▪ Are you cautious about joining a religious group because you are appalled by the hypocrisy and disunity of churchgoers and even the clergy? If so, a French proverb may sum up the way you feel, “He who is near the church is often far from God.”
Perhaps you respect the Bible and feel that governments and individuals should honor a person’s right to belong to a religious group. But you may wonder, ‘Does God really say that those who want to worship him acceptably must belong to an organized religion?’
The short answer is yes. Why can we be so sure? And will just any religious organization do?
Consider Jesus’ example. Did he belong to an organized religion? When he was young, Jesus joined with his Jewish family and others who had the custom of going to the temple in Jerusalem to engage in organized worship. (Luke 2:41-43) As a grown man, Jesus joined with his fellow Jews in worshipping God at the local synagogue. (Luke 4:14-16) When speaking to a woman from a different religious background, Jesus said: “We worship what we know.” (John 4:22) Jesus here clearly identified himself as belonging to the Jewish form of religion.
Later, Jesus said that because the Jews as a nation rejected him, God would reject their corrupted form of worship. (Matthew 23:33–24:2) However, he indicated that those who want to worship God acceptably would have to belong to an organized group. He told his followers: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:35) A disciple of Christ who did not associate with his fellow believers could hardly show them love. In fact, Jesus plainly stated that there are only two religious paths. One he described as a “broad and spacious” road that leads “off into destruction.” By contrast, he said: “Narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading off into life, and few are the ones finding it.”—Matthew 7:13, 14.
Obviously, then, not just any religious path will do. The Bible warns against joining with those who “will maintain the outward appearance of religion but will have repudiated its power.” God’s Word further states, “avoid people like these.” (2 Timothy 3:5, The NET Bible) On the other hand, we benefit greatly from identifying and associating with those on the path leading to life. We gain encouragement and support now and a bright hope for the future.—Hebrews 10:24, 25.