list of symptoms of church sickness
Back Home Up Next


The following is a list of symptoms of sickness found in most societies, more specifically the church.  If you've been burned by a church and are leery of getting involved with another, print this list off and start visiting churches.  After the service, ask a member about these points.  If they are heavily involved in any of them, see if they are unwilling to change.  If they are "stuck", go visit somewhere else.  This way you can find a somewhat healthy church.

excerpts from:
THE TOXIC BELIEFS OF TOXIC FAITH
By: Stephen Arterburn, Jack Felton

Conditional faith. "God is love" is the central theme of the Bible. But persons plagued with toxic faith neglect the fact. They see God as a critical Parent, waiting to say, "It's not good enough. Try harder. You could do better." Their faith is so toxic that they turn to a faith in self rather than a faith in God. They depend on their performance, not God's wondrous love.

Instant Peace. I have heard people who have lost children, spouses, fortunes, and dreams say they have this wonderful peace about it just moments later. What they have is shock! Shock is the natural reaction to protect ourselves, to deny the reality and depth of our pain and other feelings. The stages of grief begin with denial, and this conjured peace is a form of that denial. The future for the person professing to have instant peace will be troubled. It will be full of pain greater than the original loss and disappointment. However, there are times that God intervenes in a miraculous way to provide peace to persons experiencing extreme pain and adverse circumstances.

Guaranteed Healing. Lack of healing is not an indication of lack of faith. It is simply an indicator that the all-powerful God cannot be controlled or predicted. If He could be directed at our beck and call, He would cease to be God. He is God and does or does not do what He chooses.  As frustrating as it may be, we can't control Him with our prayers.

Irreproachable Clergy. When a defective pastor crops up occasionally, those who have placed their faith in him or her rather than in God come to believe that God is defective. They attribute all the negative of that one individual to all people of faith. Their toxic leap is irrational and the reason many people turn away from God. Because a particular individual doesn't have pure faith doesn't mean that the object of faith is also impure.

Monetary Rewards. If, in your toxic faith, you believe that the more faithful you are, the more material gain you will get, you can look forward to great disappointment. Many live a life of faith, and in the back of their minds they have this strange hope that the reward will be more money.  In my experience, greater faith has often brought an end to financial wealth. For some reason, God has tempered a faithful follower in the fires of loss and financial poverty. They seem to prove that when all you have left is God, you get as much of God as you possibly can. The comforts of wealth often rob people of dependency on God. It is hard to believe God would bless someone with something that would mar that relationship.  Although wealth is not bad, and can be a great blessing, it is no indicator of spiritual strength.

Investment Tithing. Giving is often the first step in moving out of merely believing into taking action. When people do not commit their money in this way but use is as a ransom for future blessings, they might as well toss their coins in a wishing well. Giving money to get more money always ends up with their getting less God. If the motivation is for money, faithless givers have chosen a new master: money. No one has ever been able to serve two masters at once. Money will master the heart and rob the greedy of any relationship with God.

Salvation by Works. Heaven is a gift. It cannot be earned. Those who are trying to work their way to heaven possess a toxic faith that will drive them into a useless frenzy of activity, exhaustion, and depression. Those who live around these people will also find it very difficult to live comfortably as the driven workers impose their standards on the rest of the family. What a relief it must be to discover that you cannot earn a place in heaven!

Spiteful God. It is amazing to me how many people believe God is too busy to be involved with people, and yet in bad times they seem to think He has plenty of time for destruction. In other words, He is not there to help, but He may still hurt. Although many are living in this self-inflicted misery, it is a sad way to live. All problems are not results of sin; they are results of reality.

Slavery of the Faithful. The Christian faith is one of self-sacrifice, but carried to an extreme, it can become a compulsive act rather than an act of compassion. After all, What good does it do to meet needs of others if that produces so much anger in you that you cannot relate to them in a loving manner? Why should a person work hard for others if the end result is exhaustion and depression, disabling the person and causing a break with reality? Each helping heart must self-assess needs and determine if some have been neglected that could cause major problems later on. God does not just love the rest of the world and expect you to serve those He loves. He loves you, too, and He knows you have needs and wants those met.

Irrational Submission. Submission is part of God's plan, and it is a biblical principle. Submitting to a husband, to a boss, or to a parent is a model for our relationship with God and helps us grow closer to Him.
Rebelling, confronting, and not submitting are to be done only in cases that merit that type of behavior. When God's work is compromised or when a person's life or well-being is at stake, blind submission must be replaced with responsible actions.

Christian Inequality. Some people do not believe we are all on equal footing. They believe God has called some into service, the ministers, and the rest must assume second-class status to the "great called ones." Rather than minister to others' needs, many prefer to pass that on to those who have a special calling to do so. Plus, they feel that because they are such terrible sinners, God could not use them anyway. Many fail to receive the blessings that come from ministering to others because of the belief that God only uses the perfect, the near perfect, or those He called into a special ministry.

Passivity. Too often in the name of waiting on God, people fail to take responsibility or action. They wait for God to perform a miracle while God waits for them to act. Remember, they call them miracles because they rarely happen. It is often easier to wait on a miracle than to do the difficult thing and take action. Tomorrow, the pain will still be there or the person will still be involved with the destructive behavior unless they take action today.

Biblical Exclusivity. The battle between religion and psychology has been waged on this toxic belief for years. Many have nothing to do with anything relating to emotions unless it is in Scripture. Their train of thought goes like this: If there is not a scripture to back the idea, it must be harmful.
This is close to the truth but not quite on the mark. True faith means that a person should not do anything that goes against something from God's Word.  It doesn't mean that every behavior or insight into life is going to be found there.

Heavenly Matchmaking. The perfect mate belief has caused tremendous heartache for many people. They search for the one person God is to provide, and when they think they have found him or her, they expect marriage to be instant bliss. When nirvana does not occur, the naive believers will move from a faith in a God who provides perfect marriage partners to a belief in an impersonal God who probably does not care about them. Going from one extreme to the other, they lose faith in God, and they lose hope for a wonderful future.

Pollyanna Perspective. People in pain have enough problems without some well-meaning folks trying to short-circuit the grief process by declaring everything as a good event sent from God. I think God allows bad things, He does not cause them. The toxic thinking that all things are good makes people question whether or not God is a cruel God. It forces them to see God as a cruel joker who inflicts pain and expects His followers to be happy about it. This perspective is a means of avoiding reality. It is an addictive habit, producing quick relief, blocking reality with poisonous faith. A loving God wants the best for us and is grieved when the best is missed. True faith in Him allows these bad things to be woven together in a protective covering that grows stronger in fiber and softer to the touch.

Bullet-Proof Faith. For many, a belief in God and the practice of faith are just fine until tragedy strikes. Then there is the realization that the practice of faith does not add up brownie points of protection. It does not bring God's intervention. Bad things do happen to good people, and it has nothing to do with degrees of faith. We live in a world where big animals eat little animals. Decay, rot, and death are realities. Faith provides perspective, endurance, and purpose through the tough times, but it will not protect anyone from them.

Vindictive God. The view of God as an angry, vindictive old man ready to hurl lightning at those who get out of step is pervasive. Some people do not accept a real God because they fear Him too much. They write Him off as a myth because they are so afraid of what He might do if He was real. And yet, He is real, and He loves those He created.

Mortal Christ. To see Christ as just a great teacher is to dismiss what He taught. He did not just tell people to be good and go to heaven. He told those around Him that He came to save the world. No sane great teacher could make that claim. Christ was either who He said He was or He was a fraud, and egomaniac, a manipulator, and a deceptive leader. Those around Him were following either the Savior of the world or a man who masterminded one of the all-time great hoaxes of history. He came to save us, or He deceived us and went down in history as the most significant person ever to live.

Impersonal God. Faith in God has declined with the decline of the family.  As divorced and working parents have spent less time with kids, the concept of a personal God has faded. Our ideas of God are wrapped in our experiences with our parents. An absent father is almost a guarantee for a belief in an absent God, too busy to care about individuals. If your parents were not individually devoted to spending time with you, you have begun life feeling overwhelmed from a lack of support. If you carried that experience over to God, your sense of being overwhelmed may have grown to an unmanageable point. You may have broken down because you felt there was too much difficulty in life with too little support from a distant God.

Divinely-Ordained Happiness. God's primary goal for us is not happiness.  Happiness is a temporary good feeling based on our circumstances. It is a meaningless pursuit. It is the counterfeit of what God wants for each of us. The heroin addict who shoots up is instantly happy. The word "joy" cannot be associated with the quick fix. Joy is a deeper satisfaction--regardless of circumstances. It comes only from faith in God and His involvement with a person who trusts Him totally. Happiness can be obtained alone; joy requires teamwork with God. Happiness is always fleeting; joy can grow over time.

Possibility of Becoming God. This is perhaps the most depressing of all the toxic beliefs.  Many ungodly people believe they can become God. They say if you just focus on all that you are, you will discover that you are God and in control of your fate.  But you can't turn mortal man into God.  You can't take a sinful person and make him or her perfect just through thoughts of perfectionism. A limited mind cannot know all or comprehend the eternal truths of the universe.  Their "omnipotence" will fail them the first time they need it.

Their latest version of this book is called:
Toxic Faith
By: Stephen Arterburn, Jack Felton

Toxic Faith: Experiencing Healing Over Painful Spiritual Abuse
By: Stephen Arterburn, Jack Felton
is a book for recovering from these very problems.

More Jesus, Less Religion
By: Stephen Arterburn & Jack Felton
is a book for reaching out to correct these churches.