RELIGION – A DESTRUCTIVE FORCE:
Religion inevitably bends people out of shape. It changes ordinary human beings into distorted and distasteful parodies of real people. Religion is a poisonous and dangerous force responsible for uncountable human miseries. It is a substitute for truth—a counterfeit—a diversion.
Religious doctrines and ideals have been the cause of wars, massacres and murders, ostracisms, divisions and broken homes, shattered lives, suicides, and bondages more binding than prison walls or bars of steel.
In recent years the Catholic / Protestant conflict in Northern Ireland has cost the lives of hundreds of innocent people. A five-year all out war between Iran and Iraq had its roots in their abstract interpretations of Muslim doctrine. Christians and Muslims in Lebanon have been blasting each other into Eternity for many years all in the name of religion.
The fiery fervour called the Crusades stirred up by militant religious leaders during the Middle Ages with the motive of freeing Jerusalem from the Infidels is an apt example of the power of religion to destroy. Pillage, rape and murder were justified by the cause. Thousands of misled pilgrims took up arms and descended on the Holy Land to kill and destroy in the Name of Christ. (It is a notable thing that some Christians have recently felt the urge to retrace the steps of these violent Crusaders, interceding for the people who were offended, showing love and seeking forgiveness)
In fact, this idea that the end justifies the means is a favourite religious technique. Hypocrisy, lying and treachery are never far from the practice of religion.
Judas was an expert in these character traits and deceived his fellow disciples with his religious service, which was a cover-up for his thieving, treacherous ways.
RELIGION – INFILTRATES THE CHURCH:
All too often, the enemies of God are within the Church. Jesus said they were like tares sown among the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) — the counterfeit Christian who is almost indistinguishable from the genuine child of God. Spiritual life would be so much easier if the identifying of religion was simple. But the false and distorting power of religion is not confined to heretics or unbelievers. It is all too possible for genuine believers to be seduced from true faith to manmade religious activity. It happened to a whole group of churches in ancient Galatia. Paul’s Epistle to them is a classic correction of the subtle, seductive power of religion to delude and distort born-again believers.
Man-made rules and regulations can quickly take the place of a real relationship with God. Traditions become established unconsciously but end up being unchangeable. No doubt there is an evil spirit behind religious traditions. There is no other way to explain the power of them.
These man-made substitutes for the glory of God are aptly illustrated in the life of Moses. He went on top of Mount Sinai with God and returned with a face that shone (Exodus 34:29-35). But that manifested glory was not permanent. The Scriptures show us that Moses put a veil over his face so that the people would not see that the glory was fading (II Corinthians 3:13). This same chapter states that this is an illustration of hearts and minds which have a veil over them.
This is the great religious cover-up. It is an attempt to disguise the fact that the glory is fading and the presence of God is gone. The veil is the religious substitute for a real relationship with God—Church programmes and traditions take the place of prayer, praise and worship. The illusion is given that everything is just the same, but underneath the glory is gone!
PRODUCTS OF THE COVER-UP:
One of the results of faded glory and the religious cover-up is blindness of mind. There is no revelation. The Word of God becomes routine and meaningless. There is no understanding, no impartation of faith, and the Bible becomes a religious textbook instead of the Living Word (II Corinthians 3:14-15). Another product of the religious cover-up is legalism II Corinthians 3 calls it the ministry of the letter instead of the Spirit. Paul says that the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
LEARNING FROM HISTORY:
The Pentecostal movement began early in this century in the power and glory of God. The manifested presence of the Lord dramatically changed thousands of lives. Within one generation though, that initial glory had faded into routine and regulated religious exercises. My youth was dominated by man-made legalism. Our relationship with God was determined by what you didn’t do and what you wore or ate. There were laws for everything and very subtly the great move of God came grinding to a halt. Manifestations of God’s glory were few and far between. Preaching was condemnatory and faith was almost non-existent. Thousands died. Like Sardis (Revelation 3), they had a name that they lived but were dead.
But this has all happened before. There was a time when the glory of God which had been lost in the land of the Philistines was wonderfully restored to Israel. The men of Beth-shemesh involved in the harvest were confronted with the Ark of the Covenant miraculously restored to them. It was a glorious moment of restoration. God’s manifested presence was again in the midst of His people. Then they made a tragic mistake. They took the lid off the Ark. That lid was the Mercy Seat upon which the blood of substitution was sprinkled. They had now exposed the stone tablets of the Law which were kept in the Ark and 50,000 died (I Samuel 5).
Man cannot survive the Law of God without the protection of the Mercy of God. Whenever men make laws for us to be acceptable to God, people will die… their relationship with God becomes remote. It is always a sign that the glory is fading and a cover-up is needed to conceal that fact.
Religion will inevitably turn to programmes or laws to substitute for a lost manifestation of God’s presence.
Years after the Beth-shemesh disaster, King David restored the Ark to the centre of the Nation, and although one man tried to stop the moving of God and died, this time they kept the lid on the Ark. The restored presence of God caused great rejoicing and exuberant praise.
Praise God, in our day the Ark has been restored again, and God’s people are rejoicing and multitudes have been made alive. This time we must keep the lid on the Ark.
EXPOSING GOD’S ENEMIES:
Whenever the glory of God returns and is given free reign, the first thing to happen will be an exposure of everyone and everything which resists. God’s moving.
Psalm 68:1 tells us, Let God arise and His enemies be scattered—let them that hate Him flee before Him. The enemies of God are those who are comfortable with veils to cover up their faded glory. In fact, like ancient Israel, this crowd seems to be much more comfortable when the glory is no longer visible (Exodus 34:30). They are those who work their way to the top of a church’s organization and then strangle the life out of it—carnal leaders who oppose any moving of God. They want cut and dried religion with no surprises!
But for those too hungry to settle for the routines of religious life, there is another way. Paul promises that when the veil is removed from our hearts, and we gaze steadfastly on the face of the Lord, we will be changed from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord (II Corinthians 3:18).
The choice of veiled religion or an open face is constantly before every believer. Never settle for the great religious cover-up.
David Cartledge served as the President of Southern Cross College of the Assemblies of God in Sydney, Australia. He serves on the Board of Directors For Church Growth International.
Republished by Permission from Church Growth/Spring 2000, a CGI (Church Growth International) publication.