Monday, May 11, 2009

Some Aspects of the Spiritual Recovery

In Recovering from Churches that Abuse, chapter 3, (pp. 32,33) Ronald Enroth describes Wellspring program. As far as I understand, most part of this description is based on Paul R. Martin, Cult-Proofing Your Kids (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), though Enroth also quotes Peter Sommer, "High Pressure Christian Groups: The Broken Promise," unpublished paper, 1992 and personal correspondence with Stephen Martin. In my opinion, it is also interesting to compare it with Paul R. Martin, "Post-Cult Recovery: Assessment and Rehabilitation," in Recovery from Cults, ed. Michael D. Langone (New York: W. W. Norton, 1993) because there Paul Martin describes Wellspring program in a more detailed way.

Wellspring program is a combination of psychological and spiritual counselings. In this post, I am going to consider only the spiritual side of this program.

In Recovering from Churches that Abuse, chapter 3, (pp. 32,33) Ronald Enroth writes:
The first stage also must address the doctrines of the abusive church. It is important to examine and carefully refute any unorthodox teachings. Most of the churches mentioned in this book are theologically orthodox, although nearly all would be guilty of distorting the Bible's message in some way. Peter Sommer observes, "These groups are rarely heretical in theory. They don't deny Christian basics; they tend to brush by them. Instead they focus on what makes them different from other churches or groups. They have lots of teaching, but it tends to be on such themes as commitment, submission, and prophecy."

Stephen Martin, a staff member at Wellspring, considers instruction in sound study methods and the interpretation of the Bible important. In abusive groups, twisted hermeneutics are often used to instill fear and guilt and thus become a form of spiritual intimidation. "Since leaders of abusive churches typically twist the Scriptures, education in hermeneutics would help the ex-member gain the right perspective on Scripture passages. In talking with former members at Wellspring, I have found a number of them who have difficulty with or even an aversion to reading the Bible because it has been misused by the group to abuse them. Learning the proper application and interpretation of Scripture goes a long way toward healing the wounds of abuse."

Sommer advises, "It may be wise not to read Scriptures that the group has emphasized; their interpretation may be deeply grooved into your thinking. Read instead the many texts that they did not teach you." I suggest that these people attempt to rediscover God's Word through the Psalms because those writings validate a person's individual spiritual life. Paul Martin feels it is wise for victims to use a different translation of the Bible from that commonly used in the group.

This section mainly deals with doctrinal matters and the Bible. It contains several recommendations:
1. Ex-members should "examine and carefully refute any unorthodox teachings." These unorthodox teachings are focused "on such themes as commitment, submission, and prophecy."
2. Ex-members should learn "sound study methods and the interpretation of the Bible."
3. Ex-members should avoid reading the texts that the group emphasized and use a different translation of the Bible.

Then, regarding the second stage, Enroth writes:
The abusive church experience is often a crisis of faith, as Paul Martin and others have pointed out. Victims must be able not only to rebuild self-esteem and purpose in life, but also renew a personal relationship with God. That can be difficult for those who have yet to resolve the tough question, "Why did God allow this to happen to me when I was sincerely seeking him?" As Rachel, one former church member, puts it, "I had been taught that nothing was ever God's fault. The problem was that I was a true, believing Christian, but when I asked God for spiritual bread and water, look what I got. Was I praying to the wrong God? Was I dishonest? Secretly evil? Was I demonic, like the church kept telling me I was? How could an honest, sincere believer get tricked like this? How could God let this happen?"

People like Colleen and Rachel need the assurance that it is possible to have a rich relationship with God. In Sommer's words, the victim must be turned "to faith in the living God from faith in a distorted image of him. Your break with the group is a step of obedience to the first commandment: No graven images!"

This section deals with the restoration of personal relationship with God. Here, there are two main points:
1. Ex-member should 'resolve the tough question, "Why did God allow this to happen to me when I was sincerely seeking him?"'
2. Ex-member should 'be turned "to faith in the living God from faith in a distorted image of him."'

Abusive churches have a distorted image of God because they actually present Him as a very cruel and harsh God, not a loving and merciful God from the Bible. In my opinion, the turning from the distorted image of God follows refutation of specific abusive teachings of the abusive church. However, the question, "Why did God allow this to happen to me when I was sincerely seeking him?" may not be so easy to answer. Actually, this question involves the theological problem called Theodicy.

Mainly, this is the question why God allows the evil things to exist. This question can be put into the following way:
1. God is omnipotent.
2. God is loving.
3. There is evil in the world.
4. If God is omnipotent, He is able to destroy evil. However, He does not.
5. If God is loving, He does not want people to suffer. However, people suffer.
6. So, proposed logical solution is that either God is not omnipotent or He is not loving.

Actually, this question cannot be completely solved in the logical way, though there were many attempts to solve it. I think the main reason for that is that God is much higher than a human being and there are many things about God that we cannot fully understand. Some other examples are the Trinity (God is one and three in the same time) and also God's predestination and human free will.

Regarding the question, "Why did God allow this to happen to me when I was sincerely seeking him?" I think everyone should seek his or her own answer to it. My personal answer to this question is that through the cult experience we can learn something and then, after our own recovery and learning about what happened with us, we gain ability to understand others who had similar experience, sympathize with them, and help them.

Since I do not have English version of Recovery from Cults, I will just retell what Paul Martin writes there about spiritual recovery. There, he puts the main points of spiritual recovery into steps 2 and 3 of the recovery.

1. Requests for information
Ex-members have many questions regarding their group, the Bible, religion, and philosophy. However, if the new church or pastor reminds them their old church or pastor, it can be traumatic for them. So, Paul Martin advices to use another translation of the Bible and find the pastor and the church that contrast the previous ones.

2. Re-opening the gospel
Ex-members should re-open the gospel of the New Testament. Abusive churches tend to somehow distort some aspects of the gospel. These groups tend to consider themselves as genuine Christians, but their definition of what it means to be a Christian is not adequate. Then, Paul Martin gives his definition of what it means to be a Christian. According to his definition, Christian groups recognize, clearly express and demonstrate the gospel of Jesus Christ. They hold the main teaching of the church and believe in the authority of the Bible. However, cultic groups lose something regarding recognition, clear expression and demonstration the Gospel.

Many of these groups publicly declare sound doctrines and the most part of distortion is done in the inner circle. Here the leader reveals his own understanding and practice that he is able to justify because he says that the world is unable to understand them, but due to his own spiritual progress he is able to understand and apply these hidden mysteries. In this way, the leader tells the members that they can become a part of this inner circle of more enlightened and more spiritual people.

Some groups like ICC do not have obvious doctrinal deviations, but their authority structure emphasizes unquestioned submission to the leaders in all the areas of life that goes beyond commonly accepted biblical authority.

Many cultic groups believe in most of orthodox, fundamental, and evangelical doctrines. However, they live according to unbiblical standards imposed by the leader. These standards are often changed that creates destabilized environment and makes members more dependent on their leader.

Through the biblical gospel, ex-members regain the meaning of their life and self-respect. Paul Martin concludes this section, repeating the words of H. Bussel and Walter Martin that the clear understanding of the gospel is the most important point in ex-cultist recovery and immunity against getting involved in cults in the future.

I agree with Paul Martin that Bible-based cults distort the Bible in some ways (for example, teaching about submission to the leaders, consecration to the group, and separation from the world) and that ex-members should learn what the Bible really teaches. However, I do not agree with two points here. First, his definition that "Christian groups recognize, clearly express and demonstrate the gospel of Jesus Christ" is actually quite vague and disputed. Many Bible-based cults may say that they do the same.

Second, I do not agree that "the clear understanding of the gospel is the most important point in ex-cultist recovery and immunity against getting involved in cults in the future." The problem is that there are Christians who get involved into Bible-based cults even after getting a degree in theology and having an experience of Christian ministry. Cults use deception in recruiting and in the beginning they teach only the orthodox doctrines. Also, many groups do not have obviously deviant doctrines. Martin himself writes about that in this section. So, just the knowledge of the orthodox doctrines is not sufficient. It is necessary to know how cults recruit and keep their members - the methods of mind control and deception.

3. Personality and religion
Cults often teach black and white thinking, emphasizing the Christ's commandments to "deny yourself" and "reject everything." For many recovering ex-members, the understanding of Christ's words is an urgent need. Ex-members who want to be Christians may ask whether God really requires limited version of our "selves". Why did He create us with all the rich talents, interests, and temperaments only to tell us that this all is evil? Is it impossible that they can be used for God's glory and kingdom? Is it possible for us to be received by God on the basis of our good works? Is it possible for us to reject everything, deny ourselves, take the cross, and have higher righteousness than Pharisees by fulfilling strict requirements? A recovering ex-cultist may ask like Peter after the rich man left: "Who then can be saved?" Christ answered: "It is impossible with men, but everything is possible with God."

The healthy spiritual life is distorted without realization of the two things. First, it is impossible to reconcile with God without His eternal unconditional love and His desire. Second, we should acknowledge ourselves. God does not require us to lose our talents and personalities in order to be accepted by Him. The act of mercy creates two miracles: love toward God and love toward oneself. Clarification of what is "self" and that God receives and strengthens people helps to focus on career, education, and problems of one's own identity.

I think it is a very good point.

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