Thursday, July 29, 2010
The Organized Church versus Private Religion
Two weeks ago a man sat in my office. I have known him for several years. He wanted some advice about a relationship he was in that was about to fall apart. He also wanted some financial assistance to help pay his rent. After listening to him for a while, I did what I could to meet both his needs. Though I am not a professional counselor, the issues in his relationship were of a nature that I have dealt with before, so I gave him a couple of ideas to try as a way to improve the quality of the relationship. I also authorized a check to his landlord to help him and his family keep their apartment and then gave him the check.
As the conversation drew to a close, I invited him to church. Though he has come to church from time to time over the years I have known him, he has never come with much frequency and had not been at all in a very long time. It seemed that he needed the strength that faith can give and it was natural to remind him that he was always welcome at our church. He responded by saying, "I do not believe in the organized church because I do not see how it ever helped anyone. I have my own private religion that works for me."
To be honest, I almost asked for the check back! The irony of the situation was nothing short of amazing. Here he sat in the pastor's office in a church getting both relationship advice and financial assistance and has the audacity to say that the organized church never helped anyone. Where did he think I got the training to listen to his situation and offer advice? Where did he think the money came from to provide the check he held in his hand? Where did he think my salary came from that allowed me to be available to listen to his problems and offer advice that would have cost him money had he gone to a professional counselor? Who did he think provided the chair he sat in during the entire session? He was receiving multiple benefits from the organized church even as he was declaring that it had no benefit to offer him. It was one of the clearest displays of emotional hypocrisy I have ever seen!
I wish I could say he was the only person who has ever said such a thing to me. Unfortunately, I have such conversations often. People tell me they have their own "private religion" and do not believe in the organized church. Yet when they need a place for a wedding or a funeral or pastoral advice or help paying their bills, they turn to the organized church to help them out.
Having a "private religion" may be convenient, but it is not much help in a time of difficulty. The organized church, even with all her faults, has so much to offer to the community. Advice, hope, peace, prayer, children's programs, youth programs, soup kitchens, food pantries and direct financial assistance to the needy are but a few of the benefits of organized religion. The next generation needs the organized church and the organized church needs the next generation. Together they can do what neither can do alone.