Signs of Toxic Faith in Christianity

Sadly, our age of numerous sects has brought us more harm than good. Many people have found themselves in harmful Christian sects that they cannot leave; some even face life-threatening ultimatums. This phenomenon is not unique to Christianity. It is also prevalent in many other religions. This article will, however, only focus on identifying toxic sects in Christianity. My hope is to help many avoid falling prey to such misleading religious groups. 

Discouragement from Seeking Medical Attention 

Many Christian sects treat those who seek medical attention as lacking faith in God. I know of many Christians who sold everything they had to give to a man of God to be healed of their sickness. They were made to believe that giving their money to God rather than to doctors is what would bring them or their loved ones healing. Such acts have left many families not only bereaved but also poorer than they were before. Children from such families mostly grow to hate God and religion. To be clear, this is not true Christianity

In the Bible, doctors like Luke (Colossians 4:14) believed in God despite their medical background. Seeking a doctor’s help does not imply a lack of faith in God. As we do so, we ought to remember that our ultimate source of help is God and not physicians (2 Chronicles 16:12). Many scriptures indicate medical treatment in the Bible, among them include applying bandages (Isaiah 1:6), oil (James 5:14), oil and wine (Luke 10:34), leaves (Ezekiel 47:12), wine (1 Timothy 5:23), and salves, particularly the “balm of Gilead” (Jeremiah 8:22). Therefore, any faith that denies you a right to seek medical attention is not of God.

Threats from the “Man of God”

Many preachers today are holding their members hostage with threats. Some are threatened with curses if they ever think of leaving such churches. The preachers demand total allegiance without being questioned. Today, many such pastors will embarrass people’s wives, husbands, and even parents before their children with aggression and hostility in the name of deliverance. They do such things with impunity because they are not accountable to anyone. Such tendencies do not align with true Christianity. Apostles like Paul were accountable to the council in Jerusalem, where his sermons were scrutinized and reported about their ministry to the Gentiles (Acts 17:11; Acts 15:12). The apostles never embarrassed anyone, whether in public or in private.

Over Spiritualizing 

Be cautious about Bible misinterpretation and abuse of spirituality. Many people have gone to houses of prophets, and every experience is attached to the spiritual realm. Sadly, this has ended many marriages and soured family relations. Typical circumstances that get over-spiritualized include failure to get married, businesses failing, poor economic decisions, failures in life, etc. Deliverance from all the above comes with a price tag.

One is usually required to give something so that the man or woman of God can present the issues before God. If such mediation fails, the needy Christian is asked to give more. Consider how Jesus never addressed all people’s problems, nor did he over-spiritualize all issues. Some were left unwell; for instance, there were many sick people at Bethesda pool (John 5:1-15) and many blind people along the way. Paul knew how to live with much and also less (Philippians 4:12-13). He had a thorn in the flesh that was never removed (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

Religious Practices Over Relationship with God

Many people with toxic faith have a strong relationship with rules and spiritual duties but neglect having a living relationship with God. Instead of worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ, toxic Christians create their own understanding of God. This caricature of ‘God’ excuses them from the realities of life and permits them to abuse themselves or other people and isolate themselves from healthy relationships. These actions further keep individuals from having a personal relationship with God.

Using Christian Disciplines to Manipulate God

Some sects have lied to their followers that they can use spiritual disciplines to manipulate God into action. In these sects, people are asked to fast excessively, others to offer their most costly possessions, obey the pastors blindly, etc. Christian practices, such as those mentioned above, which include giving, praying, fasting, and honouring the under-shepherds who take care of us, are very biblical, but they have often been abused. The above disciplines are habits of grace and are not a means to the end of receiving what we want from God.

Claims of Special Revelation from God

Many gospel preachers are obsessed with the search for some ‘deep truth’ or novelle message from God. Some will always claim to have a more profound revelation. These assertions usually attract many young people who are fascinated by such theatrics, contrary to what the Bible teaches. I have been in meetings where the preachers declare that one must be under their leadership to understand the Bible. Fellowship with believers from other congregations is disallowed. Being a follower of such pastors leaves one feeling dependent on them other than Christ, as the Bible commands us (John 15:4). Once you get to this point, know that you are trapped and the chances of falling away from the faith, if not already, are very high.

The scriptures revolve around Christ alone. No other created being should occupy the place of Christ in our lives as Christians. Be wary of a leader who points you to themselves rather than Christ. The apostles, regardless of the signs and wonders they performed, always directed people to Christ and not to themselves (Acts 2:22-24). Paul cautions the Galatians against any other gospel apart from the gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:6-8). 

Closed Communication and Self-isolation

Most sects have a top-down communication style. The truth about the institution is only known to a few loyal members. There is a close follow-up with its members to ensure they only take the information about the sect within its circle. Those who dare share with friends are threatened. Leaders of such groups are punitive. They alone exert discipline to whom they deem worthy of facing their wrath. Those close to the leaders can easily get away with evil, while those not affiliated with them are punished without fail. This unjust punishment is offered as a distorted form of love and care. Most of the members live in isolation from their relatives and do not allow family members to question their faith.  

In the early church, we see a system where the council at Jerusalem offered leadership (Acts 15:7-11). They set high standards for their appointed leaders (Acts 6:5). In such a climate, Christians were glad to share their faith openly. The good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for sharing; sharing toxic faith is an impossibly difficult task. 

In conclusion, we need to be vigilant in this day and age. Toxic preachers and sects have existed for many years, even during the Bible times. Anything genuine can be abused and misused. In this case, faith has been misused, and many people are being led astray. Unless we seek God in his Word diligently and seek to live for him alone, we will be vulnerable to such groups. My prayer for those in sects is for God to give them the courage to leave and find a genuine community of faith. 

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