Sept 21st, 2020
If we use the broadest definition possible, we are all abusers. We are also all abused. I am not qualified to talk about abuse in very many forms. I am, however, qualified to speak on one type: Church abuse. I’ll define church abuse as the following: Church abuse is any attempt to belittle individuals or manipulate their behaviour by using theological, philosophical beliefs, or religious structure.
At best, church abuse manifests in good-hearted and good-intentioned people trying and failing (sometimes horrifically) to help. At worst, it is a deliberate method used to manipulate and force individuals into compliance. The problem comes when one tries to discern the difference; are you a helpful idiot or just plain evil? A friend recently posted a series of memes that were initially posted on Instagram by @yourfavoriteheretics (Note to Canadian readers, they spell ”favourite” the American way). I have to say it made me feel a variety of feels. That is to say: I had mixed emotions on this. Much of what they say is bang on the money, and much of the rest is an affront to the Gospel and the Church I love. There is, however, also quite a bit of room for healthy, theologically and epistemologically correct expressions of some of these things. As a result, I hoped to write a bit of a primer for believers illustrating healthy and unhealthy expressions of the following. This post comes to you in three parts, and I’ll try to avoid getting too far into the theological weeds.
I should say at the outset that my goal here is not to explain away abuses that have occurred. These must be brought to light and be dealt with transparently and in a way that befits an organization that wants to be salt and light to the world. If you have found yourself here because you have been injured by the church or individuals within, please know that I am not trying to minimize your experience or your pain. Jesus is perfect, but his representatives... not so much.
Fear Driven Theology
An honest, Spirit-led, search for truth can only begin with questions.
I have often said that if you don't have doubts within your faith, and if your faith isn't rocked to its foundation from time to time, what you have likely isn't faith at all; it's dogma. Dogma doesn't save. Nobody gets into heaven because they're afraid of Hell. Nor do they stay in heaven out of fear. The Gospel is about Jesus' willing sacrifice, period. Obedience is not how we stay saved; it’s the natural bent of a heart that has been transformed by Holy Spirit.
Doctrine should never be pushed over love, nor love over doctrine. They work in tandem when they are at our best. Sound doctrine informs why and how we love, and love is tempered by sound doctrine.
Cards on the table, I don't think anyone can "lose their salvation.” Your salvation does not belong to you; the only thing you provided was the sin that made it necessary. The real question is, "Can Jesus lose a Christian?" And that's a ridiculous question.
I did skip one point there. "Agree with what we believe or find yourself another church." I have to say that, with specific qualifications, I agree with that sentiment. For better or for worse, local churches are organizations. In many cases, they're registered charities. They have organizational structures, and they abide by one subset of Christian beliefs. If you, as a Christian, are looking for a group to (Christian buzzword alert) fellowship and covenant with, then you should find one that aligns with your beliefs. That being said, fellowship should never be held over anyone's head like a weapon to compel you to conform if your views begin to change. Folks who aren't believers should never be forced to hold a specific set of beliefs to be present and even active to a certain degree, serve, within the life of the church.
Obsession With Spiritual Gifts
These are real things, sometimes they can be intimidating, or even scary, but we must not let them be the focus of our attention.
Christians believe that Spiritual Warfare is a real thing. There's no way around that. But let's make a couple of things clear:
- "The Devil" is not omnipresent like the Lord is. He must focus his attention. You and I are probably too "small potatoes" to be on his radar...probably
- Harry Potter is no more or less intrinsically demonic than things like Lord of The Rings. There are narratives within HP that mirror Biblical narrative, and even the Gospel. It is good to know these stories so we can relate them to ultimate truth and ultimate reality. Plus, they're good stories!
- Tongues and Prophesy are not for all believers. The apostle Paul said so himself (1Cor 12). Even our modern-day Charismatic brothers and sisters believe this. I would argue strongly that any assembly that advocates tongues as a necessary expression of faith or conversion are engaged in false-teaching, and dangerously close to being a cult if they aren't already.
People should never be forced to engage in corporate worship in any way that does not make them comfortable. This self-conscious awareness takes away from the worship experience. I'm a chair-drummer. I love to drum in the chair back in front of me. I rarely raise my hands. Does that make me "less holy"? Nah.
Destiny or Bust
God's Will is not a dot!
When I was in Bible College, we had a professor who was fond of saying: "God's will is not a dot!" It's true. If God's will for your life were a dot, one mistake, one slight misstep and you're out of God's will for your life. That's not how it works. To paraphrase the Westminister Catechism: Q: What is the meaning of life? A. the meaning of life is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. To put it more simply, here's a quick way to discern the elusive "will of God" on your life:
The thing you want to do:
- Can you worship God while doing it?
- Do you have the ability to do it?
- Do you have the opportunity to do it?
If you can answer "Yes" to those questions, congratulations! You're more than likely within God's will for your life! It's simple. It's not easy, but it's simple. Any church that tries to tell you otherwise is trying to sell you something.
I've met many Christians during my time in the church. Many to most of them have experienced one of these nine forms of abuse to some varying degree. Sometimes it amounts to a largely harmless annoyance, other times it can rise to the level of a traumatic experience with real, and lasting repercussions.
I don't pretend to know the answers to all of this. I share all of this with you in the hopes you'll be better equipped to deal with or identify these things if and when they arise. I forget where I heard this, but it still rings true: If you've been mistreated by the church, it's the sinners who make up the church who are the problem, not the Jesus they may claim to represent. Perhaps it would be best for all of us to remember that first.
Written by Kevin Seguin