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.)

Truth, Love, Discernment: My Thoughts on Philippians 1:1-11

If you love people then you will want them to know the truth because it’s the truth that sets us free according to John 8:32.

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Image Credit: Georgie Dee

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. – [Philippians 1:1-11 NRSV]

At my church, I am preparing to preach through the book of Philippians on Wednesday nights. Studying for this has been a daunting task filled with prayer, Scripture reading, and a good soak in dead commentators of days gone by.

As I contemplate on this epistle as a whole and particularly on these opening 11 verses, I can’t help but see Paul sitting in his home under house arrest and letting the thought of this congregation’s progress in their corporate walk with God fill him with joy.

What we see here is a pastor resting in the work that Christ has accomplished through His death, burial, and resurrection, is accomplishing through the Holy Spirit that’s dwelling in them, and will accomplish at the last day. I believe all of this is captured in Philippians 1:6, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”

In verses 9-11, we see this deep, heartfelt, pastoral prayer. And what is it that Paul is praying for? He’s praying, first of all, for them to have love and discernment. I would like to point out that I believe that real discernment comes from love – both a love for God and a love for people. First of all, if you love God then you will love the truth because you understand that He is the ultimate source of truth, and you understand that God desires “truth in the inward parts” (Psalm 51:6, KJV). If you love people then you will want them to know the truth because it’s the truth that sets us free according to John 8:32. I think Penn Jillette, a famous magician and confessed atheist, illustrates this well in the following statement:

“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me along and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

“I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”

Basically, I think he’s saying that if you know there to be such a thing as absolute truth in this relativistic culture, and you’re refraining from speaking that truth to someone, then you cannot claim to love them. So, in the context of love and discernment, what this means is that if you love God and love you neighbor, then you will discern the truth and defend the truth from those that would try to distort to their own advantage.

In conclusion, I think we need to take this text to heart and understand that Jesus is working in by the Holy Spirit to cultivate our love for the Father, and out of that love for the Father, we have desire to display, discern, and defend the truth.