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.)

It’s All About Jesus, Part 1: The Christ Hymn

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” – [Colossians 1:15-20 NIV]

This section of Scripture found in Colossians is often referred to, by many Scholars, as ‘The Christ Hymn’ because many scholars believe that it was sung during worship in the early church. The origin of this hymn is not known but some think that it came from various sources ranging from the Stoic persuasion to the Hellenistic-Jewish persuasion. Regardless of it’s origin, it declares the preeminence and supremacy in Christ in all things. What we have here is one of the finest descriptions of who Jesus is that we can find in the Bible. In one of his sermons, Louie Giglio calls this the hymn of all creation.

       1. The Preeminence of Christ in Creation (1:15-17)

Verse 15 starts off by telling of His heavenly origin. We find in Romans 8:29, Paul calls Jesus the first born among many brethren and now in Colossians Paul goes deeper and says that Jesus is the first born among all of creation. According to Adam Clarke, “The phraseology is Jewish; and as they apply it to the Supreme Being merely to denote his eternal pre-existence, and to point him out as the cause of all things; it is most evident that St. Paul uses it in the same way.”

Laminin

In verse 16, we see that the writer of this hymn emphasizes the work of creation in powers and authorities and makes it known that all of these things, whether upon the earth or dwelling heavenly realms, were created for the glory and supremacy of Christ. Everything that God does will bring glory to Him in some way, shape, or form. In Isaiah when God says that no word will go forth void (Isaiah 55:10-11) he means that everything he speaks is for a specific time and purpose and, it will accomplish that purpose in it’s appointed time. Going back to verse 16, everything was created for a specific time and purpose.

In verse 17, Paul says that Christ is before all things. This phrase reaffirms verse 15 where it speaks about Christ being the firstborn among all of creation. In the latter part of this verse shows us that in Christ all things hold together. We find here the Greek word synesteken, meaning that connotes preservation or coherence. In the RSV reading of this verse it says, “in Him all things consist.” This verse is truer than what we might think. In our bodies there is a cell membrane called, Laminin. I’ve posted about this topic before. According to Wikipedia, “The laminins are a family of glycoproteins that are an integral part of the structural scaffolding in almost every tissue of an organism. They are secreted and incorporated into cell-associated extracellular matrices. Laminin is vital for the maintenance and survival of tissues.” Without these laminins, our limbs would literally fall apart. What’s even more amazing is that these laminins are in the shape of a cross. The writer was scarily accurate in saying that in Christ, all things hold together!

     2. The Preeminence of Christ in the Church

Paul starts off in verse 18 by discussing Christ’s function as head of the church. Dr. Augustus Neander says, “The Church is His body by virtue of His entering into communion corporeally with human nature.” This proves the idea that Paul wants his readers to know that Christ exercises his authority in the universe through the church. In verse 18, Paul notes that he is the firstborn from among dead meaning that he is the only to rise from dead and die no more (as opposed to Lazarus who died a second after being raised form the dead in John 11) so that, once again Christ might have supremacy and preeminence in all things thus proving that Christ is sovereign over the living as well as the dead.

In verse 19, Paul explains that it pleased God for his fullness to dwell in his son, Jesus. When you read this verse you must read it in correlation to John 3:34-35 and Matthew 28:18:

“For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.” – [John 3:34-35 ESV]

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” – [Matthew 28:18 ESV]

The father has given all things, including the church, into Christ’s hand and he has all power and all authority.

Verse 20 is the culmination of all this, “..that he might reconcile all things …by making peace through his blood.” Everything that Christ does through the church it is so that all things might be reconciled unto Himself through the shedding of His blood. I found the Apologetics Study Bible enlightening on this verse.

“This passage does not teach universalism (all will be saved) but instead points forward to Messiah’s quelling all rebellion, bringing lasting peace to the universe. The “reconciliation” here entails a pacification of evil powers (as 2:15 makes clear).” – The Apologetics Study Bible

In the commentary for Colossians 2:15 the Apologetics Study Bible says:

No contradiction exists here between Paul’s statement that the principalities and powers have been defeated and his assumption elsewhere that the powers are still virulently active and that believers need to fight against them (e.g., Eph 6:12). The cross of Christ is the point of decisive victory over the powers of evil; believers can now be victorious over them through their union with Christ. They will be vanquished once and for all at the end of the age. – The Apologetics Study Bible

There are two realms in which this reconciliation operates: the present and in the future. The present blessing of reconciliation is that you’ve been adopted into the family of God and you are made a co-heir with Christ according to Romans 8:17. The future blessing of reconciliation is that evil work and every power and principality will be obliterated and we (the Church) will enjoy the presence of Christ and be eternally consummated to Him. If you’re wondering about the past blessing of reconciliation it’s this: there is none because the blood of Jesus Christ has washed away your sinful past. The only thing that matters is your present and your future.