Comments on Recovering from Churches that abuse #3
Comments on Recovering from Churches that abuse #2 I Comment on the last five of Neffs 11 points of difference between healthy churches and abusive ones.
Commentary about Enroth, R. – Recovering from Churches that Abuse
Chapter 1 : Searching for Freedom
To distinguish between healthy and unhealthy churches, Neff poses eleven questions.
(For points 1 through 6 see this post)
7. Does the group allow for development in theological beliefs?
I am not sure if I understand Enroth here, but basically, toxic churches often have impeccable doctrinal statements. I can see that as true. My opinion is that God has two sets of rules for us. In one case, there is firm doctrine and practice that is the same for all of God’s people everywhere, and there are other personal standards that people develop because of their unique experiences in life.
For example, when your wife smoked before being saved, she can set a personal standard of never eating in a restaurant that allows for smoking (or drinking is the same thing). Although it would be hard to find a Bible verse that sets that standard, we understand that because of their personal experiences, they have made a personal “conviction” for their own lives, and basically, they impose those restrictions and understanding on their own family. Nothing wrong with that. But when a pastor overrules his members’ personal convictions and belittles and pressures conformity with his views, that is an indication of an abusive leader. The problem is minor when a member won’t eat in any place where they serve alcohol. It is major when the pastor imposes a conviction on his church people. For example, he doesn’t see it as biblical to go to a football game and imposes a church-wide restriction on his people. That norm is not going to be supported by a Bible verse unless it is highly twisted to get that. Another is when a pastor insists that everybody has to send their children to a Christian school and not a public school, or home school them instead of even a Christian school. These are matters that a pastor can point out issues and Bible principles in the matter, but they are personal or family decisions that he should honor and support his people in whatever course they choose.
But the issue here is that the pastor can discern and highly regulates himself and his leaders to not step on personal convictions of others but honor them. The very fact that it is possible to differ with the pastor and still be his good friend is the point. He is a bigger person that doesn’t need complete conformity to his will in order to be friendly and supportive of the person.
8. Are group members encouraged to ask hard questions of any kind?
The entire issue of transparency is very important. There are reasons for a church to limit transparency. For example, I am a missionary in Mexico, and I have a small church. But some other churches here have a lot of people and they take in a lot of money. In Mexico, we have more kidnappings that Iran or Iraq. We are one of the highest in the world. So we do not post our finances on a bulletin board that anybody that happens to visit us to see.
But the openness of the church leaders to hear and answer hard questions about how and why they do things is important. Also, note that some issues simply are not other people’s business for them to get involved in. When there are personal situations within families, and I counsel with them, that matter as a whole is not open for public discussion in the church. It is not their business usually, so they don’t have a right to know. When people ask me such things, I just say pray for them.
9. Do members appreciate truth wherever it is found, even if it is outside their group?
I would rephrase this, Do members appreciate the truth even if it is embarrassing to them? Just look at when a pastor gets into infidelity and leaves the church. Some people who make him out to be a saint, and treat any discussion about how that pastor did things as if Jesus himself were doing it. Others want to bash him once he is gone. A good church will find a middle ground, neither pushing the person into sainthood nor bashing him.
Looking at other religious groups, an abusive church seems to see themselves as the sole holders of truth, and even if others hold a position or practice that is good, they cannot bring themselves to accept that others do hold that truth or perhaps even hold it and do it better.
10. Is the group honest in dealing with nonmembers, especially as it tries to win them to the group?
In this we get into dishonest forms of evangelism, and that is a broad and important topic. The entire use of cell groups is to get members of other churches “into their group” by offering a Bible study in a non-church time (not Sunday nor Wednesday nights) in order to count them in their numbers game, and to try to pull them into their group. If the church they are attending is a good church, why? That is sheep stealing. If their group is a bad church (like Catholic), then witness to them telling them what is wrong with their church. But to bring them in “as brothers and sisters” but not deal with their churches false doctrine is not fair nor right.
11. Does the group foster relationships and connections with the larger society that are than self-serving?
Abusive churches thrive on creative tactics that promote dependency.
I fully agree with Enroth on this point. Many abusive churches have a practice of obligating visitors to jobs and positions and obligations to keep them in the group.