The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil.
If the world hates you, you know it hated me before it hated you.
If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.
1 John 3:13
Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you.
1 John 2:15
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
1 John 3:14
We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not lovehis brother abides in death.
For the last twelve years or so, Steve and I have spent long hours talking and making sense of the world we entered after leaving the cult. The world has changed markedly and continues to do so at a rate of knots. But even more disturbing is the fact that the church has also changed. We understood that we came out of a place which was an exception to the rule. Once we wrapped our minds around the concept of the term ‘cult’, we expected to find different behaviour in other churches. We have been deeply concerned to find that in fact, much of the behaviour we saw in the cult is being replicated in other Christian organisations; churches and schools.
We were used to being treated badly by cult leaders, but we were not expecting to encounter abusive behaviour from what might be termed ‘ordinary Christians’. What we discovered was that our cult experience was the thin end of the wedge. In fact, as we went back over our histories, two separate and disconnected paths, we realised that we had both experienced really horrible behaviour from church people most of our lives.
Why was this? Were we at fault? Or were we just unfortunate enough to have been the target of a lot of badly behaved Christians? Was our experience unique? I don’t think so. In the last twelve years we have done a lot of research and found that large numbers of Christians are leaving the church and not for the reasons that the so called researchers, like George Barna, have suggested. More often the stated reason for leaving churches is because the gospel is no longer being preached. Genuine brothers and sisters in the Lord are offended with the false gospels, the false teachers, and the false prophets who arise in their midst. They are faced with the choice of attempting to change the church or leaving. It seems many, even after years of trying to get the leaders to see sense, have simply given up and looked for another place to fellowship. What they are finding is that there are very few churches now which appear to preach the gospel. If the gospel is not being preached, people sitting in the pews are not getting saved. We heard the testimony of one man who sat in David Wilkerson’s Times Square Church and said that it was the first time he had ever heard the gospel in 20 years of being a Christian. It was then that he actually became born again. This is not an isolated example.
On this note, one preacher we have found to be the epitome of a good solid bible teacher is a man called Charles Lawson. He is a Baptist pastor in Knoxville Tennessee. He is what you might call an ‘old time pastor’, but he has done his research and is willing to discuss things from the pulpit that most pastors will not. He talks about end times, the rapture of the church, he talks about the one world government and the occult. He is filled with the Spirit and is a genuine brother in the Lord. We delight in listening to his messages because for 12 years we have looked to find something similar in our country and have failed. He is surely not the only pastor who preaches the gospel, but he is one we have spent a lot of time listening to.
Good teachers aside, I believe there are two issues intertwined in this matter. On the one hand you have the hatred of the world for genuine believers, and on the other hand you have people who identify as Christians but are in fact not genuine believers because they have not been transformed. They have either come into the church on ‘another gospel’ or they have not been born again. So they are in fact still ‘in the world’ despite the fact that they believe in God. Now bear with me, this is not about being accusatory, it is about observing and recognising the false and discerning the true.
Peruse the above verses. You will find that Jesus made it abundantly clear that the world hated Him. The world hated Him because the world is not of God. Since born again Christians are of God, then it follows that the world is going to hate you. This is not a maybe. Jesus was not saying ‘if’. This is a rule of thumb. The apostle John also reminds his readers that it should not be a surprise if the world hates you. Because you are of God.
If the above is true then why am I seeing a whole lot of love for Jesus from the world. And why is there such a conflation of world and church now in so many denominations. Everybody from Hollywood to the White House are saying that they are Christians. And its not just happening in America. I live in Australia and for the longest time our Prime Ministers made a big deal of being church going folk. The Queen goes to church and is the head of the Church of England. Are they all born again Christians? No. No they are not. How do we know this? Because the world loves them, the world embraces them and they are not suffering persecution. And of course, their behaviour shows they are not.
I think what is happening here is that they are worshipping another Jesus. The Jesus that they worship has a different source, the world. The Jesus who walked the earth two thousand years ago and died on the cross, that Jesus was hated by everybody. Nobody wanted that Jesus to rule over them. Has the world suddenly changed since then? No, interestingly, just as God doesn’t change, evil doesn’t change.
I think a lot of Christians assume that just because other Christians believe in ‘God’ that we are all worshipping the same God. Not true. There are many ‘Christ’s out there, and Jesus said that this would happen in the last days. But there are also many who are sitting in church believing they are brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus Christ, when in fact they have not actually even met Him. They have not had a true conversion experience. They might have been experiencing some kind of ‘spiritual’ experience, which it appears is a common thing even amongst pagan tribes. We westerners tend to believe only in science and rational thought. This is all well and good until you realise that much of what passes as science is rooted in pagan religion. We have been fooled into thinking that there is no such thing as supernatural beings or supernatural powers. Yet the Bible makes it clear that Satan is real, demons are real, angels are real, and they are constantly around us despite the fact that we cannot see or hear them. Our religion has been influenced by such movements as the reformation – which in fact was simply a version of Catholicism and not true biblical Christianity (although it contained elements of it) – and the charismatic/Pentecostal movements which were founded on various supernatural occurrences during so called ‘revivals’ over the last couple of hundred years. Many of those supernatural experiences were not of the Holy Spirit but were demonic in origin, and these experiences and the doctrines which support them have influenced our teaching and our expectations as believers.
We believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we are not cessationists. We have prayed for and seen healings, miracles, baptisms in the Spirit etc. But what we are looking for is transformation. We need to see changed lives which are led by and bear fruit from the Holy Spirit. That fruit is love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control. We tend to see the opposite in many Christians, or sometimes fake fruit. Let’s look at that.
True Fruit Fake Fruit
Joy High Spirits or Loudness
Goodness Doing the right thing
Self Control Legalism
Christians in Western countries tend to believe that things should be a certain way. We expect that Christians should act a certain way, generally according to the denomination we belong to. Reformed churches behave this way, Pentecostal churches behave that way, Baptists do this, Presbyterians do that and so on. What we have not really done is read our bibles, take note of what constitutes a changed life, the life of Christ within us, the life empowered by and filled with the Spirit of Christ. We do not measure ourselves against scripture, we measure ourselves against the latest self-help book or teacher, not realising that these people are often not born again either.
A true born again Christian loves other true born again Christians. You know when you have met somebody who is truly a new creation, you can see it in their eyes, the Spirit within you witness to the Spirit in the other person. There is a unity which exists which does not need outward expression or conformity to a set of denominational rules or a set of rules which says ‘this is what a genuine bible believing Christian does’. If the Spirit of him who raised Christ Jesus from the dead dwells within you, then He who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies. That same Spirit will empower you and that same Spirit will lead you and guide you.
Now obviously, Christians can be carnal.
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? … (I Corinthians 3)
When Paul says carnal he is referring to immature Christians who are still spending most of their time walking in the flesh and therefore acting like ordinary men, unbelievers in the world. We have obviously met a number of these. The sort of behaviour though that we have experienced is more along the lines of people who don’t change at all over time. They are not carnal sometimes and spiritual other times. They really don’t have any Christian characteristics at all. They are simply religious.
What we have to come to terms with in this so called post-modern society is that there is no longer a ‘church’ denomination which contains a bunch of born again believers. True believers are now scattered. Has it been this way from the beginning? It is possible that this is so. If true believers are salt and light then we cannot all stand in one clump, how can we salt the earth if we are sitting in one bunch every Sunday or weekday. It is not possible for us to have a savoury effect. Have you ever over-salted a soup or stew? I have. You can’t ‘unsalt’ it, you have to throw it out, you can’t eat it. Likewise, we as believers are meant to be spread throughout the world and the so called ‘church’ on the earth. We can come together to encourage each other, but I am starting to see that this coming together is going to get harder and harder, and we must find each other through other means than the local church organisation. The church has now become like the world and the world like the church. There is no longer any delineation, and the true believers are going underground. Maybe it was always going to be this way at the end.
We should no longer be surprised when we are hated both by the world AND others who identify as Christians. IF the Holy Spirit is in you and not in the other so called Christians, you will be treated by them as you are by the world, because they are actually of the world. Scripture tells us that there were believers in Paul’s day who turned away because of their love of the world; Demas (2 Timothy 4:10) was one of them. We are told that if we are friends of the world we cannot be friends of God. (James 4:4).
The conclusion of the matter for us is that those who abused us and refused to change were not Christians to start with as they a) had no love for the brethren and b) were not transformed and c)did not have the fruit of the Spirit. They were of the world and so hated us. This goes for every other Christian we have not been able to communicate with or has treated us with disdain. This is the only explanation that is viable. Genuine believers may have bad days, or have some struggles with sin, but they do not habitually treat others with rudeness or disrespect. Nor do I know anyone, who does not have a character disorder, even in the world, who would treat a perfect stranger with rudeness or disrespect. But people who you know who habitually act coldly and arrogantly towards you yet claim to be believers and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ are not the genuine article.
It is in fact a huge relief for me to finally allow this truth to embrace my heart. I do not have to feel bad that there are those out there who claim to be Christian who do not love me, despite the fact that I have striven to attain that love over the course of many years. These ones cannot love, they do not have the love of God in them.
This is an old blog post from around 2008. The original blog ‘Tales From The Crypt’ is now deleted, but the blog was my attempt to make sense of what happened to us when we left the cult. I kept that blog going for 6 years, and it helped some people, and gained some traction when the ABC documentary exposed the cult. I should probably apologise for some of the language ahead of time. I left it in because it reminds me of who I was back then.
OLD BLOG POST
You know, there comes a time when you feel the need to speak up about your experiences. Then there is a time when you recognise that you probably need to just shut up about it. That usually comes when you realize that there are a lot of people out there who actually don’t give a crap. The ones who do give a crap are going to support you anyway whether you have been through a traumatic experience or not. The ones who actively work against you aren’t worth talking to. It’s difficult to determine who is the right and best person to hear your story. It’s a slow journey.
I have made a lot of mistakes telling my story to the wrong people and for the wrong reasons.
We told one of the Pastors at an extremely large church (founded by ex-MCF members) here in Melbourne about our plight, hoping that we could find a fellowship that would be supportive and nurturing. Now, that was not a sin, and it wasn’t a mistake. We did a very normal thing for a Christian to do. We went to a pastor who by his own confession and trade is a professional carer. We contacted him, he made it clear that he was willing to talk further, and then invited us over to his house for a meal. We just assumed that we had found somebody caring enough to want to help us.
Here, I would like to make a point of saying that in my experience as a christian, I have not met that many pastors who know what they are doing. Too many young men go into the ministry with bright ideas, but no real understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses, or level of compassion. Like any of the caring professions, I imagine people get worn down and forget to care for themselves. They get emotionally tired, stressed, dare I say cynical. They get sloppy, bad at what they are doing, and when they should have cut their losses, or looked for some help, they continue on in body while the spirit has left the building.
To the credit of this man and his wife, he listened for nearly four hours to a very intense story. It would have been exhausting.. At some point in our conversation, he must have figured he was either in over his head, or that he just didn’t have what it took to help us. He explained he was on his way to Canberra to some sort of political conference and couldn’t help us right now.. The impression we got was that his agenda was politics, and not pastoring. Now that is another subject entirely, but suffice to say he should not have met with us at all if his attention was focused on his own career, and not his job description. We weren’t part of his portfolio, so he passed us on to ‘somebody who can help you better than I can’. It was just a shame we spent so much time and emotional energy talking to someone who couldn’t help us.. We sent him a few emails after that trying to clarify a few issues, but his attitude was clearly that of somebody who had already decided he didn’t want anything else to do with us. Ok then.
So, he passed the buck. That meant we would have to go over the whole thing again with another complete stranger. Unfortunately, the complete stranger that we spoke to had previously spent 30 years in MCF and was still struggling with the fact that his daughter hadn’t left with him. He was clearly devastated and used the opportunity to spill out his agony to my husband when he phoned him. Still more unfortunately, my husband let drop that we were not attending a church. He told us we would lose our children if we didn’t immediately go back to a fellowship. At that point, we had just had enough. More accusations of irresponsible parenting, or ‘backsliding’ as a Christian (whatever the hell that actually means) we did not need. Besides, this gentleman was hardly in a position to be helping others since he had clearly not come to terms with his own grief on this issue. He was very intense and confrontational. So, lesson learned…you would think. You would be wrong.
Some time later, I made the mistake of telling my story to the administrator of a course that I had taken at my local TAFE college. I was not happy with the actions of a teacher who had some serious issues with misogynistic and inappropriate behaviour. I made some complaints to the administration, (who had confided in me that I wasn’t the first person to complain about this man) wasn’t getting anywhere, and felt that if I explained my background to these people, they would understand why I was felt so distressed by the behaviour of this teacher. I was wrong. I was essentially giving them a reason to not follow through with my complaints. Instead of allowing the issue to hang on its own merits, I sought to give it some extra oomph by explaining my personal interests in attending a college which took some effort to make sure its teachers were not abusing their positions. What happened instead was that my ‘history’ now mitigated my complaints, and actually lessened the potency of my case against this teacher. I became the ‘cult survivor’ with all of the insinuations that carries about my alleged emotional and mental stability, rather than just being a concerned female student. Although they went through the motions of passing the buck from one department through to the next, no real action was taken and I got tired of being ‘wrangled’. In the end, I felt I had exposed myself and my personal history in a way which did not honour myself, or even my own family for that matter, and the information was not treated with respect.
They were not ‘bad’ people as such, but I wasn’t using discretion, I was getting desperate enough to think that if I ‘confessed’ they would support me and deal with the teacher who was behaving inappropriately towards me. The fact is, this is exactly how I functioned at BCF. Confessing your struggles, your most intimate secrets, your bad experiences, your failures is a way of lifting the burden of guilt that you carry with you daily. Apart from that, you are expected to go to the ‘fathers’ in order to be matured as a christian. The more you lay yourself open to them, the greater your spirituality is supposed to be. It doesn’t work that way in practice however, everything you say is taken down as evidence and used against you at the soonest opportunity.
Only other cult survivors can truly understand what you have been through when you exit a cult. The trouble with that is, often cult survivors want to get as far away from the cult as they can, and that means they don’t want to socialize with other cult survivors that much. All you end up doing is rehashing the experience, and it can be ten times as stressful as talking to someone who doesn’t share your background. You are not only living your pain, you are living other’s pain as well. Despite that, you still need to construct a support group to replace the one which was so cruelly ripped away from you, so the process of recognizing and relating to emotionally healthy people is a very complex one. There is no such thing as pre-packaged premium grade materials with which to build a truly supportive and loving ‘family’ to replace the one which you either didn’t receive when you were born, or the one which you thought would do you in its stead, your local christian cult. So you are not only having to use some wisdom in knowing who to talk to, but you need to be able to bounce back from the inevitable disappointments and frustration of coming across people who are either completely incompatible with you (despite their initial apparent concern), or are actually out to use their position to take advantage of your vulnerability. Yes, life is a bitch. Or to put it more eloquently, small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life and few find it. But then, this is all part of the change of attitude I needed to espouse on coming out of the cult. Cults make everything black and white, right and wrong. Life just isn’t like that, and if you have a penchant for easy answers, real life has a way of knocking you back down every time you think you have got it all pegged. But then, I think everyone faces that frustration, not just cult survivors, its just much harder for us because our brains are hardwired to ignore the inevitable anomalies to our world view. When you exit, you have to find another world view. Therein lies the problem.
I was looking for emotional and personal support. I didn’t find it at college, I didn’t find it at the church we went to, I didn’t find it in my family (who are dysfunctional anyway) and I didn’t find it from the counselors I spoke to. Counsellors and psychologists who claim to be ‘good with cult survivors’ generally aren’t. Unless you have experienced it first hand, don’t even think that you know what you are talking about. It’s like a virgin looking up a sex manual and going, ‘yup, know what that’s all about’, and then teaching a sex education class. Not only will you be giving out faulty information, but those with experience are going to pick your lack of it very quickly and any credibility you may have had with the inexperienced is going to fly out the window. You will in short get your bottom kicked very quickly and you will deserve it. Unfortuntaely, nobody kicks the bottoms of most psychologists or counselors, they tend to just not go back to them if they aren’t good at what they do. I think the professionals tend to pass this off with the euphemistic phrase ‘not everyone is compatible’. They fail to see that sometimes they are just not good at what they do. So what’s the answer? When I was looking up scriptures while writing this post, I came upon that old group of couplets from Ecclesiastes 3:
1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: 2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, 6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, 8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.
What I think is interesting is the line in verse 8, ‘a time to love and a time to hate’. There is a time to hate. A time to hate what is evil. There is a time to tear down, and then there is a time to build. For us, these last four years have been a time to tear down. We have had to tear down the wrong, the evil, the bad, the destructive, the lies, the deceit, the toxic relationships, the friends who weren’t, and the family who had no capacity to love. We have had to deconstruct the world according to Meg and Burnie and replace that with the truth. Truth has to be sought. It doesn’t stare you in the face. If it did, Paul would never have had to be knocked off his horse. We have had our time of weeping, in fact, I wouldn’t like to say we are done yet, I think we have some weeping still to do. We have had our time of mourning, and our time of throwing away, our time for war. Now we are looking at a time to rebuild. Our time for healing from the destruction is now, and that means that we gather the wisdom we have gleaned from our mistakes, the mistakes we have made since leaving BCF, and we recognize that not everyone is our friend. Not everyone even makes a good friend. Not everyone who appears benign is so, not everyone who says ‘tell me your sorrows’ is genuinely good at listening. Not everyone with a title has the attributes of that title, not everyone with a profession is naturally gifted in that profession. I guess this is not exactly a revelation for most people, but it is what we have learned over the recent past.
I am overlooking the good in all of this however. There are people in this world who are compassionate, good at listening, selfless, patient and gentle. They are not as common as they need to be. Finding them takes time and effort, and for every time you think you have struck gold, be prepared to realize that fools gold is always more abundant than the genuine article and you are going to be disappointed now and then. Having said all that, God himself fills in the gaps that people leave. For as many times as you strike out, the comfort of God can give you encouragement which makes up for the frustration. He also gives you the ability to keep going long after you have grown tired of other people. Once you are stronger, you are able to accept other’s inadequacies, and you learn to lean on Jesus more often.
I was going to title this post ‘note to self’, but it applies to everyone I think. There is a time when you realize that the need to tell your story is completely valid, but your story is so important that you make a lot of mistakes trying to find the right avenue for it. You need to talk, that much is absolutely vital. I still need to talk. I need to get past those tapes in my head which still say ‘who the hell do you think you are’ every time I voice an opinion. After the initial gush of talking, when you find your voice, you discover the elegant, subtle and much overlooked virtue of discretion, and recognize that you have the unrestricted power to choose what you will say to whom, and how and when you will speak. It is an unadulterated pleasure to me to think well before I speak, and to make my decisions with the maximum of forethought rather than being hasty and deciding because I feel pressured by someone else. I am even learning the art of the well-timed retort to presumptuous questions; learning I say, not good at.
Telling your story is important, and when the urgency has faded to a low roar, you are more in a position to choose your words wisely. This is a skill learned slowly and carefully, and not one I would insist on for those who have recently come out of abuse. Your need to talk is too great and I wouldn’t want to smother anyone. To each, the wisest course is best discovered in their own way and time.
Cookie Monster: The lights were shining
The night was fine
And me was having a real great time
Then me got careless
Me don’t know how
But me had something me can’t find now!
(chorus) Me lost me cookie at the disco
Cookie Monster: The mood exciting
The music loud
Me just a part of that happy crowd
Me feet go crazy
Across the floor
But something made my sweetie not be there no more!
One Sunday over Christmas, Steve and I visited the sort of church we are almost never in. We visited out of curiosity but also out of familiarity because the last time we were in the city we had been in this church and enjoyed our visit. It was a couple of decades later however and a lot had changed.
The interior of the church was black. We kind of expected that since we had checked out their internet site. But we stayed to talk to the pastors at the door anyway.
Within about ten minutes of us being there, we noticed that the stage down the front was looking a little blurry. I turned to the Pastor we were speaking to and asked him if that was a smoke machine down the front and he said that it was. He put the blame on ‘them’ whoever they were and said that ‘they’ loved having the smoke machines.
As time progressed, we found a seat and waited for the meeting to start. We generally, like the cowards we are, like being at the back just in case we need to make a quick getaway. On this occasion however it proved useful. As soon as the music started, the strobe lights began. The whole building was dark, there was a stage with all the rock instruments you could want, there was a young woman wearing a very short skirt and holding a microphone and there was a smoke machine and strobe lights. The only thing that could complete the picture was a mirror ball.
Why do churches do this?
I mean really, why?
Look at the logic behind it, it makes no sense. Out in the world, people go to discos, or nightclubs or rock concerts to do one of three things – generally. They are either there to hook up with somebody, they are there to buy or consume drugs, or they are there to hang out with their friends, switch off their brains and drink themselves to oblivion. All in all, the intent is to forget their lives, which are meaningless, fear-laden and filled with dysfunctional relationships. And if things are going well, they still go to the pub, club, or friends places to do the same things. Such is life in the world.
So the logic in the seeker-sensitive churches is – we will entice the unchurched into church by making a church look like a club or disco. Because that’s where people go to ‘have a good time’ without recognising that the time they are having is not ‘good’ at all, it is perverse. But then you have to actually be saved from out of this perverse generation in order to recognise that. So once people are in the ‘church’, we will do the classic bait and switch. We will wham them with the gospel and they will get saved. Maybe. I mean would you bother getting saved if there was no difference between life inside and outside the church? What would be the point. In fact, most seeker sensitive churches don’t preach the gospel or anything like it. They waffle, they tell people that heaven will be a party, they refuse to mention sin, repentance or the cross because that might, gasp, be offensive, and then they wonder why their congregations have the maturity of three year olds.
The average person in the street is not that stupid. They do not think that a church looking like a disco actually is a disco. Nor do they consider that they will be able to do any of the above disco related activities in a church because they will generally expect that a church would not encourage them – being a church, a place of worshipping God. Most people know at some level that they are sinning by getting drunk, doing drugs, having sex and ignoring God. What sinners are looking for is answers to life’s problems. And, being intelligent, they assume that because what they are doing doesn’t work, that what does work will be something different. They just haven’t found it yet. Similar to the tenet that insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over in the hope that something will change.
The problem with seeker-sensitive churches is that they are announcing to the world that they don’t actually have the answer to life’s problems, and they are expecting the world to tell them what to do next. This is a total abdication of truth, it is also a cowardly refusal to actually seek the Lord to know His mind on how to reach the lost. They have sold their soul in order to be friends with the world, in order to save the world. Nope, doesn’t work. Not only that, but scripture (James 4:4) tells us that if you are friends with the world you are an enemy of God. WOW. How did the SS churches miss that one? They missed it because they don’t read their Bibles, nor do they have any genuine faith. In fact, I would have to say that most of them are either not saved, or are just baby Christians who have never grown up.
But back to our church visit. Well, we certainly did lose something at this disco. In fact, it wasn’t just us. The church had lost its whole reason for being. We didn’t stay to listen to any preaching, but really, we didn’t think that this would be an issue. If this is how they believe churches should appeal to people in post-modern society, they really had lost the plot. And I guess they also lost the Holy Spirit, because nobody had any idea how to worship the Lord in that environment at all.
I was beginning to wonder if I was going to go blind because every time the strobe lights whirled around they hit me right at eye level. I don’t know whose idea that was, but it was completely ridiculous. You couldn’t concentrate on anything that was going on at the front, because you were continually shielding your eyes against the lights. It was like being blinded by somebody’s car headlights on high beam at night, and just as enjoyable.
We stayed ten minutes and left. Just before we left, I disappeared to the bathroom, and Steve talked briefly with a young guy who came and sat next to him. He told Steve he only came there for the music. Which was a little sad, because frankly, the ‘worship leader’ couldn’t sing. What was interesting was that this young guy who just came for the music clearly wasn’t a Christian. He was like a guy on the street who just came in to sit for a while and enjoy the free disco. So, yeah, to some degree their devious plan worked. It got one guy off the street and inside. But with nobody to tell him the gospsel? He was sadly going to stay lost.
4 You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. 6 We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error
I have spent most of the last twelve years immersed in dissent or at least it seems that way. But most of this is a correction to the previous decades wherein I rarely spoke up about anything, did not have an opinion and went out of my way to be tractable and agreeable even when what was going on went against everything I personally held dear. I used to think this was what Christians did. Since then I have been learning the value of critical thinking, which despite what it seems, is not about criticising everything all the time. It is about testing what you hear against what you know to be true. It is about following those gut feelings that something is wrong and doing the necessary research. It’s not a comfortable life, but the world is falling apart as you read. You can no longer assume that there are any safe places. And as one musician whose name escapes me once said ‘There are no de-militarised zones in the Christian life’. We are in a battle for souls and it seems also for truth.
Here’s the thing. We spent 15 years in a religious cult. Women in particular were oppressed and marginalised. Everything that went wrong was their fault. Either they were not obeying the elders or they were not obeying their husbands, and the word ‘obey’ was not used loosely. This covered everything from what you believed to what you made for morning tea. It was like living with Hitler’s S.S. People were driven to nervous breakdowns and families were destroyed. I think you can gather why we left.
It took a very long time to understand what had happened to us, not the least because our brains had been sucked out of our skulls with high pressure religious vac-blowers. We had to learn to think objectively all over again. In fact, what we realised over time was that we had not even been able to think objectively before that because we had been trained by dysfunctional parenting not to question anything and to see ourselves as useless, helpless idiots with no skills and no hope for a successful future. That was for the star kids in the family were chosen at birth to be everything we could not be. Anyone raised by narcissists will know to which I refer. Anyone not familiar with this term, please google it, there is a lot of research and testimony to be read. So joining a cult was the natural outworking of being raised in one, and again, I am not using the word ‘cult’ loosely.
So all of this finally produced people who were very wary but also produced an extreme sensitivity to false doctrines of any stripe. When you have seen what false doctrines do in practice to people’s lives, you take them very personally and seriously. You also gain a deep understanding of the power of the gospel. When something is not gospel but being treated as such, it will have no power. Hence the scripture “a form of godliness but denying the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5). In the final analysis we have become your ‘canary in a coal-mine’. But it is impossible to convey this to anyone in person, it sounds like you are bragging. It’s not, its the simple truth.
Many ex-cult survivors have done very little to work out what happened to them, they have simply gone their way and ‘recovered’ as best they can and live lives that are comfortable to them. To be fair to them, they are often too traumatised to do much else. Eventually though, you must do a thorough investigation of how it was that you were able to spend the majority of your adulthood in a ‘church’ which treated people like this or you are going to miss out on all that God has for you. Not only that but I must reiterate that old adage about learning from history or repeating history. I am afraid that in our observation, if you don’t understand what true doctrine actually is, you will make the same mistake of following false doctrines over and over. Get your spiritual herescope working before you go join another church. There are far too many ‘normal’ looking churches out there which have either imported false doctrines or manufactured their own.
Its important to know why you didn’t sense danger, why you didn’t recognise false teaching and why you were so susceptible to the love bombing which inevitably encompasses first time visitors to abusive churches.
Some members of our family recently visited a church and stayed for a couple of months and noticed some marginally disturbing trends amongst the young adults there, then started to pick up that the leadership were not doing anything about the problems, and in fact were contributing to the problems. They had to make a decision, which for one person was not that difficult, but for the other was extremely difficult. Nobody likes to think that their fellow Christians are not walking in the light, but in these last days, scripture tells us that there will be many whose love for the truth will grow cold. Added to this, a quick survey of individuals soon proved that there were those who simply will not brook any dissent or questioning even if that questioning comes from a genuine desire to know why things are the way they are. One young adult got very hot under the collar because they were questioned about whether the leaders were aware of what was happening amongst the young people. Not only that but it appeared from that same line of questioning that there was a concerning trend towards the old ‘shepherding movement’ culture of confession and ‘mentoring’. This did not look good.
The only way you are going to find out if your initial concerns are warranted is by asking questions. Most congregation members do not question either because they don’t pick up that there is anything wrong, or because they don’t want to rock the boat especially that early in the piece. My advice is – ASK. If you don’t ask early on, you will end up becoming more and more emotionally and probably fiscally enmeshed with the group and you will find it harder to be objective when it comes to making decisions when you finally do find out that this is not a good place to be. On the other hand, if you ask questions you may discover much to your delight that this is a church where questions are welcomed and the answers not only prove the leaders are mature and gracious but that they themselves ask questions in order to safeguard the community from false teaching.
So, yes, we are a pain in the neck to church leaders. We not only ask questions, we ask questions. If you get my meaning. It’s one thing to simply find out what kind of worship service they have – smoke machines and strobe lights verses hymns and pianos for example – but you need to ask the really uncomfortable questions. What are their eschatological beliefs for example. That’s bible college geek speak for ‘end times stuff’. You might think that this makes very little difference because it is not what is termed an ‘essential’ doctrine. This term is taken from a quote much used by reformed scholars “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity” and has been attributed to Augustine, but there is no actual evidence for this.
I don’t believe this maxim does scripture credit. All of the gospel is important. If we can’t find unity on these things, it is because we don’t have the mind of Christ. If we don’t have the mind of Christ, it is because we are still worldly in some measure, and of course we all are to some extent, who should not be to any extent. Christ is one with the Father and Spirit, therefore we, as His body, need to be of one mind regarding any and every doctrine whether others deem them essential or not. Unfortunately, for as many who deem one doctrine essential there will be others who do not agree. Disagreement is not the hallmark of lack of faith, or heretical failings. Disagreement is in fact a sign that people are thinking for themselves, and vocalising their dissent. You have to search to find, you have to ask to know, you have to take it all to the Lord in prayer, and sometimes you just have to come down on one side of the fence or the other. A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. We ought to know. There is no virtue in ‘havering’ when it comes to matters of doctrine and faith. We need to be workmen in scripture, and we need to test the spirits. Its a work of both intellectual and spiritual design, and God approves of those who seek after the Kingdom of God. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness.
Let me say this again with clarity. Dissent is NOT a sign that you are a heretic or trying to rock the boat, or are judgemental or have ‘issues’ with leadership or authority. Leaders who imply that there is something wrong with you because you are asking questions are simply proving their own fleshly irritation with needing to provide answers to those with whom they would rather not have to deal. They may be short of time, in the middle of some problem which they are struggling with or some other reason, but there really is no excuse to dismiss a seeker’s questions, especially if they are presented reasonably and respectfully. They may also be heretics themselves, and refusal to discuss heresy with others is often the first sign you are dealing with a ‘spirit of error’.
Recently Steve and I had a conversation with a church leader who seemed very reasonable and mature at first. However, it became clear throughout the conversation that he was not used to talking to women like myself who have researched and read widely and ask questions when they want information. While both Steve and I talked roughly the same amount, Steve sat quietly while I spoke and did not interrupt or correct me as he used to do while in the cult. We were presenting as equals and this seemed not to be to the liking of the pastor. I think he preferred the demure Christian wife who sat silently and nodded enthusiastically while her husband talked unless she was being addressed by the Pastor. When I asked him if he was a dispensationalist, he sat looking at me momentarily and then growled in a rather refractory tone “I don’t know what that word means”. Now this was a mature man of retiring age who had presumably been a Christian for a long time. There was no reason to assume he did not know what this term meant or that he would not have heard the term before. I was taken aback at his response, and while I stopped to try and work out how to explain it, he then proceeded to prove that he knew exactly what I was talking about “If you mean do I believe in the rapture, then yes I do”.
Later I tried to talk to him about something and he interrupted with a remark which made absolutely no sense. In my former ‘demure’ life I would have simply let it pass, but this time I asked him what he meant by that. His response was equally ludicrous. At this point even his wife was wanting to know what he was on about. The conversation carried on however until we got to the point where he said in no uncertain terms that women in his church were not allowed to speak. In his words he wanted me to know so there were no ‘nasty surprises’. Why did this pastor assume that it would be a ‘nasty surprise’? Surely he was again telling us who he was and what he expected from us if we came to his church. He didn’t say that women did not preach at his church, he said they weren’t allowed to speak which implies oppression. We didn’t want to jump to conclusions but after our conversation (which on the whole had been civil despite the things I mentioned) the pastor got up from his chair without saying goodbye and walked away. He did not even bother to see us to the door. He was telling us we were not acceptable. Here is a clear case of ascertaining the true nature of a man and his work by asking questions.
Pastors like this are not the rule fortunately. Its actually amazing how many times Steve and I have come across them though. Sometimes it feels like they come out of the woodwork whenever we are around. Give people some opportunity to prove themselves. Bad seeds will always make themselves known and if you do enough bible study and internet searching and prayer God will show you the truth you are looking for. I should like to provide my own version of the above much flung about maxim…
In testing the Spirits, wisdom, In asking questions, love, In leaving the church, much prayer, in finding another one, much patience.