Healthy vs. Unhealthy (Toxic) Faith



One of the most notable things about the recruits into the Boston Movement is that most of the recruits seem to have come from a Christian background. Many were active in their local church when recruited. If they didn't have an unhealthy faith structure before their recruitment they surely did on their exit.

Christians can suffer from the same problem -- unhealthy faith. Could this be one of the reasons that people tend to jump from one abusive religious situation to another -- why they so easily adapt to the cult situation? Over the last few years I have noted that most of those who went from a Christian church into a Bible-based cult already had an unhealthy faith in God when they were recruited. Rather than teach them an unhealthy faith, the cult only re-enforced what they already had.

This problem has become so prevalent in our modern churches that books are being written by loving and caring Christians who would have us look seriously at the problem and help our brethren develop healthy faith in God. Sadly, it is the unhealthy faith structure that steers a church to becoming spiritually abusive and legalistic, even cultic in behaviour.

An understanding of unhealthy faith can help us to recognise it in our own lives and to help others who have developed this problem, our brethren and those caught up in bible-based cults. I strongly recommend the books listed at the end of this article.

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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.

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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.

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The Religaholic

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:

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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.

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The Freedom of 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.

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Adapted from Faith that Hurts/Faith that Heals, by Stephen Arterburn & Jack Felton. (Formerly called Toxic Faith.) Published by Thomas Nelson Publishers.



©1995 by Jan Groenveld. All rights reserved.

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