Thursday, January 24, 2013

book review--freedom from the religious spirit

An NAR fair-tale bogeyman

As several of the contributing writers to the book note, there is nothing in the Bible about a "religious spirit" or "spirit of religion (six of one or half-dozen of the other); however, anyone having read this book could be forgiven for thinking that this "religious spirit" is the central character of the Bible, and that any (particularly bad) thing written in the Bible is written about it, no matter who or what the passage itself says it's about.

For example, one author tried to teach that Daniel 7:25 is about this "religious spirit", "It was in December 2003 that I first heard C. Peter Wagner offer Daniel 7:25 as a clear statement of the primary goals of the corporate spirit of religion." (p. 26). But a look at the context of that verse shows that it's a prophecy concerning a real person, a king who will do the things prophecied. It has nothing to do with a "religious spirit".

Another tries to see it in Malachi, "In Malachi’s day, for example, the people were proud of their religiosity. They assumed that their religious rituals were pleasing to God, but God indicated He was looking for something more: “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands” (Mal. 1:10, NIV). " (p. 56-57). But a look at the context of the verse shows something rather different...

6 “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ 7 By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the LORD's table may be despised. 8 When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts. 9 And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the LORD of hosts. 10 Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. 11 For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts. 12 But you profane it when you say that the Lord's table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised. 13 But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the LORD of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the LORD. 14 Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and  vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.

Far from being "proud of their religiosity", the people were offering the lame and blind. They were profaning the Lord's table by offering inferious animals, and were complaining about it. There is no mention, not even a hint, of a "religious spirit".

Wrote one writer, "The spirit of religion manifested itself back in the Garden of Eden when Satan came to Adam and Eve to question them and put doubt in their minds regarding what God had really said about eating the fruit of the trees in the Garden (see Gen. 3:1-5)." (p. 91). Funny, but Genesis 3:1-5 makes no mention of "the spirit of religion" hanging about. This same writer added this a bit later, "The religious spirit was behind the devil when he appeared to Jesus in the desert and tried to get Jesus to worship him (see Luke 4:5-7)." (p. 93). Again, "the religious spirit" is notable by it's absense in Luke 4:5-7.

Wrote another writer, "I believe that Matthew 13:24-30 provides a key insight into the spirit of religion."(p. 53). Matthew 13:24-30 is a parable, the one of a field sowed with wheat that an enemy sowed weeds into. "But sown in the midst of the wheat we find zizania, identified as “the sons of the evil one” (v. 38). They are planted in the field to hinder the growth of the wheat. These sons of the evil one are not necessarily bad people. They may include genuine believers who have been seduced by the enemy to oppose God’s work." (p. 54).

But the problem for this author is, Jesus interpreted that parable, recorded in Matthew 13:36-43. Jesus says that at the end, the "tares" would be gathered out of His kingdom and thrown in the fiery furnace, basically Hell or the Lake of Fire. These "tares" are not "genuine believers".

Also, this parable is not about the church. Jesus explains the elements in the parable, and the field represents the world.

And another contributor wrote this, "The Bible says that we can recognize a tree by the fruit that it bears (see Matt. 12:33-37). So 2 Timothy 3:1-5 can help us understand how to recognize the religious spirit. This passage lists what I believe to be 19 manifestations of the religious spirit in the lives of people in the Church." (p. 105). Yet again, any mention of "the religious spirit" is simply not in the actual passage. It mentions what people will be like in the dangerous times of the last days, and doesn't specify that these people will be in the church.

So, with no mention of the "religious spirit" in the Bible, and the attempts to find it in some passages being at best rather problematic, what, then, is their "religious spirit"?

Consider the types of stories some parents tell small children to make them behave, such as saying that if the child doesn't go to sleep at the right time, the bogeyman is going to come and get them. I think that this "religious spirit" is the New Apostolic Reformation version of the bogeyman, and this book is basically these authors' attempts to scare people back into line, and to keep them from considering what critics of the NAR are saying.

You must understand, the NAR has been an abysmal failure. Not to say that there they don't have large church and lots of money; in fact, many large churches and wealthy religious leaders are a part of the NAR. The truth is, the NAR is filled with Word of Faith Prosperity Gospel charlatans, fake faith healers, false prophets, and cultic ministries. Their lunacy and heresy is open and apparent.

And there are those who are exposing this lunacy and heresy, and I've no doubt those exposes are effecting the NAR ministries, as in getting people to leave them (and take their money with them). Books like Counterfeit Revival have no about had their effects.

So, instead of addressing the critics and their claims, this book is essentially Peter Wagner and company telling the people in their NAR ministries that if there are people opposing the NAR and those in it, then those people are under the control of "the religious spirit", and so they should not be listened to, and certainly not taken seriously. "The religious spirit" is the big bad bogeyman, and if you're not careful, if you dare question the apostles and prophets, if you dare doubt that what's going on the NAR is a real move of the Holy Spirit, if you aren't on board with everything the NAR leaders want you to do, well, you've been caught by the big bad "religious spirit" bogeyman.

For my part, when people like the contributors to this book want you to just kowtow to them and not seriously question them, then that's a sure sign that it's time to start asking very serious questions of them, early and often, and even firmly and loudly. When they try to scare you with a made-up thing like a "religious spirit", then it's time to ask what they are trying to scare you away from.

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