The Myth of the Lukewarm Christian
here’s this sermon I’ve heard a few dozen times. You’ve probably heard it too. It goes like this. Some Christians are really passionate and sold out for the Lord. They do great things. They live righteously. They don’t do anything that could be considered worldly. They only listen to Christian music. They have biblical family values. They’re on fire.
And others? Well, they’re “lukewarm Christians.” Sure, they say they believe, but they’re not that committed. They show up in church to warm the pews, but they still do worldly things. You should see the way they dress and those movies and music they listen to! If only they knew all the right things to do so they could be on fire like us. Jesus says, “So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:16). That, strong children, is why you have to be on fire for the Lord. Let us pray.
Obviously, I can’t object to an exhortation to be more committed to the Lord, and I dislike “easy-believe-ism” as much as the next disillusioned evangelical does. But if you know about Spiritual Abuse, you recognize a few other all-too-familiar themes lurking in the subtext.
There’s a strong temptation to elitism there—you want to be better than all those “lukewarm” folks, don’t you? Legalism’s waiting to pounce, too; it blends in perfectly as long as you define “On fire” as “Doing our things” and “Worldly” as “Not.” All that’s left is for us to spin “I will spit you out of my mouth” as “You might be eternally lost if you don’t do our thing” and we’re practically in cult territory.
But it’s biblical, right? It even has a Bible verse in it, and you can find dozens of people interpreting that verse in exactly that way, pretty much that same sermon, even. Tweak the applications a bit and it’s good for weeks.
Well, there’s one tiny problem: That’s not what that Bible verse means. Actually, it means pretty much the opposite.
Yes, Jesus says He doesn’t like it if you’re “lukewarm.” Yes, Jesus says “I will spit you out of my mouth,” and yes, it’s true (as you’ve probably heard) that that refers to puking. But what makes Jesus want to vomit? Is it really people who claim to follow Him and still (horrors!) watch PG-13 movies with wizards in them? Is it people who claim to follow Him but are just pew-warmers?
Or is it something different? Not just a different token “worldly” action, but a completely different way of thinking about your relationship to the Lord?
The answer, like the answers to most things, is found in context. The context here is the opening chapters of the book of Revelation, that is, the part that you don’t need an advanced degree in theology or screenwriting to interpret. John records letters from Jesus to seven churches in Asia Minor, at once pointing out their sins and shortcomings and encouraging them to stand firm in what faith they have. It’s dynamite stuff; I wish I had time to expound all of it.
The letter with the “lukewarm” verse is the seventh and last, addressed to the church in Laodicea. It begins like this:
14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: 15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.
Already this is a bit confusing, given the standard interpretation. If the “hot” people are those who are “on fire” for the Lord, then the “cold” people must be… atheists? Flagrant sinners? Crooked politicians? Richard Dawkins and his merry band of infidels? Could be, but then why does Jesus say “I wish you were cold or hot” like they’re both equally good? Surely He doesn’t consider it the same to be on fire for Him and stone-cold against Him?
16 ‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.
That bit we know. Jesus doesn’t like lukewarm beverages. He spits them out. Insipidity, something that’s the same temperature as the room, doesn’t do it for Him.
That’s obviously a metaphor for something (unless you’re a hyper-literalist and think that Jesus drinks people). Yet there’s no mention of the behaviors we’re often told are “worldly.” Is Jesus speaking in riddles, or will He explain what He means? What’s the difference between “hot” and “cold”? What makes a person “lukewarm”?
The next verse tells us. Specifically. It even starts with “Because” so we won’t miss that it’s connected. Here’s why Jesus gets nauseated by “lukewarm” believers:
17 ‘Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked…
Well, that’s not what they told us it meant.
The “lukewarm” people Jesus is criticizing think they have it all together, but they don’t. They think they are rich when they are actually poor; they think they can see when they are really blind; they think they need nothing when they are living on the streets. They have the worst of both worlds—all the smugness of wealth and all the neediness of poverty. They need help, but they think they’re well off.
This makes the rest of Jesus’ metaphor perfectly clear. “Lukewarm,” obviously, means a mixture of hot and cold, producing something bland and tepid. The Laodicean church combined feelings of passion for the Lord (hot) with the condition of being apart from the Lord (cold). The result is horrible: people in spiritual need who can’t recognize it because they think they’re doing great.
“Lukewarm” means “self-righteous.”
A “lukewarm Christian” is not somebody who claims to follow Jesus but also does worldly things. It’s somebody who says “I don’t do worldly things, so I’m living in God’s will.”
A “lukewarm Christian” is not somebody who claims to follow Jesus but only shows up on Sundays. It’s somebody who says, “God must be pleased with my devoted church attendance.”
A “lukewarm Christian” is not somebody who doesn’t have a quiver full of children. It’s somebody who says, “I have biblical family values, so I’m more sold out to the Lord than those feminists are.”
Lukewarm Christians are satisfied in themselves. Lukewarm Christians are proud of their spiritual commitment and pleased with all that they do for the Lord. Lukewarm Christians believe that they are living the right way, with all the right values, and all the right methods, and all the right works.
Except they aren’t. The fact that lukewarmness—self-righteousness—nauseates the Lord matches what He said (terrifyingly) about people who won’t make it into heaven:
“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’” (Matthew 7:22–23)
These people did great works for the Lord—even miracles—and thought well of themselves, but they missed their need for the Lord Himself. Jesus said, “Only one thing is needful,” and it isn’t to do great works for Him. Jesus wants us to trust Him, rest in Him, believe in Him, see our need for Him, get to know Him, let Him get to know us. That’s all one thing: it’s called Faith.
That may explain why Jesus says “I wish you were cold or hot.” If you’re “hot,” then of course you’re exactly where the Lord wants you to be—surrendering to the All-Consuming Fire. You’re seeing your need of Him and depending on Him to burn away your impurities and kindle your love.
If you’re “cold,” you’re apart from Him—and you feel it. Sometimes we have to hit the bottom before we learn to look up. As Martin Luther said, if you’re going to sin, you may as well sin boldly. None of this socially respectable stuff. Try it all, if that’s what it will take for you to see it doesn’t satisfy. When the Prodigal wound up in a pigsty, he realized how good his father really was. The sooner you get to the end of your rope, the sooner you’ll see your need to be rescued.
Being “cold” is just as good as being “hot,” from a salvific standpoint, because in both cases you’re seeing your need, insufficiency, and helplessness, and coming to depend on Jesus for His grace, forgiveness, and righteousness. The one fatal condition is to be needy while depending on your own righteousness. That’s disgusting. That will get you spit out of Jesus’ mouth. That’s lukewarm.
The point is not that we should be lazy, worldly, or half-hearted in our commitment to Jesus. The point is that there are much worse sins than laziness or worldliness. As C. S. Lewis said, “A cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.”
What’s the cure for lukewarmness? Jesus (again) tells us exactly in context. Here’s the rest of His letter:
18 ‘I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19 ‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. 20 ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. 21 ‘He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. 22 ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
The answer is to look to Jesus. It’s to see your need and see that only Jesus can fill it. It’s to ask Him to give you whatever it takes to fill it, and to give up anything it takes to get it. It’s to let Jesus enrich you, cover you, heal you.
There’s hope. Jesus counts even the “lukewarm” people among “those whom I love”; otherwise He wouldn’t take the trouble to correct them. It’s never too late to repent and open the door to friendship with Christ. If you let Jesus sit down with you at your table, He’ll let you sit down with Him on His throne.
If you simply do that—if you open the door to Jesus, trust in Him, get to know Him, and let Him help you overcome your self-righteousness—then you’re not lukewarm anymore. You’re one who overcomes. You’re on fire.
Don’t let any of the lukewarm Christians tell you otherwise.
Eric M. Pazdziora is a recovering legalist, but doesn’t like to boast about it. These days, he mostly writes words and music. He lives in Chicago with his beautiful wife Carrie and his spoiled cat Eloise. If you want to hear some of Eric’s music or read some more articles, visit his website at ericpazdziora.com.
Godly Authority: A Flight to Topsyturvydom
oet and playwright W. S. Gilbert (you might know him from his operettas composed with Arthur Sullivan) wrote some comic poems about the far-away land of Topsyturvydom:
Where vice is virtue—virtue, vice:
Where nice is nasty—nasty, nice:
Where right is wrong and wrong is right—
Where white is black and black is white.
Everything in Topsyturvydom is precisely the opposite of what you expect in our world. Soldiers are cowards, criminals are judges, and babies are born knowing differential calculus and become more ignorant as they grow. It’s silly, of course, but that’s the fun of it. As Ken Medema sang, “The world looks different to you when you’re flying upside down.”
So I’ve noticed a recurring phrase in certain schools of doctrine: “Godly authority.” Husbands should have godly authority over wives. Fathers should have godly authority over children. Pastors should have godly authority over their congregations. Don’t rebel against godly authority.
It sounds good and devout, probably because “godly” is a good faith word and “authority” is something we take for granted. Somebody has to have authority, and certainly “godly authority” seems preferable to the other kind. In fact, it’s exactly what we would expect to hear.
That makes me suspicious. Most of these doctrinaires would agree with me that “godly” should only mean “following what Jesus taught.” But Jesus never taught exactly what we expect to hear. Jesus taught about flying upside down.
Jesus managed to subvert almost everyone’s expectations. They expected a Messiah who would enforce the Law of God; they got one who religious people called a wine-bibber and a friend of prostitutes. They expected a Messiah who would be a conquering hero; they got one who died on a cross with thieves. It’s not for nothing that His critics accused His followers of “turning the world upside down.” Sometimes I’m left wondering whether Jesus was a secret citizen of Topsyturvydom.
When we look at what Jesus taught about authority, what we find seems equally wrong-way-up. Look closely at some of what Jesus said and you’ll start to think you’re standing on your head:
But Jesus called [the disciples] to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25–28, NKJV. Cf. Luke 22:24–27, Mark 10:42–45.)
When Jesus taught about authority, He said one thing clearly: It’s not about exercising authority. The great one is a servant. The greatest one is a slave.
Jesus didn’t let up with the topsy-turviness, either. He said you shouldn’t even take a title of authority:
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:8–12, NIV).
The formula for greatness, according to Jesus, is to thrust greatness away from you. It’s not to be looked up to but to be humble. The greatest is the least, the most exalted is the humblest, and the highest is the lowest. If you want to become great, try to be humble; if you want to be humbled, try to be great.
Is this just more nonsense and silliness, something W. S. Gilbert might have dreamed up? Contrast this to the entire doctrinal systems that fixate on authority, and who has it over whom, and whether it’s shaped like a chain or an umbrella, and you do get the distinct impression that somebody is standing on their head. Somebody’s got something very, very wrong.
Here’s another clue in another flight to Topsyturvydom. Jesus based these paradoxical statements directly on Himself and His own work: “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” The apostle Paul (possibly quoting an early Christian hymn) elaborates on this in a lyrical passage:
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5–11, NASB)
Jesus was God, and Jesus became a servant. Jesus humbled Himself, so the Father exalted Him. It’s upside-down, but it’s true.
It gets even loopier. When God exalted Jesus to the highest place, He made another statement about authority. It casually succeeds in blowing all our discussions about “godly authority” to smithereens:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18, NIV).
All authority belongs to Jesus.
“All authority in heaven and on earth,” just so we’re clear it’s all-inclusive. Not “all spiritual authority” or “all authority in the church” or “all authority over My disciples.” Those would be radical enough—but “all” means “all.”
This isn’t anti-authoritarianism. There’s plenty of authority for us to obey—but only Jesus has it. It does not belong to anybody else. It is not given to anybody else. It is not shared with anybody else. If anyone says they have any authority in any context and their name is not Jesus Christ, they are wrong. (And if somebody says his name is Jesus Christ, don’t believe him, unless maybe he starts walking on water.)
After this statement, any discussion about who has “godly authority” is pretty much pointless. Nobody does, except Jesus.
Far from being a passing observation, this fact is tied directly to our salvation:
“For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.” (John 17:2, NIV)
Since Jesus has all authority over us, Jesus has authority to save us. Since Jesus has all authority over our lives, Jesus has authority to give us eternal life.
So what then? Don’t get the wrong idea. If your association with “authority” gives you a picture of Jesus sitting at the top of the heap and bossing everyone around, then it’s back to Topsyturvydom we go. Jesus followed His own teaching about authority: authority, He said, is something that should make you act like a servant and wash people’s feet.
So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (John 13:12–17, NASB)
This ties everything so far together. Jesus is in authority over us, and (logically enough) we can’t set ourselves up as superior to our authority. Since Jesus humbled himself and acted like a servant, if we follow Him, we should humble ourselves and serve as well. No one sits higher than the King, and the King is washing people’s feet.
So there we are. If godliness means following Jesus, then “godly authority” is an oxymoron. Godliness is not about authority; godliness is about humility. It’s not about leading; it’s about following (namely, following Jesus). It’s not even about “servant leadership”; it’s about servantship.
But—I hear some people still perplexed with the shock of being turned heels over head—but how on earth does that fit with the way we do things in real life? Doesn’t someone have to have authority in, say, the government? In a marriage? In a church? In a workplace? In a family? Doesn’t the Bible tell us directly to submit to those authorities?
All right then, one last flight to Topsyturvydom. The Bible does tell us to submit, which is appropriate enough considering everything we just saw that Jesus said. But what’s glaringly missing are any corresponding verses that say leaders have authority.
This puts an interesting spin on verses and topics that sometimes become needlessly controversial. Consider husbands and wives (I’m thinking of course of Ephesians 5:21–33). Yes, the Bible says fairly clearly, “Wives, submit to your husbands.” But it follows this statement not with the corollary we’d expect—“Husbands, exercise godly authority over your wives”—but with “Husbands, love your wives like Jesus did for the church,” that is, by sacrificing everything so she can benefit. This makes sense when we consider that Jesus’ kind of love involves washing feet like a servant. What do servants do? They submit.
For that matter, and it is simply amazing how rarely this point gets made, the statements about husbands and wives in context both come immediately after this verse:
Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. (Ephesians 5:21).
Godly submission, yes. Godly authority, not so much.
Well, OK, there is one verse that talks about husbands having authority, but I doubt it will ever become especially popular in the Patriarchy movement. It puts it this way:
For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. (1 Corinthians 7:4, ESV).
Again, the idea is not patriarchal authority but mutual submission. (You know what, can we just go ahead and say that this verse all by itself proves once and for all that Patriarchy is an unbiblical teaching? I mean, seriously, “the husband does not have authority.” And that’s not just in the physical relationship; it’s the same Greek word for “authority” that Jesus says in Luke 22:25 we shouldn’t have at all.)
It’s the same with other positions that are considered authoritative. The Bible says that we should serve the government, but also that the government should serve us by providing peace and justice (see Romans 13:4). There’s a reason we call them “public servants.”
Again, the Bible says that we should submit to our pastors, elders, spiritual leaders (however you like to translate presbuteros), but also that they should not lord it over anybody, just serve as good examples (see 1 Peter 5:2–3). Paul explains his position as an apostle precisely this way: “Not that we lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm” (2 Corinthians 1:24, NASB).
It might be tempting to misconstrue this and go running around telling our bosses that they’re not the bosses of us. It’s true, technically, they’re not, but to do that you’d have to ignore all the verses before about humility and servantship. I think we’ve gone so topsy-turvy that we’re making figure eights, so it’s probably time to catch our breaths and see the big picture from the air.
The big picture is simple, clear, and beautiful. It’s love.
We’re free. Anybody who tries to forcefully control us or require us to obey is trying to usurp a position that only belongs to Jesus. Conversely, if I want to lord it over anybody, I’m trying to set myself up as the Lord. Men and women alike, husbands and wives alike, pastors and congregation alike, we’re all brothers and sisters, free and equal.
But since we don’t have to submit and serve out of obligation, that means we’re free to submit and serve just because we want to. Just because we love. Since we’re not obliged to make payments, we can give gifts. We can freely sacrifice for others with no other motive but love. We can serve others not because they have authority over us, but because Jesus has authority over us, and Jesus serves from love.
If you want to see what “godly authority” looks like, don’t look to any person but One. Jesus is washing His followers’ feet. Jesus is giving and serving and loving. Jesus is flying upside down, making loops in the air over Topsyturvydom.
Eric M. Pazdziora still can’t fly without an airplane, but music brings him close sometimes. He works as a freelance composer, author, and worship leader, and lives in Chicago with his wife Carrie, several stories above the ground. If you want to hear some of Eric’s music or read some more articles, visit his website at ericpazdziora.com.
My Hiding Place
An Unnecessary Jesus?
I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. (Gal. 1:6-8)
…Sewing up the veil, stitch after stitch, until soon, their wives and children are once again separated from a loving, caring, forgiving, and readily accessible (through Christ) God. Men defying scripture to become “high priest of the home”. Unfortunately for this methodology, the Spirit of God doesn’t reside in a temple made by man (Acts 17:24) and doesn’t dwell in the “home”. This negates the need for any “high priest of the home”, as the high priest, literally defined, is one who deals with God on behalf of the people. WE are the temple. I repeat…WE are the temple. WE, through the completed work of Christ, house the Spirit of God within us. There is ONE who deals with God on our behalf: Jesus Christ (1st Timothy 2:5). All of the scripture speaks against the notion of “the high priest of the home”. It’s a dangerous, destructive, and spiritually abusive idea. No more need for a high priest. We have a perfect and eternal High Priest who doesn’t need our help. His work is complete.
If you take Jesus out of the equation, their authoritarian culture doesn’t change. If you take the authoritarian culture out of the equation, they have no Jesus. It IS their Jesus.
For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works. (2 Cor. 11:13-15)
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? (Gal. 3:1-4)
Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech—unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. (2 Cor. 3:12-16)
You Have a Story
My strategy to survive was to appease the soldiers and to make friends with them. I thought, if only we could make friends with these soldiers, then we would survive.
But porters can die at any time. For example, if a soldier got angry and just shot me with his gun, nothing would happen to him. I would just die, like a chicken or a rat. To Tanintharyi Division, they send 500 porters every year. Of the 500, only 72 porters make it back to the prison. If you survive, you survive.
I was a porter for nearly six months.
~ Lai Pa, 34-year-old man from Burma. Source: How to Use Stories to Change the World.
God gave you something to say. Even if you don’t believe in this idea of a Creator who has an ultimate plan for the universe, there is something in you that knows you have a purpose. That there is more to life than just you and me and all our stupid, fleeting fancies.
(Yes, I just used “fleeting fancies” in a blog post. That’s how I roll.)
You have a unique voice with a unique message. It is called your story. And only you can tell it. ~ Jeff Goins, You Have a Voice
To be an artist (a writer, photographer, painter, musician, etc.) is to suffer, but not without meaning. Not without purpose. To be an artist is also to create something beautiful that can alleviate pain. ~ Jeff Goins, Art Helps us Deal with Suffering
When Parental Obedience Brings Rejection
Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. Luke 14:25-33
Encouragement for Living
- Keep your words sweet, like the saying reminds us, because someday you might have to eat them.
- Seek to be humble in all things.
- Stay open to correction, because we can learn from everyone despite disagreement.
- Find safe and trustworthy people with whom to fellowship, even if you meet for coffee once a week.
- The art of boundaries takes time to develop, but ask the Lord to show you how! And keep firm, but gracious, boundaries.
- Listen well. Pray without ceasing.
- As much as depends on you, live peaceably with all. But follow Jesus first.
- Trust God. Trust His love for you and His love for the ones you love.
- Remember that parents and others sometimes respond like they do because they are genuinely afraid for you. Honor them and be thankful for their love. Take their fears to the Heavenly Father and ask Him if there is anything He wants to show you through them, and ask Him to comfort them also.
- Don’t let the rejection you feel cause you to reject others ~ or to even reject yourself. Don’t reject your sadness. Don’t reject your pain. Don’t reject your anger. Let God use these things, and the God-of-all-comfort will bring life in ways you’ve never expected.
- Do not return “evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.”
But take heart that you are not rejected by the One who matters most.
The Over-Controlled Adult Child
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye. Do not be like the horse or like the mule, which have no understanding, which must be harnessed with bit and bridle, else they will not come near you.” (Ps. 32:8-9)
“But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ.” (Matthew 23:8-10)
Why I am Still a Christian
“Without trying to be antagonistic, I am curious why so many have continued in the christian religion after their experiences with it. I was raised as a strong Protestant, and had spent years studying the Bible and Christian theology, but subsequent to my experiences with a man who controlled his daughter/family to the point of ruining a relationship, I realized that trying to pick and choose which parts of Christianity gave birth to it was impossible. So, I am interested why so many here are moving forward with that intent.” (From Commandments of Men | New Blog)
“Not to join in the mutual misery society, but having likewise been through a failed relationship with a girl because of her father and her refusal to actually commit…similar to many of the details that “Lewis” has shared…I have one question: Why do any of you continue to be christian? Once I learned what the end result was, I washed my hands of it all; and I’m curious why so many of you who have been through similar situations continue in the very ideology that gave birth to the abuse.” (From When You Love a Daughter of Patriarchy.)
In other words, why have you kept the faith despite spiritual abuse?
Spiritual abuse takes on many forms. The insidiousness of this becomes apparent every time I talk to women who don’t realize why they think or feel the way they do. It affects not only our spiritual lives, but also our hearts, minds, and as I believe, our bodies. It can be very difficult to identify, because it looks and sounds so right. With our built-in drive to please, to pursue holiness, and be obedient to God, we become particularly susceptible to this foul element of religiosity. In my belief, there is almost nothing more that grieves the heart of God!
Let us examine some of the obvious features.
Spiritual Abuse & Religious Cults
In relation to religion, the Compact Oxford English Dictionary of Current English defines “cult” as:
1 a system of religious worship directed towards a particular figure or object.
2 a small religious group regarded as strange or as imposing excessive control over members.
The Random House Unabridged Dictionary’s eight definitions of “cult” are:
1. A particular system of religious worship, esp. with reference to its rites and ceremonies;
2. An instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, esp. as manifested by a body of admirers;
3. The object of such devotion;
4. A group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc;
5. Group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols;
6. A religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader;
7. The members of such a religion or sect;
8. Any system for treating human sickness that originated by a person usually claiming to have sole insight into the nature of disease, and that employs methods regarded as unorthodox or unscientific.
Spiritual abuse occurs when someone in a position of spiritual authority, the purpose of which is to ‘come underneath’ and serve, build, equip and make God’s people MORE free, misuses that authority placing themselves over God’s people to control, coerce or manipulate them for seemingly Godly purposes which are really their own.
Unfortunately, this appears not only within the “crazies” such as Jonestown or the Moonies; many churches and families also exhibit these very characteristics. Taking advantage, whether intentionally or indirectly, these institutions exploit one’s love for God and loyalty; in effect using these qualities to promote their own agenda, purposes, and beliefs. In his book Churches that Abuse, Dr. Ronald Enroth lists several distinctives that are worth considering:
- Authority and Power – abusive groups misuse and distort the concept of spiritual authority. Abuse arises when leaders of a group arrogate to themselves power and authority that lacks the dynamics of open accountability and the capacity to question or challenge decisions made by leaders. The shift entails moving from general respect for an office bearer to one where members loyally submit without any right to dissent.
- Manipulation and Control – abusive groups are characterized by social dynamics where fear, guilt, and threats are routinely used to produce unquestioning obedience, group conformity, and stringent tests of loyalty to the leaders are demonstrated before the group. Biblical concepts of the leader-disciple relationship tend to develop into a hierarchy where the leader’s decisions control and usurp the disciple’s right or capacity to make choices on spiritual matters or even in daily routines of what form of employment, form of diet and clothing are permitted.
- Elitism and Persecution – abusive groups depict themselves as unique and have a strong organizational tendency to be separate from other bodies and institutions. The social dynamism of the group involves being independent or separate, with diminishing possibilities for internal correction and reflection. Outside criticism and evaluation is dismissed as the disruptive efforts of evil people seeking to hinder or thwart.
- Life-style and Experience – abusive groups foster rigidity in behavior and in belief that requires unswerving conformity to the group’s ideals and social mores.
- Dissent and Discipline – abusive groups tend to suppress any kind of internal challenges and dissent concerning decisions made by leaders. Acts of discipline may involve emotional and physical humiliation, physical violence or deprivation, acute and intense acts of punishment for dissent and disobedience.
While they believe such groups may not be cults, perse, the authors of The Drift into Deception: The Eight Characteristics of Abusive Christianity list specific qualities of those factions which are inclined towards spiritually abusive tendencies. From page 50: “We may define an aberrant group as one which emerged from orthodox, mainstream Christianity, but differs from it in belief and practices in one or more essential ways. The word aberrant means “straying from the right or normal way; deviating from the usual or natural type.” An aberrant Christian group, then , is neither a cult nor an evangelical organization.” The following attributes are often present in such assemblies:
- Charisma and pride
- Anger and intimidation
- Greed and fraud
- Enslaving authoritarian structure
- Demanding loyalty and honor
- New biblical revelations
While all groups will not demonstrate every single aspect, or varying degrees of them, there are still alarming similarities within many churches and families that need to be acknowledged. Unfortunately however, this can prove overwhelming when it hits too close to home.
Healthy vs. unhealthy leadership
I will not attempt to exhaust every good element within healthy “religious” organizations, but I will detail a few important characteristics that are always present within balanced church groups and family structures. I believe that these distinct virtues are: humility, sacrifice, and altruism.
But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. 26 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. 27 And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20
Godly religious or family authority takes on the distinct humility of Jesus, who appeared in the form of a bondservant and became obedient to the point of death. Can your spiritual leader be found figuratively or even literally on his knees, washing the feet of his disciples? Or does it seem more likely that his followers are bowed before his feet?
The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. 11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. 12 But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. John 10
Does your leader routinely lay themselves down for their flock? Or do they require unbalanced degrees of service, veneration, and loyalty?
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Phil. 2
Does your spiritual leader honestly set aside his own will and desire, seeking the well-being of those within his care?
Families and church systems that lack these elements are in grave danger of not only becoming out of balance, but of grossly misrepresenting the True God to those entrusted to their care. Let’s look at some of the ramifications that Spiritual Abuse exacts upon women.
The effects on women
Spiritually abused women, who still seek healing and wholeness. . .
- often struggle with the concept of God
- have difficulty trusting those in authority
- often find themselves within unhealthy relationships
- have little or no boundaries
- dwell with extreme feelings of guilt and shame
- struggle with low self esteem, consider themselves worthless and wicked at the core
- often have health and weight issues
- battle depression
- have difficulty make decisions due to lack of confidence and trust in their abilities
- feel they never measure up to God’s standards
- do not think of themselves as autonomous beings, created in the image of God
- cannot fully comprehend the love of God
- feel disconnected from their souls, emotions, feelings, and God
I will expound upon these with greater detail in future articles, but oh, my dear friend! Those of you, who bear these burdens and feel the oppressive ache within your soul. . . my heart breaks for you! I was once afflicted, such as you are; nearly to the point of suicide and death. I grew tired of life; weary and exhausted from endlessly trying to measure up to the standards that were rigidly forced upon me. We will explore some of these issues later, but for now, let me encourage you that it is possible to be set free through the grace and sanctification of our Heavenly Father! Take heart, and know that He who is the Father to the Fatherless is with you always.
For further study, I heartily recommend The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen.
When I first begin talking about my book Quivering Daughters, many people ask instantly why I haven’t written it before now. A valid question, for I have dabbled in writing since I was a wee lassie of six, when my homeschooling mother would present to me lists of words for creative inclusion with poetry, story, or song. The short answer is: much living was required of me before the fullness of time and the Spirit of God spoke in unity.
The long answer, I expect, will be drawn out over the course of the next several months.
I hope that you check back often as I chronicle this journey and share what I have learned. This blog will serve as my sounding board; to test the waters, and post articles and resources I have found helpful. Ultimately I hope that hungry souls will find relief through the work of my hands and the words of my heart. I humbly bow before my Creator in awe of His presence within my life, praying that you will be blessed as this project unfolds.
Feel free to leave comments, ask questions, and send messages! I love feedback.