When I attended a church planting conference in the Atlanta area a couple of years ago, I picked up a book by one of the organizers of the conference. It was titled, “Detox.” In the book David Putnam, the author, chronicled his journey to becoming so indoctrinated in the work of the church that he had lost his love of the church and his love for the simplicity of the walk of faith. As one person put it many years ago, “I am working like the devil for the Lord.”
It is so easy to become religious. It is so easy to start working for a religious system rather than for the kingdom of God. Sometimes we start out with wild eyed idealism, face the hard reality of traditions in place, compromise to make it work, and then end as toxic as what we were campaigning against. It is so easy to want to tear something down, but many never count the cost of what goes in its place once you have destroyed the old. A good example of that is the current condition in Egypt and other nations presently desiring to throw off tyranny.
Often we walk into situations with, as Nathan said the other day, “with our eyes shut wide open.” The toxic affects of religion are just like that. Jesus said that we would be persecuted and killed by those who think they are doing God’s will. With hindsight we can vilify the Catholic church and its Inquisition, but the religious spirit is active always. It knows no season or century. It is so easy, even for the most godly people, to lapse into the toxic pool of religious ooze. Most times we are blind to our own pharisaism. Legalism is comfortable to the human psyche. That is why so many fall easy prey to systems that are controlling and damaging. It is the stuff cults are made of. We can stand back and say things like, “how could they not know?” Yet, the power of authority and control can be intoxicating, not only for those who wield it, but for those who lay back and let the decisions be made for them. When people begin to detox, they often wonder how they got there. It usually is not one big deception, but small steps leading to imprisonment.
I remember attending a spirit filled meeting in Canton, Ohio years ago. The worship was exhilarating. The gathering was uplifting, but there was something in me that was wary. I attended another meeting later that week at another gathering and a word of prophecy warned me of two railroad tracks that ran parallel and seemed to be going to the same place, but the word warned that one would soon veer slightly and then dramatically, taking a route into the darkness and desert. It was clear to me that one was a deception. I began to pray earnestly about my walk and what the two tracks were. The Lord revealed to me that the meeting I had attended with the great worship was the one that was going to move into the wilderness.
So, we made the decision not to go back to that place. However, it grew to large numbers. Had wealthy and influential people in it. We had friends who continued to go there. Well, the day came that some of them began to sell their properties and move to Canada and some to Central America. Our friends moved to Central America with the leadership group. I even knew the man who put the money up for the farm in Canada. Then the whole thing began to implode. There were divorces as people left their husband’s or wive’s for their soul mates as prescribed by the group. Then our friends were killed in a plane crash in the mountains of Central America. When it was all over after a few years, I asked the Lord, “why did you warn me and not the others?” His answer came back simple and clear, “I did. They did not listen.”
Later, I ministered to some of the grown children of that group. There were messed up royally. Some walked away from the situation to live strictly a secular life; others were seeking counseling, but I never did meet one that was truly right.
That may be an extreme, but it has been played out through the years in many places with different names, same spirit. It can have the name Catholic, Pentecostal, Amish, Baptist, or any other name, but it still is the same toxic religion.
Now, we are called to be a hospital, to heal, to mend. This kind of wounding takes time. It requires building trust, because it is still church, but what kind? There is structure, but what kind? There are leaders, but what kind? Is it safe? Can I trust again? Is it a trap? We had a black lab who had been abused and we adopted him. It took months for him to realize we would feed him and give him water. He used to guard his water dish with paws on each side till he realized it was good all the time. Strangely Jesus loves his church. No wonder the enemy is constantly offering a counterfeit. Is it the bride or the prostitute?