Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A religious spirit

GToday's message from J. Lee Grady (Charisma Online) is about the warning signs of toxic religion. Grady makes the point that "legalistic religion is poisonous" and provides eight characteristics of a religious spirit.

He says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grady concludes with this appeal: "If the poison of religion has seeped into your life, ask Him today to pour a fresh understanding of His grace into your barren spirit".

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The first Christadelphians and politics (2)

I've just received some information from Peter Hemingray, author of John Thomas, His Friends and His Faith, about the registration of conscientious objectors during the American Civil War. I referred earlier to an incident when John Thomas successfully applied for exemption from military service on behalf of 10 believers in the South on the grounds that they were "ministers of religion", while in the North they applied for exemption as members of a denomination named "Christadelphians".

Peter Hemingray has pointed out that the brethren in Virginia were originally known as "Nazarines", rather than "Christadelphians", and refers to a petition* asking for absolute exemption from military service on behalf of the “The Nazarines.” The petition, addressed to John Letcher, who was Governor of Virginia 1860-64, commented on the problem of those exempted from military service being required to perform “non-combatant” service, as a Bill under consideration in the legislature proposed. The petition said: “This is a mistake, at least as far as the Christians called the ‘Nazarines’ are concerned… (we) do not recognize ourselves as citizens in any sense of any of the governments of this world. We therefore admit your right to tax our property. But we would as soon fall down and worship the golden image erected on the plains of Dura by Nebuchadnezzar, than we could yield our persons as the willing slaves of any human authority.”

Peter Hemingray says the petition must have been written in early 1862, for the Virginia Act was passed in March of that year. "Quite who wrote the petition", he wrote, "I do not know: Dr. Thomas seemed to have no knowledge of it for some time afterwards, and I can find no reference to it in the journals of the time. A pity! But I must assume that whoever wrote the petition was behind the inclusion of the 'Nazarines' in the later Confederate Act."

In the Ambassador for April 1865, Dr. Thomas wrote “The Confederate Congress passed an act, exempting them (the Christadelphians in Virginia) from military service, under the name of Nazarenes, on payment of 500 dollars. All are exempted who were members at the time of passing the act:..” On April 15 1863 the Senate passed an Act that said in part:

VIII Every minister of religion authorized to preach according to the rules of his sect, and now in the regular discharge of ministerial duty, and all persons who have been, since the sixteenth of April, eighteen hundred and sixty-two, and now are, members of the society of Friends, or the association of Dunkards, Nazarines, or Mennonists, in regular membership of their respective denominations: provided that such members shall furnish a substitute or pay a tax of five hundred dollars each into the public treasury.

"So whoever wrote the petition", says Hemingray, "was probably behind the inclusion of the 'Nazarines'.” Records show the Quakers and the Dunkards were particularly active from the time that conscription passed from State to Federal level, in April 1862. Their names were present when the first amendment to name whole religious denominations was passed in September of 1862. The “Nazarenes” were added by a joint committee of the two houses, without any recorded debate, on October 3 1862. (Nazarines and Nazarenes are used interchangeably in the record. And indeed Dr. Thomas uses “Nazarene” when he refers to the same incident later.) However, there is no mention as to who proposed the addition of “Nazarines.”

It seems that this Act of the Confederate Congress is the only official Act that has ever specifically named members of the Christadelphian denomination (albeit under a different name) as exempt from military service. It was passed in 1863 after at least six months of consideration. The brethren in Virginia were still known as “Nazarenes” into the 1870s (and should not be confused with the Church of the Nazarene which is a late nineteenth century offshoot of the Wesleyan “Holiness” movement, or the Nazarene fellowship - still in existence - which grew out of the offshoot from Christadelphianism following the 1873 disfellowship of Edward Turney and David Handley.)

Hemingray noted "It is also interesting that, until very recently, main-stream historians have been quite unable to identify who these 'Nazarines' were. Only recently did a diligent researcher follow the same trail as I did, and correctly identified the 'Nazarines' as coming from the group that a little later became known as Christadelphians**."

He also makes this interesting comment:

It is fascinating for the insistence on the very fundamental grounds of our stand then and now against military service: it is that our citizenship is in Heaven. It was not then, nor despite some of our literature, should it be now, primarily because we follow the command of Jesus to Peter, in Mt. 26:52; “Put up thy sword.” This is true, but it is not the cornerstone of our rejection of military service. Rather, it is because we take no part in politics, offer no opinions on our government, live at peace with the whole world and wait patiently for “a new heaven and a new earth.”

One reason this is particularly interesting is that the 'Nazarines' in Virginia were "unpolitical" while the 'Christadelphians' in Illinois (or some of them at least) were 'stalwart Republicans'. It's possible that while the Believers were united in being opposed to military service their reasons for doing so may have differed.

* This was re-published in The Christadelphian for Sept. 1940. It says it was “found among some old Christadelphian magazines,” and appears to be copied from an article appearing in the Christadelphian Advocate for June 1897, p166.

** Peter Brock, an historian of Pacifism, guesses at the connection on p 864 of his Pacifism in the United States.