Just defining what 'spiritual' means can be difficult! Our lives are meant to be led by our spirit, this is what directs us. When it comes to belief, God, and religious beliefs, they can be healthy guides which empower us, and others, or they can rule us and burden us. Talking of defining things, have you ever actually defined what God IS?, or for that matter what IS church, Spirit, obedience, following etc? These are all highly loaded words, that if left undefined can ruin your life!. Religious issues and religious beliefs run deep. Very deep, to the deepest levels of belief, and this is why they can also hurt so very much.
I have been involved in the Christian scene since the 1980s in many countries and have seen and experienced both loving communities and extremely controlling, manipulative churches, denominations and cults - where power, money, and other nasty motivations are the agenda.
Where there are these horrible spiritual forces at play, there are unhappy people. These forces can be hard to come against, as the cost of opposing them can be huge. Loss of relationships, families and career are not uncommon. Being ostracised and isolated by a whole church community is hard. So, to come against what one knows to be wrong, or to hold to the peace to stay safe is the question? But is this really staying safe?
Part of the Living Wisdom School material is called Toxic Religion in New Zealand Churches Today and there are 20 toxic religious practices (not an exhaustive list either) that confuse, paralyse, render one dogmatic or superstitious, or just cripple ones life. They are shocking and extremely common!
Do you remember the biblical words such as 'it is the truth that sets you free', 'be transformed in the renewing of your mind', and 'It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery' - and many more liberating scriptures? How is your spiritual life? Are you being set free day by day and living in the truth, or more and more bound up in slavery to the rules and ways of others, living in fear, resentment or inner anger? It is and always will be 'the Truth that sets us free'. Feel free to contact me to briefly discuss how I may assist you in being liberated from any emotional / spiritual hell you have become entangled in...
What does that look like? It is a matter of being set free, attaining peace, becoming love, and service. Please note I have put service at the end of the list. Not because it is less important, but because without the others firmly in place serving can come for all the wrong motivations. Serving from guilt, resentfully? Or serving for self-reward, or to look good in other\'s eyes? See what I mean? Being liberated is about (I believe) four things: 1. Attaining Peace (like, loads of it!), 2. Love (Gal 5.22-23), 3. Living in and being freed by Truth and 4. Gaining Wisdom.
Church splits, gossip, and other arguments are all too common – sadly. If you are or have been involved in or affected by these things it can be hard to resolve and can leave a bitter taste, resentment, loss of trust in the church and leaders etc. The effects are often long lasting, and a good de-brief should speed recovery (Yes, I say recovery, this is traumatic stuff) and the restoring of peace and the process of building up trust once again.
This is where everything is spiritualised by a person. They constantly put a religious spin on everything, 24/7 (Yes, they probably dream it and talk it in their sleep!). If we have someone around us who constantly does this and every subject becomes right and wrong, or black and white, it can drive one nuts! The issue here is that rules, or methods, or what pleases God – have all taken priority over \'loving one another as one\'s-self\'. Often the \'religious one\' does not come for counselling as they don\'t think there is anything wrong, and it is all other people\'s fault. “If only they would conform to my (God\'s actually!) way everything would be all right”. Mostly I see the people who have suffered the fall-out in the counselling room here. How to deal with the onslaught?...
One advantage of having theological and counselling qualifications, and some years in the West Indian Islands (Rife with cults and dodgy churches!) is I understand the duality of thinking, confusion and the horror of the final guilt at realising that one has been deceived for years, and one day wakes up knowing that all one believed was so real and so true, was in fact a deception!!! The huge feelings then kick in, anger, lost-ness, confusion, guilt and many more.
But what is a cult? It used to be a fairly obvious thing, but these days some main-stream Churches have practices that are indescribable from cults! A quick question to ask is this. Am I free and being set free to practice my faith, or am I being bound up to practice and conform to Church rulings?
The usual way to (a simplistic) test if a cult is a cult is as follows:
Cult kids - Abandonment
It is horrible when a growing child rejects the faith of their parents – and find themselves kicked out on the street, labelled “Apostate”, “Unclean”. A good debrief will be needed to handle this rejection and the accompanying feelings and depression. Yes, there is life after the cult or toxic church...
Toxic Religious Practice
The Living Wisdom manual describes 20 (Not exhaustive) toxic religious practices that will really 'mess with your head' and hurt – no, HURT. The simple test is this. Do you live in perfect peace? Are you confused, doubtful? Do you feel paralysis? Are you superstitious or dogmatic?