Sometimes a person will express the following sentiment: “I want to have a good relationship with God, but I want nothing to do with organized religion!” This desire may be both sincere and flow from noble motives. It may result from some negative experience with a particular religious group. However, in the following we will observe: (1) The Bible does not allow that the desire to have God without the church can be fulfilled. (2) The desire to have God and not the church reflects a lack of biblical understanding, which must be corrected.
First, consider why the desire to have God and not the church cannot be fulfilled. The Bible teaches that anyone who is saved is a member of Christ’s church. Christ’s blood purchased the church (Acts 20:28), and so when we refer to the “church” in the universal sense (rather than the local, congregational sense) we are are referring to the saved. This simply follows from Ephesians 5:22-27:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (emp. added).
The church is built, purchased and owned by Christ (cf. Matthew 16:18), and so He has the right to organize it how He will. He has done so by providing a blueprint for the church’s organization in the New Testament (1 Timothy 3:15; Titus 1:5). Thus, the church is an organization with divine sanction.
Second, consider that the desire to have God and not the church reflects a lack of biblical understanding. As Wayne Jackson observes,while some indeed have lost faith in organized religion, “God does not condone confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33), and one is not allowed to improvise his own worship and service system (John 4:24; 17:17).” A right relationship with God is found only in Christ—that is, in His body the church (Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:4). The church always has been a priority the mind of God, and we are not at liberty to reject it (Ephesians 3:9-11).