There are a lot of reasons for this, but probably the primary one is that good people have taken a good desire to know and please God to extremes. As human beings, we are all prone to get out-of-balance. This is why Paul reminds us in scripture to do everything in moderation. The bible doesn’t tell people they can’t drink alcohol, eat food or have sex. What it does say, is these things and many other things need to be done within proper limits and in balance.
We live in a world with many good things – great restaurants, shopping centers, grocery stores, sporting goods stores and activities and many other things. They are there for our convenience and enjoyment. However, we also observe in our culture that people get out of balance and fall into addictions, and not just with alcohol or drugs. People turn hobbies into full-time activities, often neglecting their families and other responsibilities, people eat too much to the point where they jeopardize their health and shoot medical expenses through the roof. We see others who can’t stop shopping, while others can’t stop spending and find themselves in debt, often ruining their lives.
We as human beings are compelled to be obsessive and addictive in thinking and behavior. This is no less true of people who are religious and feel compelled to please God.
It is a good thing to acknowledge God and want to please Him. In fact, there is nothing more important than living for God. But herein lies the problem. Our desire to please God, when it becomes obsessive or misdirected, like many other things in our lives, can become very much out-of-balance and drive our lives at full speed until we crash and burn. And unfortunately, it can hurt and sometimes ruin the people around us.
The real problem with out-of-bounds, fanatical and extreme religion is that the forms, formulas and practices begin to replace an authentic relationship with Christ in our lives. This is what drives us crazy and those around us. Our religious beliefs (which may have little resemblance to biblical Christianity) and forms of religions become more important to us than Christ. The real issue is the lines have become blurred between truth and error. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:4-5).
Here are four crazy and perverted forms of religion we see running rampart in today’s church:
Compulsive Religious Activity
This says we always have to “do more”, “perform better” and “need more” to please God and assure others we are “godly” or “spiritual.” People who fall into this are like addicts who always need “more” drugs, another drink or yet another fix.
The lie they believe is if they can be involved in more programs, go to more church services, read the bible more, pray more, somehow they will become the person God has designed them to be. The problem is, the “more they are doing” is often what is getting in the way of them having a genuine relationship with Christ and being able to rest in Him and live in the freedom He died for them to have. Some people need to stop and ask themselves, “Is going to church more…reading the bible more…praying more…really helping me become the Spirit-led person Christ wants me to be?”
Mistaking “Faith in God” for Doing Nothing
These people fall into the opposite trap of those above. These people go out-of-balance in the other direction. They basically stop doing much of anything and just wait on God to do everything in their lives. God becomes a crutch or excuse for not doing anything. Their life verse is “be still and wait on God.” The problem is, the word “wait” in this verse is a verb – a word of action. Waiting is not to be done passively according to scripture, but rather a reliance on God while you are partnering with Him to live out His will for one’s life.
I once knew a woman who did nothing but pray. I know she started out with the best of intentions. I know she didn’t set out to be laziness or irresponsible, but over time, her life lapsed into laziness as all she did for about 8 or more hours a day was lay on her floor and pray. While this sounds really spiritual, she did it at the expense of working to help make money for her family, she neglected her children, she didn’t prepare meals or do laundry for her husband who was working all the time to make up for her lack of working so their family could pay their bills and sustain themselves. This is one example of taking a wonderful thing like prayer to the crazy extreme. God calls us to balance reliance on Him with acting on His word in worshipping Him and doing good for others.
Name It & Claim It
This is huge in America. It has become very popular over the past 20 or more years through big personality TV preachers such as Kenneth Copeland, Joyce Meyers and Joel Osteen. There are many others, but these are some of the bigger names that have made this teaching very popular to the point that many average Christians and church-goers assume this to be in the bible and authentic Christianity. The problem with this teaching is that it is a false-teaching that only glorifies personal gain.
In case you are wondering where it comes from, it is a distortion of what Jesus taught when He said:
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
Granted this is a simplistic explanation of the origin of this teaching, but it certainly has roots in this passage. Unless you take the time to really understand this text in its historical context, you would assume and conclude Jesus is giving you “blank check” to write for whatever you want and however much you want. But when read in context, and with Jesus’ full teaching in the New Testament, you realize what He is saying here is that God is a gracious and loving Father who wants to give good things to His children (read the rest of this passage and that becomes very clear). He is showing us a different side to God than many Jewish people knew.
He is telling us to never be afraid to bring our desires, needs and even wants to Him, just as we would to a loving earthly father. However, where the false-teachers go wrong here is in assuming that God will not only give us whatever we want, but that He has to because they feel the text requires it.
It turns from asking and respecting God to presumption upon God. It is using God for one’s own gain with little regard for Him. The emphasis of the text is not only that Jesus is presenting God as a loving Father, but that everything we ask for, must be within God’s will. He really wouldn’t be loving if He grants us things that would be harmful to our soul; no more than an earthly father giving his children something, just because they wanted it, but would harm them. Children may want to run across a busy street to play, but a loving parent prohibits it because of the dangers of traffic. Children may want a rattlesnake for a pet, but only the parent understands the dangers of one and would say loving say “no.”
The problem with this teaching is not that it is all bad – because as we have seen, asking God for things isn’t the issue nor is it the problem. The problem is when our asking turns into demands. And when we expect to always get our way with God. All we learn from this is that God is there to serve us and we become even more self-absorbed than we already are. When this “form of religion” is exercised enough, we expect God to serve us rather than us serving God and others.
Our prayers turn into, “God, look what I am doing…please bless it.” We forget that God blesses His plans and activities, not ours. We are to follow God’s directions rather than thinking God must follow ours. To think we can just name something to God and then we can claim it because He had to give it to us, sets us up to be very disappointed at the least, and dangerously self-absorbed at worst. It takes our hearts away from pursuing God because all we are doing is trying to plead, demand and come up with formulas to get God to do what we want. The real issue here? We have put ourselves in the position of “god” rather than the One true God! Do you remember someone else who made that mistake?
This is another big perversion and distortion of what the bible teaches. It is an out-of-balance emphasis on truth. It is simply hammering people with truth without God’s grace. It is drives people crazy, it distorts who God really is and sadly, it drives people away from God.
People who fall into this extreme are people who take what they think are the truths of God, and then misapply them. It leads to extremism. It leads to people clustering together and separating themselves from everyone else because they think they have an angle on “truth” that no one else does. And they are proud of it because they are sure they are the only ones that God loves and are really following Him. This creates a craziness because it creates a “cult” like environment, and this is never healthy. Once you assume you know everything and you are the only one who has the truth, you close yourself off from further learning and any real knowledge of the truth.
Further, this type of skewed thinking always put one in an adversarial position. They become very negative. They can emphasis what is wrong in “other people”, never themselves. They think of others or the “outside world” only in terms of their “sinfulness and flaws.” They see the world as only black and white, with no shades of gray. They are never willing to look at things from another’s viewpoint because they are too insecure and too afraid to find out that what they believe might be false.
In the midst of defending, stating and protecting “truth”, they have not only perverted it, but have grown, not in humility, but in pride and arrogance. They despise people who are not like them. They look down upon people who don’t see God, the bible or the world as they do. Sometimes they do this subtly and sometimes in very confrontational ways. They become completely absorbed in how they define truth and fall into the very legalism that Paul warned the Galatians about. Legalism is requiring others to understand truth as you do and experience as you do – and only as you or your group does.
People who fall into this crazy version of Christianity at best come across as very negative, in-your-face and difficult to deal with; and at worst, they become extremely angry and hateful at anyone who doesn’t fully agree with their worldview. Such a group that comes to mind is the Westboro Baptist Church pictured above who did nothing but spew anger and hatred – and the sad part – all in the name of the Lord God. I don’t need to tell you how this craziness has driven needy people away from the one God who deeply loves them and want to have a relationship with them. This craziness really has very little to do with Christianity that is built on the truth and grace of Jesus Christ.
Above are only four of the crazy perversions we see today of Christianity, and sadly, its message of a loving and caring God. May each of us take the time to examine our lives and see if we are really in relationship with the God of Jesus Christ or if we have simply settled for a form of religion that perhaps has been handed down to us. And may we further examine how we are living out our faith to see if we are turning others away from God or if we are inspiring them to come to God. We don’t need to water-down our faith to make it more attractive – we simply need to allow the love, truth and grace of God to work in our lives, and people will be drawn to God through us. As Paul reminds us, we are called to be ambassadors of God’s message of reconciliation.
By: Jack Guyler