When Religion Goes Wrong

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
When the ungodly happens in a church...

Submitted: April 22, 2008

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Submitted: April 22, 2008




By Barb Allen

For most of us, the word cult conjures up images of radical extremist groups like the Branch Davidians in Waco, but many people would be surprised to discover there are active abusive religious systems much like cults operating under the guise of Christianity in our very own neighborhoods. They appear to be mainstream in doctrine from the outside. They may network with other groups that have split from mainstream denominations. What differentiates them is their abusive, power-hungry leaders who use their pulpits, not to share God’s message of love, grace and power for living, but to propagate their own faulty philosophies and opinions. We mustn’t forget that the Lord warned us in Matthew 7 that ravening wolves come in sheep’s clothing. It’s even possible that some of these wolves have even convinced themselves that they are shepherds, but God assured us that we would know them by their fruit.


Toxic Faith is a book written by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton, published by WaterBrook Press. This intriguing book explores the controversial topic of spiritual abuse, uncovering some of the mystery behind how these authoritarian systems operate. It illustrates it in such accurate detail that the reader trapped in such a system begins to realize what they’re involved in, learns how to make a Biblical exit, and how to find a healthy spiritual environment. Many people flee the moment they first see the abuse. Others are reluctant to admit involvement even when they strongly suspect it. We all hold prejudicial ideas about who gets caught up in this type of thing. The truth is that cults, and other abusive systems, do target people with low self-esteem by giving a false picture of the group as a close-knit family that will care for all their physical, spiritual and emotional needs. They also target highly intellectual people with healthy self-esteem for very specific purposes to achieve the goals set by the leadership.

Reading Toxic Faith helps the reader in such a system to understand the “us and them mentality” that drives them into believing that, although things may not be perfect on the inside, the outside world is altogether evil, and theirs is the only true salvation. This isolation is what keeps the system alive. Sadly, the belief that they would only be worse if they left is the very lock on the door that keeps them from finding the true freedom in Christ that exists outside the system. Often, after years of believing that questioning anything is parallel to betraying God, the person will finally realize that to not question the sin inside the system is to deny God. After all, it was God Himself Who told us in James 4:17 that “to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” God provides opportunities for us to take a stand for what is good and right. We must choose God over everything other thing in this world: pride, friendship, loyalty, fear, our comfort zones. When we do that, we soon discover a whole new world of spiritual freedom, not to mention a whole new God: a loving God Who desires a relationship with us based on His love and mercy, not on our behavior, or our Christian service.


If you believe that you, or someone you know, may be involved in such a system, ask questions such as:


  • Is there an "us and them" mentality that says people outside the group are less spiritual or somehow inferior? Are there legitimate Christian ministries (Bible studies, retreats, books, etc.) that are openly rejected? Is there open criticism of people and people groups who differ from the group?
  • Are church members treated poorly or made examples of from the pulpit? Does the pastor exclude himself in calls for repentance and forgiveness? Are there double standards, one for leadership and one for everyone else? Is the pastor viewed as more powerful, or closer to God, than other human beings?
  • Are members ostracized when they leave? Are relationships with former members discouraged or prohibited?
  • Does the group promote unbalanced giving of time and/or money? Do church members find themselves with little time to enjoy life because they’re too busy serving and attending group functions?
  • Is it hard for members to make any decision, even small ones, without feeling they must consult with group leader(s)?
  • Do member’s families complain that they prefer church gatherings over spending time with family? Do they lead isolated lives, no longer relating well with anyone outside the group?
  • Do members act or feel as if God is looking at everything they do, and if they don’t do enough, He might turn on them or refuse to bless them? Do they see sin in the leadership and not act on it for fear of God’s or man’s judgment upon them?


Those answering yes to three or more of these questions need to prayerfully consider their situation. God does not conduct Himself in this manner, and neither should His church. Seeking God and godly counsel from outside the group in question helps one to order his steps in the Lord. If the counsel you receive confirms that your religion has gone wrong, you have two choices: actively work for change, or move. Do realize that if you try to change the system, you probably aren’t the first and the chances are high that you will soon be among the many before you who have tried and failed to make a difference. Just do whatever God tells you to do, as difficult as it may seem, nearly impossible at first, sooner or later you will know that it was absolutely the right thing to do. You’ll wish you had done it sooner. You’ll struggle with wanting to take friends and family with you. It’s only natural to feel that way. Just pray for God to help them discern the truth on their own and know that only God can do that, in His timing.


The authors of Toxic Faith tell us that the first step is to admit that you are powerless over the toxic faith system and that your life has become unmanageable. You must believe that God can restore your life to balance and bring you spiritual awakening! Though even when taking the appropriate steps to exit such a system, there will be fears and doubts, and the person will undoubtedly question every belief they have ever had, they are encouraged to know that they can go to God’s Word and let Him show them what’s real. When we allow one bad experience to tie us down and ruin our Christian walk forever, Satan wins. When we move closer to God instead, everyone wins. When you find a church home where the gospel is not distorted by personal opinions and faulty philosophies, where God’s love and grace flow freely, you’ll immediately feel the difference. You will also feel something you probably have not felt in a very long time: hope!

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