Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Truth with a Twist

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.


Pastor Astor said...

This is NOT an isolated event, but a epidemic spreaing once again through the body of Christ. Sice the 60:s this true and important teaching with this destructive and dangerous twist has ravaged the church several times. It started with the sheparding movement and those problems have never been seriously dealt with. The focus on discipleship is good, the idea of the leader being the master is not. The focus on sanctification is good, the idea that the leaders define it and that perfection is expected is not.
The focus on the kingdom as present and expressed in our relationships is good, but the idea that this means hierarchy and never ending meetings in the churches building is not.
The focus on personal devotion is good, the idea that the foremost sign of devotion is attending every gathering in church is not.

David Cho said...

This is a very powerful posting, grace.

Church is where people are supposed to "let their guard down" and soak in God's truth, and out in the world is where they are to vet everything they encounter.

I wish that was the case. Isn't that why it is called a sanctuary? But yet what sounds truthful is riddled with dangerous twists as you say.

It is pretty discouraging.

Anonymous said...

It seems that if you strip away everything good, you are left with an individual or maybe individuals who just want their own way or want to build something that gives tribute to them. Therein is the twist or at least one of them. If it has to reflect you or your vision then you have to control everyone and everything to make sure it does just that. If it were to be able to reflect Jesus and all that He would encompass, then control would not be needed.

The other thing that I see and you address somewhat is the unspoken teachings. From the front it may be all about the “Kingdom of God” or all about an “individual hearing God for themselves.” But if any of that differs in any what from what leadership wants or believes, you will soon find out what is really being taught.

Like what we are now going through – People are told they can come and talk to us. Only one person in the whole church has so far. No one is ever rebuked for the shunning. Instead (from past experience) they are being told that they are using “discernment” by not talking to us. They are actually praised for not doing what is publicly spoken. So what a person hears upon entering the church for the first time and what you glean after being here for a while differs drastically.

Keep writing, this was brilliant.

Btw – did you ever get my email? Could we actually be talking about the same church? (If so, you probably hate me!) Please, God, that there are not two of them.

A Former Leader

John Frye said...

Grace, you are one of the most perceptive and discerning leaders I know. Your ability to affirm what is good in the CLB (what is a CLB?) and at the same time discern and then so clearly express the "twist," "the hook" hidden in the bait is astounding. I grieve that those "in control" of that church jettisoned you and others in the name of keeping that community pure. The fact that there is such an unaccountable 'command and control' system in place is glaring evidence that they have departed from the way of Jesus and they have put themselves in the role of the Spirit of God. It is spiritual abuse of the most destructive kind and it exists under the cover of being "biblical" and "obedient." I fear that these leaders have assumed the place of God in the lives of their "followers." I recall that another "being" tried to take God's place and it did not go well with that being. I agree with "pastor astor"--it smacks of the heavy-handed shepherding movement of the 60s-70s. I had hoped that type of thing was over. Sadly, apparently it's not.

Thanks, again, Grace. Keep observing, thinking, praying and writing!

John Frye said...

John again. I linked this post over at Jesus the Radical Pastor. It needs to be read by many.

Lily said...

I know I don't have to tell you this hits close to home for me, but I'm gonna tell you anyhow. Thanks for this post. It needs to be said.

Cindy said...

We're quick to quote Jesus about the yeast of the "Pharisees," but rarely do I hear it in context of church leadership today. (What else could it mean for us?) That is what you're describing and so succinctly said with, "However a small degree of falseness can produce devastating results."

Adam Gonnerman said...

Very perceptive comments.

What is "CLB"?

Rob said...

If I were a paranoid, conspiracy-minded cessationist, I would probably say something about Satan mixing a bit of truth in to get people to believe the lie.

However, I'd rather think that even leaders/churches who have bought in to some unbiblical leadership and authority styles can still be preaching the truth and seeing lives changed. God is still using Balaam's ass (which I have been myself at times).

All the same, God's use of us (in spite of us) should be a cause for thanksgiving, but also cannot be used as "proof" that He approves of everything we say and do, whether as leaders or congregants.

It'd be so much easier if it was clearly black or white, wouldn't it? :)

P.S. to Adam,

Brother Maynard started using CLB a while back -- it means "Church Left Behind" -- and as more of us started using it, it's become part of our super-secret insider jargon. Sort of a shibboleth of people who are detoxing from church. ;)

Anonymous said...


Grace, you have captured brilliantly what we have struggled to try and explain to ourselves and to others as we left our church 2 weeks ago. We have looked at the good things being done in this church, and remembered the good things that have happened in our own lives, and have swung back and forth in wondering if we have done the right thing or not in leaving.

Something my wife expressed often as we discussed our situation (which recently is all we seem to talk about) is the question "Why would God allow this church to be successful with the manipulation and gossip and poison exuded from the leadership?" I know what you say Robbymac is true, but we also struggle with our desire for justice that we can see (I guess that makes us feel like we are right - but of course that only comes from God).

Grace, your blog has been a blessing in making us realize that we are not alone. But it has also brought sadness to think that so many people go through the same thing with something that should be pure and holy and better than what is in this fallen world. I guess since we are in this fallen world the religion that we create will ultimately be as broken as the people that try to create it (I guess we shouldn't add to what God creates...hmmm).

I would appreciate your prayers as we look for another "church" (whatever form that takes) and as we struggle with how much of our concerns we discuss with our friends still at our "CLB" (I would love to just refer them to your blog and say "read this!!!")

May God bless and keep you and yours.

Anonymous said...

Yikes Grace, this post is particularly uncomfortable today. I know you are in SD but you could be in SK. An elder at our really soon-to-be CLB was terminated very recently and we all were given the details at the mid-week service. Talk of "biblical church government" and "authority" and "discipline" and "spies" and "insubordination" and "rebellion" and "character flaws" etc. Yuck. And what's worse is that most of the people present probably know better but are willfully turning a blind eye. The y choose to believe "bishop" even though their own consience says otherwise.

Thank you God we are moving away soon.

Linda said...

pastor astor,
That is so true. This is a repeat of the discipling/shepherding movement. A mistaken understanding of the role of apostle is being interpreted as controlling hierarchy.
Many of the people who are left aren't familiar with the shepherding movement. Also, if control was the up-front message, maybe they would see it. The message they are hearing is about kingdom and community as an expression of kingdom.
Thank you for your insight.

I think that is why spiritual abuse is so devastating. We put a higher degree of trust in those relationships, and when that trust is violated the hurt is deep.
I'm sorry it was discouraging, but we can learn the signs of healthy churches and leaders and learn to maintain reasonable boundaries and expectations in our relationships.
In some ways, loss of innocence is kind of sad, "once burned, twice shy."

former leader,
You are hitting on a theme that naked pastor wrote about this week, but I haven't had time to keep up with it. He talked about vision actually being destructive within the church. In the manner in which you have said, I agree with this, because it means that eventually everything has to be controlled to reflect the vision.
I wish I had said that about unspoken teaching! In fact I should devote a post to that. Often the things being taught are a cover to deny what is actually being done, to the degree that it is actually propaganda - "this is what you are supposed to think."
Sorry, I missed your e-mail. I'll try to reply soon. Also, I'll give you more detail of my CLB and the network in the e-mail.

Thank you for your kind words and for the link at your place!

CLB - church left behind

I am now surprised at how much I went along with for years without questioning. An outside perspective has certainly enhanced my ability to see what was happening.
As things continue to unravel, the remaining people are encouraged that in spite of their small number, they are the true remnant. Because of a wrong understanding of delegated authority, the leaders not only teach that they speak for God, they actually believe that their thoughts and ideas are His. As you said, that is a scary place to be!

Linda said...

I noticed that you linked to the post by naked pastor about vision. I am interested in reading more of that discussion. Do you think that's a factor in this dysfunction?

Interesting point. I'm thinking about it also along with what robby posted. Since we're all imperfect, obviously we can't have perfect church. But is there a difference between imperfection and falseness?

Thanks Adam, you've probably seen the answer to your question. I should add an abbreviation list to my sidebar. :)

Yes, I like black and white, a clear line that should never be crossed. I guess there is never really a line, just degrees of error, motive, and controlling behavior.

What I have run into with the people leaving is tremendous intimidation about discussing why they left. Their discernment has been completely nullified.
I encourage them to trust themselves and that it is okay to identify teaching and actions as wrong.
I believe this is an important step in detoxing and eventually forgiving the leaders for their part in all that has happened.

Wow, just 2 weeks. My heart goes out to you. It consumed our life for a long time.
I can really relate to your desire for justice. I also couldn't understand how this church could flourish with the poison we knew was there. It wasn't until 2 and 1/2 years after we left that things began to unravel. Honestly though, many churches will continue for years.
If you haven't read it yet, I recommend robbymac's article on detox. You are just starting a process that will take several years before things feel "normal" again.
We learned that we couldn't discuss the things that we saw with anyone who was still at the CLB. They each needed to see on their own when they were ready to see.
Your words brought me back to what it was like at first. I will pray for you, and I'm sorry you are going through this too.

I'm glad you are leaving also. It is amazing what we are willing to overlook in order to belong to the club, isn't it? Your phrases made me shiver - spies, rebellion, character flaws. How about "team player"? It is absolutely amazing how a person's character, motives, and reputation can be assassinated with a few well-placed insinuations.

Ronni Hall said...


I've lived this.

Actually, I almost died in this.


PJ said...

A professor in Bible College told me once that heresy is 90% truth and 10% lie. I think that is really what we see and deal with here. Yes, there is much truth and good spoken, yet the 10% that doesn't line up with the character and truth of God is what makes it wrong. And they are usually the ones declaring they preach the "pure gospel." I can identify with your post so well, in fact I found our CLB's new website just this past week too. Scary!! Thanks for all the posts. Keep it up.