It’s Not Them, It’s You

Have you ever looked over the Bible and wondered why some of the stories are in there? Certainly many of the accounts don’t exactly paint the “heroes of the faith” in a very positive light. Before you protest, think about it. No matter how much we might like to make it look, some Bible stories just…don’t sound…very noble. Or heroic. Or even decent.

Samson’s triste with Delilah. David’s affair with Bathsheba. Jephthah possibly killing his own daughter because he spoke a vow hastily. Dinah’s rape and her brother’s extreme vengeance. Absalom raping his own sister, Tamar. Jonah…being Jonah. Abraham lying to Pharaoh. And onward it goes.

Sure, people try to teach lessons out of these different stories and slant them in a light that makes us think about something in a different way or consider it somehow more deeply, if you will. Nothing wrong with this, not at all. But it still begs the question…why put it in there in the first place?

We like to put our best foot forward, and we expect that, in the history of people who sought to follow God, that He would want to do the same, right? So…why…didn’t He?

All throughout the Bible, we note a common theme of human nature: people who don’t want to take responsibility for what they do. Adam blamed Eve. The Israelites thought their problem was their surrounding neighbors and the pagan idolatry they all followed. The first-century Jews thought their problem was the Romans. The New Testament Christians with a Jewish background thought the former Gentiles were their problem, and vice versa.

In reality, Adam made the choice to disobey God, the Israelites made the deliberate choice to fall into idolatry, the first-century Jews were living out prophecy as part of their Roman occupation (which was due to disobedience), and the New Testament Christians all needed an attitude adjustment.

The problem was they themselves, not everyone else. It seems pretty obvious to us now, we want to scream it from the rooftops. “HEY YOU, YOUR SIN IS A PROBLEM, DUH!” That’s why all those stories showing less-than-stellar human nature in play are found in the Bible. It wouldn’t be right to gloss over a history with a bunch of “alternative facts,” so they are in there. They prove, once and for all, no matter who they might have felt was their problem – the problem wasn’t everyone else, it was them.

Food for thought for all of us. Or it should be.

Today it seems like the church has mastered the art of finger-pointing. The problem for things deemed as societal breakdowns are always someone else’s fault: feminists, gay marriage advocates, the school system, presidents, immigrants, Muslims, terrorists, radical Muslims, women who’ve had abortions, women who march on Washington, we don’t like the president, and any other barrage of options. It’s as if we think if we aren’t getting our way, we can act and do whatever we want. In other words, we sound like a bunch of big, whiny brats.

It deeply disturbs me that this trend is now often found in the highest of places, where people openly degrade others because they don’t agree or respond in agreement. The other individual might have done nothing wrong, but as some of the most powerful people in the world call names and attack the integrity of others through social media under the guise of “if they did it, I can do whatever I want,” it should make us realize just who our “problem” is.

There’s always someone else who is the reason we aren’t Christian enough or godly enough ourselves. Call it defense, call it protection, call it retaliation, even call it a difference of political belief, the way we act and live is simply not right. We can sit on social media all day long, cuss and swear, throw shade at people and act like morons, but we’re just doing it because of “someone else.”

It’s time you realized that your biggest enemy isn’t anyone you think it is – it is you.

The Bible tells its less-than-stellar stories to prove that the biggest problem we have is right here, within ourselves. No matter how much the people might have sincerely sought God at times, there were other times when they didn’t feel real saved and certainly didn’t act like it. It’s not there to form public policy or debate, but to make each one of us look at who we are and deal with it unto the end of redemption. We sit and argue over eternal security and whether or not we can lose our salvation, but maybe, just maybe, the part of the debate we don’t want to hear is that we aren’t letting God redeem us. We are so hung up on something and someone else that we aren’t letting God do within each of us what He wants and needs to do. It’s an unfortunate fact that you can dance, shout, run around the room, be a genius with church protocol, be the best preacher your church has ever seen, and be completely and totally lost, so far away from redemption, that you wouldn’t know God if He fell on your head.

The consistent aspect of the Bible is that somewhere, some way in time, God dealt with all these people. He dealt with their lack of accountability and responsibility, He addressed the idolatry, He addressed their attitude adjustments, He addressed their bigotry and racism, He addressed their hasty words, He addressed their violation of others, He addressed their lying, and He addressed their hasty actions. They had to come to a point where they dealt with what they had done, and lived with those realities.

We can forever turn our faces to everyone else and make them our problem. We can forever avoid the realities we face right now and the consequences that remain for us, be they personally, nationally, or globally. We can blame where we are on everyone else, but at some point in time, we will come to the end of ourselves and God will deal with us. In that day, there will be no fancy apocalypticism to fall back on, no false doctrine, no escapism, just us and God and the reality we have woven.

“Then He will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite Me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe Me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after Me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.’” (NIV)

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (NIV)

You can’t be a Christian and have some of the attitudes and behaviors I’m seeing. They don’t represent a true transformation of grace. If we understand we are saved by grace through faith, that means facing ourselves and our sins as we transform ourselves more into His Image and less into our own. The behaviors and the attitudes I am seeing reflect a deeper problem, one that prove we aren’t getting the teaching and instruction we need because it assaults too much at who we are and makes us feel too uncomfortable. When we have to answer what did we did or didn’t do, I pray mercy falls on the souls of too many whose fate the Bible has already sealed. God’s not going to care about all the things you were against. He’s not going to tolerate that you didn’t help a refugee or a foreigner because they were Muslim. It won’t matter that the reason you abandoned your child is because they were gay. It won’t matter that you didn’t educate yourself because you hated the school system. It’s not going to matter that you stand behind something because you hate now or did hate a former leader. It won’t matter that you didn’t help out someone because they had an abortion and you’re against abortion. All these things we stand upon in self-righteousness and pomposity will not matter. All that will matter is what you did not do because you disobeyed Him.  It won’t matter how much you danced or shouted down the house. If you sat in ignorance and blamed everyone else, God’s going to give you a message you won’t like, so I give it now while there is still time:

It’s not them. It’s you.

Look at yourself. Fix you while there is still time.

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you. – The Gospel of Thomas, Verse 70

© 2017 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

How To Properly Approach American Ministers: A Guide For Foreign Ministries

I realized today that I have blogged on many general principles for leaders that are guidelines across the board, no matter where someone may be from. I have also blogged on things for leaders and ministers to consider when hearing from or interacting with foreign ministries. The one thing that I have never written on, in my oh-so-direct style, is how foreign ministers should approach those of us in other places than their own. It’s not something I ever gave much thought to, although I will admit that I have dealt in international ministry for some time. I am also regularly approached and solicited improperly from foreign ministers who are looking for money, attention, or to connect without having to make a formal commitment, and this means that no matter how someone comes at me via inbox or email, no matter what someone might say and regardless of interior motive – the answer is almost always no, because the approach is almost always the same.

What I have come to realize is that not every ministry outside of the US is all about money or a big scam. I have no doubt there are many serious, well-abled ministries overseas that genuinely do need to connect with good ministries for instruction and Kingdom-building, but the problem is that when everyone approaches us the same, we assume everyone is the same. You can jump up and down and say how unfair that is, or you can read along this blog and take into account the way you approach us, and put in the effort to prove you are different from the others by doing things right. If you come at us like a scammer or like scammers have come at us, we are going to assume you are one, too. So consider this a “cheat sheet,” if you will, on what serious, committed American ministers are looking for when connecting to foreign ministries.

Come right…or don’t come at all – In the United States, we observe many different social codes that extend respect and respectability to certain works and professions. Ministry falls somewhere on the moderate line, as ministry is often not well-respected by general individuals in society due to scams and scandals that have hit the church over the past 30 years. Whether this is right or wrong is not the point; it means that, as ministers, we have to work very hard for the positions we have. Most of us have spent years in training, only to deal with the realities of ministry that are abysmal, at best. We deal with faltering congregations, disobedient leaders, rebellion, lack of finances, and regular frustrations that we all know how to respond to, but those who don’t genuinely respect the work understand. This means that how people approach us – the level of respect and honor that is shown to us – is honor and respect shown to those years of struggle, the frustrations and heartache, to our work and our commitment to the Kingdom. Honoring us is honoring our ministries, and this means that when you come at us, if you aren’t going to come right, save your time. Coming right includes: No flirting, no flattery, referencing us by our title, not your cultural pet names that over here indicate familiarity (mum, dad, calling us by our first name, etc.), do not ask us for money or items, do not fill our inbox with lengthy statements on your ministry and how important you feel you are, do not act too familiar with us, and do not treat us as if we are sitting around, with nothing better to do than entertain your requests.

Do not call us in the middle of the night or FB inbox call us, repeatedly – I understand that we are in different time zones, but I often encounter what I call the “cultural defense” when I tell people they are doing something unseemly or otherwise rude or annoying: they claim ignorance. They explain in their culture it’s such-and-such a way, or it is such-and-such a time, so I should “understand.” Look, you are the one who is coming after us – not us after you. We are not the ones who are just itching to have your time and attention, and that means if you want our attention, have the courtesy to know the proper ways to receive it. That means you make sure before you video call or even call us on the phone, you have our permission to do so and you do so at a proper hour of the day for us.

We are not over here, desperate to have you join our work – Most American ministers have great aspirations for international work and travel, but we are also very busy with the work we do over here and we are not just dying for someone to inbox us and ask us to come to their country at our expense. We also deal with the fact that many ministries barely have time to take care of the responsibilities they have in front of them to worry about what someone is doing in another country and whether or not that person is following the guidelines, doing ministry as they should, or keeping current with what is proper or otherwise. If you want to work with an American ministry, you need to examine just how equipped and purposed they are to attend to issues of instruction and communication, because if you pick a minister just on the basis that they are in the United States, you will not experience a blessed connection without proper instruction and communication.

Understand that we know the drill, and we probably can predict what you are going to say before you say it – I recognize and acknowledge that different cultures have different guidelines for what it means to be sociable and friendly, but I also have yet to talk to someone from Africa, India, or Pakistan who didn’t sound like every other person I’ve already spoken to from Africa, India, or Pakistan. We’ve been the route, we know that you think you are being friendly or smarter than us or something like that, and the conversations are boring and tired. If you want to get our attention, just spit out whatever it is you are looking for without the runaround and give us the option to accept or decline.

Our inboxes are full – Our inboxes are full of requests, much like yours, wanting to affiliate, receive donations, prayer, or teaching. We get tired of being solicited by people who are just looking for handouts. Before you get defensive and try to tell me you aren’t asking for a handout, when was the last time you offered to sow something into our ministries, ask if we needed prayer, or offer us some assistance or benefit from this relationship? I already know the answer, which means: you are asking for a handout. You want us to give you something, and odds are good you either feel you can’t or you do not desire to give something in return, and we cannot reasonably meet all the requests or needs we have. This means if you want to connect with an American minister, it needs to be for more than just a handout; you need to desire a relationship that involves give AND take on both ends, and that we will, most likely, just ignore a request that sounds like every other request we receive.

Don’t take an attitude with us if you get caught in a lie or if we don’t give you the response you want – As I just have explained, we are inundated with requests, wants, and people pulling from us all the time. We have expenses and needs ourselves, and we cannot live to finance your projects. That is not the true definition of “missions,” and I am not sure who started the idea that a mission can be accomplished by just sending money to an entity that we don’t know, but it can’t. If we have already been polite in telling you we are unable to help you, or what our policies are as regards to travel and expenses, don’t keep berating or asking us about it, don’t argue with us about giving, and don’t start lecturing us on faith or the Bible. Knock off the attitude that sounds an awful lot like you are judging us, making it evident that you feel you have more faith than we do or know the Bible better than we do because we tell you no to something. God speaks to us, we hear from Him, and it is He Who sets our regulations and guidelines in place. If you don’t get what you want from us, look at what you want, not what we told you about it.

Don’t judge us – I mentioned this in the last paragraph on spiritual matters, but I am now going to clarify a few things as pertain to judgment against our ministries. Understand that ministry over here is, most likely, done differently than it is in your country. That doesn’t mean that how we handle it is right or wrong, but it means that it is not the same. Don’t expect us to make all the compromises and culturally adapt to  your system, especially if you are unwilling to do the same. It’s different if someone is in your country as a minister, but if you are contacting us while we are here, you are going to have to understand how ministry is handled and abide by those principles out of respect in order to get us to take you seriously. We understand that some differences are to be expected, but because we are living under different regulations, a different system with different benefits and pitfalls, and different circumstances, we aren’t going to work in ministry in the same way that you do. In other words: we may not have started 200 churches (that are now not governed nor cared for, but that’s a different issue) or have 30 orphanages to our name, but that doesn’t mean that what we do is not legitimate or relevant. If you act like what you do is superior, then our attitude will be you can do your ministry all by your uppity self.

We don’t have money to send you – I am not sure what your impression of the American church is, but understand that if you are taking to us, via direct audience online or on phone, we are not T.D. Jakes, Paula White, Joyce Meyer, or any of the other big-name preachers out there. They do not represent our values, our issues, or our work, and the evidence of that is if you tried to call any one of them on the phone, nobody would ever allow you to talk to them directly. Over here, we have to pay for our tax exempt status….and it ain’t cheap. We have to pay rent or mortgage on our church properties, and this is in addition to whatever we have to pay for our own homes. We cover our own light bills, water bills, heating and air conditioning, and all the furnishings, instruments, and outreaches. Many of us have to add our personal money to church tithes and offerings just to pay our bills and break even. If we have a conference in a hotel, that costs us money; if we use a civic center, that costs us money; it even costs us money to do an outreach on the street or the park, as most cities only allow us to do that if we pay a fee of some sort. To do an outreach event in a city park in Raleigh, North Carolina, I would have to pay a minimum of $500 just to have the event. This is before taking a collection or soliciting donations of any sort, because donors want to know what we are doing and when; we can’t just ask and then get the money and do it later. To break it down, $500 dollars in the US is equivalent to $470 Euros, $24,805 Philippine Pesos, $157,000 Nigerian Naira, $45,500 Liberian Dollars, and $34,017 Indian Rupees. That should put in perspective what it costs for us to just do something simple and basic that is done in many other countries without regulation, for free.

Do not come empty-handed – If you are looking for us to be your leadership organization, you should never come to a leader with the expectation that they will pay for everything for you and you will do nothing for them. The leaders in both the Old and New Testaments were provided for by the people. It doesn’t matter what country someone is from; everyone sows into the ministry that provides their guidance and leadership. Also, observe proper rank and file. A good guideline is “never ask up.” You should never go to a leader of a superior office and ask for money, things, or for us to buy your products or sell them in our country.

Don’t mix lines between personal and professional – Contrary to what some might imply, there are men and women in the US who both appreciate the single life and who can find a mate if they so desire, right where they are. We are not all looking for mates and we get very annoyed when you do not respect the boundaries of courtesy, respect, and decency with us. Either you want to work with us or you want a boyfriend or a girlfriend, but don’t use ministry to get the latter.

Don’t send us a trillion pictures – Please, we don’t know who you are from a hole in the wall. We don’t know where you got those pictures. You could have stolen them from National Geographic, for all we know. Sending them does not legitimize you to us and it just…well…annoys us. We don’t like looking at a million pictures of your ministry. Just do us a favor and don’t send them if we haven’t asked to see them.

Don’t lie to us – I am good at catching people in lies. If you send me a message that says you love my ministry or you love my website, I am going to ask you what you like about it. If you don’t have an answer, I am going to rebuke you and you aren’t going to like it. Contrary to rumors, not all Americans are stupid, and we don’t roll over and play dead to submit to lies. Once I got an inbox from a minister in Africa who praised me to the sky about all the “good things” he’d heard about my ministry. When I asked him what he heard, he never answered. When I asked him who he heard these things through, he told me, “A deacon in NC.” I pressed further and he told me, “Deacon Chris.” When I asked what ministry “Deacon Chris” was from, he refused to answer me and told me how “embarrassed” he was by the questions I was asking. Look, I’m going to ask questions. If you are legitimate, you have nothing to fear by answering them. If you don’t answer them, then you can go wherever you want, but it won’t have anything to do with me or my ministry.

Don’t be vague – I hate “vague” statements. I hate “vague” word. A vague statement is “I love your website and all it says.” A vague word is “God is working out your whole life to your benefit” or “You are so blessed!” When you don’t know the first thing about me or my life. If you can’t be specific, you aren’t hearing from God, you are mimicking a method of ministering you heard someone else do. If you want to talk to me, you better know just what it is on that website that you like or about me or my ministry that you like, and I better like the answer when I press you about it.

Don’t ask us to come to your country when you don’t know us, and then expect us to put up our own money to do so – If you have so many ministries under you, then get everyone together and cover our plane ticket. That’s what’s called “hospitality.” It means you are responsible for our comfort and care, and to the best of your ability, should duplicate the accommodations we are used to. If you can’t make us comfortable, then you are asking us to come out of selfish ambition and desire. You do not have a right to our time or our ministry, and you need to treat us with the same courtesy you would anyone else who ministers for you.

Don’t ask us and 10 of our friends for the same thing – Over here, we talk. We talk a lot. If one minister comes at us for something, especially if the minister is overseas, we are going to check with our friends as to what was requested all around. If you add me just to add 20 of my FB friends, I will find out. You will get caught. Pick one leader at a time and don’t go around looking like you are just trying to get anyone’s attention who will get it. It’s unseemly.

If you want leadership, prepare to get it – You would never go to a leader in your own country and defy them, because that would be considered improper…so why do you do it to us? If you want our leadership, you need to submit yourselves to our rules and guidance. Don’t try to negotiate them or act like they are somehow a bother; follow them. Remember, you are the one who feels God ordained this; this wasn’t our idea. Don’t waste our time. Be direct in your speech and intention, and don’t ever, under any circumstances, take up an attitude.

Communicate regularly – If you want to be covered by me and then don’t talk to me for six months, I am not going to take you seriously. I recognize that there are sometimes technological issues at hand, but really, all of us can do better than sporadic conversation. If you are serious, make the effort.

Understand where we are coming from – I know of at least 4 individuals offhand who were scammed out of money by individuals overseas. I’ve been overseas myself, and I know that the conditions people claim to live under in foreign countries are often seriously exaggerated or untrue, all together. I know I get tired of being treated like I am nothing more than a great financial bank for the whole world. It’s disrespectful; it’s offensive that all people want from us is our money, as if we have nothing else to offer that is of value. We live with these realities every day and they affect how eager we are to jump into an agreement or partnership with a minister overseas. We don’t have to prove ourselves – or our ministries – to people who want something from us. If you can’t empathize with the fact that we watch our friends lose money and the deep offenses we experience when people mistreat us just because we are from the United States, then we don’t have the time to get to know you very well.

The bottom line of this blog: we can love and interact with you as we would with anyone else, but everyone else makes the effort to treat us right and enter into proper relationship with us. If you want to do this, no matter where you are from, the basics are always true: treat us like you want to be treated. Don’t act like we owe you anything. Don’t beat around the bush, but just be upfront with us. Speak to us properly. Understand that things are different, and we are open to new ideas, but somewhere in there, you have to meet us halfway. Don’t treat us like a bank or a 24-hour prayer line. Get to know us, and our work. These facts will go a lot further than blasting our inboxes or hoping that a few words of flattery will endear you to us…because with most ministers, it just won’t work.

© 2016 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

What Makes a Cult a Cult?

Every year, The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society alters their doctrine. They call it, “the light gets brighter.” In their history, their doctrinal changes have moved from the radical to the sublime, and sometimes, their doctrines were changed, changed back to what they originally were, changed back to their changes, and then changed back again. Yet if you talk to a Jehovah’s Witness about their doctrines and their understanding, they will say that they are a restoration of the true church, they have always held fast to the same level of truth, and that they are the only group in existence who has any truth. Anyone with any common sense can look at Watchtower history and prove their changes, prove their shifts, and prove that their claim is simply claim not true.  Yet millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide believe these claims, despite facts that prove otherwise.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are only one of numerous groups that have received the label of being a cult. Some other more common groups include The Unification Church (“the Moonies”), Scientology, Theosophy, Mormonism, The Branch Davidians (David Koresh), Church Universal and Triumphant, Remnant Fellowship, The House of Yahweh, many of the Sacred Name and Hebrew Roots associations, the World Mission Society Church of God, and the various Armstrong churches. There are also hundreds of other smaller groups and churches, fronting as “non-denominational” or otherwise “independent” religious organizations that also fit the bill as a cult.

The question that many do not understand is, why do they remain in these organizations? There is so much evidence to prove that membership with such groups can prove harmful, so why do they believe despite evidence to the contrary? Answering this question answers the question, “What makes a cult a cult?”  Read on to discover why cults are so dangerous in so many ways to those taken in by fancy claims.

In the 1950s, American psychiatrist and author Robert J. Lifton studied prisoners of war during the Korean War and civilians who had been held in Chinese prison after 1951. He also studied Chinese intellectuals who had been subject to brainwashing in their universities. By examining these different subjects, he was able to identify eight different points of control that relate to thought reform and ways that people’s thinking patterns, independence, and ideals, forsaking their individuality and freedom for the sake of a larger group.

These eight points, plus some subheadings that fall under the heading of the eight larger points, are what define a cult. It’s important to state upfront that odd or unusual doctrine is not what makes a cult, even though that is often the “criteria” that many establish in defining and discrediting alternate groups. Cults are also not made based on a refusal to be “Christian” or adhere to Christian perspective. Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and Jews are not cults, and none of them adhere to a Christian perspective. What makes a cult a cult lies in the eight different points of understanding that relate to the way a person thinks and erodes their sense of independence, free thinking, and sense of self-sufficiency. Groups that have some semblance of all eight points meet the definition of a cult. Groups that have I believe it’s four points or more are considered “high control.”

  1. Milieu Control

Cults control the amount of communication one can have within the cult environment.  This is the reason why some (but not all) cults live together, thereby limiting members’ access to mainline television, radio, news broadcasts, and people.  Often members are encouraged to break ties with family or friends who are not members of the group, citing that they will not “understand” or “support” the level one will reach as a member of the cult through their involvement.  The level of control one accepts is often dependent upon the level one has attained within the group, i.e., different levels of control exist within some organizations.  For example, a nun in a convent has a much higher level of milieu control guarding her existence than a nominal member of the Catholic Church.  An individual who lives and works closely with a pastor of a control group, working in their business or working alongside them in the church, will have a much higher level of milieu control than someone who only attends the church for services or who only attends when it crosses their minds. Another example would be a member of Bethel, the Jehovah’s Witnesses headquarters living situation, versus an average Jehovah’s Witnesses member.  Although both may shun certain types of programming, Bethelites are completely controlled by the Watchtower society in terms of their access to the outside world.

  1. Mystical Manipulation

Cults manipulate people’s emotions, thoughts, beliefs, and even their spiritual experiences to produce the result of total surrender to their leaders.  In other words, people are having a certain experience that they believe to be genuine, a sign that they belong within this group and that this is what God or a supreme being has planned for them, but in reality, it isn’t.  When one has been manipulated in this manner, they come to believe that they have a certain calling to be fulfilled within the group that can only be fulfilled within the group, and nowhere else.  People manipulated mystically often do, say, and surrender whatever is asked of them over to cult leaders.  Examples of mystical manipulation include the experiences in Mormon temple ceremonies involving drama, staged healings and falsified mystical experiences performed due to clever stage acts by Jim Jones in The People’s Temple back in the 1960s and 1970s, and the creation of certain atmospheres, environments, smells, sounds, sights, and feelings that are manufactured thanks to stage hands and emotional fervor in various sects and groups around the world, even today (such as in the “soaking music” subgroup and many of the movements of Third Wave Charismatic churches, such as Bill Johnson’s Bethel Church in California [ as an example, watch the movie “Holy Ghost”] or Rick Joyner’s Morningstar Ministries in North Carolina).

  1. The Demand for Purity

Cults have what is known as the “us vs. them” mindset meaning that the world is sharply and irrevocably divided between “us” (the cult, the “pure”) and “them” (the world, everyone else, the “impure”).  Purity is only possible within the group, nowhere else.  Cults also demand strict and difficult standards regarding various forms of purity that are nearly impossible to abide by.  These forms of purity may involve thoughts, study habits, or personal habits and are often in the strange category.  Those who do not remain “pure” face dire consequences.  Examples would include David Koresh’s sexual relationships with young girls to make them “pure,” Scientology’s emphasis on attaining a level of “clear” by going through various levels of Scientology training and teaching, and the teaching that an individual can obtain a sinless and perfect life if they are truly “saved” within the group, regarding all others as impure and not truly “saved” or redeemable.

  1. Cult of Confession

Cults are big on members’ honesty, even though they frequently lie to further membership and maintain their own status.  They tell you that everything you have ever learned is a lie and better yet that the world is marked by conspiracies.  The only place you can ever venture to learn the truth about anything is within the cult.  But lo and behold – cults do not teach that one should be open and honest with outsiders.  The group should be defended at all costs, even if it means being dishonest.  In fact, dishonesty to outsiders is encouraged because they are the “enemy.”  Within the group, one is expected to divulge information one would not normally divulge, including deeply personal information.  What are examples of this?  Divulgence sessions that claim to be “deliverance” but often involve a powerful, central figure berating and criticizing someone until they “confess” some deadly sin or agreement with wrongdoing, even if they have never done whatever they are accused of doing. If a group claims to be able to “absolve” someone of sin, that is probably a sign that someone is in a cult, or group “purgings” in which members confess their faults in terms of falling in the demand for purity.

  1. Sacred Science

The concept of sacred science is that the group is somehow proclaiming something new, innovative, and different that can somehow heal the world of all its ills if the world would just conform to the cult’s specific doctrines.  Sometimes cults claim to be a “restoration” of something ancient or lost (although the restoration concept alone does not make a group a cult).  Other cult groups claim that they are exactly as what has always been, despite the fact that their doctrine has changed excessively throughout its history.  Examples of such include Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, Armstrongism, Roman Catholicism, Scientology, the Unification Church (the Moonies), many occult groups, Sacred Name adherents, Hebrew Roots groups, the World Mission Society Church of God, and many other groups far too numerous to list.

  1. Loaded Language

Loaded language manifests in a few ways: a) excessive use of jargon repeated excessively; b) words and terms known only within the group; c) clichés; and d) the use of words and terms that are used by other groups or religions but with a different meaning, while only those within the group know the difference.  Examples: New Age cults (sometimes coined “self-help” seminars or “positive thinking” courses) use excessive jargon; just about all cults use clichés in one form or another, and Mormons, Armstrong groups, Sacred Name and Hebrew Roots cults, and Jehovah’s Witnesses use words in one context although they have different meanings outside the group.  This technique is particularly confounding to those outside the group.

  1. Doctrine Over Person

Cults exercise a great amount of control over individuals.  In a cult, the doctrine is individual versus corporeal, meaning that each person is expected to have a single set of principles and all adhere to them in the exact same way, without interpretation or variety.  There are no exceptions to the rule and one cannot attain the levels of salvation the group promises without this strict adherence.  Sometimes this can be seen in the branding of uniform or dress (as with the Amish and some levels of Scientology, among others) but this visible sign is not always seen.  Sometimes group highly regiment days, routines, diets, jobs or working together in the same line of work or business, or other things of their members, stating salvation is impossible without following these rules.  The rejection of medical care even in time of crisis as seen in Christian Science, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Armstrongism, many Sacred Name organizations, and other groups to the point where people sacrifice the lives of their own children is also a sign.

  1. Dispensing of Existence

All good things must come to an end in cults.  Although cults do eventually collapse upon themselves, they always contain an essential doctrine: that those outside the group are wholly evil, as the truth of the group is the only truth, fixed and absolute, and those outside the group who do not accept the truth of the group do not have the right to live.  They will therefore cease to exist through a form of annihilation.  This type of doctrine is why the Branch Dravidians of David Koresh believed the siege was apocalyptic: because the group was being persecuted, the FBI would be killed by the cult, and the “righteous” (cult members) would watch the annihilation of the “wicked” (government).

Defining Cults and High Control Groups: A Checklist

___ Group appears innovative and exclusive; leader claims to be breaking with tradition or restoring an ancient tradition while offering something new, different, or new and different; involvement with the group can heal the world and all its ills.

___ A charismatic, determined, and domineering leader or leaders, totalitarian and messianic in personality; claims to have a special mission in life, and this is it.

___ An authoritative power structure; control and decisions come to the control of one or a few individual persons.

___ Wisdom claimed by leader(s), a great amount of infallibility declared about decisions.

___ Wisdom credited to leader(s) by members; members trust all decisions made by leader(s).

___ A great amount of external political power, influence, or the desire to obtain said power, by political maneuvers or other means including overthrow or revolution.

___ Perspective of the group is absolutely and truly infallible and adequate to explain everything.

___ Concepts taught are doctrinally and morally error-free; doctrines are unchangeable and inflexible, even denying doctrinal alterations occurring historically.

___ Repeated changing of the rules while claiming the same level of infallibility and eternal truth and doctrine that remains unchanged; telling people that these new teachings have in some form always been taught.

___ Altering of history or facts of history to somehow suit the claims of the group.

___ Leader(s) encourage(s) veneration and allegiance to him/her/themselves.

___ Top priority goals, even though unspoken, are recruitment and fundraising.

___ A great amount of internal wealth; a great emphasis upon monetary donations.

___ Potential converts are drawn through a profoundly mystical experience (prophecy, miracle, etc.) from group or leader(s), encouraging potentiate to join the group because of a specific calling that can only be fulfilled within the group; experience often fabricated, manufactured, or unfactual.

___ Denies alternate or negative experiences within the group, citing that those who have left the group were poorly educated, improperly taught beliefs, or are simply spiteful; denies that bad things are done by individuals within the group, particularly leader(s).

___ Great emphasis placed upon attracting new members; excessive amounts of proselytizing.

___ An intensity of efforts directed at preventing or reconverting dropouts through a number of methods including shunning, visitation, and making it very difficult to leave the group from a membership perspective.

___ The practice of branding members through dress, physical markings, or widely practiced behaviors, antisocial or not.

___ Salvation is possible only within the group.  Those who leave the group or do not come to the group are doomed.

___ High demand for purity and perfection only obtainable through the group, and even then, impossible to keep.

___ Pre-group existence and group existence are narrowly and decisively interpreted through absolute doctrine, even when experience contradicts doctrine.

___ Emphasis on experiencing the group and its experience before obtaining information about the group; unwillingness to disclose even simple matters; evasiveness on key issues or even simple issues.

___ Members think within narrow parameters of group’s doctrine; expressed through language specific to the group.

___ Use of jargon, clichés, or expressions repeated over and over again; words and terms used only within the group, and therefore only understood by the group; or using words and terms used by other groups, religious or otherwise, but with radically different meanings intended to confuse non-members and mislead them into thinking the group believes one thing, when in reality, they believe something else.

___ A double-standard of ethics, encouraging openness and honesty within the group, but dishonesty, deception, cover-up, and secret behavior when dealing with outsiders.

___ The willingness to bear the soul; divulging of information that one would normally be unwilling to share and remains unwilling only with those not in the group.

___ The use of censorship and control over members’ access to outside opinions on the group, its doctrines, or leader(s).

___ Encouragement or forbidding members to stop communication with “outside” family and friends except for conversion purposes.

___ Forbidden contact with “outsiders” particularly to discuss religious issues unless in the context of proselytizing.

___ Intense concepts of “us” (the pure, the group) vs. “them” (the world, the impure outsiders) creating an antagonism with society and social behavior(s).

___ Justification of group and leader(s), even when evidence convicts to the opposite of claims.

___ Extreme grimness, particularly on the issue of disapproval concerning jokes about group, its doctrines, or leader(s).

___ Use of sexual manipulation of members by leader9s), or a great control of sex lives of members; outright prohibition on sexual matters, such as birth control; sexual abuse of members, adult, child, or both.

___ Members are all expected to adhere to rigid guidelines, all within the same way, with no exceptions or interpretations.

___ Sacrifice of lives or children’s lives for the sake of the doctrine.

___ Use of occult or pagan symbolism with an alternate or altered meaning.

___ Severe levels of paranoia involving real or imaginary enemies, and the perceived power of their opponents.

___ Endorsement of violence when used by or for the group or its leader(s) while condemning the use of violence when used by opponents or opposing causes.

___ A great number of subsidiary groups using names different from that of the main group with same objective as group.

___ Belief in the coming extinction of all those not affiliated with the group; those who are not in the group are not worthy of life and shall in a coming day be annihilated while the sole “righteous,” the group, shall survive.

What should I do if I suspect someone I know is involved with a cult?

Get some information before you jump to conclusions – I’d be lying if I said that all cults that exist are properly documented and monitored. The truth is that there are probably numerous cults and high control groups that fly under the radar. We live in a world that is hesitant to discriminate against groups that have religious protection, and a number of court cases, custody battles, social services involvements, and the like have created extremely negative PR for the government systems that monitor the welfare of children. Thus, it’s true that many small groups fall by the wayside, appear, and disappear as quickly as they popped up. There are those that live out their time and then those that survive for generations, all the while never being noted for what they really are. I still encourage those who suspect they have a family member or a friend in a cult to look up the group and see if anyone else has tagged it or noted it as being problematic. Many of the larger groups have support networks, information, and websites devoted to telling the truth about these groups. See if there is any information out there about the group, especially words from people who once belonged, but now see things very differently that they are on the other side. It is true that there are always people who are disgruntled or angry having left a group, but if the numbers of disgruntled people is high, especially compared with the number of adherents in the group, listening to what they have to say might be worthwhile.

Love the member – The spiritual aspect of cults isn’t something that gets cast out of a person by screaming at them or trying to reason with them. I know that it’s tempting to want to try and reason or get them to engage, but all they are going to do is rehash their cult understanding. The more you try to get them to be who you remember them being, the more they are going to resist with ‘the way’ they feel they have been shown. I think it’s important to keep the lines of communication open if it is possible (and it is very possible that, no matter what you do, they may shut down the line), and that means it is important to avoid being hostile or belligerent, to avoid confrontations and arguments, and to avoid discussions about doctrine that are not going to resolve the problems, anyway. The more you display your displeasure, the more the group will attempt to draw their newer member into them, saying that such hostility only proves what they are saying about “us vs. them” is really true. People don’t join cults because they are impressed with their stellar doctrine (most cult doctrine is absurd, if you really break it down). They join them because of how the group makes them feel. They make people feel like they matter, are important, a part of something special or unique, that they have a special position in the world, and that by being a part of this group, they can get every need they have met, easily. It’s important to remind a cult member, through loving them, that they do matter to those around them, even if they don’t understand or realize what they are doing.

This one is also important because I think we learn a great deal about cults by monitoring the movements and involvements of those around us. Every cult group was just considered another religion that might be a little odd or strange until someone took the time to notice that they had a family member or friend who started acting differently once they joined. In case further action is needed or further information is needed, knowing what’s going on can be very important later on.

Try to understand the “thinking” that gets someone involved in these groups – I’m not going to blame early life or family life for cult involvement. I’m sure that there are some people who do join cults because they didn’t feel loved by their families or because they are at odds with them, but that is not always the case. The world can come in and besiege us, forcing us to be adults and to have to face and deal with realities that we don’t always like. We’ve all experienced loneliness, trauma, and emotional distresses that make us wish we had the comforts of someone else or a group to take away the hurt or pain that we have experienced. It is my belief that anyone can be susceptible to a cult if they come around and hit them up at the right time and place. Whenever we have a notable void, a cult can swoop in and conquer us because they know how to manipulate our feelings and emotions, whether it’s the need for a father or mother figure or the feeling of wanting to belong and be accepted by others. Keep this in mind every time you wonder why this is going on, and do not blame yourself. It is very likely the acceptance they seek is not something that you even knew they needed or were able to meet as one person.

Pray – Prayer is always a powerful spiritual approach that does make a difference.

Consult someone with information about cults – I am a little cautious in this recommendation because the unfortunate truth is many of these “cult chasers” are nothing more than people who want to make a ministry criticizing any group that is not Baptist, Methodist, or Lutheran. You need to be careful in seeing how a person or organization defines a cult, and see if the definition meets with the standard of psychological mind control rather than just identifying a counter group as anti-Christian. Do some research on cults, learn about how they work, and familiarize yourself with good leaders and good support to help you to get through what you are going through and can help your friend or family member if they need help on the other side.

If you have any comments, questions, or need additional information from this blog, feel free to contact me:

Dr.  Lee Ann B. Marino

(Certification obtained in cults and cult criteria, Apostolic University, December 6, 2001)

Apostolic Fellowship International Ministries, Inc.

http://www.powerfortoday.org

info@powerfortoday.org

© 2005, 2006, 2016 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

The Leadership Series, Part 6: Make Sure It’s Not All A Bunch Of Hype

Note: this is sixth in a series of posts I am doing specifically based around leadership issues. If you haven’t read Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5, you have time to catch up :).

It all started when we were looking at the property we are preparing to rent to start Sanctuary Apostolic Fellowship upstairs and run our publishing company downstairs.  As we stood on the second floor of the building and talked about an “upper room” experience, I was told that we need to be careful about the way in which we handle praise and worship at Sanctuary.  We can’t do things just like everyone else does them because that’s the way everyone else does them.  I knew the word was from God because I had already been singing the hymn, “I Stand Amazed” in the Robin Mark way, which is slow and peaceful, for days.  I’d walked around Wal-Mart in Garner, singing that song, as people stared at me, not two days earlier.  Now I was hearing that it was essential we are careful and put thought into just how we do our worship.

Since then, it has been confirmed in many ways, and many times over.  When I recently went to preach in Durham a few weeks ago, we witnessed a service in a more “old time” style, where the group engaged in congregational singing rather than praise and worship with a worship leader.  If someone had a song to sing, they sang it.  When they had special song selections, it was by a group of people, every time, who not only sang together, they sang in harmony.  I have to admit that it was a nice change from the world of church music that, more and more, is now resembling a rock concert.  I have nothing against modern music, or singing new songs to the Lord, but there is part of me that watches where we keep going with it, one step further and further each time, and wonders if a lot of it is even about God anymore.  Many members of the congregation don’t even sing, they just stand or sit there and watch the leader, as if the leader is some sort of celebrity.  Something is missing.

It has the form, but denies the power thereof.

Last night I saw a headline somewhere on the net that mentioned Carlton Pearson’s impending divorce from his wife, Gina.  I didn’t really care that he was getting divorced, but I realized it had been awhile since I looked him up, and I wondered what was new in whatever was left of his revamped ministry.  He was famous before my time in church, by the time I was starting to really get serious in my faith he left his position in his church and changed his doctrine, and I didn’t even hear of him until many, many years later, right after I first moved to Raleigh, NC in 2009, at a meeting I was scheduled to preach at.  It was a conference that was supposedly Pentecostal, based in the form thereof of Pentecostal tradition and experience.  So imagine my complete shock to note the speaker who spoke that night was D.E. Paulk (who I had also never heard of), who highly recommended Carlton Pearson’s book on the Gospel of Inclusion.  D.E. Paulk’s preaching and indifferent message to anything related to truth (he actually went as far as to say we should separate “Christ” from “Jesus” and we should stop preaching Jesus) appalled me so much I got up and left the room, I was really curious about who exactly this group of people were that invited me to preach.  I wasn’t real selective about who I preached for in those days (I assumed that if a group had a semblance of Christianity that they were Christian), and as a result, I looked up Carlton Pearson to learn more about his doctrine and what he now believed.  I had never heard of a Pentecostal who wasn’t…well…Pentecostal before.  Yes, I had heard of variances and did acknowledge there were some that were more liberal than others, but surely all Pentecostals had Jesus in common…right?

I am not going to get into the ins and outs of Pearson’s teachings now, except to say that I feel he is the product of a very slippery slope I often talk about that happens when people start to realize certain things they have been taught were incorrect or improperly applied.  We all grow in our faith, and have to admit that some of what we were taught was either taught very simplistically or incorrectly.  Instead of looking more deeply into doctrines surrounding hell and the afterlife, he just started abandoning things all together and one thing led to another.  Instead of maturing in his faith, he wasn’t in circles that were equipped to teach him properly and help him see a different way.  Instead of finding another circle, he just abandoned everything, and has struggled for many years to find a new footing somewhere, which is hard because his background was so hardcore traditional Pentecostal.  In the process, I learned he has been a part of several different movements, including Unitarian Universalist, Christian Universalist, New Thought, and Metaphysical.  Thus, when I heard about his divorce, I looked him up again, to see what he was up to these days.

What I saw this time disturbed me on a level I never experienced prior.  Before, I just saw the changes of a confused person who felt betrayed by his own community of origin and didn’t know what he believed anymore.  This time, I learned he is spreading that, around.  He is now starting what is known as the “Metacostal Network.”  According to his website, it is:

Metaphysics is a branch or division of philosophy that is concerned with the fundamental nature of being (existence) and that which is beyond being’s physical expression. It relates to the transcendent or to a reality beyond what is perceptible to the five senses. It involves unconventional imagery. It means using the imagination you were born with to create in consciousness what you want to make and be real in your life. That is, a constant imagining that you are transcendent, having been created in the image and likeness of God or the Divine!

“​Many Pentecostal preachers and people want to embrace a metaphysical approach to scripture and life and desire a connection to others of the same interest and mind...

The phrase Metacostal was coined by one of my spiritual sons DE Paulk, another pastor of Classical Pentecostal roots who has evolved into expanded consciousness, while remaining attached to his spiritual roots in Pentecost barring some of the extreme dogma associated with it. Many from other disciplines are doing likewise. However, because of the larger appeal I have to people from my religious background, there are larger numbers of people and pastors within and/or from that particular communion or discipline looking and leaning toward expanded consciousness but want to maintain various aspects of the mystical ambiance of their Pentecostal tradition.”  (from http://www.bishoppearson.com/#!metacostal-network/c15k7)

In other words: Carlton Pearson is creating a network of churches that feel the way he now does about things.  They are full of people who want to approach faith in an abstract, New Thought, New Age way, rejecting key doctrines of Christianity, including the Incarnation of Christ, Jesus’ atonement for sins, the sinfulness of all people, Jesus as the Way to the father, and even the work of the Spirit in the sense we have understood it in Christianity for generations…but still want to “feel” Pentecostal.  They want to whoop and holler, dance and sing traditional songs that don’t even mean anything to them anymore, lift their hands and pray loudly in something that’s not even tongues, and “amen” the preacher when he or she is done talking.  They want that traditional feel, they want to be and look like something…but they don’t really want to be that anymore.

The thing that really shook me is that if these people can create a totally fabricated, emotional Pentecostal experience: it can sound the same, look the same, feel the same – but not be genuine – we can all do the same.

There’s an ouch moment.  Every one of us, as leaders, knows the standard movements that will work up a group and a crowd.  We all know the cues for the music for people to start dancing, we know how to “preach hard” so everyone will like us, and we know how to get people riled up, hands in the air, tears streaming down their face…without the Spirit of God anywhere in sight.  People are easily swayed and like their emotional moments…especially if they have never learned how to tell the difference between their emotions and the Spirit.

Remember the caution in 2 Timothy 3:3-7: For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (KJV)

The reason people can have the form of godliness but deny the power thereof is because we have made all those other things acceptable and even comfortable in church.  When nobody sat down Carlton Pearson to show him the more excellent way, it opened the door for a whole bunch of other things that caused him to seek the exterior, but not the truth of it.  How many more are there like this in church, wanting to “feel” Pentecostal but denying truth for doctrines about money, cheapened grace and lazy faith that doesn’t ask anything of them?

Yes, sometimes being in the Spirit causes us to feel a certain way, but that way we feel is not the Spirit itself.  Throughout history, there have been numerous movements that moved in quiet and peace, waiting for the Spirit to arrive.  Don’t get me wrong, I love moving with the Spirit and I even love being excited about it.  But, as I was told today, not everyone has the same shout, song of praise, or dance.  We don’t all dance like David danced.  Instead of looking to the exterior forms, we need to look deeper, at the needs of the people, so they will have something real to shout about.

Leaders, stop being Holy Ghost cheerleaders and start moving with the flow of God that will transform lives.  We can’t say this isn’t “church as usual” if we keep insisting on doing things the same way that they have always been done.  That will just lead to more people thinking they need the form…but denying the power thereof.

Love y’all in the Kingdom,

Apostle Dr. L.

(c) 2015 Lee Ann B. Marino.  All rights reserved.

Losing Our Elasticity

Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof. – Proverbs 18:21 (KJV)

I’m not sure how to start this. I’m actually not sure what I even want to say. No, I take that back: I know what I do not want to say, and that’s any and all of it. God is making me do this, and since I’m the one forever saying, “Obedience is better than sacrifice,” I know I got to do what I got to do. Still, a part of me feels like writing this is akin to ministry suicide. Sometimes I wish God could let me be trendy for just a few minutes…but yeah, I know that is not going to happen.

So, I will start at the beginning.

Yesterday morning, Apostle Tim asked me if I knew what “gluten” is. I said, yes, I do know what it is. When the “gluten-free” fad began a year or two back, I looked it up, because people said it was responsible for all sorts of things: weight gain, bloating, diabetes, heart disease, and a host of other things that gluten was now responsible for. The truth is that gluten causes none of these things, it is only problematic for those with celiac disease (which is on the rare side, in which someone basically has an allergy to wheat and wheat products). But in learning about gluten, I learned the following:

  • It is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley.
  • It gives elasticity to dough, making it flexible, easy to enlarge, “play with,” and shape.
  • It helps it to rise.
  • It helps it to keep shape.
  • Kneading helps formulate the strands of gluten in a bread product.

Gluten is a vital and important part of the bread-making process. It is something that, in its essence, makes bread what it is.

Then, we’re at a church service and at Communion, we’re standing in line to receive and Apostle Tim turns around and asks me, “So do you think the Communion bread is gluten-free?”

Oh, hahaha.

But, that inspired me to lean over and ask him something about 30 minutes later:

“Was manna gluten-free?”

He said no, it wouldn’t have been gluten-free because it was “fluffy.”

Hmmmmmmmmmmmm…………

So that gave me an idea for a message: how we keep trying to change things and formulate things and, in the process, we are losing our “gluten.”

Then, about another hour later, it hit me.

For a good ten years (if not more, it’s at least ten in my collective memory), we’ve been hearing negative messages as pertain to the word “religion” and against “religious spirits” or “religious demons.” I honestly don’t ever remember the word “religion” being used in a negative context before this time. People used it to describe individuals who were church-going or devoted to a belief system in some other way. In other words, “religion” was described as a devotional practice, something that someone believed in and adhered to in a profound and deep way. It marked conviction; and yes, it was a sign of something good in someone.

When I was Catholic (I left the church almost 20 years ago), the major “dirty word” people pointed out to us was not “religion,” but “tradition.” They believed the Catholic Church to be in error due to its many man-made traditions. It wasn’t the “religion” of the church that made it wrong, per se, but the traditions that were guiding it. In essence, individuals who said such to me were correct – the traditions, concepts, ideas, and things people had made up and passed off as being of God were the problem within the church.

Many today are surprised to learn the Bible does not actually speak negatively about religion. There is no such “religious spirit” designation, as people discuss, that marks people in a bad way. The only distinction the Bible makes between religion is that which is either true or false – and believers are encouraged to embrace true religion, rather than false:

“If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:26-27, NASB)

This is very, very key to the realities of religion and why we have to be careful with what we say in church today. For a church that is constantly obsessed with words, speaking words, making sure our words agree with God’s, about speaking the Word, and about speaking encouraging things, it is amazing how much of what we say is either incorrect or taken out of context. If we truly believe “life and death is in the power of the tongue,” that should mean far more to us than just saying things we want – it should mean we aspire to align ourselves with properly understanding His intentions and what He has to say to us and about us.

So…if the term “religion” is only used in the context of devotion…we don’t have any excuse for using it improperly. I don’t care how we are using it socially or casually; we are using it wrong and we are calling something out of people improperly. If the true spirit of religion is to use our words properly, assist the poor and needy, and keep ourselves from sinning – and we are speaking AGAINST this “spirit” and casting it out of people or calling it problematic, is it any wonder that the church is completely self-centered and selfish? Everything that is good and noble, self-disciplined and self-sacrificing we are CASTING OUT OF PEOPLE…is it any wonder that “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge?” (Hosea 4:6, NASB) We esteem ourselves to be so much better and smarter than our “religious” ancestors…but we’re missing the point of devotion in our pursuit to sound more progressive or better than them.

“Like a madman who throws Firebrands, arrows and death, So is the man who deceives his neighbor, And says, “Was I not joking?” (Proverbs 26:18-19, NASB)

“And there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. (Ephesians 5:4, NASB)

Once again, echoing the fact that we hear so much about words (it makes me think we are hearing about them incorrectly), you would think we’d pay attention to something like this. The Word says, right there, that any time we are trying to pull one over on someone, when we are just a little too casual with our speech or are just a little too nasty, that it’s not funny, even when we try to cover it up with “jest.”

Now we all know we’re not supposed to make “fun” of people who are disabled, people who are somehow ill or sick, or people who have issues, but it seems as if we feel it totally acceptable, even enjoyable, to poke jest at those we deem to be “religious.” Such can be anyone that seems different from our own systems, our own “exterior forms” of devotion – anything more ancestral, liturgical, or pious – is the first to get made fun of, mocked, deemed as “inferior,” or often outright disgraced in our churches – even from the pulpit (and yes, I have been guilty of this myself – which means I need to repent, too.)

The verses above, however, mean every joke we make against more traditional churches, against liturgical services, against every mocking behavior we exhibit – we are accountable for all of it. We aren’t supposed to be making fun of people or of devotion. There is no “Oh, that’s not how I meant it,” because that verse in Proverbs makes it really clear that we shouldn’t be doing it at all, not even to begin with. The pursuit to not be “religious” has resulted in a whole new “religious” trend against being “religious.” In pursuit of whatever it is that people think they are trying to do, we’ve created an entirely new tradition whereby things are judged solely on their external qualities (style of music, devotion, worship, etc.) and not on the heart or quality of genuine worship. People can go wherever they want and have nothing more than an exterior form of belief, but deny the power thereof. They can be any denomination they want and learn the right time to sit, stand, kneel…or raise their arms…or cry…or look devoted…or dance…or jump around…and they can be totally devoid of the Spirit. For all the outcries against religion, the church has not gotten more sincere, it has gotten more superficial. Instead of addressing the issues of legalism (which is a spirit that needs to be addressed), we are just encouraging people to be self-centered and not consider other people in their actions or live their faith. We’ve just replaced new traditions with old ones, all of which are based on the opinions and speculation of human beings…and nullify the Word of God: “So for the sake of your tradition (the rules handed down by your forefathers), you have set aside the Word of God [depriving it of force and authority and making it of no effect]. (Matthew 15:6, AMP)

The Lord tied it all together for me: we, as the church, have lost our “gluten.” We have lost the elasticity, the ties that bind us together with other believers and the ties that bring us to a place where we can expand and move out upon the earth. We are creating spirits, destroying the church with our own words, and making it so we look the same, but aren’t at the basis of what makes us function, work, and hold our “shape.” Our own enemies are right within our backyards, in our own churches, speaking this, that, and something else, and we are cheering them on…as they take away everything that unites the church: past, present, and future. We’re losing our elasticity…and just like people take gluten out of a product and the result is a different consistency, taste, and texture, so the church is being fed a false manna that tastes different, has a different texture and is not as nutritious…but looks the same.

And we’re losing it all through our words, what we say to one another, what we teach, encourage, and what we allow to take root in us because we’ve heard it said so many times, over and over.

If a system is false, then identify it as such with proof. I am not advocating unity with every single person that claims to be a believer and I do not believe every church out there is right. But that’s a discernment call and something we should be working to discover in greater understanding. It’s something for the theologians and apologists to sort out (of course, we don’t have many of those now, but that’s a topic for another day). Stop talking against all religion before we destroy any desire for the church to serve humanity that may be left. Stop making fun of people, and grow up. Have some respect, because that respect may just translate to saving a soul or bringing someone to a deeper knowledge and understanding of faith.

We’re picking all the wrong battles. We are fighting all the wrong things. We are creating imaginary enemies. Instead of trying to figure out how we can separate ourselves as far as possible from religion and the past, let’s figure out how we can impact this generation. Let’s get back to our elasticity, that which comes from kneading dough, that brings many elements together to form a bond and a purpose beyond what it may seem. Let Jesus do a work in you…a religious work according to the Word, understanding the fullness therein, and the blessing that comes only from it.

Yeah, we eat the fruit of life or death as comes forth from our own mouths, from words that we shall be accountable for…let’s stop swallowing death whole, OK?

© 2014 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.