About five years ago, I was sitting in a coffee shop reading with the bible as well as a series of books from various Catholic apologists. I think I was reading up on a certain issue. I don’t recall. I was approached by a gentleman who got interested in all my books and decided to have himself a seat at my table. I’d seen him in the area before discussing the Lord and scripture with various people. He clearly could see I was Catholic based on the material on my table. He then said to me that he didn’t believe in organized religion.
My first thought was “Oh boy ! Where is this conversation going”. I found that in the conversation that I’d done most of the listening and permitted him to do most of the talking. At the end of the conversation, he said “You know what, I don’t have a problem with Catholics”. Sometimes people just want to have a voice, a platform to express their feelings. That’s something I try to keep in mind when sharing my faith. However, I want to hone in on the comment this gentleman made, “I don’t believe in organized religion”. I’d heard it before. There’s a well accomplished business owner that’s uses the same language, or they might say it’s not about religion but a relationship with Jesus Christ ? Is there legitimacy to the statement ? Are religion and a relationship with Jesus Christ really in competition with each other ?
It should be noted that religion has been organized since day one of the creation of the earth. Let’s look at Genesis. God Our Father had the choice during his creation to create everything in one shot. If He’s omnipotent, He most certainly is able to do that. But did He actually do that ? No. He created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. So here’s the million dollar question – do you think He created the world that way for Himself or did he organize His creation because He knew that we would need it ? Is the creation of the heaven and earth just some random event that God just decided to do because there was nothing else happening or was there a cause and purpose behind it ? In God’s overabundance of love, Adam was destined to be created in God’s image. However, like a loving father, He gives Adam and Eve guidance through his Creation (Adam should have been more on the up and up with his leadership but that's a different topic for another day). Ancient Judaism always regarded the Garden of Eden as well as the world as a temple. It also regarded Adam as a primal priest. Genesis 2:15 says that the Lord took Adam and told him to till and keep the garden. The Hebrew word used there is shamar. The same word is used with Moses in Leviticus 19:19 in regards to keeping and protecting. The word was associated with activities of priests responsible for tending to the ritual and liturgical worship of God's people. The entire book shows to be almost a manual for organizing liturgical worship and ritualistic purity. Even under King David, choirs were organized for worship.
Religion tells us, brothers and sisters, who God is. It’s no different that signals, signs, and norms a husband and wife communicate to one another to show their love for each other. It should be noted also that your bible is organized (Council of Rome in 382 AD). Jesus never commands us to put together a bible, but praise to the Lord it was organized. Most Christians in the world today wouldn’t even know who the Lord was if it weren’t for the organized bible, since most don’t look at things like the Early Church Fathers, the Didache, the Dead Sea Scrolls, or any other ancient document.
What about a personal relationship ? Well, it doesn’t get more personal than the Eucharist. John Chapter 6 and the Last Supper narratives couldn’t drive home the point any clearer. You notice at the Last Supper Jesus gives certain commands, “This is my Body, this is my Blood”. They even sing psalms (specifically the Hallel psalms – Psalms 113-118). These are recited during holidays as an act of praise and thanksgiving (eucharistia– Eucharist). It’s a New Passover vs the original Passover holiday – both very organized and structured.
So what’s the final answer ? Organized religion and intimacy or if you want to use personal relationship work hand in hand. They are NOT in competition.
May the Lord keep and protect you brothers and sisters in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.