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Author Topic: Identifying Toxic Churches and Leaders  (Read 5633 times)
Janet Easson Martin
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« on: March 28, 2011, 06:24:16 pm »

    "I have spoken openly to the world," Jesus answered him. "I have always taught in the synagogue and in the temple complex, where all the Jews congregate, and I haven't spoken anything in secret.                John 18:20                

One important step to healing from GCI was to actually identify the particular hurtful or harmful characteristics they practiced.  Because I had been continually admonished by the leaders or those under them with a "reason" (more of an excuse really) why things were a bit  'closed' and stricter rules applied than I'd heard of in churces before, I didn't outwardly question these rules.  That was not only frowned upon, it was rewarded with being labeled as 'rebellious', 'factious', 'devisive', and very possibly an 'outcast' after a secret meeting with everyone but you.  Methods and means were definitely not practiced openly.  If they were, few people would ever have visited and fewer would ever have stayed.  

Once early on when I did question a leader about something he personally decided was "sin"; and announced publicly that it would be sin for anyone who did this thing (the bible definitely did not call it sin), I was was looked down upon by that leader for the remainder of my years there.  Thus, I questioned no more.  I stayed in this system a long time, and because "the church" was the only group of people I was encouraged to spend much time with, I didn't realize so much was actually spiritual abusive.  I even taught others, myself, to take on this "holy" pattern  in order to be a "very dedicated christian".   I did want to please God.  

It wasn't until years later when I read a christian book about harmful church systems that I was awakened to the many problems with their teaching.  Later, I asked God to show me what He says about these matters in His Word.  I surprisingly discovered that pharisee-like or legalistic and authoritarian teaching has been a problem since the days of the New Testament (See Galations, Colossians, 2 Corinthians and many places in the N.T.).  In addition to that, the New Testament addresses men who are dangerously selfishly ambitious and zealously recruit many to their Christian "group", isolating them intentionally from other healthy churches, for their own personal gain, and twisting scripture to do so.  It warns us that these men have no concern for the needs or welfare of their "followers".  I believe this was sadly true of atleast one of the founders who established most of the "rules" even still followed today.  I think many of the "leaders" who were blindly taught by him did not realize that these rules were erroneous.  They, too, probably wanted to please God and be "very dedicated christians", and so never questioned his authority or his means.


    "Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us...Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers.  He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church".     3 John 9b,10b    

      "Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good.  What they want is to alienate you, from us, so that you may be zealous for them."     Galations 4:17
  

Sound familiar?  The problems and concerns many have voiced on this site are strikingly similar.  Many are similar to those listed in the book Toxic Faith by Arteburn and Felton (believers who care about the welfare of hurting christians).  The Forward was written by a doctor with New Life Treatment Centers which is a well respected Christian Recovery Program (see their site).  Some helpfully label churches that uphold Jesus as the Son of God, and part of the three-person God, but USE cult practices with their congregation, as "Christian Cults".   The ten very harmful or "cult-like" or "toxic" characteristics listed below are a personal paraphrase based on those outlined in the above mentioned book:

1. "Special claims"   - i.e. following the New Testament more closely than any other Christian group
  
2. Authoritarianism   - that everyone should submit to their rule without question and any challenge is perceived as a threat to the system
                                          
3. An "Us Versus Them" Mentality   - constantly protecting their territory to establish themselves as a unique higher level of  Christianity and to legitimize themselves as an acceptable Christian organization by perceiving those who question their ways as the enemy    

4. Punishing those who struggle or falter  - treating them harshly and even publicly attacking and removing those who would upset "their reputation"

5. Overwhelming Service   - sacrificing family, friends and much more to serve the system, not God, often leading to burn out, depression, and numbness  

6. Painful Perfection   - On the outside happy and peaceful, but on the inside emotionally drained and distraught, feeling empty and spiritually dead, inadequate and often hopeless of achieving "perfection".  As my friend astutely observed of the group I was in "Almost everyone was smiling on the outside, but crying on the inside"  

7. Closed Communication   - information is only valid when it comes from the top down or the inside out.  Much spiritual superiority ignoring others as equals who have individual gifts and who (Biblically) should be very important to them and to the body  

8. Legalism   - system of rules and distortions of God's truths leaving Him out of the relationship  

9. No Real Accountability   - those labeled as "accountable to" or "in support of" are perhaps doing so with a very edited or erased past and present history; and who very likely do not have real knowledge of the actual experiences   of those who were brave enough to leave and free to voice very serious abuses and controls.  A very controlled facade has been placed upon this organization to try to make it appear as a legitimate and 'superior' Christian organization.                                              

10. Labeling Those Who Oppose   - naming those who oppose their system as "contentious", "bitter", "divisive", "probably never saved",  etc. in order to bring their good judgments  into question, and silencing them to squelch a viable revolt  


Obviously, these toxic systems are not going to share openly their list of manipulative ways and biblical errors used to influence the thinking and actions of their "flock".  They use verses taken out of context to support their controlling ways.  Although they have produced a "Statement of Error", those affected who have left never received it, only a few "complainers" who were making noise.  I was offended by its lack of sincerity in "brushing over" very serious abuses, and leaving out those that were too hard to swallow.  It seemed to be a PR move to save face.  The only way one can get the real truth about what this group and others like them actually do is through someone who has witnessed or been part of these practices on the inside, and then later been brave enough to tear themselves out so they can be free to TALK on the outside.  This site provides a place to do just that.  

After leaving, they then progressively discover the errors that were taught them. It seems God does this one layer at a time so we don't go into shock.  It's very difficult to process in the beginning that you yourself have been under so much false teaching.  Denial is definitely easier than confrontation.  Again, I cannot over emphasize getting lots of support from others including mature strong Christians (in healthy normal churches) when confronting these errors.  It's rather shocking to discover just how much was biblically off.  I believe a source stronger than themselves is authoring the lies that keeps their system surviving, and makes not only their followers prisoners of the "toxic" deception, but also the leaders themselves.  They can't see the forest for the trees.  

These unhealthy churches deeply wound the soul and spirit and often the body (with pain from stress) with lasting effects, instead of nourishing it as good shepherds do. They steal the life God intended for you to have in very seductive and subtle ways so you almost don't even realize its happening.  Many are nice people with good intentions, and think they are serving God.  But they have been duped, deceived, and led astray from the one who thrives on deceiving God's own.  

I pray God will deliver those still in these toxic systems to feel the glorious freedom of a very personal adventure with our real Shepherd, Jesus Christ, in the context of a healthy church.

Thankful for His Clarifying Word,

Janet
« Last Edit: April 06, 2011, 09:06:57 pm by Janet Easson Martin » Logged
Janet Easson Martin
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« Reply #1 on: April 04, 2011, 07:33:55 am »

ChaseyMaye,

I agree!  This forum allows and encourages truth.  Truth does indeed set us free.  I believe it was not by chance, but by divine guidance.  God IS the God of ALL COMFORT!

Enjoying freedom here with you,

Janet
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« Reply #2 on: April 15, 2011, 08:11:30 pm »

Janet, I have read and re-read your post and am still enjoying it, thank you. The ten toxic characteristics of cult like churches sound so much like what I know to be true of my past church. I am struck by number six the most:
Quote
Painful Perfection On the outside happy and peaceful, but on the inside emotionally drained and distraught, feeling empty and spiritually dead, inadequate and often hopeless of achieving "perfection".  As my friend astutely observed of the group I was in "Almost everyone was smiling on the outside, but crying on the inside" 

This describes my experience so clearly. Like how Christ describes the pharisees: white washed tombs. My life was a total mess but I couldn't let it show. I remember the song: "This little light of mine, I am going to let it shine... Hide it under a bushel? No! I am going to let it shine..."

I always had to be shining.

Number ten is on my mind more these days. I know my family thinks I am lost and do question my salvation. My parents have an agenda always working behind their words, Hoping that somehow they will lead me back to the Lord. I so often wish I could clear the air about it all, but I don't think they could have an honest conversation about spirituality.

You simply hit the nail on the head with this post, thanks for the thoughts.

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"When you divide the land by lot as an inheritance, you must set aside a donation to the Lord, a holy portion of the land, eight and one-third miles long and six and two-thirds miles wide. This entire tract of land will be holy." Ezekiel 45: 1
AgathaL'Orange
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« Reply #3 on: April 16, 2011, 02:05:40 pm »

I have been trying in my own spiritual life to be more honest.  I have felt before like I had to hide my thoughts and struggles and keep up the "Christian" face.  Lately, I've been honest and questioned things.  Some of the things I've questioned recently:
1.  The Sacred Feminine
2.  Pre-Christian religions
3.  The role of women in the church
4.  Is the Bible organic and applicable to many situations or is interpretation static and the truth held by certain people?
5.  What is hell really?
6.  What is heaven really?
7.  What have Christians thought through the centuries on these topics?
8.  And finally, I've been open with my priest and others with my questions, sharing my thoughts of how alienating women in the church has often pushed women into pagan groups where women are revered and/or respected.  My belief is that if you are in a Christian group where you can't ask questions, then you are not in a safe place.  Truth is big enough to be challenged.  Truth is big enough to be questioned.  Truth is also most likely big enough that we won't know all of it.  And Jesus is very clear that if you seek you shall find.  In many ways, I'm still worshiping the "Unknown God" because so much of what I have been taught is only one small tiny facet of God.  There is so much to know and learn.  Many people think that the more you search, the more you will know.  I think the more you search, the more you DON'T know and the more questions you have.  As you keep going, you realize how small you are in the grand scheme of things.  I think this is a good thing, ultimately. 


The one thing I am sure of is that we are to love others and to love God and to love ourselves.  I've spent quite a lot of my life despising myself, which led to me feeling like God didn't like me and led to me comparing myself to others and being happy when others failed.  That made me "better" if others failed.  Only someone truly happy with themselves and comfortable that God loves her can truly love others and be happy with other's successes.  So many times, I believed the negative things others thought of me. 

Why try to fool God?  Why pretend that I never think about other religions or thoughts of female roles in church?  Why try to pretend that I don't sin or that I'm super spiritual?  Why try to keep up the image?  It's not helping anyone.
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LucyB
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« Reply #4 on: April 16, 2011, 03:58:10 pm »

I love the honesty on this discussion board!  I believe that God loves all people, and that we are to love God and to become conduits of his love to all people. I am disillusioned with organized religion because all religions eventually turn into exclusive social clubs rather than conduits of God’s love. I am bored stiff with dogma. I have searched for answers only to conclude that answers are not really necessary. And yet I see that God is still working through people who love others. I see him working through Muslims and Sikhs, as well as Christians. What does it mean to be a Christian anyway? If people act like Christ, are they Christian? Do they need to believe in Christ? If someone believes in Christ, and abuses his children, is that Christian? We have all watched the heroism of the people of Japan. Most Japanese people have little religious training. I am deeply religious and personally very committed to my Christian faith. If I can relieve the suffering of others, then I have become a partner with God, and that gives me peace. 

Agatha, I think you are on the right track. It is good to question. When we think we know, we don’t really know.  When Jesus healed the blind man in John 9, he said to the Pharisees that THEY were the ones who were blind. Why? Because they didn’t need to be healed.

9:39 Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind."
9:40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not blind, are we?"
9:41 Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, 'We see,' your sin remains.
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EverAStudent
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« Reply #5 on: April 16, 2011, 08:58:46 pm »

Agatha, I have recently begun reading some of the "early church fathers."  I was shocked by what I read!!!!

The first thing that became real and present for me was that the early church fathers not only knew many of the apostles, but were either trained by them or by the students of the apostles.  All of a sudden the stark reality of these people as living breathing human beings sunk in.  The apostles were just a bunch of guys, and people knew them and wrote about them.  And some of the church fathers were jealous of the others for being closer to them than they could be.  Flesh and blood people. 

The next thing that hit me was that they were desperately trying to understand the entirety of the doctrines that they had just been taught by the apostles.  The did not have John MacArthurs's Commentary on the Whole Bible, so they wrestled with all this stuff for the first time ever.  And what they came up with was brilliant, by and large.  In other words, they were essentially geniuses. 

To read the early church fathers for free, download E-Sword (for free) and then download the Ante-Nicene Fathers add-ins (for free).  They did not get everything right, but you can learn much about what the very first Christian pastors thought about what they had been taught about the Christian faith.  It really is fascinating reading! 
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LucyB
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« Reply #6 on: April 25, 2011, 05:53:51 pm »

http://www.religionisalie.com/

Ever since I looked at this site, I have been grieving. My nephew recently asked me to help him recover family history for a school project. What I found from my family history amazed and deeply inspired me. Our family history is a history of faith, courage, and love. In 1697, my family helped build a church with a cemetery in Pennsylvania.  Another branch of the family came from Germany in 1847. They spent 62 days at sea with eight children and an eight pound 1713 German Bible. When they got to Iowa, they quickly learned English and became pillars of the church. Their daughter was my great-great grandmother. My grandmother told me stories about how her grandparents grew the grapes for the grape juice the church used, and made the communion wafers from scratch. Henrietta always had knitting needles in her pocket because whenever she had a few moments in the kitchen she would pull out her knitting needles. She was knitting socks for the Red Cross. Grandma said those socks were knit just as good as the ones from the store.

I am so thankful for the faith and courage of those who came before me, so give me my parents’ church! Our faith was passed on to us through faithful men and women through the centuries. It is fitting that we should appreciate the foundation that was laid for our faith. In doing so, we set an example for the generations that follow us. We, too, will need forgiveness, but may the faith that we pass on to our children sustain them, comfort them, and challenge them to live as servants of God in this world.

I thought about the history of the Great Commission Church. It did not just spring up from nothing! Since Jim McCotter had a Plymouth Brethren background, I did a little reading about the Plymouth Brethren. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plymouth_brethren   Wow! They definitely had a strong influence on the GCX, including the organizational characteristics, the practice of shunning, the practice of not training ministers, and some of the jargon (“brother” “laboring” “movement”).  One of their forebearers, was John Nelson Darby, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J.N._Darby who came up with the idea of the rapture of the church and taught dispensationalism. They were influenced by the teachings of John Calvin.

Hebrews 11:39-!2:1: Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.   Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on?
« Last Edit: April 25, 2011, 06:52:38 pm by LucyB » Logged
Innerlight
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« Reply #7 on: April 26, 2011, 09:11:35 am »

This is really shameful, to denigrate another christian system, in order to bolster one's own system.  GCC is a system, and could well be argued a denomination as well.  They seem to meet the criteria in many ways.  There is a theological term: "Adiaphora", coined by one of Luther's contemporaries, and it suggests that as believers, we should not be putting down another's christian system, with the caveat that we are unified in the essentials, the others, Baptism, Communion, etc...we should show grace.  if the essentials are being observed, don't criticize the others.  Read Romans 14-15, and 1st Corinthians 8-10.  I suppose it goes both ways, we should be graceful to GCC in turn. 

Indeed very interesting regarding John Darby and the Plymouth Brethern connection.  To set the record straight, it was Margaret McDonald who had the "vision" of two comings of Jesus, i.e. the Rapture, this was picked up by Darby, popularized by Moody, the message spread with his backing of the Scofield Bible, a seminary started to shore up the idea, i.e....Dallas Theological Seminary (Tim laHaye and Hal Lindsey..two alumni).  The spread of Dispensationlism is an interesting story indeed.  Do the research and make up your own mind...you might be suprised!
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