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IS CHURCH YOUR RELIGION?

Posted by E. Joyce on Sunday, August 16, 2009 Under: Church/Religion
IS CHURCH YOUR RELIGION?
A Perspective on Church versus Religion


Church and religion…is there a difference and is the difference an important one?   Even more critical is whether it is important to God. Back in 1996, in a quest to figure out where I was spiritually, I went back to the basics, even looked up the true meaning of the word church.  What I discovered was that a church is nothing more that a group of people with common spiritual beliefs. There is a painting by Gracia, called Syncretism. In the painting, Gracia makes a huge statement about religion as he visually compares the elements used in Catholic rituals and traditions, with those used in Voodoo rituals.  When you layer upon that premise, the reality of how simple God and Jesus Christ made it by giving us the ten commandments to obey on a physical level in the OT, took it to a new level by adding the expectation that we should obey both the letter and the spirit of the law, then Jesus threw in an additional commandment for good measure by adding the directive to love others as we love ourselves. That’s it.  But history has demonstrated that we all seem to get ourselves into spiritual trouble when we begin to interpret, dismiss, embellish, re-interpret, justify, or just plain misuse any power we have over other people and claim that our actions are in the name of God – whether we call Him God, Yahweh, Allah, Christ.

Mankind cannot, it seems, trust that God knew what He was talking about when he provided the simple guidelines on how to best live life.  From the moment Eve, then Adam, chose to doubt God and do their own thing, mankind has been consistent throughout the ages in putting its own spin on God’s directives.  Mankind seems to have a compulsive need to do something physical in order to understand and remember how to worship God.  So God gave man the rituals they craved in order to serve Him.  But in the New Testament, Christ decided to step up the game and set the expectation of approaching both the physical (the letter) and, more importantly, the spirit of keeping His laws. Christ did away with the rituals of sacrifices by becoming the ultimate sacrifice for all mankind. Perhaps because He saw that mankind had begun to practice religion as an exclusionary ritual and that the religion had become more important than the beliefs.  Religion today – which should be the act of executing the common spiritual beliefs that define a church – is wrought with rituals, dress codes, special languages and prescribed behaviors, as well as social and political agendas, all designed to create an internal and external perception of exclusiveness and exclusion along with the ultimate, primary agenda of overt and covert power.  All of which has absolutely nothing to do with God or what He has in mind.   Matthew 15: 5 - 9 But you say, If a man says to his father or his mother, That by which you might have had profit from me is given to God; And honor not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have you made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. You hypocrites!   How well did Isaiah prophesy of you when he said, 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.  A church, where the focus is redirected from God, to the worship of and devotion to its leader or leadership -- and their rules, their sole point of view, their decisions, their mandates -- is a man-made religion.
Not a single religion formed has complete intra-religious agreement on how to execute its beliefs -- no matter the theological view -- from Jewish to Muslim, from Catholic to Christian, Buddhist to Apostolic, Mormon to Scientology, Seventh Day Adventist to “The Secret”, even cults such as The House of Yahweh.  Thus, there are the Catholics, then the Roman Catholics and Episcopalians, the Jews then the Hassidic Jews, innumerous versions of Christian and non-denominational religions, sects and cultures; even Muslims cannot completely agree upon what defines their beliefs, especially when it comes to the physical actions they associate with those beliefs.   According to the Biblical history, there was disagreement as to what defines church and religion even when Christ was in human form.  In fact, from the beginning of mankind there was a diverse view of church and religion. Christ first uses the word, “church” in Matthew 16:18 where He says that he will found His church upon a rock and that it would not die: “And I say also unto you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
The Greek word for “church” used in almost every instance in the Bible is “Ekklesia” which is defined as, “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly; an assembly of the people convened at the public place of the council for the purpose of deliberating”.  If we can concur that the true definition of church is that it is a group of people with common spiritual beliefs, then the key to the truth comes in the understanding of what religion really is.  Religion is the action – the behavior, if you will -- based upon those common spiritual beliefs.  That would be the purest definition.  Christ was very clear in His definition of true religion.  In James 1:27, He said: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit the orphans and widows in their trouble and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”   But what religion should be and what religion is, becomes very different in its translation by man.  Is any one of the vast array of denominations or “religions” more reflective of Christ’s intent than others? It is interesting that most Christians would agree that their goal, charter, mission; and yes, desire, is and should be to become as Christ. To think, act, and react as Christ would in any situation is notable, and to that end, it also begs the question: “What did Christ intend the Church to look like?”   To understand what Christ’s intent was, we must first being with the basic foundational element provided to us – that is the Bible; the authoritative Word of God.   Whether any and all spiritually-based religions choose to acknowledge it or not, their beliefs are founded in the same ancient textural writings. All spiritually based religions including Catholicism, Jewish and Muslim are direct results of re-interpretations of the original core spiritual teachings into concepts made by man.  It is the eisegesis [an interpretation, especially of Scripture, that expresses the interpreter's own ideas] of those writings that has resulted in the plethora of religions today: One of the purposes of this writing is to challenge the entrenched thinking of the Christian. Those who rely strictly on their intellectual wisdom will reason outside the realm of faith -- as they often do -- and in doing so, will limit the expansive, awesome power of our God, putting Him in a box – our box, for we want God to be as we are. And as long as we are challenging the paradigms of religious beliefs, let us ponder the possibility that the prospect of power is an underlying component and motivator of our religions.
Is God’s Law Legalism?

The word legalism is often tossed about by those who use the term to justify what one wants to do -- or not do -- morally.   What makes us want to minimize or denigrate the simplest of truths and laws, in order to claim it as our own idea?  The key to the agenda behind the use of this term is the repackaging of God’s word in a way that allows justification of man’s choices. Those choices are important to secure power and popularity.  Some even go so far as to insert the concept that when Christ died, there was no need to obey laws at all because any breaking of the law is automatically forgiven, thus any attempt to promote God’s laws within a given church is distained as legalism.  Christ was crystal clear about his purpose and about his laws.  In John 14:15, Christ spoke just before his crucifixion and said: If you love me, keep My commandments.  To make sure he was understood, He repeated it again in verse 21:  He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me, and he who loves Me will be love by My Father and I will love him and manifest Myself to him. There is no way to refute this directive, yet there are those who proclaim themselves to be Christian without the understanding that commitment to His word and law is the requirement.  He did not say keep some of His commandments, yet the top three commandments we most commonly ignore, minimize, or justify, concern wanting what other have, the Sabbath and sex.  Christ said that if you break one of his commandments, you break all of them.  His sacrificial death did not negate the requirement to keep God’s law.  Then there is the other extreme, where physical rituals are incorporated into the belief set of a given church -- perhaps as a physical act of commitment to the spiritual beliefs, which often degenerate into demonstrations of exclusivity or become more important than the beliefs themselves.  Paul pinpointed an example of such behavior, when it became evident that a group of people decided that one must be circumcised in order to be saved.  This one physical act had nothing to do with obedience to God’s law; it instead became one of many religious rituals intended to maintain fraternal order.  The truth is, the Spirit of God is not going to lead you into anything that is not Biblical.     Thus, the current and popular concept of legalism is not based upon an exegesis [Critical explanation or analysis, especially of a text.] interpretation of the Bible, but upon man’s justification of doing what he wants and believing that he can do so without consequence.

Why so many churches?

All of which begs an answer to this question: Why are there so many churches proclaiming themselves to be Christian?  Why is there more than one group of Jews, or Muslims, or Catholics?  Why is there not just one church – one entity that holds those common spiritual beliefs?   After all, the Catholic Bible, the Torah, even the Holy Koran/Qur’an are all connected through their origins of translation. The truth is born in the fruits: money and/or power.   Church has become a resource of financial and political gain, a virtual industry of profit – especially in the United States -- a primary agenda over the purpose of being the conduit through which members receive enduring spiritual nourishment.  Those who proclaim that their respective churches are the true embodiment of Christianity and a Spiritual Being, cannot find a way to collaborate and merge with other churches that mirror their beliefs, because the people at the top of the respective organizations will not relinquish the power of leadership or their respective church’s culture. Corporations are compelled by financial manipulation to relinquish power and merge; churches are not. 

Wars as the Power of Religion

When points of view about religion collide, wars are born.  Religious wars are a direct result of the lust for power.  Actions were justified by the belief that the Catholic, Protestant, Atheist, Islamic, Jewish, even atheistic way of doing things is the only way.  Is the true goal of any war -- no matter the religious affiliation -- peace or power?  Who of us hasn't heard the claim that "religion leads to warfare?" We're familiar with sweeping military campaigns in the Middle East and North Africa in the name of Islam. In the name of Christ, Crusaders marched to take land back that was previously under Christendom. In 16th and 17th century Europe (1550-1650), wars between Protestant and Catholic rulers brought much bloodshed. There have been czarist pogroms against the Jews--often with religious justification. Mohandas K. Gandhi was killed by a militant Hindu in 1948; Sri Lanka's prime minister was assassinated by a Buddhist monk in 1959.1 In our day, we've seen Catholics and Protestants clashing in Northern Ireland. In India, we've seen Hindus and Muslims fighting one another. Buddhists and Hindus have been fighting in Sri Lanka. We've seen the Ayatollah Khomeini calling for the death of Salman Rushdie because of his "Satanic Verses”...”
At a 2004 conference jointly organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Bossey Ecumenical Institute, Hindu scholar Dr Ram Puniyani gave a critical analysis of religion, power and violence in the Indian context, and invited the group to be critical of the use and abuse of power in their own contexts. He urged those who espouse a religion to be in solidarity with the poor and oppressed. "The triad of religion, power and violence gets connected once we see the ambitions of those using religion for their narrow goals," he said. "If people of religion cannot be associated with the plight of the poor and oppressed, then they are handmaidens of the powerful and, in turn, become legitimizers of violence."     His view was affirmed by A. Rashied Omar, an imam from South Africa:  "Religious legitimization of violence does not occur in a socio-historical vacuum, but within concrete human settings in which power dynamics are paramount".  And this holds true despite the fact that "the hegemonic discourse of religion and violence largely ignores the issue of power".

The Roman Empire was terminally ill by the end of the second century A.D. It had used its skills in administration, engineering, and military strategy to dominate a region spanning three continents. But its heart was weakened by the rise of an absolutist monarchy led, all too frequently, by weak, ineffectual emperors. Slowly, the Roman armies abandoned the most distant outposts and could not prevent the Vandals, Goths, and Huns from penetrating the innermost parts of the Empire. The Goths sacked major Greek cities in 268, gave the same treatment to Rome in 410, and in 476 deposed the last Western Roman Emperor. Deprived of Roman law and economy, much of the region plunged into disorder and poverty.
Lost from the scene was a significant portion of classical Greek science, including Ptolemy’s astronomy, Euclid’s mathematics, Galen’s anatomy, and Aristotle’s naturalistic writings. But it hardly could be said that nothing was going on in these “Dark Ages,” as some are inclined to characterize the next few hundred years. In particular, the establishment of monasteries in the sixth century provided a means for religious training. Literacy improved because instruction depended on readings from the Bible, commentaries, and works of the church Fathers.
Monasteries also provided access to the relatively scant classical works available in Latin. Through the writings of Augustine (354-430), scholars were especially familiar with Plato’s Timaeus. This work lent itself to Christian interpretation because it argued that the Universe had a first cause—an eternal self-mover—that created motion and order. Further, because Plato’s god was good, he created a world that was good for us, the creature. Unlike the Christian God, this self-mover was not a personal god; he did not love man, he was not omnipotent, and he was not the object of worship. However, Plato’s arguments for a Creator-God, combined with biblically based expectations of seeing God’s handiwork in creation (e.g., Psalm 19:1, Romans 1:20), encouraged medieval theologians to affirm the fundamental intelligibility of God’s creation. Although Augustine frowned upon the systematic study of nature, the concept of nature’s basic orderliness provided an important key to the development of modern science (Jones, 1969, p. 133). During this same period, Arabic-Islamic science had reached tremendous heights. It led the world in mathematics, physics, optics, astronomy, and medicine. The stability and wealth brought by the spread of Islamic power in the seventh and eighth centuries fostered patronage of higher learning. In 762, al-Mansur established Baghdad as his new capital, and “cultivated a religious climate that was relatively intellectual, secularized, and tolerant” (Lindberg, 1992, p. 168). Over the next few generations, Arab scholars enhanced their own knowledge with medicine from Persia, mathematics from India and China, and the classical Greek heritage preserved in Byzantium. Much emphasis was given to knowledge that had special utility for Islamic culture. For example, the Chinese abacus, and the Hindu system of numbers and place-valued decimal notation, were used to advance trigonometry and Ptolemy’s astronomy. These, in turn, could be used to determine the direction to Mecca and the times of prayer for any town in the Muslim world.  Crucial to the development of Arabic science was a massive translation program begun by Hunayn ibn Ishaq (808-73), a member of the Nestorian Christian sect. Arabs filled their numerous libraries with tens- or hundreds-of-thousands of books, whereas the Sorbonne in Paris could boast of a paltry two thousand as late as the fourteenth century (Huff, 1993, p. 74). Despite this clear superiority, why did modern science arise in Western Europe, and not in the Islamic world?
Some Muslim leaders, like some of their counterparts in early medieval Europe, had a low regard for the study of nature. Academic pursuits were tolerated, but learning was divided into traditional studies based on the Qur’an, and “foreign” studies based on knowledge obtained from the Greeks. Although there were Arabic rationalists, there were also those who saw in this rationalism a threat to the authority of the holy writings. A conservative reaction in the late tenth century, together with a decline in peace and prosperity, impeded further scientific advance in the Muslim world (Lindberg, 1992, pp. 180-181). According to the emerging Islamic orthodoxy, man was not a fully rational creature, and no room was allowed for a purely rational investigation of God’s creation (Huff, 1993, pp. 100,115).
It was in this very early period of decline that the baton of science began to pass gradually into the hands of the Europeans, especially those who came into contact with the wealth of Islamic knowledge in Spain. Perhaps the next most significant event was the fall of Muslim-held Toledo in 1085. Many important Arabic and classical works from its vast library were translated into Latin. Within a century, these had begun to filter into centers of learning all over Europe. They arrived at a time when scholars such as Anselm (1033-1109) already were reviving the role of reason in faith. Their arrival coincided also with the development of the university as a legal entity with political and intellectual autonomy (Huff, 1993, p. 335). No similar institution appeared in the Arabic world until the twentieth century due, in part, to the orthodox Muslim concept of nature and reason. Religious constraints also played a role in late medieval Europe, but an academic world committed to the biblical views of man’s rationality and freedom of choice provided a fertile ground for the rise of modern science. 
Muqtedar Khan (a Muslim from India, now living in Michigan) of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy boldly wrote after 9/11, decrying intolerance in the name of Islam:
The Israeli occupation of Palestine is perhaps central to Muslim grievance against the West. While acknowledging that, I must remind you that Israel treats its one million Arab citizens with greater respect and dignity than most Arab nations treat their citizens.  Today, Palestinian refugees can settle and become citizens of the United States but in spite of all the tall rhetoric of the Arab world and Quranic injunctions (24:22) no Muslim country except Jordan extends this support to them. While we loudly and consistently condemn Israel for its ill treatment of Palestinians we are silent when Muslim regimes abuse the rights of Muslims and slaughter thousands of them. Remember Saddam and his use of chemical weapons against Muslims (Kurds)? Remember Pakistani army's excesses against Muslims (Bengalis)? Remember the Mujahideen of Afghanistan and their mutual slaughter? Have we ever condemned them for their excesses? Have we demanded international intervention or retribution against them? Do you know how the Saudis treat their minority Shi'as? Have we protested the violation of their rights? But we all are eager to condemn Israel; not because we care for rights and lives of the Palestinians, we don't. We condemn Israel because we hate "them." 
Most wars today, it seems, are civil wars in which one religious group oppresses another. Religion, we tend to believe, purports to bring inner--and outer--peace. It seems contradictory, then, that religion should provide the source for so much conflict. It might be easy for a westerner to blame "those Muslims" or "the Catholics" for the religious intolerance that fuels modern religious warfare. However, the conflicts are far more complex than they may appear on the surface, and the solutions are far less readily apparent than we would like to believe…Since the dawn of European civilization, the Judeo-Christian world seems to have been at war. The Crusades killed countless Christians and Muslims as Europe wrestled for control of the Holy Land. The conflict continued as Turks made inroads into Europe, and when that tide was finally stemmed, Christians warred against Christians as the Reformation threatened Catholicism. When Israel was finally made a state, of course, that began a series of wars and battles that began almost from the first day of Israel's existence. Islam and Hinduism battled over India and Bangladesh. And now Protestants fight Catholics in Ireland, Muslims fight Jews in the Middle East, and Christians and Muslims kill one another in Sudan, Kosovo, and Jakarta. We filter our information about our own and other cultures to suit our images of ourselves. Thus, as most Americans are Christian, at least in our ethnic background, we tend to paint for ourselves a somewhat self-serving, modernized, enlightened portrait of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Americans often think of Christianity in terms of its "love thy neighbor" and "turn the other cheek" philosophies. By contrast, when we think of Muslims, we often think of the term "jihad," the holy war that, we assume, feeds the flames of terrorism and civil war. Since the Crusades, the bloody battles between European Christians and Muslim Turks, we have seen Islam as a formidable and barbaric opponent. However, as Joseph Campbell so conclusively points out in Myths to Live By, the aggressiveness that characterizes modern Islam has its roots in the warrior mythologies of the Aryans and Semites, as well as those of ancient Greece--the same mythologies that are shared by Christianity and Judaism.  Note: Have most of us forgotten that the root of Christianity is Judaism?
While critics of religion and deity can make a case that religion is a cause of most wars throughout history, an equally legitimate case can be made against the atheistic ideology -- which is arguably a religion -- as being the cause of one of the major wars in the world. In his book Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, the late Bible scholar attributed the following quote to Adolf Hitler, "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it." Although historians note that the quote should be properly attributed to Hitler's propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, there seems to be no dispute that the quote is rightly attributed to the former Hitler regime. Hitler, in his maniacal quest for power and perceived racial purity, set out to systematically eliminate the German Jewish population in what is known as the Jewish Holocaust.  What is not commonly known, and I choose to make note of it here, is that he also attempted to eliminate the Black Germans -- most of whom came from Rhineland -- in the same manner, in the same camps, although history ignores their mistreatment dating back to the late 1800s. [Read more in Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany, by Hans J. Massaquoi]
REALISM, rather than romanticism, is an essential element in Christian judgment. Nowhere is this as verifiable than in Northern Ireland, where a lethal mixture of nationalism, culture, religion and politics has been fermenting for nearly four centuries. Although its geography suggests that Ireland should be unified, there is not the remotest possibility of this happening within the foreseeable future.. However, collaboration between North and South on many matters of common interest is highly desirable.
Most of the Irish--Catholic and Protestant--recognize this. Indeed, opinion polls show that the majority of Catholics in the North have no desire to be absorbed into the southern republic, since this would leave them economically worse off. The cause of Irish unity is being fought only by the Sinn Fein party and its terrorist wing, the IRA, which has virtually no support in the South and only limited support in the North. Thanks to the pusillanimity of both the English and the Irish governments, however, the IRA has become the most sophist): cased and ruthless terrorist organization in Western Europe. Not surprisingly, the IRA's actions over the past quarter of a century have led to the creation of illegal Protestant paramilitary groups in the North, though they are not active at present. These are less sophisticated than the IRA and usually pursue a policy of reprisal.
The Protestant community in Northern Ireland numbers about 1 million--two-thirds of the population of the province. The member of this community are anything but modern interlopers on the Irish scene. Their forebears arrived in Ireland 11 years before the Pilgrims set sail from Plymouth in 1620. Although there were already many Englishmen in Ireland at that time, most tad assimilated into the indigenous Catholic population… Most of those who took up this offer were Scottish Presbyterians, strict Calvinists who could reach Ireland by a sea voyage of only 12 miles. Being fiercely antipapal, they made a solemn covenant not to assimilate with the native Irish. No attempt was made, however, to evict the Irish, who retained a share of the plentiful land.
King James's pre-emptive move paid off handsomely in 1689 when James II, deposed from the British throne for becoming a Catholic, landed an army in Ireland and, with the support of the Catholic population, marched north. He planned to cross over to England in French ships, but the Protestant settlers resisted heroically until King William III, formerly prince of Orange in the Netherlands, arrived with his fleet and won a notable victory at the Battle of the Boyne.
The national identity of the Northern Protestant community was forged during this time, and the events of those stirring days are still commemorated every summer with worship services, parades and rallies. For the minority Catholic community, however, these celebrations are a painful reminder not only of a cause lost more than 300 years ago but also of the repression that followed King William's victory and continued until the present century.
Southern Ireland was released from this yoke of oppression when the Irish Free State was formed in 1922, but discrimination against Northern Ireland's Catholics continued until 1972, when violent demonstrations by the Catholics drove the British government to reimpose direct rule and gradually remove discrimination in housing, employment and public administration…
The reality is that contention over spiritual beliefs has been a part of man’s history from the beginning of time.  The Bible holds numerous examples of man’s ongoing attempts to use religious and political power to control those whose beliefs differed from the existing mainstream.  In the height of persecution of the Jewish Christians in the New Testament, a Pharisee named Gamaliel offered up what may have been inspired wisdom that is as applicable today as it was then.  He told the Israelite council to take caution in opposing people of differing beliefs; just leave them alone.  If their plans and work is of men it will come to nothing.  But if what they are doing is truly of God one could not overthrow it…you would be in a fight against God and who would want that? (Acts 5: 33-39)   Unfortunately, his wisdom was and is not heeded as the heady addiction to power and self-righteousness continued and continues to subjugate sound reason. 
Church to Religion: The Transition to Power
Here is the reality, at least from my point of view: at some point, without fail, a specific belief becomes a church, as the church grows in numbers, the power to influence a greater number of people becomes a dynamic and material factor in how a church evolves into a charismatic, even political entity.    Most incorporate “traditions,” policies, rituals that serve to distinguish, separate, exclude (exclusivity has its own compelling power) and/or control the existing or potential membership – most of which has nothing to do with the original beliefs (or non-beliefs) in a Supreme Being and everything to do with power.  Many even use their power of the pulpit to direct the political decisions of their congregations. These man-made requirements are followed blindly – or at the very least without question -- by people who have a compelling need to belong -- and the fixation, the focus of the group moves from belief in a Supreme Being to the man or men at the helm of the church or religious organization. In extreme, maniacal, power-driven groups/religions a cult or cult-like culture is formed.
Worldwide Church of God is a textbook example, although there are many more. Initially committed to a pure belief based solely upon the Bible, the church grew as more people searched for a clear truth of how to worship and celebrate God.  But, as with other churches also included as examples -- as the church grew, the leadership changed.  Exclusivity, self-proclaimed beliefs in its existence as the only true church of God, even covert beliefs in racial superiority, based upon genealogical theories about Jesus Christ and the Anglo Saxons of Europe, became the more dominant thinking – all others were guests who God mercifully invited into the spiritual fold -- and the purity of understanding and beliefs began to diminish as the size of the church, the financial wealth and the depth of the power at the top soared.  Cracks began to form in the foundation of the church, but those who began to point to those cracks, warning that they did exist, those who began to look behind the shroud of the Wizard of Oz, were threatened with “disfellowship” which was this church’s form of shunning, a punishment that was often dispatched subjectively.  That, combined with the fear that Christ would be returning any second and if you were not inside the church when He came you would at best, be left behind to suffer through the physical tribulation for three and a half years or at worst most certainly be a candidate for eternal death, served to keep many in line – even when it was evident that the leadership had begun to stray from its initial core beliefs.  Somehow the beliefs in God became more about belief in what its founder and subsequent leaders chose to put forth as absolute truth.  And when he died -- as all men do -- the upheaval that occurred within the battle for power over the money and the large membership became fractured factions whose agendas had nothing to do with God.  In the end, a single man’s vengeance over alleged parental abuse, combined with his experiments in psychological manipulation resulted in the demise of the church.  When the Worldwide Church of God was manipulated into becoming something other than what it originally was, the fallout was catastrophic.  Some stayed out of loyalty to the concept of being the “only true church,” some because they saw promise in the opportunity to become a part of the newly conceived ministry, many because they were duped into believing that this “new truth” freed them from “legalism.”  Most interesting was the behavior.  Based solely upon the utterings of one man, many -- believing themselves to be liberated -- were quick to put aside even the most superficial concepts of health and well being – running to chow down on every cut of pork and shellfish available and running with equal pace for the divorce courts to unload the spouse while looking around for someone new.  After all, God’s law, according to those they empowered, did not have to be kept; all would be forgiven by Christ.  Others blamed race, since the plans of those empowered were prematurely exposed by an African American minister within the camp of the newly powered, preempting the planned psychological bait and switch those at the top were just beginning to implement.  Purportedly given a large settlement in exchange for non-disclosure, he became the scapegoat blamed by many for the demise of the church, and the excuse for many of the resulting “splintered” churches to proactively limit access to their respective churches by distancing their locations from the major cities, making those that did/do attend feel uncomfortable or invisible – or by making outright statements that precluded anyone who was of color and African descent from attending. “Splinter” churches formed, some attempting to get back to the original truth, some attempting to get back to where they were comfortable doing what they had always done, some spending a great deal of time obsessing over the writing and re-writing of by-laws instead of simply trusting God to lead the church, some extreme in their beliefs to the point of forming cult-like entities such as the Flurry followers who have cut themselves off from family, friends and anyone who does not think as they do.  Ironically, many African Americans stayed in WCOG, believing that they were finally being given a real presence  and voice in the “true church” – no longer invisible and tolerated -- along with the added benefits of becoming part of mainstream religion, as well as being able to finally eat the “forbidden fruit” in the form of pork chops, bacon, shrimp and lobster.  Ironically, it was discovered by, a former WCOG member, that there are at least twenty-six other congregations who had/have identical or similar doctrines as the original Worldwide Church of God, supporting the unlikelihood of its claim to being the only true church. (The Journal, Issue27/26, Overton)  Looking back, I realize that the original version of WCOG was likely of God, but the beginning of its disintegration, dissolution and dismantling began long before 1995, even before 1976. 
However, the Worldwide Church of God is not alone in its self-proclamation.  In response to the July 11, 2007 announcement from the Catholic church (see inset below) writer Dinesh D’Sousa responded in an online op-ed:    Pope Benedict likes to stir things up. Last year it was his Regensburg address in which he quoted a Byzantine emperor to the effect that Islam was a religion of violence. There was a big uproar in the Muslim world... Now Pope Benedict has reaffirmed the Catholic Church's position that it is the one true church. The usual suspects are riled and already we are hearing warnings about "triumphalism" and "exclusivity." But let's remember that Pope Benedict is only saying what all religions (with the sole exception of Hinduism) believe. Hinduism is the only religion that asserts it is no different than other religions and that all religions are equal pathways to heaven. Don't Muslims believe that Allah's revelation in the Koran is the true and perfect revelation? Don't Buddhists believe they have the true perspective on nirvana? Aren't serious Jews committed to the ancient idea that they are God's chosen people? Doesn't every Protestant denomination believe that it got the theology right and everyone else, at least in some important details, got it wrong? It seems in the nature of religion to claim a certain exclusivity. Who would join a denomination that proclaimed, "We haven't figured things out any better than anyone else"?

LORENZAGO DI CADORE, Italy (July 11) - For the second time in a week, Pope Benedict XVI has corrected what he says are erroneous interpretations of the Second Vatican Council, reasserting the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church and saying other Christian communities were either defective or not true churches….Benedict approved a document released Tuesday from his old office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which repeated church teaching on Catholic relations with other Christians.…The new document - formulated as five questions and answers - restates key sections of a 2000 text the pope wrote when he was prefect of the congregation, "Dominus Iesus," which riled Protestant, Lutheran and other Christian denominations because it said they were not true churches but merely ecclesial communities and therefore did not have the "means of salvation." ..."It makes us question the seriousness with which the Roman Catholic Church takes its dialogues with the Reformed family and other families of the church," said the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, which groups 75 million reformed Christians in 214 churches in 107 countries… The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said it was issuing the new document on ecumenism because some contemporary theological interpretations of Vatican II's ecumenical intent had been "erroneous or ambiguous" and had prompted confusion and doubt. The new document - formulated as five questions and answers - restates key sections of a 2000 text the pope wrote when he was prefect of the congregation, "Dominus Iesus," which riled Protestant, Lutheran and other Christian denominations because it said they were not true churches but merely ecclesial communities and therefore did not have the "means of salvation." "Christ 'established here on earth' only one Church," said the document released as the pope vacations at a villa in Lorenzago di Cadore, in Italy's Dolomite mountains.  The other communities "cannot be called 'churches' in the proper sense" because they do not have apostolic succession - the ability to trace their bishops back to Christ's original apostles - and therefore their priestly ordinations are not valid, it said… Despite the harsh tone of the documents, they stressed that Benedict remains committed to ecumenical dialogue.  "However, if such dialogue is to be truly constructive it must involve not just the mutual openness of the participants but also fidelity to the identity of the Catholic faith," the commentary said.  The top Protestant cleric in Benedict 's homeland, Germany, complained that the Vatican apparently did not consider that "mutual respect for the church status" was required for any ecumenical progress.  In a statement headlined "Lost Chance," Lutheran Bishop Wolfgang Huber argued that "it would also be completely sufficient if it were to be said that the reforming churches are 'not churches in the sense required here' or that they are 'churches of another type' - but none of these bridges is used in the 'answers."'
In the Corpus Christi Caller-Times there was an article featured about the Gardendale Baptist church that ousted one hundred sixty-five of its members and ordered them shunned, because they questioned the pastor’s power to spend money without disclosing the use or the budget, to hire new ministers without consulting the church membership, and to cancel weekday bible studies and services, etc.  The pastor, after the end of a service, asked the congregation to immediately participate in a vote of confidence and that he would leave immediately based upon the results.  Seven hundred fifty members voted for him.  He then had them vote to oust those who did not.  They would be allowed to attend church, but not as members, and would be shunned.  They would be able to become members again, on the condition that they signed a “covenant of unity.”  The pastor was interested in his vision, rather than biblical principle, being followed and he would answer to no one about what that vision entailed.  The focus of the church shifted from God to church leadership.  Essentially, those ousted were required to agree to follow, without question, the decisions made by one man – all having nothing to do with spiritual beliefs and everything to do with manipulation of power.   
In his award-winning article, Scientology: The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power, Richard Behar states the following: The Church of Scientology, started by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard to "clear" people of unhappiness, portrays itself as a religion. In reality the church is a hugely profitable global racket that survives by intimidating members and critics in a Mafia-like manner. At times during the past decade, prosecutions against Scientology seemed to be curbing its menace. Eleven top Scientologists, including Hubbard's wife, were sent to prison in the early 1980s for infiltrating, burglarizing and wiretapping more than 100 private and government agencies in attempts to block their investigations. In recent years hundreds of longtime Scientology adherents -- many charging that they were mentally of physically abused -- have quit the church and criticized it at their own risk. Some have sued the church and won; others have settled for amounts in excess of $500,000. In various cases, judges have labeled the church "schizophrenic and paranoid" and "corrupt, sinister and dangerous." … Vicki Aznaran, who was one of Scientology's six key leaders until she bolted from the church in 1987, agrees: "This is a criminal organization, day in and day out. It makes Jim and Tammy [Bakker] look like kindergarten."
In his book, Snakes in the Pulpit, Reuben Armstrong writes: The number of megachurches featured on national television and radio have spawned a new type of celebrity: megapastors. These men [and women] have risen in stature and gained the public's trust as irreproachable men [and women] of God as their churches have attracted hundreds of thousands of members and millions of viewers and listeners. But are these men, their methods and intentions really beyond reproach? Armstrong says no. “I want to expose the deception and the lies that are going on right now when it comes to these megachurches and their pastors," Armstrong said. "I'm a Christian, and I don't want people thinking I'm against God or anything like that. I believe in the church, but I don't believe in people saying one thing and doing another. As I look back, I knew there were many things going on in my church that were wrong, but I was too afraid to reveal them. I knew of pastors having sex with the deacons…members of the finance committee stealing the church offering. Nevertheless, I showed up Sunday after Sunday.  I guess a few others have seen the light since then as well. I still believe there are good men of God out there. Believing otherwise would be a clear sign of the lack of faith in my God, who can change all things for the good.  Interestingly enough, soon after Armstrong announced the publication of his book, Multi Media Technologies and Streaming Faith abruptly cancelled his celebrity-laced talk show, resulting in Armstrong’s lawsuit against them. 
Many have chosen to connect with spirituality than with any formal set of beliefs in a specific church.   The concern with this kind of thinking is they become vulnerable. Those who are convinced that they have all of the answers independently, have fertile mental ground in which any religious seed  that supplies a psychological or emotional need – or is packaged just right -- can take a stronghold.  Such new age, somewhat narcissistic, beliefs such as Scientology and “ the  Secret” -- both of which are based primarily upon the reinventions, marketing and machinations of men --  that have been glamorized and popularized by the endorsements of individuals in the entertainment industry, become the spiritual “answer” to even the most intelligent.  After all if Oprah endorses it, it must be right, yes?  The danger is that most tend to embrace a suggested concept at face value without fully investigating the premise, even the motive for the teaching.  Taking an all or nothing approach to spirituality, combined with satiating a psychological void that is generated in the emotional baggage each individual carries, is what cults or cult-like followings are built on.   Thus, “The Secret” should be viewed as any other self-help concept would or should be: one size does not fit all.   As biblical history shows, Ephraim’s captivity was predicted for this very reason:  Isaiah 28:13 - But the word of the} LORD was to them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, [and] there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken. (Isaiah 6:9) Because they will not receive the word of God, when it is offered, it comes of their own malice, if after their hearts are so hardened, that they care not for it, as before.
In an editorial, Mark Serrano writes of the addictive power welded in the Catholic church:
Last year in Boston Tom Doyle was awarded the first-ever priest of integrity award. He is a Roman Catholic priest and an advocate for victims of clergy sexual abuse. Doyle first addressed the sexual abuse crisis over 18 years ago as a rising star in the Vatican Embassy in Washington. Since then he has been an outcast in the institution of the church. He took refuge as an Air Force chaplain based in Germany.  In his remarks at the Voice of the Faithful convention, Doyle cited the cause of the great crisis facing the Catholic Church today. He explained that it is a great affliction that grips Catholic Church leaders and that "we must free our church leaders from these chains" when he appealed to the gathering of Catholic faithful to assist church leaders in overcoming their affliction.  What is this great malady that bishops and cardinals suffer from throughout the world? It is a disease called "clericalism".  The outward symptoms of this disease include a predilection to authoritarian thinking. One who suffers from clericalism develops an expectation that rank and file believers should offer them reverence, deference and respect in all things.  Elitist trappings of power are important to those afflicted with clericalism, including first class air travel, residences in mansions (typically contributed by wealthy followers), offices made up of young and submissive staff members (often clerics as well), and legions of attorneys and public relations professionals, as well as hefty bank accounts that receive no audits or independent review.  This disease manifests itself in most "clericalists" in the form of an all-consuming addiction. It is an addiction to institutional power. Institutional power is like no other drug for clericalists; church leaders are slave to it.  In addition, since most waking moments in the life of church leaders are spent with other clerics and church leaders, there is no escaping this "drug culture". When church leaders are among rank and file believers, their primary thought and motivation is to retreat back to the underworld of fellow clericalists, so they can further consume their drug of institutional power unabated.  Living life everyday around rectories, chancery offices, and monasteries is much like living life in crack houses for the clericalists who are hooked on the drug of institutional power.  In the Catholic Church, power is ordained by the Pope and trickles down through the ranks of clerics to the local pastors (some of whom are sufferers of clericalism). They are fed their drug from the most central authoritarian power base, the Vatican.  In America though, power is ordained by the people. Power shared in a democracy is kind of like the distribution of a controlled substance that can have positive and medicinal value in society. In its most centralized from, power is madly addictive. But when power is distributed in a more decentralized form, and shared throughout the land on a limited basis, its addictive qualities are dissipated.  Thus we have a great clash in our society with the holders of the controlled substance - power. Those who have centrally possessed this substance since the dawning of Christianity are not inclined to cede control of it to those who have acquired it since the dawning of democracy.  The problem is, as Tom Doyle pointed out, those afflicted with clericalism are so addicted to "unbridled" institutional power that they have neglected some basic values of human life, like the protection of children and vulnerable believers, as has been exhibited with the great crisis of clergy sexual abuse.  Like the family who conducts an intervention for Uncle Harry who is a severe alcoholic, it is time for the Catholic faithful to intervene on behalf of church leaders. Those who have suffered from their addiction to power for too long, devastating the church family in their wake, must change their behavior and be freed from the chains of addiction.  (www.snapnetwork.org, The Survivor’s Voice, Mark Vincent Serrano)

Church, Religion and Racism

Religions - Judeao-Christian, Mormon, Catholic, etc --. have long held beliefs that God and Christ are physically and spiritually connected to the Anglo race.  Thus, images of Christ have always been made in the image of the Anglo-European male.   All other races, specifically Africans, were considered heathens who, in their [Anglo] opinions, had a direct link and lineage with Lucifer.  During the antebellum period in the United States, church and Christianity was used as a tool to manage the “heathens/”
From 1849 until 1978, blacks could join the Mormon church, but weren't allowed to be ordained to the priesthood. In the Mormon faith, being ordained to the priesthood is similar to a bar mitzvah, a more or less universal rite of passage that every Mormon male undergoes. Priesthood authority allows Mormon men to perform sacraments, give blessings, go on missions, hold office in the church hierarchy and seal couples in marriage. The early rationale was that blacks were descended from the Old Testament figure Cain, whose skin was darkened after he murdered his brother Abel. (This reasoning was also used by other Christian churches to justify their exclusion of blacks.) Brigham Young in 1852 stated, "Any man having one drop of the seed of [Cain] ... in him cannot hold the priesthood and if no other prophet ever spake it before I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ I know it is true and others know it."   Another rationale, offered by some Mormons as far back as the 1840s, is that the souls which inhabit black bodies had been neutral or even sympathetic to Lucifer during the War of Heaven. The Mormon Church's first official statement on the matter, issued in 1949, alluded to this theory, stating that "the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality," and that therefore "there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes."   This is particularly ironic, given that whether they know it or not, at least one third of the Anglo American population in the United States has at least “one drop” of African blood in their ancestry.   Dr. N’aim Akbar stated:  We have been methodically brainwashed and converted from Yoruba, Ibo, Bambara, Fan, Hausa etc. into coons, mammies and jiggaboos. Our degradation was devastating in its totality. Our brainwashing has been political, cultural and psycho-spiritual. Our orientation was changed from an intuitive affinity, inclusiveness and harmony with the Creator, nature and ourselves to one of alienation, marginalization and self-hatred in a geo-political environment that still remains antagonistic towards us…The most obvious problem that comes from the experience of seeing God in an image of somebody other than yourself is that it creates an idea that that image, that person, is superior and you are inferior. Once you have a concept that begins to make you believe that you are not as good as other people, your actions follow your mind. ...You begin to believe that you have less human potential than one who looks like the image.
And what about the perceptions of the Muslim religion?  Many look upon the religion with an uninformed bias.  Most associate the Muslim religion with people of color, with terrorism, with the horrific 9-11 events, with a belief in what is not God. Even Barack Obama the democratic presumptive candidate for United States President at the time of this writing, has been labeled as a Muslim, in spite of his committed relationship with Christianity – purely for the purpose of creating suspicion and fear. There are several surprising realities. One reality is as the third largest religion in the world, most would be surprised to know that of the five to eight million Muslims in the United States, 1.6% are of Anglo descent…and growing. What indeed is the Muslim or Islamic faith?  The Arabic term islam literally means "surrender," or "submission." Islam's believers (known as "Muslims" from the active participle of "’islam"), accept surrender to the will of Allah (the Arabic word for God). Allah is viewed as a unique God---creator, sustainer, and restorer of the world. The will of God, to which man is to submit, is made known through the Qur'an (the Koran), revealed to his messenger Muhammad. Muhammad, it is claimed was the last of the great prophets which included Adam, Noah, Moses, Jesus and some others. The basic belief of Islam is expressed in the shahadah, the Muslim confession of faith, "There is no god but God; Muhammad is the prophet of God.   So the Muslim or Islamic religion is a diverse belief in one God. How is this commonality with Christianity any worse or better than the many traditions of Catholicism and its worship of the Pope? 

David J. O'Brien, renowned U.S. Catholic historian, took it upon himself to put together a conference sponsored by an organization of Catholic intellectuals… The organization -- the Catholic Commission on Intellectual and Cultural Affairs -- is 50 years old and "somewhat moribund," he said, “bowed a bit, perhaps, under the weight of its mission. The commission strives to provide a forum for Catholic intellectuals across disciplines in an era of dwindling interest and support. Outrage is probably not too strong a word for feelings that Hispanic and African-American theologians expressed over being left out. The pain was all the greater, some said, when they noted the conference title: "The Future of Catholic Intellectual Life. "Diana Hayes, African-American professor at Georgetown University, said she had noticed immediately the absence of "Catholics of color" when she received an invitation to the conference in the mail.
She said she had written O'Brien to point out that the program suggested that "only Caucasians could speak about Catholic intellectual life." O'Brien apologized by return mail, she said. How can you talk about the future, wondered Orlando Espin, theologian at the University of San Diego, and not include Latino and Latina scholars; African-Americans and Asian Americans? "We simply don't exist for the conference organizers," he told NCR. "There is not a single reference to our intellectual life on the program."
Too often, he said, Hispanic Catholics are viewed as "objects" suitable for academic study but undervalued as "subjects" capable of making significant contributions to U.S. Catholic intellectual life.
Roberto Goizueta, theology professor at Boston College, said the conference, while not itself a major event, had become "kind of a flash point for what is in fact a much larger issue in the theological academy and in the church. We don't want to pick on this particular symposium," he said. "This is just one example of something that has been an ongoing issue for us.  Sixto Garcia, president of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States, said that Hispanic and African-American theologians are often "grudgingly accepted ... but expected to confine ourselves to our `Hispanic [ethnic] issues.' There is a very real kind of intellectual bigotry that can best be described as an assumption that we do not have the intellectual, cultural or genetic makeup to discuss thinkers such as Martin Heidegger, Karl Rahner, Maurice Blondel and others," he said.     Many prefer to believe that Christianity has Anglo origins.  The image of Christ that seems to be universally accepted is nothing like the actual physical description found in the Bible. Most misuse and/or misinterpret the curse Noah put upon Ham as being a curse on a race, rather than being a curse made by a man angered and embarrassed by his own wrongdoings in his drunkenness.  Further, Moses married an Ethiopian and fathered two sons.  Realistically, if his family was a part of the forty year walk taken by the Israelites, they were fully integrated into the population, thus that “drop of Negro blood” was passed forward into perpetuity.  This is actually a subject within itself – the issue of race and religion – so I will simply invite those who have not given full consideration to the matter of race in and of itself to visit the PBS website for some interesting insight. (http://www.pbs.org/race/000_General/000_00-Home.htm)   The bottom line is that God never deemed race to be a factor in his consideration of who was fully worthy of His spiritual truths.  Philip himself baptized an Ethiopian because of what was in his heart. (Acts 8:26-39)   Christ said that no one could come to God the Father unless He (Christ) drew him/her.  There is nothing in the Bible that says anyone is included or precluded because of race.
James 1:27: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit the orphans and widows in their trouble and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”    Such a simple definition.  Ask yourself: are you a part of a church or a religion driven by man?   Are you following a Supreme Being or are your actions or inactions dictated by a human being?   Are you a part of a religion or a church because of common spiritual beliefs -- or a compelling need to belong to group/clique/exclusive organization because it feeds some emotional or psychological void in your life?   You say it’s all about God: would you still attend if the man in charge suddenly walked away?   Moreover, would you still attend if the man in charge suddenly changed all of the common spiritual beliefs the church was built upon?   What part of your real or perceived spirituality is based upon a Supreme Being and what part on the directives and stipulations of men?  And let me just add this as a footnote: if you are a woman, is your spiritual point of view driven by your proven beliefs or by blind deference to your husband to make spiritual decisions for you?  The true litmus test – at least for those whose beliefs are grounded in Christianity – Christ stated, If you love me, then keep my commandments. Not some of them, all of them; because if you break one you break them all.  Not just literally, but in how you think, how you live your life.  The laws most commonly ignored are the Sabbath, telling the truth, prioritizing things and people over God and sex outside of marriage. There is nothing to justify breaking the law; you either keep them or you don’t.  There is a lot of talk and blaming about the catastrophic events that have occurred over the last few years and are occurring even today.  Many believe that prophecies are being fulfilled.  In a sermon that gave an overview of prophecy, one teaching minister made a statement about the myths that come with the misunderstanding of what prophecy really is:  Prophecy shines a light on the kingdom of God and should give us the incentive to live a Godly life… Prophecy merely outlines the consequences of keeping the law and of not keeping the law.  If mankind kept the law there would be no beast, no false prophet…    A church that truly believes in following those laws has no need for the manmade rituals, rites, or rules that come with the creation of a religion. Matthew 15:9 – But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrine the commandments of men. 
Here’s the thing: If you attend a church that is based solely upon a complete reliance in God, then there is no need for what men do to maintain control over a people who have those same spiritual beliefs in common.  No need to worry about who or what group of people share those common spiritual beliefs, and, for that matter, no need to worry about who might manipulate themselves into the seat of power.  Power and the sense of power will always be the demise of a church and the catalyst for the dissent into a religion of exclusivity to man.  But then, there is Christ’s point of view, as he prayed his final prayer for those who knew him and those that would know him in the future.  John 17: 15 – 26 …My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.  Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.  For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.   “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.  “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”   Simple.  No exclusivity.  No wrangling for power and/or money.  Just a common belief in One God.

You must be the change you wish to see in the world. -- Mahatma Gandhi





In : Church/Religion 


Tags: god allah catholic catholicism gracia church "mega church" religion scientology muslim wcg "worldwide church of god" 

IS CHURCH YOUR RELIGION?

Posted by E. Joyce on Sunday, August 16, 2009 Under: Church/Religion
IS CHURCH YOUR RELIGION?
A Perspective on Church versus Religion


Church and religion…is there a difference and is the difference an important one?   Even more critical is whether it is important to God. Back in 1996, in a quest to figure out where I was spiritually, I went back to the basics, even looked up the true meaning of the word church.  What I discovered was that a church is nothing more that a group of people with common spiritual beliefs. There is a painting by Gracia, called Syncretism. In the painting, Gracia makes a huge statement about religion as he visually compares the elements used in Catholic rituals and traditions, with those used in Voodoo rituals.  When you layer upon that premise, the reality of how simple God and Jesus Christ made it by giving us the ten commandments to obey on a physical level in the OT, took it to a new level by adding the expectation that we should obey both the letter and the spirit of the law, then Jesus threw in an additional commandment for good measure by adding the directive to love others as we love ourselves. That’s it.  But history has demonstrated that we all seem to get ourselves into spiritual trouble when we begin to interpret, dismiss, embellish, re-interpret, justify, or just plain misuse any power we have over other people and claim that our actions are in the name of God – whether we call Him God, Yahweh, Allah, Christ.

Mankind cannot, it seems, trust that God knew what He was talking about when he provided the simple guidelines on how to best live life.  From the moment Eve, then Adam, chose to doubt God and do their own thing, mankind has been consistent throughout the ages in putting its own spin on God’s directives.  Mankind seems to have a compulsive need to do something physical in order to understand and remember how to worship God.  So God gave man the rituals they craved in order to serve Him.  But in the New Testament, Christ decided to step up the game and set the expectation of approaching both the physical (the letter) and, more importantly, the spirit of keeping His laws. Christ did away with the rituals of sacrifices by becoming the ultimate sacrifice for all mankind. Perhaps because He saw that mankind had begun to practice religion as an exclusionary ritual and that the religion had become more important than the beliefs.  Religion today – which should be the act of executing the common spiritual beliefs that define a church – is wrought with rituals, dress codes, special languages and prescribed behaviors, as well as social and political agendas, all designed to create an internal and external perception of exclusiveness and exclusion along with the ultimate, primary agenda of overt and covert power.  All of which has absolutely nothing to do with God or what He has in mind.   Matthew 15: 5 - 9 But you say, If a man says to his father or his mother, That by which you might have had profit from me is given to God; And honor not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have you made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. You hypocrites!   How well did Isaiah prophesy of you when he said, 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.  A church, where the focus is redirected from God, to the worship of and devotion to its leader or leadership -- and their rules, their sole point of view, their decisions, their mandates -- is a man-made religion.
Not a single religion formed has complete intra-religious agreement on how to execute its beliefs -- no matter the theological view -- from Jewish to Muslim, from Catholic to Christian, Buddhist to Apostolic, Mormon to Scientology, Seventh Day Adventist to “The Secret”, even cults such as The House of Yahweh.  Thus, there are the Catholics, then the Roman Catholics and Episcopalians, the Jews then the Hassidic Jews, innumerous versions of Christian and non-denominational religions, sects and cultures; even Muslims cannot completely agree upon what defines their beliefs, especially when it comes to the physical actions they associate with those beliefs.   According to the Biblical history, there was disagreement as to what defines church and religion even when Christ was in human form.  In fact, from the beginning of mankind there was a diverse view of church and religion. Christ first uses the word, “church” in Matthew 16:18 where He says that he will found His church upon a rock and that it would not die: “And I say also unto you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
The Greek word for “church” used in almost every instance in the Bible is “Ekklesia” which is defined as, “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly; an assembly of the people convened at the public place of the council for the purpose of deliberating”.  If we can concur that the true definition of church is that it is a group of people with common spiritual beliefs, then the key to the truth comes in the understanding of what religion really is.  Religion is the action – the behavior, if you will -- based upon those common spiritual beliefs.  That would be the purest definition.  Christ was very clear in His definition of true religion.  In James 1:27, He said: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit the orphans and widows in their trouble and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”   But what religion should be and what religion is, becomes very different in its translation by man.  Is any one of the vast array of denominations or “religions” more reflective of Christ’s intent than others? It is interesting that most Christians would agree that their goal, charter, mission; and yes, desire, is and should be to become as Christ. To think, act, and react as Christ would in any situation is notable, and to that end, it also begs the question: “What did Christ intend the Church to look like?”   To understand what Christ’s intent was, we must first being with the basic foundational element provided to us – that is the Bible; the authoritative Word of God.   Whether any and all spiritually-based religions choose to acknowledge it or not, their beliefs are founded in the same ancient textural writings. All spiritually based religions including Catholicism, Jewish and Muslim are direct results of re-interpretations of the original core spiritual teachings into concepts made by man.  It is the eisegesis [an interpretation, especially of Scripture, that expresses the interpreter's own ideas] of those writings that has resulted in the plethora of religions today: One of the purposes of this writing is to challenge the entrenched thinking of the Christian. Those who rely strictly on their intellectual wisdom will reason outside the realm of faith -- as they often do -- and in doing so, will limit the expansive, awesome power of our God, putting Him in a box – our box, for we want God to be as we are. And as long as we are challenging the paradigms of religious beliefs, let us ponder the possibility that the prospect of power is an underlying component and motivator of our religions.
Is God’s Law Legalism?

The word legalism is often tossed about by those who use the term to justify what one wants to do -- or not do -- morally.   What makes us want to minimize or denigrate the simplest of truths and laws, in order to claim it as our own idea?  The key to the agenda behind the use of this term is the repackaging of God’s word in a way that allows justification of man’s choices. Those choices are important to secure power and popularity.  Some even go so far as to insert the concept that when Christ died, there was no need to obey laws at all because any breaking of the law is automatically forgiven, thus any attempt to promote God’s laws within a given church is distained as legalism.  Christ was crystal clear about his purpose and about his laws.  In John 14:15, Christ spoke just before his crucifixion and said: If you love me, keep My commandments.  To make sure he was understood, He repeated it again in verse 21:  He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me, and he who loves Me will be love by My Father and I will love him and manifest Myself to him. There is no way to refute this directive, yet there are those who proclaim themselves to be Christian without the understanding that commitment to His word and law is the requirement.  He did not say keep some of His commandments, yet the top three commandments we most commonly ignore, minimize, or justify, concern wanting what other have, the Sabbath and sex.  Christ said that if you break one of his commandments, you break all of them.  His sacrificial death did not negate the requirement to keep God’s law.  Then there is the other extreme, where physical rituals are incorporated into the belief set of a given church -- perhaps as a physical act of commitment to the spiritual beliefs, which often degenerate into demonstrations of exclusivity or become more important than the beliefs themselves.  Paul pinpointed an example of such behavior, when it became evident that a group of people decided that one must be circumcised in order to be saved.  This one physical act had nothing to do with obedience to God’s law; it instead became one of many religious rituals intended to maintain fraternal order.  The truth is, the Spirit of God is not going to lead you into anything that is not Biblical.     Thus, the current and popular concept of legalism is not based upon an exegesis [Critical explanation or analysis, especially of a text.] interpretation of the Bible, but upon man’s justification of doing what he wants and believing that he can do so without consequence.

Why so many churches?

All of which begs an answer to this question: Why are there so many churches proclaiming themselves to be Christian?  Why is there more than one group of Jews, or Muslims, or Catholics?  Why is there not just one church – one entity that holds those common spiritual beliefs?   After all, the Catholic Bible, the Torah, even the Holy Koran/Qur’an are all connected through their origins of translation. The truth is born in the fruits: money and/or power.   Church has become a resource of financial and political gain, a virtual industry of profit – especially in the United States -- a primary agenda over the purpose of being the conduit through which members receive enduring spiritual nourishment.  Those who proclaim that their respective churches are the true embodiment of Christianity and a Spiritual Being, cannot find a way to collaborate and merge with other churches that mirror their beliefs, because the people at the top of the respective organizations will not relinquish the power of leadership or their respective church’s culture. Corporations are compelled by financial manipulation to relinquish power and merge; churches are not. 

Wars as the Power of Religion

When points of view about religion collide, wars are born.  Religious wars are a direct result of the lust for power.  Actions were justified by the belief that the Catholic, Protestant, Atheist, Islamic, Jewish, even atheistic way of doing things is the only way.  Is the true goal of any war -- no matter the religious affiliation -- peace or power?  Who of us hasn't heard the claim that "religion leads to warfare?" We're familiar with sweeping military campaigns in the Middle East and North Africa in the name of Islam. In the name of Christ, Crusaders marched to take land back that was previously under Christendom. In 16th and 17th century Europe (1550-1650), wars between Protestant and Catholic rulers brought much bloodshed. There have been czarist pogroms against the Jews--often with religious justification. Mohandas K. Gandhi was killed by a militant Hindu in 1948; Sri Lanka's prime minister was assassinated by a Buddhist monk in 1959.1 In our day, we've seen Catholics and Protestants clashing in Northern Ireland. In India, we've seen Hindus and Muslims fighting one another. Buddhists and Hindus have been fighting in Sri Lanka. We've seen the Ayatollah Khomeini calling for the death of Salman Rushdie because of his "Satanic Verses”...”
At a 2004 conference jointly organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Bossey Ecumenical Institute, Hindu scholar Dr Ram Puniyani gave a critical analysis of religion, power and violence in the Indian context, and invited the group to be critical of the use and abuse of power in their own contexts. He urged those who espouse a religion to be in solidarity with the poor and oppressed. "The triad of religion, power and violence gets connected once we see the ambitions of those using religion for their narrow goals," he said. "If people of religion cannot be associated with the plight of the poor and oppressed, then they are handmaidens of the powerful and, in turn, become legitimizers of violence."     His view was affirmed by A. Rashied Omar, an imam from South Africa:  "Religious legitimization of violence does not occur in a socio-historical vacuum, but within concrete human settings in which power dynamics are paramount".  And this holds true despite the fact that "the hegemonic discourse of religion and violence largely ignores the issue of power".

The Roman Empire was terminally ill by the end of the second century A.D. It had used its skills in administration, engineering, and military strategy to dominate a region spanning three continents. But its heart was weakened by the rise of an absolutist monarchy led, all too frequently, by weak, ineffectual emperors. Slowly, the Roman armies abandoned the most distant outposts and could not prevent the Vandals, Goths, and Huns from penetrating the innermost parts of the Empire. The Goths sacked major Greek cities in 268, gave the same treatment to Rome in 410, and in 476 deposed the last Western Roman Emperor. Deprived of Roman law and economy, much of the region plunged into disorder and poverty.
Lost from the scene was a significant portion of classical Greek science, including Ptolemy’s astronomy, Euclid’s mathematics, Galen’s anatomy, and Aristotle’s naturalistic writings. But it hardly could be said that nothing was going on in these “Dark Ages,” as some are inclined to characterize the next few hundred years. In particular, the establishment of monasteries in the sixth century provided a means for religious training. Literacy improved because instruction depended on readings from the Bible, commentaries, and works of the church Fathers.
Monasteries also provided access to the relatively scant classical works available in Latin. Through the writings of Augustine (354-430), scholars were especially familiar with Plato’s Timaeus. This work lent itself to Christian interpretation because it argued that the Universe had a first cause—an eternal self-mover—that created motion and order. Further, because Plato’s god was good, he created a world that was good for us, the creature. Unlike the Christian God, this self-mover was not a personal god; he did not love man, he was not omnipotent, and he was not the object of worship. However, Plato’s arguments for a Creator-God, combined with biblically based expectations of seeing God’s handiwork in creation (e.g., Psalm 19:1, Romans 1:20), encouraged medieval theologians to affirm the fundamental intelligibility of God’s creation. Although Augustine frowned upon the systematic study of nature, the concept of nature’s basic orderliness provided an important key to the development of modern science (Jones, 1969, p. 133). During this same period, Arabic-Islamic science had reached tremendous heights. It led the world in mathematics, physics, optics, astronomy, and medicine. The stability and wealth brought by the spread of Islamic power in the seventh and eighth centuries fostered patronage of higher learning. In 762, al-Mansur established Baghdad as his new capital, and “cultivated a religious climate that was relatively intellectual, secularized, and tolerant” (Lindberg, 1992, p. 168). Over the next few generations, Arab scholars enhanced their own knowledge with medicine from Persia, mathematics from India and China, and the classical Greek heritage preserved in Byzantium. Much emphasis was given to knowledge that had special utility for Islamic culture. For example, the Chinese abacus, and the Hindu system of numbers and place-valued decimal notation, were used to advance trigonometry and Ptolemy’s astronomy. These, in turn, could be used to determine the direction to Mecca and the times of prayer for any town in the Muslim world.  Crucial to the development of Arabic science was a massive translation program begun by Hunayn ibn Ishaq (808-73), a member of the Nestorian Christian sect. Arabs filled their numerous libraries with tens- or hundreds-of-thousands of books, whereas the Sorbonne in Paris could boast of a paltry two thousand as late as the fourteenth century (Huff, 1993, p. 74). Despite this clear superiority, why did modern science arise in Western Europe, and not in the Islamic world?
Some Muslim leaders, like some of their counterparts in early medieval Europe, had a low regard for the study of nature. Academic pursuits were tolerated, but learning was divided into traditional studies based on the Qur’an, and “foreign” studies based on knowledge obtained from the Greeks. Although there were Arabic rationalists, there were also those who saw in this rationalism a threat to the authority of the holy writings. A conservative reaction in the late tenth century, together with a decline in peace and prosperity, impeded further scientific advance in the Muslim world (Lindberg, 1992, pp. 180-181). According to the emerging Islamic orthodoxy, man was not a fully rational creature, and no room was allowed for a purely rational investigation of God’s creation (Huff, 1993, pp. 100,115).
It was in this very early period of decline that the baton of science began to pass gradually into the hands of the Europeans, especially those who came into contact with the wealth of Islamic knowledge in Spain. Perhaps the next most significant event was the fall of Muslim-held Toledo in 1085. Many important Arabic and classical works from its vast library were translated into Latin. Within a century, these had begun to filter into centers of learning all over Europe. They arrived at a time when scholars such as Anselm (1033-1109) already were reviving the role of reason in faith. Their arrival coincided also with the development of the university as a legal entity with political and intellectual autonomy (Huff, 1993, p. 335). No similar institution appeared in the Arabic world until the twentieth century due, in part, to the orthodox Muslim concept of nature and reason. Religious constraints also played a role in late medieval Europe, but an academic world committed to the biblical views of man’s rationality and freedom of choice provided a fertile ground for the rise of modern science. 
Muqtedar Khan (a Muslim from India, now living in Michigan) of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy boldly wrote after 9/11, decrying intolerance in the name of Islam:
The Israeli occupation of Palestine is perhaps central to Muslim grievance against the West. While acknowledging that, I must remind you that Israel treats its one million Arab citizens with greater respect and dignity than most Arab nations treat their citizens.  Today, Palestinian refugees can settle and become citizens of the United States but in spite of all the tall rhetoric of the Arab world and Quranic injunctions (24:22) no Muslim country except Jordan extends this support to them. While we loudly and consistently condemn Israel for its ill treatment of Palestinians we are silent when Muslim regimes abuse the rights of Muslims and slaughter thousands of them. Remember Saddam and his use of chemical weapons against Muslims (Kurds)? Remember Pakistani army's excesses against Muslims (Bengalis)? Remember the Mujahideen of Afghanistan and their mutual slaughter? Have we ever condemned them for their excesses? Have we demanded international intervention or retribution against them? Do you know how the Saudis treat their minority Shi'as? Have we protested the violation of their rights? But we all are eager to condemn Israel; not because we care for rights and lives of the Palestinians, we don't. We condemn Israel because we hate "them." 
Most wars today, it seems, are civil wars in which one religious group oppresses another. Religion, we tend to believe, purports to bring inner--and outer--peace. It seems contradictory, then, that religion should provide the source for so much conflict. It might be easy for a westerner to blame "those Muslims" or "the Catholics" for the religious intolerance that fuels modern religious warfare. However, the conflicts are far more complex than they may appear on the surface, and the solutions are far less readily apparent than we would like to believe…Since the dawn of European civilization, the Judeo-Christian world seems to have been at war. The Crusades killed countless Christians and Muslims as Europe wrestled for control of the Holy Land. The conflict continued as Turks made inroads into Europe, and when that tide was finally stemmed, Christians warred against Christians as the Reformation threatened Catholicism. When Israel was finally made a state, of course, that began a series of wars and battles that began almost from the first day of Israel's existence. Islam and Hinduism battled over India and Bangladesh. And now Protestants fight Catholics in Ireland, Muslims fight Jews in the Middle East, and Christians and Muslims kill one another in Sudan, Kosovo, and Jakarta. We filter our information about our own and other cultures to suit our images of ourselves. Thus, as most Americans are Christian, at least in our ethnic background, we tend to paint for ourselves a somewhat self-serving, modernized, enlightened portrait of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Americans often think of Christianity in terms of its "love thy neighbor" and "turn the other cheek" philosophies. By contrast, when we think of Muslims, we often think of the term "jihad," the holy war that, we assume, feeds the flames of terrorism and civil war. Since the Crusades, the bloody battles between European Christians and Muslim Turks, we have seen Islam as a formidable and barbaric opponent. However, as Joseph Campbell so conclusively points out in Myths to Live By, the aggressiveness that characterizes modern Islam has its roots in the warrior mythologies of the Aryans and Semites, as well as those of ancient Greece--the same mythologies that are shared by Christianity and Judaism.  Note: Have most of us forgotten that the root of Christianity is Judaism?
While critics of religion and deity can make a case that religion is a cause of most wars throughout history, an equally legitimate case can be made against the atheistic ideology -- which is arguably a religion -- as being the cause of one of the major wars in the world. In his book Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, the late Bible scholar attributed the following quote to Adolf Hitler, "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it." Although historians note that the quote should be properly attributed to Hitler's propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, there seems to be no dispute that the quote is rightly attributed to the former Hitler regime. Hitler, in his maniacal quest for power and perceived racial purity, set out to systematically eliminate the German Jewish population in what is known as the Jewish Holocaust.  What is not commonly known, and I choose to make note of it here, is that he also attempted to eliminate the Black Germans -- most of whom came from Rhineland -- in the same manner, in the same camps, although history ignores their mistreatment dating back to the late 1800s. [Read more in Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany, by Hans J. Massaquoi]
REALISM, rather than romanticism, is an essential element in Christian judgment. Nowhere is this as verifiable than in Northern Ireland, where a lethal mixture of nationalism, culture, religion and politics has been fermenting for nearly four centuries. Although its geography suggests that Ireland should be unified, there is not the remotest possibility of this happening within the foreseeable future.. However, collaboration between North and South on many matters of common interest is highly desirable.
Most of the Irish--Catholic and Protestant--recognize this. Indeed, opinion polls show that the majority of Catholics in the North have no desire to be absorbed into the southern republic, since this would leave them economically worse off. The cause of Irish unity is being fought only by the Sinn Fein party and its terrorist wing, the IRA, which has virtually no support in the South and only limited support in the North. Thanks to the pusillanimity of both the English and the Irish governments, however, the IRA has become the most sophist): cased and ruthless terrorist organization in Western Europe. Not surprisingly, the IRA's actions over the past quarter of a century have led to the creation of illegal Protestant paramilitary groups in the North, though they are not active at present. These are less sophisticated than the IRA and usually pursue a policy of reprisal.
The Protestant community in Northern Ireland numbers about 1 million--two-thirds of the population of the province. The member of this community are anything but modern interlopers on the Irish scene. Their forebears arrived in Ireland 11 years before the Pilgrims set sail from Plymouth in 1620. Although there were already many Englishmen in Ireland at that time, most tad assimilated into the indigenous Catholic population… Most of those who took up this offer were Scottish Presbyterians, strict Calvinists who could reach Ireland by a sea voyage of only 12 miles. Being fiercely antipapal, they made a solemn covenant not to assimilate with the native Irish. No attempt was made, however, to evict the Irish, who retained a share of the plentiful land.
King James's pre-emptive move paid off handsomely in 1689 when James II, deposed from the British throne for becoming a Catholic, landed an army in Ireland and, with the support of the Catholic population, marched north. He planned to cross over to England in French ships, but the Protestant settlers resisted heroically until King William III, formerly prince of Orange in the Netherlands, arrived with his fleet and won a notable victory at the Battle of the Boyne.
The national identity of the Northern Protestant community was forged during this time, and the events of those stirring days are still commemorated every summer with worship services, parades and rallies. For the minority Catholic community, however, these celebrations are a painful reminder not only of a cause lost more than 300 years ago but also of the repression that followed King William's victory and continued until the present century.
Southern Ireland was released from this yoke of oppression when the Irish Free State was formed in 1922, but discrimination against Northern Ireland's Catholics continued until 1972, when violent demonstrations by the Catholics drove the British government to reimpose direct rule and gradually remove discrimination in housing, employment and public administration…
The reality is that contention over spiritual beliefs has been a part of man’s history from the beginning of time.  The Bible holds numerous examples of man’s ongoing attempts to use religious and political power to control those whose beliefs differed from the existing mainstream.  In the height of persecution of the Jewish Christians in the New Testament, a Pharisee named Gamaliel offered up what may have been inspired wisdom that is as applicable today as it was then.  He told the Israelite council to take caution in opposing people of differing beliefs; just leave them alone.  If their plans and work is of men it will come to nothing.  But if what they are doing is truly of God one could not overthrow it…you would be in a fight against God and who would want that? (Acts 5: 33-39)   Unfortunately, his wisdom was and is not heeded as the heady addiction to power and self-righteousness continued and continues to subjugate sound reason. 
Church to Religion: The Transition to Power
Here is the reality, at least from my point of view: at some point, without fail, a specific belief becomes a church, as the church grows in numbers, the power to influence a greater number of people becomes a dynamic and material factor in how a church evolves into a charismatic, even political entity.    Most incorporate “traditions,” policies, rituals that serve to distinguish, separate, exclude (exclusivity has its own compelling power) and/or control the existing or potential membership – most of which has nothing to do with the original beliefs (or non-beliefs) in a Supreme Being and everything to do with power.  Many even use their power of the pulpit to direct the political decisions of their congregations. These man-made requirements are followed blindly – or at the very least without question -- by people who have a compelling need to belong -- and the fixation, the focus of the group moves from belief in a Supreme Being to the man or men at the helm of the church or religious organization. In extreme, maniacal, power-driven groups/religions a cult or cult-like culture is formed.
Worldwide Church of God is a textbook example, although there are many more. Initially committed to a pure belief based solely upon the Bible, the church grew as more people searched for a clear truth of how to worship and celebrate God.  But, as with other churches also included as examples -- as the church grew, the leadership changed.  Exclusivity, self-proclaimed beliefs in its existence as the only true church of God, even covert beliefs in racial superiority, based upon genealogical theories about Jesus Christ and the Anglo Saxons of Europe, became the more dominant thinking – all others were guests who God mercifully invited into the spiritual fold -- and the purity of understanding and beliefs began to diminish as the size of the church, the financial wealth and the depth of the power at the top soared.  Cracks began to form in the foundation of the church, but those who began to point to those cracks, warning that they did exist, those who began to look behind the shroud of the Wizard of Oz, were threatened with “disfellowship” which was this church’s form of shunning, a punishment that was often dispatched subjectively.  That, combined with the fear that Christ would be returning any second and if you were not inside the church when He came you would at best, be left behind to suffer through the physical tribulation for three and a half years or at worst most certainly be a candidate for eternal death, served to keep many in line – even when it was evident that the leadership had begun to stray from its initial core beliefs.  Somehow the beliefs in God became more about belief in what its founder and subsequent leaders chose to put forth as absolute truth.  And when he died -- as all men do -- the upheaval that occurred within the battle for power over the money and the large membership became fractured factions whose agendas had nothing to do with God.  In the end, a single man’s vengeance over alleged parental abuse, combined with his experiments in psychological manipulation resulted in the demise of the church.  When the Worldwide Church of God was manipulated into becoming something other than what it originally was, the fallout was catastrophic.  Some stayed out of loyalty to the concept of being the “only true church,” some because they saw promise in the opportunity to become a part of the newly conceived ministry, many because they were duped into believing that this “new truth” freed them from “legalism.”  Most interesting was the behavior.  Based solely upon the utterings of one man, many -- believing themselves to be liberated -- were quick to put aside even the most superficial concepts of health and well being – running to chow down on every cut of pork and shellfish available and running with equal pace for the divorce courts to unload the spouse while looking around for someone new.  After all, God’s law, according to those they empowered, did not have to be kept; all would be forgiven by Christ.  Others blamed race, since the plans of those empowered were prematurely exposed by an African American minister within the camp of the newly powered, preempting the planned psychological bait and switch those at the top were just beginning to implement.  Purportedly given a large settlement in exchange for non-disclosure, he became the scapegoat blamed by many for the demise of the church, and the excuse for many of the resulting “splintered” churches to proactively limit access to their respective churches by distancing their locations from the major cities, making those that did/do attend feel uncomfortable or invisible – or by making outright statements that precluded anyone who was of color and African descent from attending. “Splinter” churches formed, some attempting to get back to the original truth, some attempting to get back to where they were comfortable doing what they had always done, some spending a great deal of time obsessing over the writing and re-writing of by-laws instead of simply trusting God to lead the church, some extreme in their beliefs to the point of forming cult-like entities such as the Flurry followers who have cut themselves off from family, friends and anyone who does not think as they do.  Ironically, many African Americans stayed in WCOG, believing that they were finally being given a real presence  and voice in the “true church” – no longer invisible and tolerated -- along with the added benefits of becoming part of mainstream religion, as well as being able to finally eat the “forbidden fruit” in the form of pork chops, bacon, shrimp and lobster.  Ironically, it was discovered by, a former WCOG member, that there are at least twenty-six other congregations who had/have identical or similar doctrines as the original Worldwide Church of God, supporting the unlikelihood of its claim to being the only true church. (The Journal, Issue27/26, Overton)  Looking back, I realize that the original version of WCOG was likely of God, but the beginning of its disintegration, dissolution and dismantling began long before 1995, even before 1976. 
However, the Worldwide Church of God is not alone in its self-proclamation.  In response to the July 11, 2007 announcement from the Catholic church (see inset below) writer Dinesh D’Sousa responded in an online op-ed:    Pope Benedict likes to stir things up. Last year it was his Regensburg address in which he quoted a Byzantine emperor to the effect that Islam was a religion of violence. There was a big uproar in the Muslim world... Now Pope Benedict has reaffirmed the Catholic Church's position that it is the one true church. The usual suspects are riled and already we are hearing warnings about "triumphalism" and "exclusivity." But let's remember that Pope Benedict is only saying what all religions (with the sole exception of Hinduism) believe. Hinduism is the only religion that asserts it is no different than other religions and that all religions are equal pathways to heaven. Don't Muslims believe that Allah's revelation in the Koran is the true and perfect revelation? Don't Buddhists believe they have the true perspective on nirvana? Aren't serious Jews committed to the ancient idea that they are God's chosen people? Doesn't every Protestant denomination believe that it got the theology right and everyone else, at least in some important details, got it wrong? It seems in the nature of religion to claim a certain exclusivity. Who would join a denomination that proclaimed, "We haven't figured things out any better than anyone else"?

LORENZAGO DI CADORE, Italy (July 11) - For the second time in a week, Pope Benedict XVI has corrected what he says are erroneous interpretations of the Second Vatican Council, reasserting the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church and saying other Christian communities were either defective or not true churches….Benedict approved a document released Tuesday from his old office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which repeated church teaching on Catholic relations with other Christians.…The new document - formulated as five questions and answers - restates key sections of a 2000 text the pope wrote when he was prefect of the congregation, "Dominus Iesus," which riled Protestant, Lutheran and other Christian denominations because it said they were not true churches but merely ecclesial communities and therefore did not have the "means of salvation." ..."It makes us question the seriousness with which the Roman Catholic Church takes its dialogues with the Reformed family and other families of the church," said the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, which groups 75 million reformed Christians in 214 churches in 107 countries… The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said it was issuing the new document on ecumenism because some contemporary theological interpretations of Vatican II's ecumenical intent had been "erroneous or ambiguous" and had prompted confusion and doubt. The new document - formulated as five questions and answers - restates key sections of a 2000 text the pope wrote when he was prefect of the congregation, "Dominus Iesus," which riled Protestant, Lutheran and other Christian denominations because it said they were not true churches but merely ecclesial communities and therefore did not have the "means of salvation." "Christ 'established here on earth' only one Church," said the document released as the pope vacations at a villa in Lorenzago di Cadore, in Italy's Dolomite mountains.  The other communities "cannot be called 'churches' in the proper sense" because they do not have apostolic succession - the ability to trace their bishops back to Christ's original apostles - and therefore their priestly ordinations are not valid, it said… Despite the harsh tone of the documents, they stressed that Benedict remains committed to ecumenical dialogue.  "However, if such dialogue is to be truly constructive it must involve not just the mutual openness of the participants but also fidelity to the identity of the Catholic faith," the commentary said.  The top Protestant cleric in Benedict 's homeland, Germany, complained that the Vatican apparently did not consider that "mutual respect for the church status" was required for any ecumenical progress.  In a statement headlined "Lost Chance," Lutheran Bishop Wolfgang Huber argued that "it would also be completely sufficient if it were to be said that the reforming churches are 'not churches in the sense required here' or that they are 'churches of another type' - but none of these bridges is used in the 'answers."'
In the Corpus Christi Caller-Times there was an article featured about the Gardendale Baptist church that ousted one hundred sixty-five of its members and ordered them shunned, because they questioned the pastor’s power to spend money without disclosing the use or the budget, to hire new ministers without consulting the church membership, and to cancel weekday bible studies and services, etc.  The pastor, after the end of a service, asked the congregation to immediately participate in a vote of confidence and that he would leave immediately based upon the results.  Seven hundred fifty members voted for him.  He then had them vote to oust those who did not.  They would be allowed to attend church, but not as members, and would be shunned.  They would be able to become members again, on the condition that they signed a “covenant of unity.”  The pastor was interested in his vision, rather than biblical principle, being followed and he would answer to no one about what that vision entailed.  The focus of the church shifted from God to church leadership.  Essentially, those ousted were required to agree to follow, without question, the decisions made by one man – all having nothing to do with spiritual beliefs and everything to do with manipulation of power.   
In his award-winning article, Scientology: The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power, Richard Behar states the following: The Church of Scientology, started by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard to "clear" people of unhappiness, portrays itself as a religion. In reality the church is a hugely profitable global racket that survives by intimidating members and critics in a Mafia-like manner. At times during the past decade, prosecutions against Scientology seemed to be curbing its menace. Eleven top Scientologists, including Hubbard's wife, were sent to prison in the early 1980s for infiltrating, burglarizing and wiretapping more than 100 private and government agencies in attempts to block their investigations. In recent years hundreds of longtime Scientology adherents -- many charging that they were mentally of physically abused -- have quit the church and criticized it at their own risk. Some have sued the church and won; others have settled for amounts in excess of $500,000. In various cases, judges have labeled the church "schizophrenic and paranoid" and "corrupt, sinister and dangerous." … Vicki Aznaran, who was one of Scientology's six key leaders until she bolted from the church in 1987, agrees: "This is a criminal organization, day in and day out. It makes Jim and Tammy [Bakker] look like kindergarten."
In his book, Snakes in the Pulpit, Reuben Armstrong writes: The number of megachurches featured on national television and radio have spawned a new type of celebrity: megapastors. These men [and women] have risen in stature and gained the public's trust as irreproachable men [and women] of God as their churches have attracted hundreds of thousands of members and millions of viewers and listeners. But are these men, their methods and intentions really beyond reproach? Armstrong says no. “I want to expose the deception and the lies that are going on right now when it comes to these megachurches and their pastors," Armstrong said. "I'm a Christian, and I don't want people thinking I'm against God or anything like that. I believe in the church, but I don't believe in people saying one thing and doing another. As I look back, I knew there were many things going on in my church that were wrong, but I was too afraid to reveal them. I knew of pastors having sex with the deacons…members of the finance committee stealing the church offering. Nevertheless, I showed up Sunday after Sunday.  I guess a few others have seen the light since then as well. I still believe there are good men of God out there. Believing otherwise would be a clear sign of the lack of faith in my God, who can change all things for the good.  Interestingly enough, soon after Armstrong announced the publication of his book, Multi Media Technologies and Streaming Faith abruptly cancelled his celebrity-laced talk show, resulting in Armstrong’s lawsuit against them. 
Many have chosen to connect with spirituality than with any formal set of beliefs in a specific church.   The concern with this kind of thinking is they become vulnerable. Those who are convinced that they have all of the answers independently, have fertile mental ground in which any religious seed  that supplies a psychological or emotional need – or is packaged just right -- can take a stronghold.  Such new age, somewhat narcissistic, beliefs such as Scientology and “ the  Secret” -- both of which are based primarily upon the reinventions, marketing and machinations of men --  that have been glamorized and popularized by the endorsements of individuals in the entertainment industry, become the spiritual “answer” to even the most intelligent.  After all if Oprah endorses it, it must be right, yes?  The danger is that most tend to embrace a suggested concept at face value without fully investigating the premise, even the motive for the teaching.  Taking an all or nothing approach to spirituality, combined with satiating a psychological void that is generated in the emotional baggage each individual carries, is what cults or cult-like followings are built on.   Thus, “The Secret” should be viewed as any other self-help concept would or should be: one size does not fit all.   As biblical history shows, Ephraim’s captivity was predicted for this very reason:  Isaiah 28:13 - But the word of the} LORD was to them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, [and] there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken. (Isaiah 6:9) Because they will not receive the word of God, when it is offered, it comes of their own malice, if after their hearts are so hardened, that they care not for it, as before.
In an editorial, Mark Serrano writes of the addictive power welded in the Catholic church:
Last year in Boston Tom Doyle was awarded the first-ever priest of integrity award. He is a Roman Catholic priest and an advocate for victims of clergy sexual abuse. Doyle first addressed the sexual abuse crisis over 18 years ago as a rising star in the Vatican Embassy in Washington. Since then he has been an outcast in the institution of the church. He took refuge as an Air Force chaplain based in Germany.  In his remarks at the Voice of the Faithful convention, Doyle cited the cause of the great crisis facing the Catholic Church today. He explained that it is a great affliction that grips Catholic Church leaders and that "we must free our church leaders from these chains" when he appealed to the gathering of Catholic faithful to assist church leaders in overcoming their affliction.  What is this great malady that bishops and cardinals suffer from throughout the world? It is a disease called "clericalism".  The outward symptoms of this disease include a predilection to authoritarian thinking. One who suffers from clericalism develops an expectation that rank and file believers should offer them reverence, deference and respect in all things.  Elitist trappings of power are important to those afflicted with clericalism, including first class air travel, residences in mansions (typically contributed by wealthy followers), offices made up of young and submissive staff members (often clerics as well), and legions of attorneys and public relations professionals, as well as hefty bank accounts that receive no audits or independent review.  This disease manifests itself in most "clericalists" in the form of an all-consuming addiction. It is an addiction to institutional power. Institutional power is like no other drug for clericalists; church leaders are slave to it.  In addition, since most waking moments in the life of church leaders are spent with other clerics and church leaders, there is no escaping this "drug culture". When church leaders are among rank and file believers, their primary thought and motivation is to retreat back to the underworld of fellow clericalists, so they can further consume their drug of institutional power unabated.  Living life everyday around rectories, chancery offices, and monasteries is much like living life in crack houses for the clericalists who are hooked on the drug of institutional power.  In the Catholic Church, power is ordained by the Pope and trickles down through the ranks of clerics to the local pastors (some of whom are sufferers of clericalism). They are fed their drug from the most central authoritarian power base, the Vatican.  In America though, power is ordained by the people. Power shared in a democracy is kind of like the distribution of a controlled substance that can have positive and medicinal value in society. In its most centralized from, power is madly addictive. But when power is distributed in a more decentralized form, and shared throughout the land on a limited basis, its addictive qualities are dissipated.  Thus we have a great clash in our society with the holders of the controlled substance - power. Those who have centrally possessed this substance since the dawning of Christianity are not inclined to cede control of it to those who have acquired it since the dawning of democracy.  The problem is, as Tom Doyle pointed out, those afflicted with clericalism are so addicted to "unbridled" institutional power that they have neglected some basic values of human life, like the protection of children and vulnerable believers, as has been exhibited with the great crisis of clergy sexual abuse.  Like the family who conducts an intervention for Uncle Harry who is a severe alcoholic, it is time for the Catholic faithful to intervene on behalf of church leaders. Those who have suffered from their addiction to power for too long, devastating the church family in their wake, must change their behavior and be freed from the chains of addiction.  (www.snapnetwork.org, The Survivor’s Voice, Mark Vincent Serrano)

Church, Religion and Racism

Religions - Judeao-Christian, Mormon, Catholic, etc --. have long held beliefs that God and Christ are physically and spiritually connected to the Anglo race.  Thus, images of Christ have always been made in the image of the Anglo-European male.   All other races, specifically Africans, were considered heathens who, in their [Anglo] opinions, had a direct link and lineage with Lucifer.  During the antebellum period in the United States, church and Christianity was used as a tool to manage the “heathens/”
From 1849 until 1978, blacks could join the Mormon church, but weren't allowed to be ordained to the priesthood. In the Mormon faith, being ordained to the priesthood is similar to a bar mitzvah, a more or less universal rite of passage that every Mormon male undergoes. Priesthood authority allows Mormon men to perform sacraments, give blessings, go on missions, hold office in the church hierarchy and seal couples in marriage. The early rationale was that blacks were descended from the Old Testament figure Cain, whose skin was darkened after he murdered his brother Abel. (This reasoning was also used by other Christian churches to justify their exclusion of blacks.) Brigham Young in 1852 stated, "Any man having one drop of the seed of [Cain] ... in him cannot hold the priesthood and if no other prophet ever spake it before I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ I know it is true and others know it."   Another rationale, offered by some Mormons as far back as the 1840s, is that the souls which inhabit black bodies had been neutral or even sympathetic to Lucifer during the War of Heaven. The Mormon Church's first official statement on the matter, issued in 1949, alluded to this theory, stating that "the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality," and that therefore "there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes."   This is particularly ironic, given that whether they know it or not, at least one third of the Anglo American population in the United States has at least “one drop” of African blood in their ancestry.   Dr. N’aim Akbar stated:  We have been methodically brainwashed and converted from Yoruba, Ibo, Bambara, Fan, Hausa etc. into coons, mammies and jiggaboos. Our degradation was devastating in its totality. Our brainwashing has been political, cultural and psycho-spiritual. Our orientation was changed from an intuitive affinity, inclusiveness and harmony with the Creator, nature and ourselves to one of alienation, marginalization and self-hatred in a geo-political environment that still remains antagonistic towards us…The most obvious problem that comes from the experience of seeing God in an image of somebody other than yourself is that it creates an idea that that image, that person, is superior and you are inferior. Once you have a concept that begins to make you believe that you are not as good as other people, your actions follow your mind. ...You begin to believe that you have less human potential than one who looks like the image.
And what about the perceptions of the Muslim religion?  Many look upon the religion with an uninformed bias.  Most associate the Muslim religion with people of color, with terrorism, with the horrific 9-11 events, with a belief in what is not God. Even Barack Obama the democratic presumptive candidate for United States President at the time of this writing, has been labeled as a Muslim, in spite of his committed relationship with Christianity – purely for the purpose of creating suspicion and fear. There are several surprising realities. One reality is as the third largest religion in the world, most would be surprised to know that of the five to eight million Muslims in the United States, 1.6% are of Anglo descent…and growing. What indeed is the Muslim or Islamic faith?  The Arabic term islam literally means "surrender," or "submission." Islam's believers (known as "Muslims" from the active participle of "’islam"), accept surrender to the will of Allah (the Arabic word for God). Allah is viewed as a unique God---creator, sustainer, and restorer of the world. The will of God, to which man is to submit, is made known through the Qur'an (the Koran), revealed to his messenger Muhammad. Muhammad, it is claimed was the last of the great prophets which included Adam, Noah, Moses, Jesus and some others. The basic belief of Islam is expressed in the shahadah, the Muslim confession of faith, "There is no god but God; Muhammad is the prophet of God.   So the Muslim or Islamic religion is a diverse belief in one God. How is this commonality with Christianity any worse or better than the many traditions of Catholicism and its worship of the Pope? 

David J. O'Brien, renowned U.S. Catholic historian, took it upon himself to put together a conference sponsored by an organization of Catholic intellectuals… The organization -- the Catholic Commission on Intellectual and Cultural Affairs -- is 50 years old and "somewhat moribund," he said, “bowed a bit, perhaps, under the weight of its mission. The commission strives to provide a forum for Catholic intellectuals across disciplines in an era of dwindling interest and support. Outrage is probably not too strong a word for feelings that Hispanic and African-American theologians expressed over being left out. The pain was all the greater, some said, when they noted the conference title: "The Future of Catholic Intellectual Life. "Diana Hayes, African-American professor at Georgetown University, said she had noticed immediately the absence of "Catholics of color" when she received an invitation to the conference in the mail.
She said she had written O'Brien to point out that the program suggested that "only Caucasians could speak about Catholic intellectual life." O'Brien apologized by return mail, she said. How can you talk about the future, wondered Orlando Espin, theologian at the University of San Diego, and not include Latino and Latina scholars; African-Americans and Asian Americans? "We simply don't exist for the conference organizers," he told NCR. "There is not a single reference to our intellectual life on the program."
Too often, he said, Hispanic Catholics are viewed as "objects" suitable for academic study but undervalued as "subjects" capable of making significant contributions to U.S. Catholic intellectual life.
Roberto Goizueta, theology professor at Boston College, said the conference, while not itself a major event, had become "kind of a flash point for what is in fact a much larger issue in the theological academy and in the church. We don't want to pick on this particular symposium," he said. "This is just one example of something that has been an ongoing issue for us.  Sixto Garcia, president of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States, said that Hispanic and African-American theologians are often "grudgingly accepted ... but expected to confine ourselves to our `Hispanic [ethnic] issues.' There is a very real kind of intellectual bigotry that can best be described as an assumption that we do not have the intellectual, cultural or genetic makeup to discuss thinkers such as Martin Heidegger, Karl Rahner, Maurice Blondel and others," he said.     Many prefer to believe that Christianity has Anglo origins.  The image of Christ that seems to be universally accepted is nothing like the actual physical description found in the Bible. Most misuse and/or misinterpret the curse Noah put upon Ham as being a curse on a race, rather than being a curse made by a man angered and embarrassed by his own wrongdoings in his drunkenness.  Further, Moses married an Ethiopian and fathered two sons.  Realistically, if his family was a part of the forty year walk taken by the Israelites, they were fully integrated into the population, thus that “drop of Negro blood” was passed forward into perpetuity.  This is actually a subject within itself – the issue of race and religion – so I will simply invite those who have not given full consideration to the matter of race in and of itself to visit the PBS website for some interesting insight. (http://www.pbs.org/race/000_General/000_00-Home.htm)   The bottom line is that God never deemed race to be a factor in his consideration of who was fully worthy of His spiritual truths.  Philip himself baptized an Ethiopian because of what was in his heart. (Acts 8:26-39)   Christ said that no one could come to God the Father unless He (Christ) drew him/her.  There is nothing in the Bible that says anyone is included or precluded because of race.
James 1:27: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit the orphans and widows in their trouble and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”    Such a simple definition.  Ask yourself: are you a part of a church or a religion driven by man?   Are you following a Supreme Being or are your actions or inactions dictated by a human being?   Are you a part of a religion or a church because of common spiritual beliefs -- or a compelling need to belong to group/clique/exclusive organization because it feeds some emotional or psychological void in your life?   You say it’s all about God: would you still attend if the man in charge suddenly walked away?   Moreover, would you still attend if the man in charge suddenly changed all of the common spiritual beliefs the church was built upon?   What part of your real or perceived spirituality is based upon a Supreme Being and what part on the directives and stipulations of men?  And let me just add this as a footnote: if you are a woman, is your spiritual point of view driven by your proven beliefs or by blind deference to your husband to make spiritual decisions for you?  The true litmus test – at least for those whose beliefs are grounded in Christianity – Christ stated, If you love me, then keep my commandments. Not some of them, all of them; because if you break one you break them all.  Not just literally, but in how you think, how you live your life.  The laws most commonly ignored are the Sabbath, telling the truth, prioritizing things and people over God and sex outside of marriage. There is nothing to justify breaking the law; you either keep them or you don’t.  There is a lot of talk and blaming about the catastrophic events that have occurred over the last few years and are occurring even today.  Many believe that prophecies are being fulfilled.  In a sermon that gave an overview of prophecy, one teaching minister made a statement about the myths that come with the misunderstanding of what prophecy really is:  Prophecy shines a light on the kingdom of God and should give us the incentive to live a Godly life… Prophecy merely outlines the consequences of keeping the law and of not keeping the law.  If mankind kept the law there would be no beast, no false prophet…    A church that truly believes in following those laws has no need for the manmade rituals, rites, or rules that come with the creation of a religion. Matthew 15:9 – But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrine the commandments of men. 
Here’s the thing: If you attend a church that is based solely upon a complete reliance in God, then there is no need for what men do to maintain control over a people who have those same spiritual beliefs in common.  No need to worry about who or what group of people share those common spiritual beliefs, and, for that matter, no need to worry about who might manipulate themselves into the seat of power.  Power and the sense of power will always be the demise of a church and the catalyst for the dissent into a religion of exclusivity to man.  But then, there is Christ’s point of view, as he prayed his final prayer for those who knew him and those that would know him in the future.  John 17: 15 – 26 …My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.  Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.  For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.   “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.  “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”   Simple.  No exclusivity.  No wrangling for power and/or money.  Just a common belief in One God.

You must be the change you wish to see in the world. -- Mahatma Gandhi





In : Church/Religion 


Tags: god allah catholic catholicism gracia church "mega church" religion scientology muslim wcg "worldwide church of god" 
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