15. Why are churches able to degenerate into religion?
Relevant Words of God:
Why is it said that the practice of those in the religious churches is outdated? It is because what they put into practice is divorced from the work of today. In the Age of Grace, what they put into practice was right, but as the age has passed and God’s work has changed, their practice has gradually become outdated. It has been left behind by the new work and the new light. Based upon its original foundation, the work of the Holy Spirit has progressed several steps deeper. Yet those people still remain stuck at the original stage of God’s work, and still cleave to the old practices and the old light. God’s work can change greatly in three or five years, so would not even greater transformations occur over the course of 2,000 years? … For those who once held to the law of Jehovah, and those who once suffered for the cross, if they cannot accept the stage of work of the last days, then all that they did will have been in vain, and useless. The clearest expression of the Holy Spirit’s work is in embracing the here and now, not clinging to the past. Those who have not kept up with the work of today, and who have become separated from the practice of today, are those who oppose and do not accept the work of the Holy Spirit. Such people defy the present work of God. Though they hold onto the light of the past, this does not mean it is possible to deny that they do not know the work of the Holy Spirit. … Those who are outside the stream of the Holy Spirit always think they are right, but in fact, God’s work in them ceased long ago, and the work of the Holy Spirit is absent from them. The work of God was long since transferred to another group of people, a group on whom He intends to complete His new work. Because those in religion are incapable of accepting God’s new work, and only hold to the old work of the past, thus God has forsaken these people, and does His new work on the people who accept this new work. These are people who cooperate in His new work, and only in this way can His management be accomplished.
from “God’s Work and Man’s Practice” in The Word Appears in the Flesh
Not so for the people who do not accept the new work: They are outside the stream of the Holy Spirit, and the discipline and reproach of the Holy Spirit do not apply to them. All day, these people live within the flesh, they live within their minds, and all that they do is according to the doctrine produced by the analysis and research of their own brains. It is not the requirements of the Holy Spirit’s new work, much less is it cooperation with God. Those who do not accept the new work of God are bereft of the presence of God, and, moreover, devoid of the blessings and protection of God. Most of their words and actions hold to the past requirements of the Holy Spirit’s work; they are doctrine, not truth. Such doctrine and regulation are sufficient to prove that the only thing that brings them together is religion; they are not the chosen ones, or the objects of God’s work. The assembly of all those among them can only be called a grand congress of religion, and cannot be called a church. This is an unalterable fact. They do not have the Holy Spirit’s new work; what they do seems redolent of religion, what they live out seems replete with religion; they do not possess the presence and work of the Holy Spirit, much less are they eligible to receive the discipline or enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. These people are all lifeless corpses, and maggots that are devoid of spirituality. They have no knowledge of man’s rebelliousness and opposition, have no knowledge of all of man’s evildoing, much less do they know all of God’s work and God’s present will. They are all ignorant, base people, they are scum that are unfit to be called believers!
from “God’s Work and Man’s Practice” in The Word Appears in the Flesh
If people treat the truth as dogma, is it easy for them to fall into religious ceremony? (It is.) And what is the difference between this kind of religious ceremony and Christianity? It could be that what is said is deeper, more progressive, and newer, it’s deeper and more profound, but if it becomes doctrine and a form of ceremony, then does it become Christianity? There is a difference between the old and new teachings, but if the teachings are merely a kind of theory, and if they merely become a form of ceremony in people, a kind of doctrine—and, likewise, people don’t gain the reality of the truth from within, and haven’t entered into the reality of the truth, then is their belief the belief of Christianity? In substance, is this Christianity? … The pursuit of superficial good behavior, then doing your utmost to create a pretense using the appearance of spirituality, doing a few things that, in people’s conceptions and imaginings, are praiseworthy—this is the pursuit of false spirituality, it is hypocrisy, standing upon high speaking words and theory, telling people to do good deeds and be kind, to be good, and to understand the truth. What else? Is never searching for the truth in what you do, and only acting according to human will, one of them? (Yes.) When something happens to you, you completely rely on human will, and cast God to one side. Anything else? (Going through the motions when praying.) Going through the motions when praying—what’s that? This is the pursuit of false spirituality, yes? You pursue to be someone spiritual. This is one of them. Speaking spiritual theory, saying the right spiritual words, and pretending to be someone spiritual, impersonating someone who is spiritual, giving the appearance of spirituality in what you say, do, and reveal. But in your behavior and the performance of your duty, you have never searched for the truth, you have never acted according to the principles of the truth, you have never known what is spoken by the truth, what God’s will is, what the standards He asks of man are—you’ve never taken any of this seriously, you’ve never paid it any attention, you’ve never paid any heed to these things.
Try and summarize all of these expressions, these states, these external actions and internal states, all of these means of belief. What are they, above all? Are they the fear of God and shunning of evil? (No.) Then what are they? (Religious faith.) Without doubt, they are religious faith. That’s why we’re analyzing it. So why are they said to be religious faith? You don’t understand, yes? If there is no connection between people’s belief in God and the pursuit of the truth, do they believe in God? (No.) For people who have no connection to pursuing the truth, no matter how many years they have believed in God, are they capable of truly fearing God and shunning evil? (No.) And so what is expressed in these people who are incapable of fearing God and shunning evil? What path would they walk? What do they spend all day equipping themselves with? What is the path they walk? Do they spend all day equipping themselves with words and theory? They spend all day arming themselves with words and theory, to create an impression, to make themselves more like the Pharisees, more spiritual, more like people who serve God, yes? (Yes.) So what are all these actions? Do these people worship God? Do they truly believe in God? (No.) So what are they doing? (Deceiving and opposing God.) Yes, they are deceiving God, they’re just going through the motions, they’re performing religious ceremony; using the belief in God to put on a pretense, they’re performing religious ceremony and trying to deceive God in order to achieve their aim of being blessed. They do not worship God. Will such a group of people end up like those who supposedly serve God in church buildings, and who supposedly believe in God and follow God—will they be any different?
from “Only If You Live Before God at All Times Can You Walk the Path of Salvation” in Records of Christ’s Talks
What does God name those who believed in Jehovah? Judaism. They became a kind of religion. And how does God define those who believed in Jesus? Is it defined as Christianity? (Yes.) God’s eyes see Judaism and Christianity as religious groups. Why does God define them thus? I’ll ask you a very simple question: Among all those defined as religions by God, are there any who fear God and shun evil, carry out God’s will, and follow the way of God? (No.) So can you see whether, in God’s eyes, those who nominally follow God are those whom God acknowledges as believers in God? In God’s eyes, do they all have a connection with God? Will they be saved by God? (No.) So will a day come when you are reduced to what God sees as a religion? You don’t know, right? Being reduced to a religion, that seems inconceivable. But will those who have become a religion—who have become a religion in God’s eyes—be saved by God? Are they of the house of God? (No.)
So now have a think, try to summarize: These people who are not of the house of God, whom God believes to be a religion, and who only nominally believe in the true God—what path do they walk? Could it be said that these people walk the path of waving the flag of belief in God but never following the way of God, of believing in God yet never worshiping God, and instead forsaking God? That is, they walk the path of believing in God but not following the way of God and forsaking God; their way is one in which they believe in God but worship Satan, they worship the devil, they try to set up their own management, and try to establish their own kingdom—is this the substance? (Yes.) Do people like this have any connection to God’s management plan for the salvation of man? (No.) How do you know? Regardless of how many there are who believe in God, as soon as their ways of belief are defined by God as being a religion or group, then God has determined that they can no longer be saved. Why do I say this? In a gang or crowd of people who are without the work of God, without the guidance of God, and who do not worship God at all, who do they worship? Who do they follow? To all appearances, they follow people—but who do they follow in substance? (Satan.) In form and name, they follow a person; in their hearts they acknowledge God, but in fact, they are subject to the manipulation, arrangements, and control of a person; they follow Satan, they follow the devil, they follow the forces that are hostile to God, the enemies of God. Does God save people such as this? (No.) Why doesn’t He save them? Are they able to repent? These people are incapable of repentance. They wave the flag of belief in God to try to make a career for themselves, and try to set up their own management, and they run counter to God’s management plan for the salvation of mankind. The final outcome is that they are detested and rejected by God; God could not possibly save these people, they could not possibly repent, they have already been taken by Satan—they are entirely in Satan’s hands.
… if they are incapable of following the way of God, incapable of walking the path of salvation, what will be the final outcome? The final outcome will be the same as those who believe in Christianity and Judaism, there will be no difference. This is God’s righteous disposition! Regardless of how many messages you’ve heard, and how many truths you’ve understood, ultimately, you will still follow people, and Satan; ultimately, you will still be incapable of following the way of God, you will be unable to fear God and shun evil—and people such as this will be detested and rejected by God. To all appearances, these people who have been detested and rejected by God talk about many words and theories, and have come to understand many truths. And yet, they are incapable of worshiping God; they are incapable of fearing God and shunning evil, and are incapable of total obedience to God. In God’s eyes, God defines them as a religion, as a group of people, a gang of people, as the land of Satan. They are collectively referred to as a gang of Satan, and they are utterly despised by God.
from “Only If You Live Before God at All Times Can You Walk the Path of Salvation” in Records of Christ’s Talks
The Man’s Fellowship:
What do we mean when we talk about “following God”? We are talking about experiencing the work of God and accepting the truth. If you do not accept the truth, if you do not experience the work of God, then you will not experience the judgment and chastisement of God, which means you do not follow God. What do we call those who do not follow God but who believe in God? We call them religious believers. Isn’t this the kind of belief of those who believe in God within the religious world? They only believe in the God in heaven, but they do not follow God, they do not experience the work of God, they just hold on to their Bible, they just hold on to their so-called scripture. Every day, they read a paragraph and pray in a religious manner, and that is the end of it. It has nothing to do with their own life, with the way they live. They just do whatever they think they ought to do. This is what is known as being a religious believer. They do not accept the work of God, nor do they experience the work of God. So, their faith is just there to fill a void in their spirit, to satisfy their suffering hearts, and to search for some kind of sustenance. Will people with this kind of faith be able to bear a resounding, beautiful witness to God? Certainly they will not speak of bearing witness, because they do not discuss cost, nor expenditure, nor obedience, nor life. Because of this, they do not bear witness. So, whenever they are persecuted, there are very few among them who are able to stand firm. When their lives are on the line, they all betray God. Perhaps some of you will refute what I just said, perhaps you will tell me: “In the Age of Grace and in the Age of Law, were there not a lot of martyrs?” That isn’t wrong. Those martyrs had the work of the Holy Spirit, they too were followers of God in those ages, just the same as we are today. They were not a part of the religious believers. Those who experienced the work of God during the Age of Law were people who followed God in the Age of Law. Those who experienced the work of God during the Age of Grace were people who followed God in the Age of Grace. In the Age of Kingdom, those of us who experience God’s work in the last days are also followers of God. However, now with God incarnate of the last days carrying out His work personally, for believers who are still in the Age of Grace and those in the Age of Law, their beliefs have turned into religious beliefs.
from “Another Discussion About the Significance and Importance of Pursuing the Truth” in Sermons and Fellowship on Entry Into Life (XI)
First, it should be understood how religious circles were formed and what the difference between church and religion is. It is very necessary to clarify these issues. It is possible to see from the Bible that during every stage of God’s work, God’s chosen people were led and shepherded by those that God had personally raised up and appointed. For example, during the Age of Law, God used Moses to directly lead the people of Israel, and He had Moses organize the priest system. After Moses’ work was completed, there were no more people on earth that were directly appointed by God to lead the Israelites. Priests began to be elected by the people. This is the background to the creation of Judaic religious circle. Since then, the priest system of Judaism has been formed by elections from religious circles. Very often, religious circles became corrupted because the wrong priests were elected. When the incarnate Lord Jesus appeared and did work during the Age of Grace, religious circles had fallen to the extent of resisting and condemning Christ and opposing God. This is a fact that everybody can witness. When the Lord Jesus came to earth for His redemptive work, He personally selected the twelve apostles. The Holy Spirit also started working then, and was with the disciples of the Lord Jesus. At this time, a gathering of those on earth that accepted the work of the Lord Jesus was called a church, and it was completely shepherded by the people God appointed, in other words, people used by the Holy Spirit. At this time, the true church was created, and this is the source of the church. Around thirty years after the Lord Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascent into heaven, most of the twelve apostles had been martyred, and the church on earth was no longer shepherded by the apostles directly appointed by the Lord Jesus. So various kinds of religious groups started to form. This is the background for the creation of the religious circle during the Age of Grace. After that, regardless of whether or not people had the work of the Holy Spirit, they could organize a church as long as they could expound the Bible. As long as they had some gifts, there would be people agreeing with them and following them. People could work and preach as they liked without anyone restricting them, so various denominations and sects began to form. What is a church, and what is religion? You could say that those that are led and shepherded by people used by the Holy Spirit is a church, and those that are shepherded and led by people not used by the Holy Spirit is a religion. This is the simplest, truest division. True churches have the work of the Holy Spirit. In religions very rarely is there the work of the Holy Spirit. Even if there is, it is on the few people who truly believe in God and seek the truth. This is the difference between church and religion. For churches, it is very crucial whether or not shepherds are worked on and used by the Holy Spirit. If the shepherd is someone who seeks the truth and walks on the right path, then the work of the Holy Spirit is present. If the shepherd is not someone who seeks the truth and they walk on the path of the Pharisees, then the work of the Holy Spirit is not present. As long as people can distinguish between real and false shepherds, they can find a real church. There appeared the church when God incarnate personally worked, but afterward all sorts of religious groups emerged. However, many people cannot distinguish between true and false shepherds and true and false apostles. This is because they believe in God but do not understand the truth. In the last days, people’s corruption runs deep, they do not understand the truth, yet they worship gifts. They do not distinguish at all whether or not people have the work of the Holy Spirit. As long as someone can expound the Bible, there will be those who agree and follow; people focus increasingly on gifts. Therefore, people follow pastors and leaders in religious circles in believing in God, but without considering at all whether or not they have the work of the Holy Spirit and the reality of the truth. It is as if as long as they have a pastor’s license, they are approved and appointed by God, and people must accept and submit to them. Foolish people even treat pastors as the Lord and worship them as God. During the Age of Grace, the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees in religious circles treated the incarnate Lord Jesus as an enemy and nailed Him to the cross, which completely exposed the actual fact of their resistance to God. In the last days, most leaders and pastors in religious circles condemn and resist Christ of the last days even more, without a trace of fear. These facts prove that most pastors and leaders in religious circles do not revere God. Some of them do not even believe the incarnation of God, and they do not have a place for God in their hearts at all. They only believe in and worship the vague God, but they absolutely do not believe in the existence of the practical God, nor do they believe that all truth comes from Christ. So these people are all disbelievers, the lackeys of Satan, and they have become true antichrists. They are God’s enemies. All who resist and condemn Christ are God’s enemies. This is utterly unquestionable.
from “Why the Religious World Has Always Resisted God While Serving Him” in Collection of Sermons—Supply for Life
God’s chosen people should all understand what the church and religion are. To be precise, the church in which the Holy Spirit works is the true church and all those in which the Holy Spirit does not work are classified as religions. Not only are churches in religious circles classified as religions, but if any church in God’s family is controlled by false leaders or antichrists, the church will lose the Holy Spirit’s work and the gathering of God’s chosen people will lose the supply of life. There shall be no enjoyment. In the eyes of God, this church is classified as religion. If there are some people who are true believers in God but who are controlled by false leaders or antichrists and make no differentiation in the slightest, following and obeying the false leaders or the antichrists, then this church has already become a religion. All those who belong to religion must be destroyed by God and few can be saved. Because there is no Holy Spirit’s work in religion, people shall never obtain the truth and life. So the consequences of false leaders and antichrists controlling the church are this serious.
from “The Work of Exposing and Replacing False Leaders and Expelling Antichrists and Evil Men Never Stops” in Selected Annals of the Work Arrangements of The Church of Almighty God