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A Catholic priest once told me, "All the sins of the Catholic Church can be summed up in one sentence: We mistook the church for the kingdom of heaven."

The problem is not restricted to Catholics. The masses repeatedly fail to see beyond the 'group' to the real purpose for its existence. You would be lucky to find one person in a thousand who would follow God in preference to their religion. (Would you?) They each argue that following God's leadership is the same as following God himself. But no human leader is perfect, and God will deliberately test us on that, to be sure that we know the difference. (e.g. Daniel 11:35)

The Jewish religion was started by God. Jesus himself testified to that (John 4:22). And yet it was the Jews who crucified Jesus. Jesus said that their problem was not that the religion was evil, but simply that they could not recognise truth when it came from outside their organisational hierarchy. (Matthew 23:37-39) And the problem repeats itself many times over today.

Within our own membership we find it difficult to stay open to God speaking from outside our own group. It is so much easier to follow our leadership than it is to find the will of God for us personally, and to follow him. And this happens within our community despite the fact that one of our strongest teachings is that we must follow God in preference to the leadership of our organisation!

How much easier it is for people to replace worship of God with worship of their religious system when the system they belong to actively encourages such unquestioning loyalty... when no provision is made for members to honestly and humbly question leadership.

The so-called cults, with their exclusive teachings and fanatical unity are most obviously guilty of such system worship; but mainline denominations can be even more dangerous than the cults, because they confuse the status quo with the kingdom of heaven. The system they worship may not be limited to their own denomination, but it often becomes synonymous with the godless values of the society that we live in. Along with the Jewish religious leaders, when it becomes expedient to do so, they shout, "We have no king but Caesar!"

Each time the churches let society determine what is right or wrong, they crucify Christ anew; for he would call on them to step outside the measures of respectability that society dictates, and follow God. And it is a rare churchgoer (and an even rarer church) that is capable of distinguishing the voice of God above the clamour for respectability.

So whether it's a fringe group, a mainline denomination, or our own community, we all must be careful that we are not guilty of putting God into a box and then worshipping the box instead of the God who supposedly resides there.

How big is your God? Can he exist outside the system that you have created for him?

(See also Abuse of Power.)

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