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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Problem with Influence ©

 Freedom from Wrong Influence in Religion
 This is very serious subject. Influence is defined as a power to affect persons or events, especially power based on prestige; causing something without any direct or apparent effort. In any community of people harmful influences are something one has to watch for. Influence, is by definition, indirect.
 Proximity and the authority of the individual involved make all the difference in how wrong ideas are spread. Harmful teachings and beliefs can be passed easily from one Christian to another like a virus. The carbon is always darker than the original. This is exponentially true in religion. I have seen this exponential effect many times in my ministry. The person who has the real influence sits in the background and infects others who speak for them and are more zealous than the original carrier.
 No wonder Paul had to say, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” (Gal.1:8). Paul had to think of the highest being that could bring a teaching other than Christ himself to wake up the Galatians that they were falling away from the teachings of Christ.
The problem with influence, wrong influence, is that one can become caught in a death struggle between pleasing men and being true to God and your conscience. Healthy religious systems will not put a person in that position. There should never be a conflict between obedience to God and obedience to men.
 Years ago, when I was about to marry, God let me know that I was under someone else’s influence. I cared too much about what they thought and felt about my life, and who they approved of.
  Two things indicate wrong influence:
1. I was more worried about how they saw me than what God was telling me. What they would think about this or that always loomed in the background, and
 2. I felt I had to do the same things at the same level they were doing it or my service was not acceptable to God.
        What I am pinpointing that gets many Christians in spiritual trouble is the phantom of men’s approval dangling over their heads and realizing that seeking for that approval can affect your actions. The Bible admonishes us not to quench the Spirit. How many have unwittingly done this in order to please men? How can one spiritually grow when they are being perfected in people’s opinions or the movement of a group and not in the leading of the Holy Ghost?
People often stay in places that are not healthy spiritually because they are afraid of what their friends or relatives will say, even though they are not happy. A young woman got saved through a message I preached one Sunday, and I went to visit her personally that week to see how she was doing. Now our church was down the street from her home, but she was too frightened of displeasing her family by attending a church other than one their ‘family’ church would approve of, which was in a far suburb.
 Religious family members demanded that she attend their church. As a result, she did not attend anywhere often, and started to drift away from the Lord. More important than distance, she did not obey the Spirit of the Lord about where she should get her spiritual food to stay healthy. This person lost their relationship with God because they could not follow the voice of the Lord over their family.
I have done a lot of reading and studying on dysfunctional religious systems and have even encountered dysfunctional religious practices in my lifetime in personal experience and one thing continues to emerge. People can become trained to be loyal to a person, philosophy, or group rather than have allegiance to the truths of the Bible. The opinion of the group becomes a phantom of oppression and something to be feared.
If anyone veers from the group's opinion, it becomes wrong, even if they have no scripture or biblical principle for it. Oppression of opinion replaces the liberty of the Spirit of God. You may wonder how, in cults, people can stand by and watch stealing, pedophilia, and abuses? Because they have come under the influence of men and men's opinions about right and wrong, this becomes the focus--not God.

If you remember the peer pressure of high school, you will have an idea of the wrong type of conformity than can rear its ugly head and create an atmosphere of being bullied into believing. Systems such as the People’s Temple, Jehovah’s Witness groups where “shunning” is practiced, certain Latter Day Saints groups and even mainstream churches can fall prey to becoming oppressive systems. 2 Corinthians notes “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”[1] Every saved person should be free to obey God as long as it does not cause those around him to stumble[2].
Gal 5:13 --For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty…
          What can we learn from this? First, serving God is an individual matter.  Romans 14:4  teaches us not to judge another man’s servant. To his own master, he stands or falls.  Often in conservative religious groups the need for everyone to do the same thing circles around the fear of being labeled backslidden. This hinders those that may do something slightly different but nevertheless are approved by God in their walk with Him.  Second, never allow a person to take the place of God in your life.  Their wants, wishes, convictions, may not be what God is calling you to do.  Third and finally, the problem with influence is that it is subtle and indirect.  A person may not even realize they are under wrong influences or that they are being influenced to do the wrong things. Usually, the person will think they’re right. Just remember, that doesn’t mean they are.  What is that inner alarm and small voice telling you? God always is faithful.

Renee Milton©2012


[1] 2 Corinthians 3:17

[2] I Corinthians

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