"> -->-->-->-->-->-->


Dr. John Juedes

            One idea that has gained popularity in recent years is that personal spirituality is good, but organized religion is bad, because it is corrupt and oppressive.

            What good is organized religion? Here are some things organized religion has done in our community and other countries.

            Over the last eleven years, our congregation has organized 24 mission trips to Mexico to build 37 houses for poor families. We recruited over 500 volunteers and over $50,000 to do this.

These trips would never have been built without the efforts of organized religion, including our congregation, a Lutheran relief agency and Lutheran churches in Mexico. These organizations were following formal doctrine which prescribes caring for the poor.

            Organized religion also provides quality education, from preschool through graduate school. A large proportion of every Christian school is made up of non-Christians, because they recognize the higher standards of education, teacher integrity and student behavior.

            The organized Christian Church has made a powerful impact in bringing literacy to societies which had no written language. Organizations such as Wycliffe Bible Translators send linguists to learn a verbal language, establish an alphabet, grammar, and dictionary. They then develop literacy materials and classes and translate Bible portions.

            The organized church is one of the largest providers of free classes in English as a second language in America and many countries. These efforts are rooted in established doctrine detailing the importance of bringing the Word of God to all people groups.

            Music and the arts from Michelangelo to Mozart have been directed and funded by organized religion. Religion not only funds quality art, but also welcomes and develops young artists. Hundreds of artists, from Whitney Houston to Amy Grant developed their gifts as children in the accepting atmosphere of local churches. Formal doctrine affirms the use of the arts in worship of God.

            Organized religions establish the philosophy (theology), the financial and moral support and needed oversight to ensure the quality of these good works on a large scale. 


            News stories periodically expose religious leaders who were involved in immoral behavior or crime. Does this happen because they are part of organized religion? What happens when organized religion goes awry?

            Financial failures in recent years such as the mortgage loan and Bernie Madoff investment scandals prompted calls for more regulation and oversight.

            Organized religion is designed to deliver exactly these same benefits: standards for leadership, accountability and oversight. Lone ranger spiritual leaders lack this accountability and are more likely to be involved in unethical practices and spiritual aberrations.

            One important function of oversight is to certify church leaders. Organized religion requires people who wish to be certified as clergy to meet criteria of integrity and morality.

            The certification process excludes those who are unfit for ministry and gives adherents greater confidence that their leaders are fit. Independent spiritual groups are at a higher risk of having leaders with poor integrity than organized religion which uses leadership vetting practices.

            Organized religion also has procedures to remove clergy who don't meet standards of morality and integrity, based on formal doctrine. In our association, the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod, clergy are removed for adultery, homosexual behavior, financial impropriety, immorality, behavior problems and other causes. Organized religion by this means improves the integrity of church leadership while censuring the few who violate established church doctrine on ethical behavior and teaching.

            Two problems can arise in organized religion.

            First, not all organized religions have a healthy philosophical and moral base. Those that do, like the evangelical Christian examples given here, should be supported while unhealthy religions should be rejected.

            Second, leaders do not always follow the healthy doctrinal base of admirable organized religions. Problems such as abuse in the Roman Catholic church happen when people violatereligious standards, not when they follow them.

            When this happens, organized religions have means to correct errant leaders. The Roman Catholic Church recently made strides in removing guilty priests and bishops not by creating a new system, but by using the correctional system they have had for centuries.

            When the self-correcting functions do not work, leaders have often begun reform movements, as Catholic priests Martin Luther and John Calvin did in the Reformation.