April 28, 2006

The Warning Signs of Toxic Religion

I read this list on a Christian web site and thought is was worth sharing:

All of us would like to enjoy a healthy spiritual life. But the sad truth is that many of us, and many churches today, are barren because of hazardous additives. We have believed a different gospel—one laced with legalism, performance-based religion and salvation by works—when Christ alone is our only source of life.

Jesus Himself referred to these toxins as “the leaven of the Pharisees” (Luke 12:1). He told us that the Pharisees’ brand of religion, which looked good on the outside, was deadly—and contagious.

Have you been infected? You can take your own pH test by examining these eight characteristics of a religious spirit.

1. A religious spirit views God as a cold, harsh, distant taskmaster rather than an approachable, loving Father. When we base our relationship with God on our ability to perform spiritual duties, we deny the power of grace. God does not love us because we pray, read our Bibles, attend church or witness, yet millions of Christians think God is mad if they don’t perform these and other duties perfectly. As a result they struggle to find true intimacy with Jesus.

2. A religious spirit places emphasis on doing outward things to show others that God accepts him. We deceive ourselves into believing that we can win God’s approval through a religious dress code, certain spiritual disciplines, particular music styles or even doctrinal positions.

3. A religious spirit develops traditions and formulas to accomplish spiritual goals. We trust in our liturgies, denominational policies or man-made programs to obtain results that only God alone can give.

4. A religious spirit becomes joyless, cynical and hypercritical. This can turn a home or a church completely sour. Then, whenever genuine joy and love are expressed, this becomes a threat to those who have lost the simplicity of true faith.

5. A religious spirit becomes prideful and isolated, thinking that his righteousness is special and that he cannot associate with other believers who have different standards. Churches that allow these attitudes become elitist—and dangerously vulnerable to deception or cult-like practices.

6. A religious spirit develops a harsh, judgmental attitude toward sinners, yet those who ingest this poison typically struggle with sinful habits that they cannot admit to anyone else. Religious people rarely interact with nonbelievers because they don’t want their own superior morals to be tainted by them.

7. A religious spirit rejects progressive revelation and refuses to embrace change. This is why many churches become irrelevant to society. They become so focused on what God did 50 years ago that they become stuck in a time warp—and cannot move forward when the Holy Spirit begins to speak in new ways. When religious groups refuse to shift with God’s new directives, they become “old wineskins” and God must find more flexible vessels that are willing to implement His changes.

8. A religious spirit persecutes those who disagree with his self-righteous views and becomes angry whenever the message of grace threatens to undermine his religiosity. An angry religious person will use gossip and slander to assassinate other peoples’ character and may even use violence to prove his point. Jesus, in fact, warned His disciples: “There will even come a time when anyone who kills you will think he’s doing God a favor” (John 16:2, The Message).

If the poison of religion has seeped into your life, ask Him today to pour a fresh understanding of His grace into your barren spirit.

Here is the link:

I wholeheartedly agree with this piece and encourage everyone involved in church to strongly consider how their life may be reflecting in our lives. I would also encourage the author to do the same.

The writer, Lee Strang, is the editor of Charisma magazine. He wrote the column "To Be Gay...and Christian?" that I posted about a month ago. In that column, and the subsequent firestorm on the message board I was involved in, I saw God viewed as a cold, harsh taskmaster (1), a spirit that had developed a formula (3), a near total lack of joy (4), plenty of pridefulness (5), harsh judgementalism (6), the rejection of further revelation (7), and persecution of those who disagreed (8).

Either they don't adhere to their own preaching, or homosexuality has drawn some type of exemption. Whichever is the case, I feel it does not represent the Holy Spirit very well at all.

Practice what you preach folks, especially when it is expressed so well.


  1. Great repost Jim, I'm saving this one. Don't ever delete this post.

  2. Hi Jim,
    I went ahead and read some of the message board comments about being Gay and Christian.
    It certainly was a firestorm!

    Thank you for your efforts in speaking up against
    Christians who think they know the mind of God. I call it the Moses complex.

    Thanks again for standing up for us.
    God bless you.