madhouse. So we must envision people acting orderly and quietly, with reverent dignity. As God loves all His children the same, He wants to give each His attention, so He establishes rules by which His children can come to Him with assurance of His approval. (“I give unto you this commandment—that no man shall come unto the Father but by me or by my word, which is my law, saith the Lord”) This principle is the same on earth too. Our church is supposed to be an extension of heaven’s order. No one comes to Heavenly Father except through Jesus Christ and His word.

If something is to be done in an orderly manner, you must first know what is to be done, and then you must know the orderly way to do it.

There are a lot of people that think that they can serve God any old way and He’ll approve. They think that God doesn’t have an opinion or a preference about it, least of all any specific requirements. The scripture above seems to make it clear that God actually does have a very strong idea of what He wants us to do, and since He is God, and God is holy, we can be assured that what He wants is the right thing. He has such a strong opinion about it that He won’t accept anything except what He asks for. (“will I receive at your hands that which I have not appointed?”) The things He asks for He gives as laws, or commandments.

Knowing that order and organization is an integral part of heaven and not just for earth life helps us reconcile ourselves to the prospect of adding order and law and organization to our lives. Organizing in the Lord’s way on the earth means that when we get to heaven and join that society of angels we will be perfectly familiar and comfortable with the way things are done.