The Scripture makes it plain that Jesus did not separate Himself from the publicans or other sinners. The Gospels make a specific point of this!
"Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him." (Luke 15:1).
Jesus did not separate Himself from them. Rather He spoke to them and taught them better ways and the good news of God's Kingdom. The Pharisees and Scribes murmured,
"This Man receives sinners and eats with them." (Luke 15:2).
In Matthew's Gospel we read:
"Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. " (Matthew 9:10).
Jesus did not keep his disciples away from others nor did he promote a distrustful attitude. In fact, suspicion and distrust are the cornerstones of the paranoid personality and a sick church. Because of His attitude toward all humans, it was easy to characterize Jesus as the friend of tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 11:19). It was because He came eating and drinking that they also called Him gluttonous and a winebibber. He evidently ate and drank with the publicans (tax collectors) and sinners (probably harlots).
When Jesus was invited to the house of Simon the Pharisee a woman came to Him with an alabaster box of ointment. She washed His feet with her tears and wiped them dry with the hair of her head. The Pharisee said,
"This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner." (Luke 7:39).
Pharisees would not touch another human they thought was a sinner. Jesus lectured the Pharisee on common, decent hospitality. He pointed to the woman as being more gracious and kind than His host. We also have the example of the good Samaritan who stopped to help a Jew who had been robbed and left for dead. A Levite passed him by and then a priest. Neither helped him. But the Samaritan had compassion and was not afraid to help another human being though he was different than him (Luke 10:30-33).
Jesus' example plainly shows us that separation from other humans is self-defeating. That does not mean that we must do everything they do - of course not! Jesus' teaching was that we should not only love those who love us, we should even "love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44). It's not enough just to greet those who greet you. Jesus asked,
"And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?" (Matthew 5:47).
Many people who consider themselves religious will shun others and not even speak to those of another church or group. This is often encouraged by their leaders in an effort to keep a fence around the flock. (I suspect that ministers who get their living from the "tithes" or offerings of the people would do everything to make sure their people stay within the fold. After all, the minister's very financial security would be at risk.) It is so hard to do what Jesus commanded (Matthew 5:44) and so easy to fall in line with the tendency of human nature to demonize others and separate from them.
The Apostle Paul had to keep the Corinthians from misunderstanding. When he wrote not to keep company with fornicators he was not talking about people in general but a church discipline of exclusion for a "brother" (1Corinthians 5:9-10). Paul had no restrictions on the brethren greeting, talking to and being in the company of the people of the world. He said if we could not deal with those people because of their sins, we would have to leave the world because there would be virtually no one except church members to talk to. Another thing happens when you talk only to people who believe every little thing you do. I call it mental or spiritual incest, a constant inbreeding of the same old ideas. This creates a false reality and is the hallmark of cults.
To keep people in a cult one must make sure they do not talk to or hear ideas from other sources. Imagine the power the cult then would have over its followers. But most cult leaders don't even have to fear that their people will seek other sources of information. WHY? Because the people themselves often shun any source of information that they feel will be contrary to their belief system. In other words, the people themselves cut themselves off from all other sources of information but their leader.
You have probably known people (maybe you were one or are one) who will not read anything but their own church's publications. They will not listen to any sermon that is not preached by an official minister of their own church group. And, certainly, they will never darken the doorway of another church to attend services there.
Taking more than giving
The second characteristic of a sick church is that it TAKES more than it GIVES. I have seen people who sacrificed financially to the point where they became poor. Some felt they must give large sums of money to the church. You can see people of different cults soliciting donations in airports, on the streets, or from door to door. These people have to serve many hours of time as part of their religious duty.
Some churches tell their members to not read certain literature, especially from other groups. Sometimes folks are discouraged from getting higher education when the leaders refer to schools as colleges of the world. They want their people to study only the literature written and sent out from "the church." They want mind control. When your mind shrinks rather than expands, you are going backwards, not forwards! In Jesus' day the Pharisees and chief priests wanted to arrest Jesus. When they did not the answer they got back was "No man ever spoke like this Man!" (John 7:46). Note that they did not want to know what the man taught!
"Then the Pharisees answered them, 'Are you also deceived? Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him? But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.'" (John 7:47-49).
One Pharisee, Nicodemus, was open to listen to others and willing to consider other opinions.
"Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?" (John 7:51).
Nicodemus had the logic to imply, "Shouldn't we at least hear what he says and find out what he does?" Even this rational statement was thrown out by asking sarcastically, "Are you also from Galilee?" (verse 52). Many religious leaders love to use pejorative statements when they cannot deal with issues with fact or logic. A church or fellowship should help make life enriched. It should free us to seek and search for truth. It is the truth that will set us free (John 8:32). A religion should give us peace of mind (Proverbs 17:22) and set us free to become prosperous. Jesus said that a thief came to steal, kill and destroy. But He said,
"I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." (John 10:10).
Note the word "abundantly" is placed in opposition to the word "steal" (which makes one poor), and "kill" (which takes away life), and "destroy" (which ruins life). The abundant life does not take away from life. It does not kill and does not cause us to be financially ruined. Be very wary of groups who take more than they give.
The Fear factor
The third and final characteristic of a sick church is that it encourages fear more than love and courage. Have you ever been inspired to do really good and really great things? Did this inspiration come from your church or your minister? A true godly group appeals to your love it makes you want to do good, defend the weak, care for the sick, feed the hungry, help your neighbor (Luke 10:29-37; Mark 12:28-31). The apostle James said,
"Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." (James 1:27).
It is a difficult thing to be in the world but not get spotted by it! But we must not be afraid to show God's love to other people who are made in God's image. At the end time, when Jesus comes in His glory, He praises some and rebukes others:
"Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.'
"Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.'" (Matthew 25:34-36, 41-43)
In both cases - those who came to His aid and those who did not -- did not know it was Jesus! Which Christian would refuse to give food or drink to Jesus? Which one of us would refuse a "stranger" if we knew it was Jesus? Who among us wouldn't offer clothing to a person in need if we knew it was Jesus? If Jesus were sick or in prison we would be sure to go visit! But they didn't know it was He when they did good to Him. On the other hand, they didn't know it was Jesus when they passed Him by and didn't do a good deed for Him (Matthew 25:34-46).
Why do religious leaders use fear and prey on the cowardice of people? It is because humans are motivated by fear. You'll run faster because of fear than because of love. A person might run fast because they fear that a loved one will be hurt. But it is still out of fear. I have heard many stories from people who felt if they didn't conform to their denomination or group that terrible consequences would overtake them.
A religion should appeal to our courage. Paul appealed to Timothy with these metaphors: the good soldier of Jesus Christ who endures hardness; the athlete who strives for mastery; the hardworking farmer; and the skillful workman (2Timothy 2:3-15). Paul used his own example as a person who suffered trouble for the word of God. He stated:
"Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory" (2Timothy 2:10).
These words of Paul inspire us:
"This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, he also will deny us" (2Timothy 2:11-12).
Read here words that appeal to your love and courage.
"Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things " (Philippians 4:8).
Note that Paul did not limit where truth, honesty, right, pure, the lovely, of the good report, virtue or things worthy of praise were to be found. He is appealing not to fears and cowardice but to love and courage that Christians may rise to their highest level in Christ glorifying the Father. Beware of a group that appeals to your fears. The only 'good" fear is that of God.
The three cures
The three CURES for a sick religion or church are:
We are responsible for the beliefs we employ in our daily lives and the church we attend!
Do not let a religious leader or church separate you from those you love, such as spouses, friends, family, or whomever.
Do not let a group make you worse off than when you arrived! God gave each of us a mind and free choice. True Christianity should not shy away us from intellectual growth. Furthermore, the New Testament approves of being prosperous.
- Love cures fear (1John 4:18). Courage is the cure for cowardice. Have the fortitude to let your light shine. Have confidence in God's love for you and that He will see you through to the very end.