When Religion Becomes Poison

Christ and The Pharisees

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If a mega-church pastor falls, a lot of people go down with him…

I have a friend named Aaron who used to intern at one of the biggest mega-churches that ever existed in the country.  It was in Colorado.  He was a really fired up dude in those days.  In fact, I knew him from High School.  He was actually one kid who probably burned himself out even more than me.  I remember when he had his turn-around though, and freaked everyone out.

I was at a party one night, all tripped out and hipped out on scary drugs.  Aaron came up to me with two bottles of beer in both of his hands, double-fisting them and gorking em’ down.  He started to preach to me that he had tripped out so hard that he had experienced what hell is like, and that I should turn from all my evil and to Jesus to get set free.  He admitted to me that he still had a problem with partying (obviously), but he was on his way out of it.  He really flipped me out and disturbed me, and I definitely thought that he was a little hypocritical for drinking while saying that stuff.  But later on he really cleaned up, and invited me to one of the few church services I had been to at that time.

I remember walking in to that service stoned out of my mind, and I left feeling totally evil and guilty.  But it was people like Aaron that planted seeds in me that eventually made me want to leave the desperate, depressed life I was leading, and take Jesus seriously.

Aaron ended up working at this huge mega-church in Colorado, and they treated him like garbage from the get-go.  I guess they had this weird hierarchy where one had to work their way up from entry level to senior leader.  You would start as a “Freshman”, then move to Sophomore, Junior, then Senior…  Aaron came in at first, and worked his way up in the hierarchy.  He started to become convinced of a lot of things in scripture about helping the poor.  So he would take kids in the youth group to go and feed the homeless out on the streets.  He began questioning the way this place was run.  Not only that, but he started to open his mouth publicly about his discontent based on knowledge of the Scriptures.

They had a “meeting” with Aaron eventually, because they were tired of him.  And they told him that he could still work there, but he’d have to shut his mouth, go back to being below a “Freshman”, not get paid, and work his way up, or just quit.  He felt convinced that it was right to stay, and that Jesus had said for us to be servants and slaves to all.  So he stuck around and got treated like rat dung.  Eventually he was so bitter, that he just split, and pretty much left with his middle finger up in their face.

Now that probably doesn’t sound right, but they somewhat deserved it for how they took advantage of him, and what would you do in his position?  Jesus said that we’re supposed to love our enemies, but there’s no guarantee of how easy that will be.  Jesus also definitely laid out the Pharisees– the religious hypocrites of His day.  He didn’t do it with a middle finger in their face, yes, but He definitely didn’t take it easy on them!  I perceive that Jesus laid out the Pharisees because He longed for them to know His Father God.  He just knew their hearts and how stubborn they were.  Dealing with enemies is never easy, but like Jesus, we’re all commanded to love even those we hate, don’t like and are afraid of.

So let’s return to the story about Aaron.  The pastor of that “corporation” Aaron was working at was found to be secretly blowing meth and having sex with male prostitutes in secret.  The funny thing was, he was one of the biggest advocates for the Republican Right’s condemnation of homosexual marriage!

Aaron is wrestling again with what it means to truly follow Jesus.  He could potentially be in a better place than he’s ever been spiritually.  When we’re down and out, that’s when God really shows up, and we’re reminded that we have an eternal home through Jesus.  This place… this life… like the wild musician Keith Green says “Is like a garbage dump compared to what heaven will be like, man.”

Places like the corporate church that Aaron worked at love to poop people out like a bad meal, in favor of programs and a corporate agenda.  Look what can happen!  The leaders can end up leading a fake, hypocritical, phony life!  Many suffer as a result.  I think Jesus said that people like these would receive “greater condemnation” for what they’ve done (Luke 12:47-48), and how they’ve perverted and destroyed the gospel in favor of greed, religiosity and hypocrisy. (Matthew 23)

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5 thoughts on “When Religion Becomes Poison

  1. Ben,

    Mega-churches are not the sole domain of poisonous faith. I assume you know that, but the way you write this it would be easy to assume that there is something inherently poisonous about large churches. Can the so-called corporate church produce fake leaders – certainly. Can the little church do the same – certainly as well.

    • Oh yes Lon- I certainly agree. After all- I work with a big church myself! It gives me all the more reason to take caution, because it seems in the blind pursuit of numbers one can become the most corrupt and become a blind guide seeking the approval of people instead of God. I had even thought about adding the next line in the chapter that I took this post from- which goes on to explain “good” mega-churches. But I figured the controversy would be more interesting to leave open-ended. Thanks for your response man! I do enjoy our dialogue.

      • As written it leads one to believe, or at least could lead one to believe, that you think the issue is size. As if the bigger a church is, the worse they become, or the more likey they are to poop out shallow followers and create fake leaders.

      • Like I said before, if you read the rest of the chapter you’d see I don’t think that way.

        I believe that 2 things can happen when a follower of Jesus is faithful:

        1. They can attract a large amount of people & resources- and therefore be held accountable to being wildly generous with all they have. I feel that Rick Warren is a good example of this- and I also think that Knute Larson led the Chapel into an era of this as well. I think there are many examples of people who are given extensive resources and are faithful with them. Rich Mullins could have been a millionaire, but decidedly lived on $20,000 a year in a trailer on an Indian Reservation, and hired an accountant to distribute the rest to those in need of resources and the gospel.

        2. It can lead a person to have a ministry like Jeremiah, Ezekiel or Isaiah. The prophets were generally disliked for speaking truth in the midst of a culture that rejected God’s message, especially by religious folks they were surrounded by.

        You would have to admit that having a large audience can mess with people’s minds. It’s a narrow way no matter what as far as I see it. I struggle with this at times when I’m in front of audiences closer to 1,000 people. I just believe that should raise the bar of being radically obedient, instead of what often happens in America- the opposite= comfort, prosperity & complacency.

      • I’ll tell ya what man, for what it’s worth I’ll just send that whole chapter to you. Feel free to read it if you have time.

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