Dan Juster

Tikkun Ministries International
"According to the Scriptures, religion is not a bad word. The term is not negative in its historic usage, but simply means the set of beliefs, practices, etc. by which people view reality and order their lives."

"The term religious spirit explains too much, and when a term explains too much it probably does not explain matters well at all."

Have you heard any of the following phrases? "They have a religious spirit." "That certainly got rid of any religious spirits that might have been present!" "Christianity is not a religion but a relationship."

The Religious Spirit Accusation

I frequently hear these sorts of comments, especially in charismatic circles. These statements are part of the "in language" of a Christian sub-culture that re-defines the ordinary meaning of words. What do they mean?

The claim that an individual or group has a religious spirit is usually applied to people who like liturgical worship and ritual. It is used for people who are not comfortable with very exuberant worship expression or strange manifestations, or for people who prefer the more dignified traditional denominational expressions either in the churches or the synagogues.

Sometimes groups promote bizarre kinds of expressions because they believe such activity will "get rid of religious spirits". I am not referring to prophecy, or tongues and interpretation, as well as other gifts of the Spirit. I am referring to such things as wild dancing, falling down, exuberant laughing and many more things that can take place in some charismatic gatherings. This sort of behavior only serves to offend more conservative believers who are simply not open to such expressions.

When people say, "Christianity is not a religion but a relationship" they want to emphasize that they are not into rituals, formality, incense, and old types of expression. Too bad for those that enjoy these expressions and direct their hearts to God in them!

The Problem with these Terms and Phrases

As one who has identified (although not exclusively by any means) with the charismatic wing of the New Covenant people of God, I am open to expressions that are quite out of the ordinary as possibly led by the Spirit, but not as a daily or weekly diet. Despite my affinity with the charismatic movement I want to recommend in the strongest terms that we retire these phrases once and for all. Why?

First, these phrases are not biblical. The word "religion" is used only in the book of James and he speaks of true religion in a positive way. According to the Scriptures, religion is not a bad word. The term is not negative in its historic usage, but simply means the set of beliefs, practices, etc. by which people view reality and order their lives. In this regard, we believe that the biblical faith is the one wholly true religion and is based on a relationship.

Secondly, the terms are too broad and are used as sledgehammers by charismatic believers to arrogantly dismiss those streams of believers who do not adopt the types of spontaneous expressions they themselves have chosen. It is also frequently used by some believers to dismiss the value of liturgy and ritual as part of worship. This is strange; since the Bible presents us with ritual and liturgical worship forms that endure into the New Covenant age. Those who do like such expressions of faith could claim that the super spontaneous have a religious spirit that idolizes spontaneity. The claim precludes real discernment with regard to whether or not a spontaneous occasion is really led by the Spirit or is merely a fleshly outburst. The term religious spirit explains too much, and when a term explains too much it probably does not explain matters well at all.

There are More Accurate Terms to Describe the Issues

There may be some truths behind these phrases, but let's use more accurate words. In my book Growing to Maturity I speak of those who are legalistic. This may be what some mean by a religious spirit. For example, some who are legalistic do not allow for any modification of liturgy. It has to be the same all the time. Others who are legalistic foster extra biblical norms as being on the same level of importance as biblical norms. Legalism is a big problem wherein Judaism and Christianity have sought many extra biblical definitions to regulate behaviour. Sometimes this list gets quite detailed. However, good guidelines and standards of respect and etiquette can be both constructive and positive.

Then there are some people who are more rigid in their outlook than others. Good people can be rigid. They are uncomfortable with spontaneity and feel that they do not fit in to such settings. Let's not judge such folks by claiming they have a religious spirit. Let's invite them to relax and just seek God quietly in their own way until or unless they have conviction for greater exuberance. Deep things can happen in quiet worship.

Sometimes people react to intellectual pride. People who have intellectual pride and are too dominated by the intellect do not like to see emotion in worship, whether in liturgical settings or in more modern spontaneous settings. They want to get past the worship into teaching with good intellectual content. They distrust the intuitive. Is this what some mean by a "religious spirit"? If so, then let's call it an over-intellectual orientation.

Of course there are the occult spirits in witchcraft and pagan religions. It is better to identify these as occult spirits or demonic spirits.

It seems to me that believers have a very hard time not being judgemental and arrogant against those who are not flowing with their own preferences. Those who are not given to exuberant expressions or even strange manifestations judge those who are as being immature, emotional and psychologically unstable. Well, the truth is, some individuals in charismatic movements are just that, but so are some who are rigid! Those who are comfortable with more exuberant expressions tend to judge those who do not prefer such expressions as not being in the will of God and missing the true nature of spiritual experience. Some people who are given to really outlandish expressions judge even those given to more mild spiritual manifestations as having a religious spirit because they do not go as far as they do.

All of this ignores the importance of discernment and interpretation. The Bible exhorts us to test all things and prove what is good. What was God doing in the gathering? Was it really of the Spirit or was it of the flesh? Will it result in real life-change, or is it just a repeat of last week's experience? By embracing everything and judging those who do not embrace everything, we easily forgo the biblical command to discern. We need to accept that God leads people in different ways. We need to accept that there are different strokes for different folks and repent of arrogance. As one who loves liturgy and ritual when done right, and has also confirmed as from the Spirit things which seem bizarre to others (such as defended by the great revivalist Jonathan Edwards), can we stop the arrogant judging? One way to overcome this sort of judging is to retire these useless phrases. There are better phrases that define the problems and issues involved. After all, we never read that Yeshua cast out a religious spirit, though He did call for repentance from those in legalistic pride.

By Daniel Juster
Dan Juster leads the overall ministry Tikkun International Donate to Tikkun International.
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09:43 05Jun12 Donna Diorio -
I could not be more in agreement with this statement, Dan. My longing has been for the life of the Spirit expression in both Messianic and Church services - somewhere between the extremes of heavy liturgy or heavy charismania. Balance seems the hardest place to find.

09:47 05Jun12 Deanna L White -
As ususal, you have given us a wonderfully balanced and wise teaching. I am feeling super-exuberant about it! Guilty as charged about judging others but I have had my longing to once again take up a more discerning and merciful Spirit confirmed by your words. It is an easy, and lazy, thing to fall into these patterns of thinking. I repent and rejoice with exceeding great joy that our Good Shepherd continually calls us back to His path of Love. You have revealed it to us so well. Thanks!

10:14 05Jun12 Susan St Clair -
Thank you for such a well balanced article, Dan. I really felt the Presence of the Holy Spirit in this message, and I am searching my own heart in regard to this.

10:30 05Jun12 James Rucker -
Thank you for this article. I found myself judging others for these same things you mentioned, I chose to think differently I am not qualifyed to be a judge.

11:11 05Jun12 Victoria -
Thank you for writing such articles to help others with edification and discernment. I like all of the articles in this edition, and may He bless all of your work in Him!!

11:17 05Jun12 MS -
So glad to see this addressed! I will say the "laughing revival" by the Holy Spirit helped me to have joy and hope through 2 horrible years when my husband's health was nearly destroyed. Still I am uncomfortable to hear someone say Jesus hates religion. The Bible never said that.

12:22 05Jun12 Rosalind Daily -
Thank you for finally addressing this annoying vagueness/accusatory spirit and for pointing us to the real problems: one's own pride and arrogance (and consequent lack of love), and a failure to take the Scripture's admonition/Spirit's power to discern.

12:58 05Jun12 Robert Bell -
We get along easier with those who sin the way we do.

  -- Dr Juster replies: How sadly true!

16:32 05Jun12 Kenneth Brooks -
Brilliant! Best description on the abuse of this word I have yet heard. In the name of not being religious, I have seen so many purposely turn to things counter-cultural to that of Jesus Christ, simply for the purpose of not being "religious". In all the attempts of what was deemed as anti-religion, many actually became such by way of the back door. Your explanation and restating of what's really taking place, is the doorway to true freedom, rather than a shaking of one demon, while simultaneously receiving others.

  -- Dr Juster replies: A very well stated comment.

23:51 05Jun12 Austen Ater -
Right on! As one who is ever seeking to be worshiping in Spirit and in Truth, it is good to hear this reminder and encouragement not to fall into pride. When you wrote "What was God doing in the gathering" wow! How perfect! That is what we should always be asking, it takes our egos out of the picture, brings us back to children being led by our loving Father! Thanks for your exhortation. Keep abiding in Yeshua!

09:49 06Jun12 Tom -
I've heard this word since the 60s. There are a LOT of things wrong with it. "Relationship" is a pretentious, intellectually arrogant "snob" buzzword. It also lets the phoney demand recognition and respect without having to produce any evidence of spirituality. They like to say, "I'm spiritual but not religious." Big deal. satan is really spiritual, but he's not religious. "Relationship" is a conveniently vague and nebulous term which has only been around since the mid-1700s and is used for the "relationship" we have with pit bulls and best friends. Judas had a relationship with Jesus ... not a good arrangement. It's a misleading word which can include or exclude a wide range and degree of conditions. A police officer knocks on my door regularly ... he's a friend who mows my lawn (I'm an old geezer). I LIKE having a policeman knock on my door; that's not true of everyone. But that's MY relationship with the "cops". Consider the origin of each word: "relationship" whatever interaction we may have with others. "religion" is derived from the Latin word, RELIGARE, which literally means "to tie again" (as in to REUNITE two things ... God and man!). "Realtionship", in my opinion, is just another tactic in the ongoing determination to de-construct Christianity. I like James' definition of "Religion". I'll stick with that.
One last point: Romans 7:1-4. Yes, a widow is "free" from the Law regarding adultery if her husband is dead and chooses to remarry. BUT, she becomes subject to all the Laws and Customs of marriage if she RE-marries. Those who marry MUST be ready to make some "changes" in their attitudes and conduct ... and follow accepted rules and conditions.
And a footnote. Here in Oklahoma we still raise horses. We can "break" a horse, or we can "train" a horse. Either way, the end result HAS to be the same ... the horse has to be obedient and subject to the rider or they get rid of that horse.

  -- Dr Juster replies: What a brilliant comment! What a well thought out and well written blog! I would love to see it preserved and published.

08:15 07Jun12 Dan Packard -
The unity of believers in the body of that one new man Paul spoke of - with Yeshua as its head - has always been one of the greatest challenges before us. The bride Yeshua returns for must be spotless, so there is no alternative but unity. Thank you for going to your brother who has something against you and listening. That is what we will all have to do, and keep doing, until we remove the logs from our own eyes and help our brothers and sisters with the twigs in theirs. It is difficult for us as citizens of our nations to come to terms with, but our civil governments in the US and Israel will be among those that Yeshua will have to completely cleanse of evil when He returns and subjects them all to His absolute rulership. If not for the overwhelming power of Yeshua's blood sacrifice, mercy, grace and resurrection power, I would despair at the divisions in Yeshua's body today. When I focus on Him, I find hope and peace to continue.

  -- Dr Juster replies: Very true and according to my view as well.

13:49 09Jun12 Pelham Gross -
I repent! Useless phrases hereby retired as of this moment! "Thanks, I needed that!"

16:28 13Jun12 Juan Pascual -
It is funny reading this article as one who, as a young Christian, had this kind of mindset. But I am happy to say now that I am grown up a little bit in the Lord, I have learned that the form of expressing worship in church is not as important as the truthfulness in it.
As believers we are told in the Bible that God is looking for worshipers who will worship Him in spirit and in truth. And I have attended different Christ-centered services with various ranges of expressions of faith, from classical formal liturgy to almost chaotic village healing crusades. And I honestly think God equally enjoys being present and honored in all of them.

18:20 06Mar16 SD -
Absolutely brilliant and marvelous. And so much needed. I fear the self congratulatory use of the term will remain in avid use until Yeshua comes, however. PLEASE also write about the equally damaging and also misogynist malarkey about "the Jezebel Spirit." It is, in my view, nothing much more than an instrument of control used by male leaders to put down "uppity" women. And it has to go. As you know BOOKS have been written justifying this superstitious term. THANK YOU!!

Also in this issue of the newsletter:
Eitan Shishkoff: Four Questions
Avishalom Tekle: Counting the Omer in Brazil
Asher Intrater: Rabbi "J"