The three worst things that can happen to any religion.

As I see it, the following three things are a curse on any religion; at least the ones I have studied but I am sure it applies to all. These things also tend to appear in the sequence below.

1. The next generation, the bureaucrats.

Lacking the spiritual power of the first generation, the following generation leaders resort to bureaucracy to maintain control over the followers. As Paul, that Apostolic Menace of the early Church wrote, such people have “a form of godliness but deny the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3.6)

Groups of next-generation leaders begin to write new sets of rules and regulations. These new rules soon result in disputes and divisions; Paul warned about such divisions when writing to the Corinthian church, “there is quarrelling among you, my brothers … some say ‘I follow Paul’, or ‘I follow Apollos’, or ‘I follow Cephas’, or ‘I follow Christ’. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1.12-13)

The rot sets in!

2. Popular and official recognition.

When a religion achieves popular recognition, especially official recognition by the state, a flood of people with unwholesome motives begin to join; people who seek the benefits of recognition rather than the benefits of the religion itself.

When these unwholesome, power-hungry types assume leadership positions within the religion, the rot begins to metastasize.

For example, Buddhism became the official religion of the Maurya Empire during the reign of Ashoka the Great who converted to Buddhism in 261BC. With official recognition under its belt, Buddhism spread out along the ancient trade routes into Asia, the Middle East and Europe; morphing into different schools and traditions as it grew.

Christianity attained official recognition in the fourth century during the reign of Constantine. He ended centuries of Roman persecution when he issued the Edict of Milan in 303AD. However, after the Council of Nicaea in 325AD, Christian leaders could leverage the full power of the Roman Empire to persecute any Christian who dissented from their version of orthodoxy; state recognition of Christianity ushered in a thousand years of church-sponsored persecutions, inquisitions and crusades. Christian historian Philip Schaff observed that "More Christian blood has been spilled by Christians than by the heathen"!

With over ten thousand sects and counting, Christianity evidently has little regard for Jesus Christ’s ‘new commandment’;

A new commandment I give to you, "Love one another as I have loved you. If you love one another, people will know that you are my disciples” (John 13)!

3. Material prosperity and power.

Having lost the spiritual power of the first generation and having gained popular or state recognition, the religion falls victim to leaders attracted to political and financial power rather than the spiritual values of the religion itself.

“The Christian far oftener disgraces his profession in prosperity than in adversity. It is a dangerous thing to be prosperous. The crucible of adversity is a less severe trial to the Christian than the refining pot of prosperity.” (C H Spurgeon, Morning and Evening)

Christianity is the wealthiest religion in the world, worth an estimated $107 trillion dollars; and much of that wealth is concentrated in one Christian sect, Roman Catholicism. Not surprising given its monopolistic domination over Christianity from the fourth to the sixteenth centuries!

By now, all that remains of the religion, is a shell of its former glory, 'having the form of godliness but denying its power'!

One good thing that can happen to any religion.

Adversity, especially persecution!

Adversity prunes away all the ‘dead wood’ from the religion and invigorates the living parts. Or like a farmer who threshes (i.e. beats with a stick) the wheat and then winnows it by tossing it into the wind allowing the wind to carry away the chaff while the kernels of wheat, the nutritious grain, fall to the ground. Likewise, as persecution winnows the religion, the chaff flees before the wind of adversity while the true disciples remain; the religion is revitalised as it returns to its roots.

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