Of all the deceptions that can happen, religious deception has to be the worst. I won’t spend too much time on this subject, but this is the first in a series on Spiritual Deception. There are many ways for people to become deceived under the cloak of religion. The bible warns that in the last days men would have a form of godliness but deny the power of God (2 Timothy 3:5). I have been a minister since the 1990’s and alongside my husband, we have seen our share of toxic religious behavior up close, on various occasions and various brands of deception from both the pulpit and pew. Why God has allowed this to be a constant in our lives we are not sure, maybe to witness to how these things can happen, or maybe to protect us from falling into the same traps. It is a dark subject and one that does not give me great pleasure to write about. However, it is a necessity and something that even Jesus warned about during in His ministry. Deception can be extremely subtle and move from a small thought which sounds great and spiritual, to a coursing, rushing tide that is will ultimately pull you away from the realness of God altogether and the simplicity of Christ.
As we move into an age of more non-denominational, stand alone churches or independent church entities, spiritual deception is something all people should be highly aware of, especially in situations where there are no checks and balances or where control is in the hands of one person or personality. America has become a land of religious celebrities, Eddie Long, Juanita Bynum, T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn, and Joel Osteen just to name a few. The names are often larger than any message they are preaching about Christ. Rick Warren is so big that I often forget the name of his church. OK. Test. — What is it? That’s right. Took a minute didn’t it because the preacher is the center of attraction. We see many independent mega-business-religious organizations today that are the brainchild of one personality. This can sometimes result in toxic religion. Nowadays, some ministers that have gotten caught up with the current trends of this religious world and are not satisfied with having strong spiritual saints that will be a blessing to their local community; they want thousands every Sunday in the pews, book deals and their own TV show. They want “seekers” filling the pews. Of course, on the surface, what could be wrong with that, except that more times than not, to keep them coming back, they water down the gospel a bit—just enough to not offend them with “too much of the truth at one time”. They now call watering down the truth being “wise master builders”.
I certainly have a wonderful Pastor and attend an independent church myself and believe that if we follow the bible, the Lord is very capable of being the head of a local body of sold out, saved people who can be a blessing to our community. But no matter how close our fellowship is, we should always stay alert to wrong influences.
Speaking at a woman’s retreat a couple of years ago, I distributed coffee beans to the women because I was discussing dysfunctional/toxic relationships that are unhealthy to women and especially Christian women. The beans were a symbol to me and to them to “stay alert” about our lives. At the time, I was reading The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen. After reading this book, I felt like passing out a load of coffee beans to anyone who would take them. (This book can be purchased from books I recommend). It is a truth that we need to stay awake about our spiritual lives. We only get one life to live. We should make sure its the life God intended.
Often what happens is because we feel comfortable in a church and have so many friends there, we subconsciously ignore the obvious or rather choose to ignore things we see going wrong. I did this for a while when I first came to the Lord and was in an unhealthy church. I was looking at how well the church was run, the social clubs, the choir, and the dynamic preacher and thought I must be in the right place. But I was choosing to ignore the spiritual famine my soul was in, the sins of the spiritual leader and I was fearful of hopping around to a lot of churches and getting confused. So I stayed longer than I should have.
God has given everyone the proper spiritual radar when things are wrong under the surface. Here are some of the signs of a problem:
1. If there is constant bickering and arguing and factions among the church members, then the Prince of Peace is not in control. People will have disagreements, but when they are not handled in a biblical manner, they will keep coming up and poison the atmosphere, witness and power of the local congregation.
2. If those that have done wrong are lightly reproved either because they are a friend of the Pastor, or give a lot of money, or have certain positions you need to take a second look at your surroundings. Paul had a problem with Corinth because people that were called “brother” and not saved were allowed to take communion with the saved. There was no distinction between those that served God and those that did not.
3. If you find that your life has not really changed and the leadership is not overly concerned — they tell you to do your best and just keep coming to church. This creates a false feeling of security. Religion can often furnish an excuse for our lack of obedience to God’s Word. ‘Well I’m church now, so I feel better”, “God will forgive me” and we do things that we know we should not but continue on with a religious profession. Be honest with God about how you are living, even if those around you think you are OK.
4. By all means, if you know sin is going on behind closed doors and not dealt with—run—because after a while, you will not see how wrong that is, either. You do have to make a fight or flight decision. If you see that things are going sour and the people and system refuse to change, you may have to move on. Sadly, there is very little hope of changing a whole system and it is best for your soul’s sake to go before God in prayer and ask him to show you people that are living right and are in a healthy church.* Preacher © 2010
Next...The Problem with Influence