While critics of organized religion may point to hypocrisy, the bad examples of some are not reasons to reject faith in God or his church.
While it is true that some have twisted God’s word to suit their personal agendas or to justify cruelty to their fellow man, God’s church remains a beacon amidst the groping fog of the "carnal mind" (Romans 8:7).
Those who thumb their noses at the structure of the church in pursuit of self-directed worship are often slaves to self-exploration, or worse, self-promotion. The choice to reject God’s church in the name of personal freedom may be the most confining choice of all.
Founded upon the apostles and prophets
Christians understand that Jesus organized his church "upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets" (Ephesians 2:20).
The Savior specifically charged his apostles: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20).
It is evident that the Savior organized his church to bless lives through organized teaching, baptizing, and commandment keeping within the structure of the priesthood; Jesus Christ himself "being the chief cornerstone" (Ephesians 2:20).
Some take exception to organized religion, claiming to worship God without the so-called confinements of congregational worship.
Their claims would be vastly more credible if the self-seeker’s behavior reflected God’s love as well as God’s laws; both are essential.
Chastity, charity, honesty and commandment keeping matter to God.
Sin and enlightenment
Growing up in the "enlightened" '70s, Woodstock, flower children and the Age of Aquarius bombarded my generation. These alternative expressions of faith were not only anti-establishment, they were downright anti-potential.
Drugs and promiscuity permeated the movement. Enlightenment was only a selfish "hit" away.
Ironically, those who sought truth by indulging the senses blunted their sensitivity to God. They abhorred accountability in the name of personal liberty, but in so doing they became hyper-accountable to the frenzy of a directionless life.
Not long ago my stake president visited a returned missionary who claimed to be enlightened. This man now rejected the things he once cherished about God and his church. The man’s lifestyle, looks and demeanor reflected his new-found convictions.
Patiently listening to the man’s assurances that he had reached new vistas that didn't need God and the church, the stake president responded, "My friend, sin is never the genesis of enlightenment."
There is a direct relationship between obedience and enlightenment. For those who love God, obedience is a defining character trait, not simply a rule of behavior imposed by duty.
Thus, the love of the commandments leads a person to receive "more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day" (Doctrine and Covenants 50:24).
The path of discipleship
Inspiration can come to anyone, even without the structure of the church. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not inspire a belief in God in the first place.
However, the Savior understood that given the human tendency to worldly influences of the natural man, the structure of the priesthood and the fellowship among believers within the church is the best path to discipleship.
For those who once affiliated themselves with organized religion but who now declare their independence from God’s church, it is almost always because they have distanced themselves from God’s commandments.
There may be exceptions, but it is the rare person who can separate from the flock without wandering into a "far country" (Luke 15:13).
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The next time your friend, your child or your fellow traveler tells you their life is their own and they don’t need religion or a church to find God, give them their space, but consider their behavior. Is it consistent with God’s commandments?
For Christians, worshiping with the Saints brings fellowship, love and support. Such worship also provides the essential ordinance of baptism and the revelatory guidance from the holy apostleship.
Within the church Jesus organized, we outgrow the alienation of the natural man to gain citizenship with God: "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God" (Ephesians 2:19).
William Monahan is a 1980 graduate of BYU Law School. He practices law and teaches law and ethics. A former Phoenix stake president and current high councilor for the QC Chandler Heights Stake, he is active in Interfaith and a U.S. Air Force veteran.