1. Your faith is based on a relationship with God, not religious obligations and rituals. You follow Christ because you want to, not because you have to. Your relationship with Jesus flows naturally out of love. It is not forced or driven by guilt. (1 John 4:7-18; Hebrews 10:19-22.)
2. Your sense of security and significance is centered on God and who you are in Christ, not on others or your accomplishments. (1 Thessalonians 2:1-6; Ephesians 6:6-7.)
3. Your faith in God is strengthened as you walk through life's troubles, trials and painful experiences, not weakened or destroyed. (1 Peter 4:12-13; James 1:2-4.)
4. Your service to others flows out of genuine love and concern for them, not from compulsion or a need to be recognized. You offer your service as a joy and a pleasure and not an obligation or a heavy burden. (Ephesians 6:6-7; Ephesians 2:8-10; Romans 12:10.)
5. You value and respect the unique differences and individual gifts of your brothers and sisters in Christ, rather than expecting conformity to one Christian standard. You appreciate and celebrate others' gifts. (Romans 14; Romans 12:6; 1 Corinthians 12:4-31.)
6. You are able to give and receive trust and allow others to see you—and themselves—in a state of vulnerability and imperfection. You allow yourself and others the freedom to make mistakes. (1 Peter 3:8; Ephesians 4:2; Romans 14.)
7. You can relate to real, everyday people with a non-judgmental, non-legalistic attitude. (Romans 14; Matthew 7:1; Luke 6:37.)
8. You thrive in an atmosphere of learning, where free thinking is encouraged. Questions and doubts are normal. (1 Peter 2:1-3; Acts 17:11; 2 Timothy 2:15; Luke 2:41-47.)
9. You prefer balance over black and white extremes in your approach to the Bible, its teachings and the Christian life. (Ecclesiastes 7:18; Romans 14.)
10. You do not feel threatened or defensive when others hold to a different opinion or perspective. You can agree to disagree, even with other Christians. (Titus 3:9; 1 Corinthians 12:12-25; 1 Corinthians 1:10-17.)
11. You are not afraid of emotional expressions from yourself and others. Emotions are not bad, they just are. (Joel 2:12-13; Psalm 47:1; Psalm 98:4; 2 Corinthians 9:12-15.)
12. You have the ability to relax and have fun. You can laugh at yourself and at life. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4; 8:15; Proverbs 17:22; Nehemiah 8:10)
11 Characteristics of a toxic faith system
1. Religious addiction is developed in a toxic faith system.
The following characteristics differentiate it from systems, churches, and ministries committed to growing people in faith and developing their relationship with God
2. "Special" claims
a. The leaders of toxic faith systems claim a special pipeline to God which places them at a level above all the others in the church which creates an atmosphere of unapproachability. The leader can use this superiority to manipulate the followers who either believe and obey or suffer the consequences
b. In the toxic system, the minister will set him/herself up as having a special destiny or mission that can be performed by no one else. This special anointing or calling many times is nothing more than the pathological need to be valued or esteemed. He/she can also posture special powers from God like the ability to supernaturally heal.
c. The victimized followers, seeking a closer relationship with God but focusing more on the addicted leader than on God, lose contact with God and often fall away from faith permanently. Misguided loyalty allows the delusions of the leader to grow and destroys the faith of the loyal
The only hope for everyone involved is for the leader who claims to be God's special officer to be forced into accountability or dethroned to protect other potential victims.
a. Churches and ministries are started and grown through the vision of a strong leader. The authoritarian leader comes to power because a driven personality accompanies talent and charisma. A toxic system arises when that leader moves into a free rein style with no real accountability. Often, this ministry is the first experience of authority for the leader.
b. Those who work in this setting find themselves either agreeing with the direction of the ministry or leaving. There is no room for compromise since the dictatorial leader believes that everyone should submit to his rule without question. Those who fear for their jobs or feel they may not be able to find similar jobs will comply with the leader rather than challenge certain decisions or actions that appear to be wrong. The leader and the people, therefore, mutually deny their accountability structures and wave the option of having safeguards in the system.
c. Authoritarian leaders drive the church and do not lead it
4. An "Us Versus Them" Mentality
a. Religious addicts are at war with the world to protect their terrain and establish themselves as godly persons who can't be compared to other persons. They see themselves in the cutting-edge ministry and other people need to come into the light.
b. Those in the exclusive society believe they are serving God but they are serving a person, and that person's concept of what should be and should not be.
c. Any scrutiny of the ministry is seen to be an attack from the enemy
5. Punitive in Nature
a. The minister addicted to power punishes and purges the system of anybody who would upset the status quo.
b. To outsiders, the whole ministry appears negative and punitive, out of balance, and distorted from the love, acceptance, and forgiveness freely given by God and his Son.
c. Extremism and exclusiveness always leads to self-deception
6. Overwhelming Service.
People get burned out by the service demands of the system which feeds on compulsive personalities.
7. Followers in Pain
Many religious addicts in the system are physically ill, emotionally distraught, and spiritually dead because they are looking to the leader and ministry to give them what only God can give
8. Closed Communication
a. Communication is from the top down or from the inside out. Those at the top no longer hear the perceptions and needs of the people. The addicts on the inside no longer care about the needs of the people on the outside
b. Someone in the system has the job of shielding the leader from the truth by placating those who disagree and satisfying those who want a direct voice to the leader. The lieutenant is never to tell the leader anything but what he/she wants to hear
c. The organization eventually becomes ineffective because it loses touch with the people it is designed to serve, just like a father loses touch with his children
What you do is more important than who you are. Performance is everything
10. No Objective Accountability
a. This is the key to a toxic faith system. If religious addicts were in healthy, accountable relationships with others, toxic faith would not be allowed to flourish
b. A person accountable only to God is a person out of control
c. There are 3 sides to an issue. Your side, My side and the Right Side.
a. Labeling attempts to dehumanize persons so that dismissing them or their opinions is much easier. Rather than say that John Doe has made a negative comment, the addict proclaims that they are "traitors" or have a "critical spirit." The labels become rallying points under which the other followers can be moved to action to squelch a revolt. Once the label is in place, it becomes more difficult to see that person as a human with real needs and the potential for good judgment
b. Because it is difficult to rally against rational, thinking people who have different views, labels must be used to polarize the opponents and energize the followers to fight against those opponents. The enemy is "shot" so the underlying issues that need to be considered can be avoided
A Prescription for A healthy Faith
1. Trusting in Christ alone
“Primary allegiance is to Christ and not to a church group”.
2. Transforming in Living
“Character directs your life and not circumstances”.
3. Tolerant in practice
“Flexibility in the method and approach of doing things”.
4. Truthful in weaknesses
“Acknowledges that shortcomings, errors and failures are a part of our human experience”.
5. Tactful in teachings
“Does not engage in critical or offensive human rationalizations or interpretations.”
6. Together in essentials
“United on the essentials of the Christian Faith in spirit and practice with all true believers”.
7. Teachable in doctrine
“Understands that no one has a corner on the truth and that knowledge often deceives”.
8. Tasteful in preaching
“Does not insult, ridicule or slander people or groups in preaching”.
9. Transcendent in fellowship
“Recognizes that Christian fellowship is not exclusive to one church group but that it is inclusive within the whole Christian church”.
10. Temperate in behavior
“Displays balance and moderation in everything. Does not take things to extremes and does not behave in a wild or rude manner by devouring and attaching people with their
words, attitudes or actions. Always keeps the peace and unity by agreeing to disagree”.
Signs of an Unhealthy Faith
Unhealthy faith is a destructive, dangerous relationship that allows the religion, the church, the beliefs or the group, not the relationship with God, to control the person's life. It is a defective faith and has an incomplete or contaminated view of God. It is abusive and manipulative. Family and friends become insignificant compared to the need to uphold the beliefs. Unhealthy faith is used to avoid reality and responsibility.
It has nothing to do with God, and everything to do with men and women who concoct a god or faith that serves them rather than honouring God.
Harmful faith is an excuse to put off dealing with lifes pain, to "wait on God" for "direction" rather than getting on with life or to abuse one's wife because she must submit to him as if he were God. It provides a distraction through religious ritual and "religaholicism."
Faith becomes unhealthy when individuals use God or religion for profit, power, pleasure or prestige. These four ambitions are the foundation of any dependency. But they must be totally separated from faith. Each time faith is distorted or minimised because of these four ambitions people are hurt, some are killed and many are left to suffer alone after families, friends and fortunes have been lost.
Variations of Unhealthy Faith
Unhealthy faith can have many variations. For example one could have driving religious activity. They work in the hope that God will change reality. These people are running from the pain of life.
Alternatively one could be spiritually lazy and put all responsibility onto God for everything, e.g. wanting God to instantly heal a marriage rather than working on yourself to change. It is easier to pray and do nothing more than it is to face one's responsibility and seen help to go through the pain of growth. These are people who want a "god drug" to wipe out all the pain and consequences of their actions.
Another variation of unhealthy faith is extreme intolerance. These people will denigrate the faith of others if it doesn't suit their model of faith. They insist that everyone else worship God their way, attend their type of church, judge others by the standards they say God has set.
This kind of intolerance of others is common amongst those with unhealthy faith. As long as they believe they are doing what God would have them do, they don't hesitate to push their ideas and beliefs on others. They control others by demeaning their beliefs, and the practice of their faith. They create a fake faith and a legalistic caricature.
Giving to get back is another variation of unhealthy faith. This is more like a materialistic investment than an act of worship. God cannot be bribed but many people attempt to do so.
Obsession with self is next. They are poisoned by their constant focus on their own needs, hurts and desire for relief. There is little room left for truly worshipping God and they are never truly interested in helping others except when it is to meet their own needs. These people concentrate on having others constantly meet their needs, and especially on how God can relieve them of their burdens. To have faith in God because of what He can do for you is to have faith in what He does rather than in Him. Self-obsession is a gross sin and the greatest poisoner of faith.
The addiction to the religious high comes next. Trusting God can and should relieve one of being overwhelmed with problems or needing all problems resolved immediately. However, unhealthy faith that
is an emotional frenzy that robs real faith. These people will manufacture religious experiences and spiritual frenzy to provide an adrenalin rush that makes them feel good. Their intent is not to worship God but to alter reality. They are obsessed with the quick fix to life.
Running from life is the everyday reality of the religaholic. In our fear of living forever in our pain or being overwhelmed by it we often run into the nearest type of relief available -- even unhealthy faith.
To some the religaholic will look good. They are at every church function, preaching to all they meet. They look like the "perfect" Christian in all their works. Inside they have a poor self-image and don't feel worthy of God's love. They experience the thrill of being valued by others but don't feel valued in themselves.
They may admonish those they don't feel are walking right with God (to their standards). They may berate their friends and relatives for rebelliousness against God. They will "bible- bash" and shame people into doing things their way. They may constantly demean and condemn those who don't measure up. Just like a substance-abuse addict they will blame everyone and everything else for their problems and rather than face them. They may even decide to turn their back on those they don't feel measure up to their standards in an attempt to not face themselves.
The unhealthy faith becomes entrapped and enmeshed in an unhealthy involvement in church and church life. Convictions become addictions and the pains of life are eased with excess activity. Rather than becoming dependent on God the person is dependent upon work and the comfort the experience when they become too involved to have to cope with their problems. The peace they find is not the peace of God by the peace that comes from the numbness of avoidance.
Worship and praising God is a wonderful experience. However those who have an unhealthy faith will use this to achieve emotional highs and these highs become the focus of the experience rather than God being the focus. Rather than bringing them closer to God this type of experience only serves to further alienate them from God because they can only feel good when they are having the emotional high and there is nothing in between.
There is a line between these two extremities. At one end there is a faith in a God who is loving, caring and all- powerful. At the other end is faith in a God who is ineffective, uncaring and powerless. Those who have faith in the latter seek a God who can mend every situation, avert all pain and hurt and heal all disharmony.
Healthy faith knows:
•The balance between ungodly independence that leaves a person overwhelmed from the need to be self-sufficient and ungodly passivity that leaves them doing nothing unless "God has spoken" with personal direction.
•The line between conviction to help people out of love for God and enslavement to striving to please God.
•Giving money to honour god and giving money to buy God's favour.
•When it is becoming a futile attempt to be perfect.
•When dependency on God has become a way to avoid dealing with tough life situations.
•When it is right to follow a leader and when it is dangerous.
Trusting God with a Healthy Faith
A paradox of unhealthy faith sets it apart from any other type of dependent state. It is the issue of moderation. True faith, real and pure faith, is not practiced in moderation. One cannot trust God too much, or seek God too much. Faith that knows only a little about God is also a form of unhealthy faith and the most destructive faith is having no faith at all.
All of us have different elements of unhealthy faith at some time in our walk. However, it is being willing to look inside, to allow God to remove these from our lives, that helps us grow into the people we were meant to be, to have a healthy faith that trusts God implicitly without fear or favour.
God's presence should produce a firm grasp on reality and the hope that reality can be faced with all its accompanying distress and grief.
Healthy faith in God leads to trusting Him so much the pains of life have less impact than they normally would. This means that each time a negative event occurs they know that God can use it to bring greater faith and a deeper peace from trusting that He is in control.
But what people often hear in church is entirely different. They hear that belief in God or acceptance of Christ will cause all problems to vanish. They learn that the present problems will go away once you have turned your life over to Him. This is not truth. The life of faith is not sugar coated or pain free.
This misconception can lead to an unhealthy faith or the extermination of faith entirely. These people have a false expectation of God.
Individuals willing to take a second look at God and faith are in for a painful experience. Be assured, the pain is less than that experienced in continuing to use God rather relate to God. It is less painful than realising they are afraid and continuing to live with that knowledge. By making the effort toward healthy faith means they will go through some difficult times to find what God designed for a relationship with Him. But a relationship based upon pure and healthy faith leads to contentment and joy.
The Freedom of a Healthy Faith
A healthy faith leads to growth and maturity. We are able to stand firm knowing that God will see us through. We can face the storms and grow in the process. A healthy faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains.
Healthy faith has a resect for others. It doesn't attack the faith of others out of insecurity. With security dependent upon god there is no need to feel threatened. Different viewpoints can be seen as the result of different people at different places in their faith walk. People of different denominations or even differing factions within a denomination will not be perceived as the enemy in a healthy faith system.
When faith reaches this level in frees us to serve God more fully.
This freedom moves us to serve others rather than working to serve ourselves and our own needs. Where healthy faith exists the needs of others are met. The widow and orphan are cared for; the hungry are fed; the disabled are helped; the sick are visited.
This healthy faith also gives us the freedom to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable means being real. Healthy faith frees us to come out of hiding and share ourselves with others. Healthy faith leads to trusting God, others and ourselves.