Monday, August 30, 2010

The Plunge Part I: The Water That Divides

I have to say at the outset, what is presented are portions of a study I have done on Water Baptism. In my own spiritual history, I have been on two sides of the debate. I personally hold to the opinion that there are many variants on the dogma of water baptism but that there are two main sides of the debate: The first side being that water baptism is very important even essential in the spiritual composition of the believer. Without the experience of water baptism the person does not realize nor partake of the full essence of salvation but lives in the twilight of all that Christ promised; never to experience His fullness. On the other, water baptism is a reference point that has no power in and of itself but looks back to what has already occurred in the life of the believer. It provides a finishing point on the believer’s journey from the point of repentance to entering a life of discipleship.

I hope when you are finished reading, you can guess what side of the debate I am on now. My charge here is to talk about, at a very high level, scriptural passages that are sources of controversies that surround water baptism and its role. One thing that must be said at the outset, this topic has been debated by great minds in the church over the last two millennia and it is na├»ve to even think that one could ‘box’ up the teachings of water baptism into a parsimonious package. To proceed on the premise that scriptures could be glued together and so present a simple and powerful teaching on water baptism that is replete with spiritual benefits is to say the least sophomoric.

It would be helpful to note that it is not the purpose of this entry, its related entries, to follow to determine exactly ‘what’ water baptism is. In my estimation, that is part of the main cause of division and I will not engage in doing so. All I can do here is point out fallacies of some existing positions on water baptism nothing more is offered. It is my personal conviction that the subject as a whole is indeed clouded in mystery and wonder and cannot be fully sounded in its depth and purpose. My purpose here is to look at particularly three passages of scripture that I suggest to the reader are abused and misapplied. Unfortunately these misapplications have caused significant damage to individuals and more importantly have provided fodder for groups that eventually morph into separatists and elitists in Christ’s church. I will purposely steer away from Mark 16:16 for the very fact that the entry noted could be spurious since it is not present in all historical sources – especially the older ones.


So where do we start? That is probably the hardest point. I had received teachings on Hebrews 6:1-2 particularly the part that dealt with baptisms. While this scripture seems rather innocuous at first glance, it is an example of extreme trajectory and extrapolation from one scripture into a whole world of theology and doctrine. This scripture is examined here for that purpose – the improper usage of biblical verses due to inadequate study and work. While on the surface it seems directly simple as it is misapplied, yet upon further scrutiny, the fallacy of the misapplication becomes clear. To gain a contextual perspective, the scripture will be presented:

“Therefore let us go on toward perfection, leaving behind the basic teaching about Christ, and not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and faith towards God, instruction about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection from the dead and eternal judgment…”

This scriptural passage as been developed into a systematic Christology by many and varied groups within Christendom. For the most part, those attempting to use these passages as a basis for their teachings about the ‘true’ way of the faithful have built superstructures on these verses that they will tout are unassailable and indisputable – since they are built upon the foundation of Christ. As it concerns the subject of this series – water baptism, let’s begin there. To re-iterate why this scripture is so important to some, is because their entire spiritual economy rests on it! Yet, with a little work and understanding, sound conclusions can be reached that reveal the strength and temper of such teachings as what they really are: plaster of paris that masquerades as bedrock.

Let’s stick with the facts. First, this is a letter to the Hebrews. That is, God’s historical chosen people and those to which the Messiah would be incarnated and they would be the first-fruits of God’s salvation and reconciliation to the world. In the society of that time, ritual washings were a part of the practicing Jew’s life. Therefore, the author of Hebrews was well acquainted with the way the readers would apply such a phrase as ‘instructions about baptisms’. In the original greek the word baptismos is used. This is the plural form of baptisma and so the scripture relates to several baptisms not just one. So, just what are these ‘baptisms?’ To what do they refer? This is where we will employ some perspective from an exegetical scholar G.R. Beasley-Murray. Just to list a little of his credentials, he was known as perhaps the best exegetical scholar England had produced in the twentieth century. He held the Chair of the Exegetical Studies Department at Spurgeon’s College in London, England for many years and has written extensively on the subject of New Testament Baptism. So what does he have to say?

“The employment of baptismos instead of the usual baptisma confirms what in any case most naturally occurs to the reader, that the writer implies as contrast between Christian baptism and other religious ‘washings’. The term is wide enough to include ritual washings of the Old Testament and every kind of baptism of initiates known in the writer’s time, including the baptism of John, the baptisms practiced in the Jordan Valley and by the Dead Sea, Jewish proselyte baptism, and whatever ritual washings existed among various Mystery Religions. Instruction as to the distinctive nature of the Christian rite will have been especially appropriate among the people to whom the Pentateuchal ordinances were known, but in any case ceremonial washings were common enough in the ancient world for such instructions to have been deemed advisable among converts generally.”

In essence, the word baptismos is used to contrast baptism as a rite of the Christian from other practices that they may have been practicing or had knowledge of their application. It was to set apart the baptism in the scriptures from these other ‘washings’. Here is where we begin to ‘strike at the capitals’ as Amos the Old Testament prophet would say. Many modern applications of this same scripture refer to the ‘other’ New Testament baptisms are what is outlined in this passage– that is, the baptism of fire and the baptism of the Spirit. This is where contextual analysis and exegetical application come into play. What Beasley-Murray is relating here is that the proper application of this passage is not to group events as common and related but to contrast them. Since the Spirit baptism and Fire baptism are complementary to water baptism, the word usage here of baptismos is an inappropriate application for the purpose of grouping baptism found in the New Testament. In the literal Greek, the phrase ‘instructions about baptisms’ is translated ‘immersions teaching’ , a comparative usage of the word baptismos found elsewhere in the scriptures refers to the ritual washings of cups, jugs and copper things (Mk 7:4). So, the point here being it is to contrast Christian baptism from other ritual washings to wit the Jews were well acquainted. The idea here is to fundamentally set apart believer’s baptism from any ritual washing not to exposit on the ‘other baptisms’ in the New Testament in other words to set apart the ‘baptisma’ from the ‘baptismos’. What this conclusion sets forth is that any teaching that rests on the misapplication of this scripture has a very fragile ‘foundation’ because it rests on improper application of the teachings the writer of Hebrews was attempting to convey. To put it more strongly, it may be based on a false premise. At this juncture, it is a good reminder that the rite of Christian baptism its merits and role is not being discussed above merely the proper application of the scripture passage in Heb 6:2; yet to make trajectory on this scripture subjects not meant to be applied borders on error and leads to wrong conclusions and so doctrine. When one does so, the result is a ‘flat’ interpretation of the scriptures and shows that proper research has not been applied. I discuss this dynamic in the opening of my last entry:”The House that Jack Built: The Renewing of the Mind” . Our example of misapplication that leads to errant teaching is complete as well as dispelling the usage of Hebrew 6:1-2 to relate to baptisms that are recounted in the New Testament and a part of the Christian experience.

Born Again:The Power of the Water, Spirit or Both.

Another passage used by side one is found in the gospel of John when Jesus is discussing spiritual verities with Nicodemus. In this passage the phrase ‘born again’ is used in the literal Greek this is phrased ‘born from above’. While these are often equated and interchangeable, some of the translation meaning is lost on a twenty-first century believer. In this age, much industry to ferret out the real meaning is left to the scholar and exegete and the meaning is seldom communicated clearly. This is where again one is tempted to ‘flatten’ the scriptures and so lead themselves and unfortunately others that follow them into error. Below is the scriptural passage in the original Greek:

John 3:3-7 “Answered, Jesus and said to him [sic Nicodemus], amen amen I say to you, except some might be born from above, not he is able to see the kingdom of God. Says toward him the Nicodemus; how is able a man to be born old man being? Not he is able into the stomach of the mother of him second to go into and to be born? Answered Jesus, amen amen I say to you, except some might be born from water and spirit, not one is able to go into the kingdom of the God. The one having been born of flesh flesh is, and the one having been born from of the spirit, spirit he is. Not marvel that I said to you, it is necessary you to be born from above. The spirit where it wants blows and the sound of it you hear but not you know from where it comes and where it goes off; thusly is all the one having been born from the spirit.”

So the ‘flat’ conclusion is to require water baptism and spirit baptism for the purpose of experiencing a born again status. This interpretation has been taught and followed by many areas of the Church body throughout the church age namely: Catholicism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, certain sects within the Church of Christ, Many Pentecostal and Holiness Churches including Apostolic and Latter Rain variants. So, what is the main premise these groups and others who take such tact on this particular scripture here? If water and spirit baptism are not experienced by the believer, they are not in the kingdom of God. Now, the kingdom of God is a subject unto itself and has various shades of meaning but perhaps there are two main schools of thought here: First, one is not ‘saved’, that is, they are bound for hellfire because they have not fulfilled the scriptural mandate that appears present in John 3:3-8 ( and Matt 28:19 and Mark 16:16). Secondly, there are groups that teach one can be justified by the work of Christ and not be born again because they have not experienced water and/or spirit baptism. Thus, they are not a part of the true Church but are in the netherworld of being somehow justified but not complete in their spiritual experience. These are examples of conclusions that can be reached when the scripture is flatly applied. Believe me, entire worlds and economies of God have been built in such speculation. Here is where the scriptures themselves help on how to inflate this scripture to reflect meaning that is what was intended. So, let’s get down to the basics.

First, being born again is not a revolutionary concept solely revealed in the New Testament. This is clear from the gospel of John in the first chapter when the Pharisees queried John the Baptist and said to him “Why are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah nor Elijiah, nor the prophet?” It is very clear that the scribes and Pharisees understood the baptismal rite as very powerful as it concerned a person’s status in Jewish Society in both a natural and spiritual sense. In fact baptisms had been applied in Jewish society to mark a change in the state of the person undergoing it (impure to pure). Here is where the scholars and exegetes can provide proper perspective:

Pesachim “‘One who separates himself from his uncircumcision is like one who separates himself from the grave’ Pes. 91b”

Alfred Erdsheim Biblical History: Old Testament: “As he stepped out of these waters he was considered as born anew --in the language of the Rabbis,as if he were a little child just born (Yeb.22 a ;48 b ;97 b), as a child of one day (Mass.Ger.c.ii.). But this new birth was not a birth from above in the sense of moral or spiritual renovation, but only as implying a new relationship to God, to Israel, and to his own past, present, and future. It was expressly enjoined that all the difficulties of his new citizenship should first be set before him, and if ,after that, he took upon himself the yoke of the law, he should be told how all those sorrows and persecutions were intended to convey a greater blessing, and all those commandments to redound to greater merit. More especially was he to regard himself as a new man in reference to his past. Country, home, habits, friends, and relation were all changed. The past, with all that had belonged to it, was past, and he was a new man -the old, with its defilements, was buried in the waters of baptism.”

G.R.Beasley-Murray Baptism in the New Testament pgs 90-92: “Heathen slaves on their entry into Jewish House [sic to live and serve] were compelled to receive a baptism ‘in the name of slavery,, i.e. to become slaves. Similarly,on their being set free, they were to be immersed ‘in the name of freedom’. Baptism thus sets a man in that relationship which one has in view of the performance of it."

Also by Beasely-Murray: The view that conversion from heathenism to Judaism implies a new life , whether a dying and rising again (See Pesachim entry above), or a new birth, is firmly attested in the Talmud…”

Rabbi Maurice Lamm Mikveh:Immersing in the Ritual Pool “A major function of immersion in the mikveh is for conversion to Judaism. The sages declare that a gentile who wishes to become a Jew must undergo the identical process by which Jewish ancestors converted. As Jews performed immersion at Mt.
Sinai to complete the conversion process they had begun with circumcision as they left Egypt, so converts in every age must immerse in a mikveh.”

To clarify why these points are correlated and are directly relevant to the concept of being born again, each cites the concept of entering into a new form or direction of life. Secondly, there is a point of reference where this occurs namely, the Mikveh (after proper circumcision). One interesting point here is that proselyte baptism is only mentioned in Jewish writings from about the first century a.d. and forward (see Beaseley-Murray pg 23). The proper practice of the mikveh was a main controversy between two leading and foremost rabbinical leaders during the time of Christ: Hillelites and Shammaites which suggests that proselyte baptism was not an innovation but present long enough to be a topic of controversy. However, proselyte baptism is consistent with the advent of the Pharsaic movement who were well ‘immersed’ in ritual washings as a way of obtaining spiritual purity –as the gospels testify due the presence of many references concerning ritual washings.

These points reveal the mind of the Jew for that timeframe boxed in John chapter three. From the above we can approximate with a degree of accuracy, his understanding of Jesus discourse with him. So what can be concluded? Nicodemus understood the power of the Mikveh of which John the Baptist was practicing a type of during that time. Nicodemus understood that water baptism would be a signal of the coming Kingdom of God and its Messiah. However it is proposed here that Nicodemus became confused about the instructions of Jesus when Jesus supplemented his understanding regarding the requirement of being born of the Spirit as well as of water. If that were not true, if water could perform the transition in and of itself, Nicodemus would not have been confused. It was the inclusion by Jesus of the requirement of being born of the Spirit that caused the confusion for Nicodemus. John the Baptist further made the statement that the One who came after him would baptize in the Holy Spirit. So, in proper perspective, the phrase Jesus uses “of water and spirit” is a transitional one. That is one, looking from the present back, He spoke and confirmed the ministry of John the Baptist in preparation of the people to receive the spirit baptism. Looking forward, He spoke in promise of what would be coming: the Spirit baptism He had come to establish in every believing heart. This is perhaps the most consistent approach. Water and Spirit are joined here by the time it marked because clearly water baptism for repentance was demanded of God’s people that when the Spirit was given, He would baptize in the Spirit people who had faith in and had undergone the baptism of John. Nicodemus’ confusion was how was one to be born ‘again’ of the spirit not the water. Water baptism, that is ritual cleansing, he understood and so this was not the focus and subject of his confusion. It was the spirit baptism. This is the focus of Nicodemus’ confusion and Jesus offers a very obscure answer ‘…the wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is the everyone born of the spirit…” In other words it is not to be understood or limited to a point in time or an experience such as water baptism. This is its magnitude and power: it is not limited to an event that can be measured. All we can say is it is experienced by those born from it. God is not going to be limited by time, space and even our experiences and understanding. If one thing is made clear by Jesus, the Spirit of God will NOT be limited in this area and will blow where He wills. Now, one can honestly say from the scriptural point of view that those who received the water baptism of John and Jesus had truly repented and so were readied that when the Spirit was given, the wind of God would blow upon them. This is the context of the phrase. Here again Beasley-Murray helps us out:

““That Jesus brought together what were separated in John’s baptism as an act of obedience and object of hope gives one pause as to the precise meaning of birth ‘of water and Spirit. The unity of the two elements is shown by the use of the single preposition ‘by water and Spirit’. But is the water an agency of new birth in the same fashion as, or in a manner comparable to, the Spirit? Some would reply in the affirmative, but that is surely mistaken. The explanatory discourse that follows v. 5 does not mention again birth ‘of water and Spirit’ but emphasizes the agency of the Spirit as the divine begetter: that which is born of Spirit is Spirit’ v.6 ; ‘Spirit breathes where He wills…so is everyone born of the Spirit’ (v. 8).”

The conjoining of the phrase used here ‘by water and Spirit” in the gospel of John could literally be the transition point of the New Testament on the subject of Water Baptism and Spirit baptism. Even though water baptism is a practice that has endured from that point to this and has its place, Jesus clearly sets forth the coming Spirit baptism and His emphasis changes from water to Spirit in the remaining passages of chapter 3 as He teaches Nicodemus. In the remaining scriptures of this chapter, although seemingly unrelated the discussion of the baptisms and the lifting up of the Son of Man, they are not. This is because the coming of the Spirit therefore its ‘baptism’ would be indelibly linked to the sacrifice of Christ.

In conclusion there is a significant footing present to take the stance that when Jesus instructed Nicodemus to be born again of water and the Spirit, He was referring to a unique point in time between the baptism of John and the day of Pentecost where one would transition to another in importance and emphasis. Contextually, this is perhaps the most reasonable scriptural application and one that does not yield the fruit of controversy.

Circumcision of Heart: Related to Water Baptism?

Finally, there is a passage on Colossians Chapter two that links water baptism to the ‘circumcision of Christ.’ In some movements, this refers to circumcision of heart. At the outset of this portion let me say that some groups apply to water baptism, the event, an ex opera operato quality. That is the power is on the doing or operation of it. Some that practice water baptism in such a way may deny this characteristic but their argument is impotent by the very emphasis they place on it. Without it, some teach that the person is not truly born again nor are they fully prepared to walk the Christian way in power because they lack the spiritual unction assigned to the baptized (of course by them and in the process they teach!). Some even attach the spiritual circumcision referred to by Paul in the book of Romans and Philippians as circumcision of heart and that promised from such Old Testament passages such as Ezekiel 36:26-27 is accomplished in the rite of New Testament baptism. So our charge here is to dissect this scripture mentioned by Paul who is the only Apostle who talks of circumcision of heart. Here is the scripture passage:

Col 2:11-12”...and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were raised up with Him through faith in the working of God who raised Him from the dead…”

There are many concepts and much soteriology in this passage of scripture – so much so a desconstruction may be helpful to bring out the salient points:
There are two independent clauses linked together yet separated by verse (verse 11 and 12). Therefore the second independent clause – “having been buried” can only be viewed as either a supplement of the first or as a conclusion of the first – that is, in both cases, dependent to the prior clause. In the construction, the event of the believer’s circumcision without hands (spiritual circumcision) is linked directly to the circumcision of Christ (i.e. the crucifixion). It is in this event the circumcision of the believer is placed. This is confirmed by the aorist tense used (you were) – which is a simple verbal tense used to mark an action to a specific space-time event in the scriptures. Beasley-Murray comments:

“…Col 2:11 provides a significant exposition of the theology we believed to lie at the back of Romans 6. For although v.12 speaks of baptismal participation in the death of Christ, the preceding statement lays unmistakable emphasis on the suffering of death by Christ Himself. ‘In Him you were circumcised…in the stripping off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of Christ’. Here is a circumcision which entailed the stripping off not of a small portion but the whole body.”

Therefore, the link of spiritual circumcision is to Golgotha not to the baptismal font. This separates the concept of circumcision in any of its aspects – spiritual or otherwise – from the action of baptism. Martin Luther has stated the nature of spiritual circumcision is linked to faith in Christ not water baptism:

“For faith was the spiritual circumcision of the foreskin of the heart, which was symbolised by the literal circumcision of the flesh. And in the same manner it was obviously not Abel's sacrifice that justified him, but it was his faith, by which he offered himself wholly to God and which was symbolised by the outward sacrifice...”

So why is water baptism mentioned in the subsequent dependent passage of this scripture? While it may be a question of semantics to some, it is important that nothing be cast directly to the baptismal event. It is an existential reflection of events that occurred in the time-space of Good Friday to the Easter morn. This should be clear in the scripture passage itself – from its very construction. If anything baptism in verse twelve is eclipsed by the circumcision of Christ not its conclusion. The believer is limited to their ownership of any of the benefits of baptism in that they in each facet cannot be separated from the specific work of Christ that is referred to in their baptism. What we are included in is our level of experience of the event not that we undergo anything personally and individually. Baptism is the anchor of faith already given and acted upon and so confirms but has nothing realized by its occurrence concerning the spiritual circumcision in the life of the believer. As an example of this, if We could metaphorically see the believer as a ‘sentence’, then water baptism is not the noun, verb, adjective, adverb, conjunction, contraction, participle or any other part of speech, it is the ‘period ‘at the end. It has no meaning in and of itself and has nothing to communicate or reveal by itself – it only has a place as to what has come before it.

Succinctly stating it: There is no ex opera operato concerning water baptism. If circumcision of heart is directly linked to water baptism, then one who takes such a position has not only excluded the majority of Christendom (currently) but has also erroneously limited the full work of Christ on Calvary. This is the main fallacy of any teaching that touts water baptism as compositional in the spiritual make up of the believer – it limits or at the very least delays Christ’s deliverance of the believer through the application of the blood of Christ until water baptism is experienced– this cannot ever be.

Conclusion of Part I

The reason for the focus on these three scriptures has been to study the depth and breadth of them in the light of proper context and so application. What has been shown is there is much depth to them and so require that they be appreciated with the degree of careful study that they deserve. In this time of instant revelation and improper scholarship, it is no wonder we find ourselves grappling with each other regarding proper meaning. The result is controversy which leads to friction and so, separation. All the above is an attempt to bring down the mystic and ethereal into a real world application of them. While honestly I still ponder the role of water baptism, I have come to the conclusion, as the subsequent work on this series will show, that there will ever be a mystery of wonder about water baptism that all we can really do is marvel. It is ironic that an act that seeks to unite the body of Christ has itself caused so much division. I personally am convinced it is not God’s intention to have done so. To reduce it to a functionally spiritual tool to be implemented, is to do it an injustice and surely if done so, error will follow on its heels. To say it is not significant is to deny the evidence but to say it holds its own place and value is to make it something it is not. It is a ‘period’ it is punctuation; Jesus being the main subject, the Holy Spirit the verb and ourselves the direct object with the period ending and so signifying the finished work done.

We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of being flat in our interpretation. What has been done in the above is not to define exactly what role water baptism possesses as much as it has been a study in the mis-application of the scriptures and so the forthcoming error in doctrinal positions that could be taken from such projection on the scriptures. I would venture to say that most of what has come about from such misapplication has impacted Christendom for practically the beginning of the twentieth century up to the present and has not united the church in any form or fashion but has fragmented it sometimes beyond recognition.

As Rich Mullins would have said and did say, “Though our blindness separates us, the peace of Christ to you….” That is my fervent prayer. The peace of Christ to all who suffer under the burden of doctrinal oppression and so misinterpretation; if we cannot get it right, it is best if we accept what we know to be true, all flows into one river, the mighty river of the Spirit sourced in the blood that flows from Calvary. Let us all bow and bend to His power.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The House that Jack Built: The Renewing of the Mind

There is a Mother Goose nursery rhyme that is very appropriate for the topic of the renewing of the mind as it concerns the final stages of involvement with a dysfunctional religious group. This stage of the one leaving a dysfunctional or hyper-authoritarian group is perhaps the most perilous of times. One in such a state may have spiritual, emotional, physical and mental trauma. This is why it is so important to gain a perspective on where one is, how they got there and what do they do now. The nursery rhyme is a good pattern to study regarding the answers those in this situation require. As the rhyme goes, the detail builds upon the initial verse. What is needed is a trace back to the original action that started all the structure that one must cope with at the final exit and the post-exit transitional stages. The idea here is that at the point in time that the person considers leaving such a group or is pondering leaving, there are so many layers of life to sort through, one can get lost in the sorting process and in the end if not done properly, the onus is always on the one who seeks to exit – that is, they usually experience a great deal of stress believing they have ultimately failed and must now shoulder all the fallout from their decision – from being shunned and up to being damned for leaving the group. This is usually the way that they are programmed to think and operate by what they have lived through. One has usually gone through several ‘verses’ of life with such a group and each one has built upon the other and depends on the other. As a result it might be a bit daunting as well as significantly destructive to a person who is in the final stage of departure or in the initial stage of exit. Believe me I know. So what must one do in order the slough off layers of weighted life experience to be truly healed and obtain a renewed mind?

The key is in the rhyme itself, we must go back to the very beginning of our own private encounter with God. This might be difficult to filter given some may have only known a relationship with God through the religious group that they were or are currently a part. But the cure is still fundamentally the same. One’s personal encounter with God is always extremely personal and so separate from anything or anyone else. This fact must be tantamount in the mind of the believer undergoing such a transition.

What underlies such a release from the stronghold - we will call the house that ‘Jack’ built. ‘Jack’ is used here to refer to the leadership of the dysfunctional religious group. The way of release is found in two main facts. One will need to permit themselves to embrace the fundamental realities that will be presented. The first elementary fact will be reviewed which will allow the acceptance of the second. These two are the crux of deliverance from a religious system and its spirit. They, taken together, will begin the healing process. They alone are enough but they will take a lot of application on one’s part to bring about a full healing and deliverance.

Before these two facts are explored. There is some groundwork that will be needed in order to fully understand the full breadth of the deliverance and the scope of what Jesus must do in order to free one from such a ‘house’.

The Swept House: The Return of the Religious Spirit

Jesus in one of his parables used the analogy of an unclean spirit (see Luke 11:14-26) that was exercised from a man and for a time it searched to find rest and in not finding rest, it returned with seven other spirits more wicked than itself. This is a very good analogy of one who leaves a dysfunctional religious group.( I use the term ‘religious spirit’ in the commentary below frequently. Please understand this may not be a spirit in the sense of a demonic spirit – it is used below to express the mindset of the person who has undergone the process of being exposed to teachings that are toxic in nature. I do not totally rule out the possibility of more malevolent force but whatever may be external to the person, make no mistake it has been in a sense ‘invited’ albeit unknowingly for the most part.)

Many times, a person who leaves a group of such nature never does a spiritual inventory significant enough to be truly free of the religious ‘spirit’ that they have embraced for sometimes many, many years. They can go through the rest of their lives in unwitting spiritual bondage to what they were once a part. Thus the ‘spirit’ returns and brings with it guilt, condemnation, disbelief, discouragement, distrust, cynicism and self-doubt. I am sure there are many other ‘spirits’ that could be enumerated here but I have chosen these because I consider them the most destructive. Regardless of how many, the return of these characteristics after departure is the ‘fait accompli’ of the group. The people still within the group may look at those who have left and say they are shipwrecked. Many who have left the group revert to a lifestyle of self-destructive or at least faith-destructive behavior. When they are observed or encountered by people still members of the group, the ones still in the group see only the damage and believe it is judgment from God because they chose to leave the ‘chosen few’. In fact, these ‘examples of reprobate behavior’ can be used by leaders within the group to prove that their position and so teachings are canonized. In such cases, the true culprit here may be masked entirely. The reality is that, for the ones that leave and suffer ‘shipwreck’ it is because the house the ‘Jack’ built has never undergone the complete renovation that is required. Brother or Sister, one cannot live in any sense in the house that ‘Jack’ built. It must be gutted. These seven characteristics mentioned above are the ‘walls’ of the house that ‘Jack’ built. All these walls, even the supporting ones, for one’s life must be struck down. Ironically, they are very familiar to the one who has dwelt in the house that ‘Jack’ built. If one is honest with themselves, these ‘walls’ are astonishingly the same characteristics the person has allowed for years to be built in their lives. What is meant by this is that the one that has been in such a group had misunderstood all the below detailed and has legitimized all these destructive elements by believing –as they were told- that when they were experiencing these it was to reveal what needed to be changed. Yet the real form of these ‘spirits’ had never been perceived in their true and darker form as they are illustrated below:

· Guilt – in such groups, any non-compliance to the teachings of the group are a direct assault on the self-image of the person. This is not really conviction that has the resolution of repentance, it is guilt from continually never measuring up to the ideal. One is constantly reminded of how far one must go and how base one really is. The only resolution offered is harder and more stringent application of the teaching. The result is exhaustion and extreme frustration and guilt. The reality is one will never measure up. In reality, it is an artificial standard. It is a wall the ‘Jack’ built. Tear it down. As the scripture says, Rom 3:23 “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:” This is the answer: agree that you do not measure up and never will. You must depend on the grace of Christ and His work to be adequate. As long as one truly believes they must measure up, the wall of guilt will hold. The key here is to ‘work’ with the Spirit to achieve a lifestyle that bears witness with the Spirit of God within each Christian. If one seeks to justify any non-compliance, this is where the stronghold self must be struck down. Some comfort is found in the 1 John 1:5-8. This is the most realistic stance any one Christian can possess. One must never intentionally walk in darkness but being the frail stuff that we are means we need a lot of help. This is the purpose of Jesus coming in the first place.

· Condemnation – This is the end result of guilt. The final fruit of death that guilt produces. Many ‘walls’ in the house that ‘Jack’ built are walls of guilt that have calcified into condemnation. To say it another way guilt is the new wall constructed, condemnation are walls that were once guilt but have long since become condemnation. What is the real difference between guilt and condemnation? Guilt is injected. There is the sting of the pain of perceived failure. Condemnation is assimilated guilt. It fools one into thinking it is part and parcel of their very self. One actually takes ownership of the guilt and it becomes part of them – this is condemnation. It is the marred reflection of self in the mirror viewed through the teachings one has been practicing and their failure in their efforts to practice them- it is perhaps the most destructive ‘wall’. One who suffers high degrees of condemnation are the ones most likely who leave the faith entirely. Oh what accountability looms for those who have caused sheep to be so destroyed!

What is the good news? These walls are like dominos. Once guilt is dealt with, the other walls will topple. In a practical sense, deal with the guilt you sense now, and as the Lord brings up other walls of past failures and you apply the Blood of Christ to them, they will topple as well. Please keep this in mind. The longer one has lived in the house that ‘Jack’ built the more walls of condemnation there will be. Have the courage to look at each wall you encounter, don’t think it is your person. It is a wall in your house nothing more. Francis Frangipane in his Book The Three Battlegrounds puts it this way:

”Capture the thought: ‘I am a failure’ ….Even though you have failed and will fail again in the future, now because Christ is in your life you can confidently proclaim, ‘Though I was a failure, my sufficiency comes from God, not myself. He causes all things to work for my good so that nothing is impossible if I keep faith in Him…”

· Disbelief – This is directly linked to the repeated failures and the subsequent guilt it produces. Over time with so many failures and the corresponding guilt that morphs into condemnation, one might have a tendency to doubt that the way of the teaching is impossible and the god of this way is not worth serving. This is quite common. Many times people give up on Jesus because of the house that ‘Jack’ built. What is the truth? Listen to your own conclusion: “I have begun to doubt the way of the teaching and the god behind it”…This is exactly right. Look at your experience, as C.S. Lewis said: “Experience is a hard teacher but you learn…” The reality is you have accepted a teaching that is not truth at all. It is a house that ‘Jack’ built. Moreover the god that has been presented is a poor facsimile of the real one you really serve. Allow yourself the conclusion you have reached by your own experience - that you have been wrong to follow the teachings and by allowing ‘Jack’ to build you a house – if you could call it a house at all! Here disbelief is actually a good thing and a conclusion that what you may have been doing for years is flawed. Jesus said an interesting thing: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” Your experience may be the only thing of truth you have been given for many years, listen to it. Bring it before the Lord and let Him sort it for you. It might be the mallet you will use to tear down all the walls in the house the ‘Jack’ built.

· Discouragement – This is the fruit of living passively. What is meant by this is that what has been imposed on the follower is a bone-crushing system of teaching. One is told that until the system has run itself successfully in the person, then any self-determining effort or action is not warranted. Unfortunately for the one implementing, there is really no verifiably concrete assessment one might personally experience as a confirmation the desired change has ‘taken’. This is usually in the hands of those that lead them. Simply put, one is not allowed to think or act or judge for themselves – without proper guidance of course!. The more one attempts to implement the system, the more discouragement is produced. This is an endless cycle of more self-abasement and surrender of one’s self to the house that ‘Jack’ built. If we wait long enough there is nothing left but the ‘walls’. There is nothing good in the house that is not overshadowed by the walls that have been constructed. How does this play out once one exits the group? Their faith in God may cease to exist. In the end, ‘Jack’ will take everything if one allows the discouragement to fester into immobilization.

What is the answer? It is to recognize the work of death that is occurring. This is the same old deception in another garb –substituting the Law for Faith. There is a confusion between the Law of Works and The Law of Faith, as Paul Said in the Epistle to the Romans 3:27-31: Where [is] boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.

· Distrust – Well, we really don’t need help with understanding what this one is all about. To take it a step further, the end result of living in the house that ‘Jack’ built is one distrusts their very self. After so much time in such a house, one cannot think, reason or solve the issues they encounter without great difficulty and a lot of stress. Many just avoid the conclusions that they are reaching – sometimes for many years. One is not only left alone but desolate even of self….and those who remain in the group wonder why such devastation occurs! This may entrench the position of the ones that remain in the group not so much as if they really fully believe in what they are doing, it is more out of fear of experiencing what those who have left the group have suffered. What those that remain in the group may not realize it is only ‘buna soup’ – (this is worth your own research) they are given to live on. The reality is that the main purpose one in the group has is to propagate the system itself. There is no other goal. Survival of self is not the goal. In fact, in some groups, this is the ultimate achievement: the loss of whom one is in all aspects.

· Cynicism – if one continues to live in the house that ‘Jack’ built after departure from the group, there is nothing but self-destruction. Thus the person can actually come to a point that they look up at the heavens and shake their fist at the Almighty. All that appears of the faith is looked upon with disgust and even malice. What is cynicism really? Cynicism is masked un-forgiveness. Francis Frangipane comes to our aid once again:

“You can be delivered from that oppression on your soul by releasing and forgiving those who hurt you. To the degree that you truly let the incident go and forgive the offender, to the same degree God will restore your soul to a balanced, and healthy attitude toward people. As you increase the process of forgiveness, you will grow in love, and as the Scripture says “There is no love in fear…love casts out fear.

· Self Doubt – This is cynicism’s twin brother. In fact taking all the above ‘walls’ in the house that ‘Jack’ built, this is the end result. This is what paralyzes one’s future life if they are not resolved. Leaving them active in one’s life causes immobility and one becomes an easy prey for the enemy of our souls. ‘Jack’ very much has built the house so that one reaches the end conclusion – there is nothing one can do on their own. Well, that is for sure. But the real issue is ‘who’ one looks to for moving them forward. ‘Jack’ wants us look at him for the answers-that is through their teachings. We should look to ‘Jesus’. Let’s all agree with ‘Jack’ that we can’t build a house. Where we differ is that we believe Jesus has and will build us a house in which to dwell. Its walls support and bolster us: walls of Love, hope, faith, mercy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, meekness, temperance – against there is no such law. Does this sound familiar? It is the fruit of the presence of the Spirit of God (Gal 5:22-23).

You must look at your life and understand major demolition and reconstruction must be done. It is the only way to be truly free. If we demolish the house we are living in and then move into the one that Jesus will build for us, then, when the religious ‘spirit’ returns, it will not find the repose where it once did. The only thing that is the same is the address. This is the goal you must be after.

The Two Toolsets of Demolition and Reconstruction.

Step One: Killing the ‘Rat’: Dealing With the Religious Spirit.

Before the cure can be applied to the House that Jack built, we have to exterminate the ‘rat’. What does this amount to or what action is required? We have to understand that the power of the religious spirit is spiritual pride. In essence, one has to admit that a mistake has been made. The armor of the religious spirit is that it cannot accept any doubt regarding its position. As a result, when a person is steeped in the house that ‘Jack’ built, there has been no place for any doubt regarding the religious system they have lived under for perhaps many years. It is quite common that the one that has departed or is considering it, has already tested the mettle of the teachings they have been following and have repeatedly repressed the thought that what they are practicing is error. In fact, it might be so ingrained in them to the point they may not even perceive this truth. That is, the thought of practicing error has been conditioned out of them by a very long and brutal process of self-denial and thought repression. It is the silent killer of the believing soul of the one that has departed – this is the real stark truth.

One in such a state must humble themselves and admit that they have been wrong in what they have practiced. It must be understood that this is not allowing doubt into one’s life but humbly accepting the leadership of the Holy Spirit to re-teach one concerning the faith. This is critical. Because if one cannot admit the mistakes made, no matter whom has brought them, they have accepted the house that ‘Jack’ built and so are liable for the result. In reality, there are no real pure victims. In part there are only accomplices. One must shoulder their part in the process. If not, they will continue to live as victims and so resolution is impossible because they look outside of themselves and the Lord for it. One must ‘see’ the religious spirit as an outside force seeking entry. If they see only themselves – that is the religious ‘spirit’ is perceived as their own thoughts, they will make accommodations available for it.

By taking personal responsibility and being accountable, the returning ‘religious spirit’ is made impotent and it is disarmed from its chief weapon against those who were under its power: THEIR OWN THOUGHTS. One must agree with this ‘spirit’ that they are ‘wrong’ but not in the sense that one would once again begin reconstruction of the house that ‘Jack’ built. One must agree that they were wrong before any renovation is done. The demolition must be complete: every wall, the layout of every room must be utterly removed. What does the amount to? One must review all that is known concerning one’s Faith. If the major tenets of the house that ‘Jack’ built rest on certain teachings, each one must be systematically brought under scrutiny. Each stone examined before laid down as something to be built upon. This is the foot-soldier in the battle of Spiritual Warfare. What is our help? It is the very Word of God and His Holy Spirit. One must allow God to work His word in them to the point that they see the flaws clearly in the house that ‘Jack’ built. This is the demolition work that must be done first so that all remnants of the house that ‘Jack’ built are gone. How is this done?

Step Two: The Cornerstone Re-laid

There is a verse in the Gospel of Luke 20:17-18. This is the key to freedom. One must return to the font of Salvation and Deliverance. That is the very stone that has been laid by only One - The Lord Himself. In a sense, the Cornerstone as been ‘rejected’ - That is, more than likely He has been reduced in His fundamental and essential role by the teachings practiced. How is this done? By stressing things as being fundamental in the life of the believer that have equal footing with the sacrifice of Christ. A good example is the emphasis of Water Baptism as a requirement to be ‘Born Again.’ This in essence fundamentally reduces the potency of the work of Christ on the Cross. How? At a minimum, to delays the efficacy of the blood of Jesus until some event has transpired. This can never be so. There are many other examples that could be listed. But the principle to apply here is that if anything supplements the redemptive work of Jesus on the Cross as being necessary to the establishment of the believer into God’s Kingdom, it must be torn down. Christ alone is our hope; not water or spirit baptism as some would label it. If these are seen as essential, the religious spirit has not yet been cauterized from our house. It will return, count on it, with many minions that are bent on living in the house that ‘Jack’ built.

Here is a study that you need to do in order to waylay the Religious Spirit that dogs your every step. Here is where I get personal so forgive me for invading your space if I use personal pronouns. Unfortunately this is not an objective exercise. We are dealing with as A.W. Tozer put it ‘quivering stuff’ - that is where one can feel pain touching the very heart of any Christian – how one has practiced their Love for the Savior.


1> It is okay to admit you have been practicing in error. This was the sin of the mighty church at Ephesus. While they did many spiritual feats, the Lord charged them that they had left their first Love: Jesus. What is the error for the most part? It was ‘Majoring in the Minors.’ This was also the mistake of the Galatian Church that started out so well and ended up in compromise with the Religious Spirit of the Judaizers. What was their sin? They added to the pure gospel the practices of circumcision. This is akin to any who would add to the sacrifice of Christ any subsequent act no matter how ‘scriptural’ or not. After all, the Judiazers professed that the fulfillment of the Mosaic Law by the believer was essential. To wit, Paul vehemently opposed. See Galatians Chapter 3.
2> We have all fallen short. None of us deserves to be called Righteous in any sense. See Romans 3:21-27. The crux of this scripture is to one event, the work of Christ on the Cross. When is the power applied? When the Blood is. This is the contextually accurate application. When is it appropriated? When it is applied. The blood , the Blood, the Blood. Is our only hope of cleansing and freedom. It is the font of our new creation.
3> We have a way made into the Holiest Place. It is the trail of Blood blazed by our Savior. See Hebrews Chapter 9 in its entirety.

Our Armor:

The religious spirit is very adept at hurling fiery darts at us. We have been perhaps an unwitting victim for years – it knows us well. It will hit us where we are most vulnerable.
Ephesians the fifth chapter details the armor we must have on to fight and protect ourselves effectively. What has been detailed above is the greatest truth. You are saved by the Blood of Jesus. That is the Helmet of Salvation. It is the crowning achievement of His Glory – the Blood of Christ.

Secondly- the Breastplate of Righteousness: Whose righteousness? Our own? No, Romans 3:21-27 clearly makes this known – it is His Righteousness.

Third- the Shield of Faith – In what we have practiced up until now? No, Faith in our Savior – His person.

Fourth – The undergirding of Truth. What is the truth? You may have been following a system not the Savior. You must repent and go back to the Savior and see Him as your all in all.

Fifth – Having your feet shod with the gospel. This is how you are to walk. Not in some system but in the fundamental truth that you are saved by grace through faith in One alone. This allows you to walk into the future unfettered.

Sixth – You actively wield the Word of God. You go back to the book and re-evaluate all the ground you have trod over the years and cut and divide between the scriptures and secondary practices and traditions. There is no easy way you must become a student of the word and allow God to recover the true meaning of the scriptures.

Closing Remarks

For those of us who have lived in houses that ‘Jack’ built. We must allow the Lord to lay again the Cornerstone. Let Him break that which would overlay on Him additional ‘steps’ and let Him crush to powder those whom He falls upon. We must again offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to God and allow our minds to be renewed in the light of the true gospel of our Lord and Savior. It is only then that we can walk delivered into the will of God having discerned that which is good, acceptable and perfect. This is a journey not a destination. Scars will remain but may you see the Lord’s deliverance and let them be a reminder to what He has set you free from serving.

Is it a battle? Yes. It is a battle with our own thoughts. We must take them captive (2 Cor 10:3-5). We can give no foothold to the Religious ‘Spirit’ we have lived with so long. Let it be cast out and bound. For whom the Son has freed, he is freed indeed.