Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Hermeneutics for Ex-Members of Abusive Churches and Cults

I think, at this point, I need to give some explanations regarding my posts on the biblical hermeneutics. Actually, the main purpose of my blog is not theology. There are many good Christian sites, and I do not really think I need to add one more.

My main goal is different. My blog is intended for ex-members of abusive churches and cults. I was in one of these groups myself and I had my own experience of spiritual and psychological recovery. In the process of recovery, I have learned many things. I am aware of the spiritual and psychological problems of former members. So, I want to share my knowledge and experience in order to help others in their recovery.

Until recently, in my blog, I posted mainly the things related to psychology. I know that most literature on cult mind control was written by non-Christian psychologists who do not see the difference between mind control in religious cults and normal Christian spiritual experience. In addition, most counselors who provide psychological counseling for ex-members of cults and abusive churches are not Christians. So, they are unable to help their clients to have normal Christian spiritual experience and to see the difference between mind control and normal spiritual experience. In some cases, they even might promote atheism and be against any religion.

There are very few counselors who are knowledgeable in cult mind control and who are Christians. One of them is Dr. Paul Martin, the director of Wellspring. Their center provide psychological counseling to all their clients and spiritual counseling for those who want that. There is also another center - MeadowHaven. The founders of this center are Robert and Judith Pardon. They both are Christians. This center also provides psychological counseling and optional spiritual counseling. I do not know about other counselors who do both psychological and religious counseling of ex-members.

I think that ex-members of abusive churches and cults may need to know the difference between mind control and normal Christian spiritual experience. This is why in some of the previous posts I tried to define this difference.

Reading Recovering from Churches that Abuse, I noticed the statement that ex-members of abusive churches need "to examine and carefully refute any unorthodox teachings." This is why they need "instruction in sound study methods and the interpretation of the Bible." I have written about that in Psychological and Spiritual Counseling of Ex-Members of Abusive Churches.

In my personal experience, it was important to have a personal study of the Bible Christian theology including hermeneutics in order to get rid of what the group where I was taught me and also to get an orthodox Christian understanding of the Bible. To me, it was important both for my spiritual and psychological recovery. In the past, I felt that my mind was somewhat bound by the doctrines I was taught. My study released my mind from these bonds. In addition, in the past, when I was reading the Bible, I was always reminded of that group and their teachings. I do not have this problem now. I also gained much spiritual benefit when I learned the biblical teachings of God and many other matters.

So, I think that ex-members of abusive churches and cults need to refute the wrong teachings they were taught and learn the true Bible teachings. In order to do that, they need to have some knowledge of biblical hermeneutics. This is why I posted some material on that subject. My purpose is to help ex-members in their personal Bible study.

I am quite aware that there are different systems of hermeneutics. Probably, I need to make clear some of my opinions in this area.

Most Christian theologians admit that there are four sources of theology: the Bible, tradition, experience, and mind. However, they make different accents on them. Catholic theologians believe that the Scripture and the Tradition have equal importance. Protestant theology gives preeminence to the Scripture. However, Protestants do not deny tradition completely. They believe in the Apostles', Nicene, Chalcedonian, and Athanasian Creeds. They also have their denominational Confessions: Augsburg Confession, Westminster Confession of Faith, Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, Methodist Articles of Religion, and so on. They consist Protestant tradition. However, Protestantism gives priority to the Bible.

Then, liberal theologians give priority to the human mind. If the Bible does not match their concepts, they reject the Bible teachings. Conservative Protestant theologians also use their mind, but they give priority to the Bible.

Regarding the Bible and experience, there are genuine Christians who give them the same value or even give priority to their experience. Christian experience includes personal relationship with the Lord, the leading of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and many other things. There are Christians who interpret the Bible with their Christian experience and do not interpret their experience with the Bible. My opinion is that this way is dangerous. The Bible is objective and this is God's written Word. However, experience is subjective. Sometimes, it is hard to tell if a certain experience or a certain feeling is really from God or not. If the experience matches the Bible, then, the Bible gives a proof that it is from God. However, if the experience does not match the Bible, there is no evidence that it is from God. It may be from God and may not. There is no objective evidence.

I can give some examples. Sufism is Muslim mysticism. Sufis pursue the personal experience of God and claim that they have it. They do have some experience that they consider to be the experience of God. However, their experience matches Koran and not the Bible. The founders of the Oneness Pentecostalism claimed that they had a revelation from God that contradicted the orthodox teaching of the Trinity. However, their so called revelations were not from God because they contradicted the Bible.

Most evangelical theologians consider the Bible as the highest authority and believe that Christian experience should be interpreted by the Bible. I agree with them. I think it is even more important for ex-members of abusive churches to rely on the Bible more than on their experience. The problem is that in abusive churches and cults the leaders manipulate experiences of the members in order to "prove" that they are "God's apostles" and that they have the unique "revelation from God." Some leaders teach the members to rely on their experience more than on the Bible. When ex-members interpret their experiences in those groups with the Bible, they can distinguish which experiences were from God and which of them were from the leaders.

There are also different ways to interpret the Bible. Most evangelical theologians use the normal or literal way. This means that they do their best to draw their conclusions from the Bible using their knowledge of biblical history, culture, and languages (words and grammar). They try to understand what the Bible meant for the original readers and take the text of the Bible literally with the exception of the figure of speech. This way is the most objective.

Other ways are much more subjective. Allegoric and typological ways mean that the Bible is interpreted allegorically. Bible characters, events, and other things are considered to be allegories or types of spiritual things. The difference is that the allegoric way does not consider the Bible literally at all while the typological way considers the Bible both literally and allegorically. The Bible contains indications that some things were types or allegories. However, those who use allegoric or typological ways find them even when the Bible does not have these indications. The problem with this method is that the allegories are very subjective and depend on the person who interprets the Bible. When there are two allegoric interpretations of the same thing in the Bible, it is impossible to say which of them is correct.

One more way of the Bible interpretation is theological. This means that the person who interprets the Bible has some theological system and interprets the Bible according to this system. Then, if a biblical text does not match their theology, they try to explain this verse according to their system of theology. It is good when theology is used a summary of the Bible teachings and a whole picture of the Bible. However, if theological systems are used to force the Bible to say what it does not say, this is wrong. This way is also subjective.

Both theological and allegorical/typological ways are often used by the leaders of cults and abusive churches to twist the Bible. The normal way of the Bible interpretation is the most objective and provides the conclusions directly from the Bible, not from anybody's writings. I think if the former members want to know what the Bible (not anybody else) says, they should use this way.

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