When Traditional Values Create Toxic Churches

*Contains References to Domestic Violence & Rape*
Christianity cannot be rightly categorised as either inherently progressive or inherently traditional. There IS, however, Biblical overlap with both progressive and traditional ideals. For example, like the Bible, traditional cultures place high value on the family unit, while progressive cultures, like the Bible, affirm the intrinsic dignity of all people. It is likewise possible to wrongly assimilate as “Christian” either traditional or progressive cultural values that are in actuality antithetical to Christianity (like the traditional belief that women are property of their husbands or the progressive belief that being true to yourself is the highest goal). To give proper credit: I was introduced to this way of comparing and contrasting various cultures with Christian teachings a couple years ago in several Tim Keller sermons. I’ve found it very helpful.

In my experience, theologically-conservative Protestants tend to focus almost exclusively on ways churches can err in adopting certain aspects of progressive ideology; one might call this the “left boundaries” of Christianity, and it is important! But I contend that of equal importance is to recognize ways that Christians or churches err when they incorrectly adopt certain traditional ideologies as in line with Biblical truth; these could be called the “right boundaries” of Christianity.

This post will focus on instances when those right boundaries have been crossed. I’ve observed that these errors most often to relate to authority, sexuality, gender roles, and politics.

One final note: all of the following warning signs are based on real-life situations in theologically-conservative Protestant churches (and most involving well-known, well-respected pastors). These are things that have been actually said! Actions that have actually been taken! This isn’t hypothetical; these are real issues affecting churches today. 

So without further ado,

A Pastor or Church Might be Toxic if…

  •  The pastor teaches or implies that all Christian parents–if they want to be truly godly–must homeschool their children.
  • Church leaders silence all criticism as “gossip” or “lack of submission.”
  • Churches shun former members.
  • The pastor never apologizes.
  • Church leaders speak of certain political candidates as having the potential to “bring our country back to God.”
  • The pastor boasts that his wife has never refused him sex.
  • A pastor believes it is permissible–even godly–for husbands to discipline their wives with spankings if they fail to perform tasks (such as washing the dishes) in the way their husbands prescribe.
  • The church strips couples of small group leadership when the wife works full-time and/or the husband stays home with the kids.
  • When wives bring allegations of rape, abuse, or adultery regarding their husbands, church leaders respond with dismissiveness or even blaming.
  • A pastor believes that marriage cures pedophilia.
  • Church leaders fail to report the crime of child abuse to the police and then discipline church members who DO report child abuse to the police.
  • Church leaders believe that minors can be partially responsible for being sexually abused.
  • A pastor teaches that oral sex may be the best evangelism tool to convert a non-Christian husband.
  • Church leaders urge blind trust in the leadership, instructing congregants not to read blogs that detail alleged abuses perpetrated by the church.

So there you have it! A dozen or so instances of unbiblical, unhealthy, and toxic church beliefs or practices! My purpose is not to hate on the church. Rather, I urge discernment in recognizing unhealthy patterns in our churches for the sake of the peace and purity of the church; for the sake of the health of its members; and for the sake of its witness to those who embrace other belief systems. I hope that I have also made an introductory case for the idea that traditional cultural ideas (not just progressive ones) can be anti-Christian. Note, however, that “patterns” is the key thing to watch for; having one or two of these characteristics does not necessarily make a church toxic.

So in summary: the church is meant to be a beautiful display of Christ, and it is tragic when it falls short of this beauty–yes, when it embraces untrue aspects of progressivism, but likewise when it accepts faulty facets of traditional culture.

– Hannah Conroy
(The views expressed are the author’s and may not reflect the views of other blog contributors.)

A Mental Buffet // 29 July 2017

Mental Buffet

Some reading material for the eager mind and the hungry soul. This week’s mental buffet includes articles from Sean Michael Lucas, Joe Thorn, Summer White, Stephen Altrogge, and Kevin DeYoung.

 

Preacher’s Toolkit: What Book Do I Preach First? – Sean Michael Lucas

“The first sermons of a ministry often set the trajectory or tone for an entire season of pastoral leadership. What did I want the church to be known for? What did I want my ministry to major on? I was sure some in my new congregation would make assumptions or take cues from what I decided to preach on in these first sermon series.”

 

Entertainment and Worship – Joe Thorn

“As the church draws near to God, the Lord draws near to us, and we receive grace. Grace—regenerating grace, renewing grace, reviving grace—is offered to the congregation through the means of grace. The result of worshiping God in spirit and truth is transformation. Entertainment cannot lead to edification. Entertainment can stir the emotions, but God uses the means of grace to change our affections. Entertainment might draw a crowd or captivate a congregation, but only the means of grace will draw people to Christ and conform them to His image.”

 

Peterson and the Ghosts in the Machine – Summer White

“Of course, like most feminist myths, there is absolutely no proof that Peterson was given a “pass” because he’s a man. There are thousands upon thousands of tweets and Facebook comments on this mess, and precisely none of them smacked of, “He’s a dude, so it’s cool.” Each one of these women has noted how serious the backlash was to Peterson’s original comments, specifically after his retraction. Not that facts matter. Where there is a woman, there is an oppressor, am I right? Nevertheless, I’d pay RHE $10 if she could tell me what a “highly gendered” attack upon Hatmaker looked like, but only after I purchase a signed copy of her next NYT bestseller.

There’s an economy of words here that we cannot afford to ignore, and the fact that they are currently flowing from a man who wrote an absurd caricature of Scripture that has been accepted as a “paraphrase” by most Evangelicals today (calling The Message a “paraphrase” is wildly generous) should cause us to pause. While Peterson, a pastor from the “gay-affirming” PCUSA is shocking us all with his gay-affirmation, while conservatives are trying to find a way to be excited about a statement and a retraction that amounts to indifference, while feminists are looking for the patriarchy in every corner, real people are being hurt.”

 

My Life Wasn’t Supposed to Turn Out Like This – Stephen Altrogge

“As I read through Scripture, I’m discovering that very few people had their lives turn out as expected. God often takes his people on strange paths through uncharted territories. He leads his people out of safe, secure places, and into the howling wastelands.”

 

Why I Love the Evening Service (And You Can Too) – Kevin DeYoung

I would just like to preface this by saying that my home church doesn’t have a Sunday evening service, but after reading this, I may start trying to find somewhere to attend for Sunday night services.

“If the sermon and the sacraments are truly means of grace, let’s give people the opportunity to experience this grace and take advantage of the opportunities on the day set aside for worship. Martyn Lloyd-Jones supported the practice of evening worship because he believed there should be a hunger for the preaching of the Word-a hunger that desires a second time to feast on the Bible.”

 

Till He returns,

Logan

 

Insomnia and the Imago Dei

“_______ is made in the image of God”

It’s something I tweet all the time. It’s my subtle reminder, to myself mostly, that the people we talk about- regardless of their denomination, political affiliation, sexual orientation, race, or social standing are at the end of the day people. That, like me, they grow tired. They are also battling insomnia. They also have families and desires and needs. They are also sinners who also have a need for a Savior.

A common theme I keep hearing is how we are so polar in America. We’ve let everything divide us. This is usually spoken in reference to either race or politics. That the line is now drawn and you’re either Left or Right, white or black. And everyone’s trying to figure where did we all go wrong? When did we become so divided?

Truth is: it’s always been this way. We’re just exposed to it more. Social media has aided this process quite well. As a society we’re more connected than we’ve ever been. But we’re no more closer than we’ve been since Eden.

And trust me, I’m the most guilty. I struggle remembering that my so called “enemies” (that is people who don’t agree with me) are fallen image bearers probably more than anyone. It’s easy to. Because we’re more connected than we’ve ever been and I can find SOMEBODY who will at least agree with me in this important point I’m making in the moment. We’re so polar.

We’re polar because we’ve made opinions our identity. And anyone’s alternative opinion or different view isn’t just a disagreement. It’s an attack on our identity. On MY imago Dei.

Truth is: we’re never going to stop being polar until we start looking at “the other side” of whatever divide we’ve invented as image bearers. As people, not just opinions. As sinners in need of much grace, instead of my enemies.

So yes dear Christian, whatever war we’re longing to fight or hill we’re ready to die on- that person on the other side is also made in the image of God. Just like you. No different than you or me.

A Mental Buffet // 22 July 2017

Mental Buffet

Some reading material for the eager mind and the hungry soul. This week’s mental buffet includes articles from Gerald Bray, Dallas Willard, Samuel Giere, and RJ Grunewald.

The Anglican Way – Gerald Bray

“Until the liturgical reforms of the mid-twentieth century, most Anglicans used the 1662 Prayer Book as a matter of course. Its language and its doctrines penetrated deep into the psyches of the English-speaking peoples, and its power to win souls for Christ is widely attested. Charles Simeon, the great evangelical leader of the early nineteenth century, was converted by reading it in preparing himself to receive communion. The warnings against unworthy reception that the Prayer Book contains went straight to his heart. Simeon repented as the Prayer Book urged him to do, and he gave his life to Christ.”

 

Subversive Interview, Part 1 – Relevant Magazine and Dallas Willard

“What has basically happened is that the meaning of ‘Trust Christ’ has changed. It has come to no longer mean trusting Him; it meant trust something He did. In that way, one theory of the atonement was substituted for the Christian Gospel. The results of this are that (now) discipleship is not essential, and people are not invited to become disciples. So then now you have crazy hermeneutics like, ‘The Gospels are for the Millennium, but Paul’s gospel is for us today’. This is just taking possession of the whole country on the conservative side. On the liberal side something different is happening. It’s amazing to see how every system within Christianity took a route that said, ‘You know, you don’t have to do that. That is not for you to follow. You just have faith in the death of Christ on the cross or have faith in Jesus as a great social prophet or whatever.’ But it’s amazing to see how universal it was.”

 

Commentary on Isaiah 55:10-13 – Samuel Giere

“The Word (now deliberately capitalized within the horizon of Christian proclamation) of God accomplishes what God purposes — repentance, faith, and salvation. Christian proclamation participates in this work of God. We don’t add to this work or validate it or accomplish it. This is God’s work done by way of God’s Word proclaimed.”

 

Sleepovers, Giggles, and the End of the World – RJ Grunewald

“I pulled out my experience with far too much Christian music in the 90s by saying, “There will be a big, big house with lots and lots of rooms,” which comes from the words of Jesus when he says, “My Father’s house has many rooms.”

 

Until He returns,
Logan

 

 

A Mental Buffet // 15 July 2017

Mental Buffet

Some reading material for the eager mind and the hungry soul. This week’s mental buffet includes articles from Jim Elliff, Chad Bird, Steve Brown, and Jeff Mallinson.

What Should You Look for in a Church? – Jim Elliff

“All leaders cast vision, but few labor to know just what God wants by tenaciously pursuing the truth from the Scriptures where Christ’s will is to be found, and by praying for the Spirit’s wisdom and power. This doesn’t mean any team of leaders has it all figured out at any given time. It’s a process. Old practices have to be thought through again in the light of the New Testament—even basic practices like baptism, the Lord’s supper, music, money, leadership, and evangelism.”

 

When Denominations Think They’re God’s Chosen Group – Chad Bird

“…whatever Christian stripe you may be—Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Baptist, Reformed, Lutheran, Whatever—fight against collective egotism. Develop friendships with brothers and sisters in Christ outside your group. Purposely read books and articles that challenge your thinking instead of merely confirming what you assume you already know. Cultivate an openness to new, fresh ways of expressing the faith as well to ancient, patristic ways of doing the same.

You may be surprised to discover that, rather than changing your theology, these other voices deepen and expand it in ways that never would have happened if you listened only to the “approved” voices.”

 

Being Right Can Make Us Weird – Steve Brown 

“My friend, Kent Keller (pastor of Kendall Presbyterian Church in Miami), not too long ago preached a sermon on 2 Peter 1:16 where Peter wrote that Christians don’t follow “cleverly devised myths.” Kent said, “This isn’t Hollywood. Christianity is an historical faith, grounded in acts and facts: real people, real events, real time, real places. That’s the story the Bible gives us. Take it or leave it. Love it or hate it. Accept it or reject it. But you don’t get to mess around with it, edit it or rearrange it so that it’s more to your liking. It’s not a majority thing. Truth stands on its own.”

 

The Holy Plumb Line – Jeff Mallinson

“When we are made aware of God’s Holy plumb line, we have a tendency to lose our focus, our joy, and our effectiveness within society. Why? Because we are utopians by nature. We want a perfect marriage, a perfect congregation, and perfect America. But when we chase after utopias, we underestimate the Fall and forget our pilgrim status in this life.”

Until He returns,
Logan

Response to WWUTT’s ‘What the Orthodox Church Believes?’

Response to WWUTT

[The following views do not necessarily reflect those of my colleagues at Late Night Theology.]

By way of introduction, I would just like to state that this is not a point by point refutation of everything in the video, it is simply a response. While there are some points that I do refute, my main objective is point out the absurdity of someone who is Reformed accusing another Christian group of believing that “no one should interpret Scripture apart from Church tradition.”

We view Scripture through a lens, it’s inevitable. When we were introduced to the Bible we were given glasses to read with. The “prescription” for those glasses might change with our continued study of Scripture and Church tradition, but we never lose glasses because if we lose our glasses we lose our ability to understand Scripture.

In Acts 8, Philip asked the eunuch, “Sir, do you understand what you’re reading?” And the eunuch gives a profound answer – “How can I unless someone guides me?” We must admit, like the eunuch, that Scripture cannot be understood apart from someone guiding us.

Ugh. These guys are crazy.

“They’re still a Roman Catholic knock off.”

Nope. More like the Roman Catholic Church is a Eastern Orthodox knock off.

“They believe that salvation is process of faith-works and partaking in the sacraments.”

Yeah, well, whatever. Luther still believed in purgatory. Obviously, the Orthodox are wrong when it comes to this issue, but whenever you have verses like John 6:54-56 and 1 Peter 3:21, can you really blame them for not wanting to ignore those texts and just say that they’re metaphorical? Here’s the thing, their tradition and interpretation of Scripture has been consistent over the last 1800 years or so. I would say that you can’t just readily dismiss a tradition that is that close to Jesus in space and time.

“The Orthodox Church believes that the sacraments literally become the flesh and blood of Christ.”

The video compares their position to the Roman Catholic position of Transubstantiation. That’s inaccurate because the Roman Catholic Church teaches that transubstantiation is the method by which the elements are transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ whereas the Orthodox Church believes that the elements become the body and blood of Christ, but they’re not sure how. It is literally a mystery to them, which is something that I can appreciate because we have this tendency to want to KNOW EVERY FREAKING JOT AND TITTLE of Christianity when it is CLEAR from Scripture that some things are just a mystery.

According to Colossians 3, we’ve died and our lives are hidden in Christ. Who we are will be revealed at the day of Christ (Colossians 3:4). Guess what? It’s a mystery.
It seems like we’ve tried to overthink Christianity to death where there’s no mystery involved in it anymore.

As I mentioned earlier, they simply don’t want to dismiss passages like John 6:54-56, and Luke 22:19, where Jesus POSSIBLY implies that the bread is His body and the wine is His blood.

“Though the Orthodox Church believes the Bible is the Word of God, they believe the Church is equal in authority, and that no one should interpret the Bible apart from Church tradition.”

Ummmmm….. Calvinists who are steeped in the Reformed community do the same damn thing with their confessions so they DO NOT have any room whatsoever to talk about this issue. As matter of fact, let me reword their statement and see if it sounds familiar – “Though Reformed Christians believe the Bible is the Word of God, they believe their confessions (1689 LBCF, 1646 WCF, Three Forms of Unity, etc.) are equal in authority, and that no one should interpret the Bible apart from these confessions.” Yep. That sounds more accurate.

“The Orthodox Church prays for the dead and believe that it is possible for salvation to occur after death.”

No. They do, in fact, pray with the dead, not to, and not for the dead. They pray with the saints, and often they ask saints in Heaven to pray for them because, to them, those saints are just as alive as you and I are, they just so happen to be in closer proximity to Jesus than we are. So, asking a saint to pray for them is no different than asking you to pray for me.

Also, they do not believe repentance is possible after death. John Karmiris, a Eastern Orthodox theologian, states, “Death terminates the moral development of man; any further evolution is rendered impossible, and retribution begins.” Clearly, they do not believe repentance and salvation are possible after death.

At the end of the video, the narrator says that it’s possible for someone to come to saving faith in an Eastern Orthodox church, but if they’re going to grow in the grace the knowledge of Christ then they need to leave. I think that’s a load of bullcrap, and at this point in my life, I’d rather send a new convert to a Eastern Orthodox congregation than any congregation that teaches that iconography of Jesus is a violation of the 2nd commandment (assuming I had to pick between the two), and there’s my rant.

Likely Conversations in Heaven

ConvHeaven

[Our scene opens up with a few select saints know from both the Old and New Testaments including, but not limited to, Paul and Jonah. They are observing an American pastor named Chris Chambers as he ‘preaches’ in the ‘pulpit’ of his church, Radiant Life Fellowship* on an average Sunday morning.]

Modern Pastor: God will never force you to do anything. God loves you so much that He would never force His will on you.

Paul: Hey Jonah, are listening to this?

Jonah: Did that guy just-

Paul: Yep.

Jonah: He’s obviously never been caught in the belly of a whale.

Paul: Nor has he been knocked off his horse by the Son of God personally.

[scene cuts back to pastor]

Modern Pastor: You must invite Jesus to live in your heart to be saved!

[scene cuts back to Heaven]

Paul: You’ve got to be kidding me, right!?

Jonah: Wow… just.. wow…. we never told anyone to do that in my day, did you?

Paul: No way! We also told people to repent and believe the Gospel. Maybe one of the guys wasn’t clear about it. Let me check.

*yells behind him down a hallway*

Hey, did you guys never told anyone-

Barnabas, Silas, and John Mark: *in unison from the hallway* NOPE.

Paul: Yeah, that’s what I thought. This guy’s a loon. I don’t know where he got that.

*These names are made up. Feel free to replace them in your mind with any actual pastors and churches that come to mind.