I saw a friend post this story earlier today, claiming that stories like this are why they feel that any and all religion is not only ludicrous, but dangerous. And I will agree with them TO AN EXTENT – any religion, when taken to an extreme to support a self-fulfilling goal (or one that is manipulated in such a way as to control others for the benefit of one’s self) IS dangerous, and sometimes deadly, as was the tragic case here.
That being said, there are those who are looking for something – ANYTHING – to believe in, not out of experience or education, but simply out of desperation. Some folks find solace in religion/faith/beliefs/mottos/philosophies/what have you. Others find it in a bottle or a hypodermic needle. There is a void in so many lives that is filled artificially, and there are those who will prey upon the searching by offering them a distorted version of whatever they’re looking for, hoping to benefit from their desperation.
I believe that this is what happened with this “church,” and as more evidence is presented, we’ll find not only a God-less church, but a selfish motivation behind their works wrapped in a distorted religion whose end goal was not to honor and worship God, but to benefit those who ran it.
Look at some of the more notorious televangelists from over the years. They offered a prosperity gospel that, at face value, offered believers unlimited wealth – so long as they made a monetary donation to the ministry being presented. This is a religion based upon cause and effect – you give us money, and God will give you even more money in return! Seems too good to be true? Well, that’s because it is – someone had taken some Bible verses (usually Deuteronomy 8:18) out of context to create a get-rich-quick scheme that benefited not the parishioners and believers, but the head of the ministry.
I call attention to 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21…
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. (ESV)
There ya go. Says it right there. Don’t discount what you see, but don’t be afraid to verify. Test it before you dive right in. Make sure it’s sound and solid. If you ask someone to verify their stance, and they accuse you of having “little faith,” simply say, “Yep, in you, I do.”