Earlier this week I came across our CLB's website and listened to portions of a message given by the apostle. If you were to visit the website, most of you would think it looks great, and it is likely that you would also enjoy the teaching of the apostle.
Much of what is being taught is really true and appealing. Many of these truths are important for the church today.
For example, there is a strong emphasis on the kingdom of God. As we personally submit to God's reign, the kingdom becomes manifest in our lives. The manifestation of the kingdom of God in our lives impacts the world around us.
There is an emphasis upon personal transformation. The teaching is that transformation begins in the heart with our revelation and understanding of God. As we allow God's grace to impact every area of our heart, we will experience growth and transformation. We submit ourselves to this process in order to develop integrity and truth in every aspect of our lives.
There is an understanding of church as more than just a weekly service. They reject the facade of traditional churchianity and promote a greater understanding of the people of God as a community.
There is a heavy emphasis on local community and the importance of our relationships with one another. It is in our relationships with each other, in our one-anothering, that the kingdom of God is demonstrated.
On a personal level, there is an emphasis on men doing business with integrity, wives loving their husbands, and living in honest accountable relationships with other believers.
This is why good, sincere people are still following this teaching. Anyone following the principles I've listed would grow in their Christian walk.
So what went wrong? The problem is that the teaching is truth with a twist.
It is confusing because while the words are all about love and unity, the methods and practices demand compliance and conformity.
The first twist is that the kingdom must be a demonstrated reality in our lives before we can affect the world around us. Therefore the focus is on the process of being perfected.
The effect of this is a completely inward focus. Rather than understanding that personal growth and transformation occur as we give our lives to love and serve the world around us, we become completely paralyzed and immersed in our own development.
The second major twist is that community is elevated above the individual. This sounds great as far as rejecting individualism and promoting unity, but it comes with a price when individuality is completely suppressed and rejected.
Heather at Free Heart Reflections posted this quote awhile back that caught my attention. This was in reference to what happened at Jonestown:
"In short, the ideology of Peoples Temple focused on commitment to the community, and to elevating the group above the individual."
This is where much of the damage has happened to this church. As the corporate ideal is elevated, people are called to die to their individual preferences. They are asked to commit to the community values and to protect and guard the unity of the group.
The problem with all of this is that it is transformation and unity as defined by the leadership. This has resulted in control in order to produce conformity. Information is controlled and differing perspectives are sacrificed for the sake of oneness.
The life of the Spirit has been squelched. There is no room for it in this controlled environment. People's gifts have been suppressed. Their discernment has been shut down with the threat that questioning is subversive and dangerous. In the effort to produce ideal community, a real thriving community has been destroyed.
There is a great deal of inspired truth and revelation in the teaching of this group. The appeal of truth is the hook. In this particular group, if you swallow the hook, you will find that you have bought into a toxic church environment.
It is the result of truth and revelation being interpreted through a grid of hierarchy and control. The real life that should be produced from the truth being taught is aborted at the hands of those who have put themselves in the position of controlling and defining the expression of life in this community.
In the end, many are left realizing that the reality wasn't what they hoped it would be. It fell far short of the ideal that was promised.
This may be very specific to my CLB, but perhaps there are things that others who are involved in toxic church systems can glean from this.
Churches, people, and teaching are never completely good or evil. In fact, there is usually much more truth than falseness. However a small degree of falseness can produce devastating results.