Freedom vs. Forgetfulness (part 10 of 12)


The Christian life begins with freedom from dead works, from religious-based systems like the scribes and Pharisees of old that promote human attempts to please God.  (See Galatians for Paul’s magnus opus on this theme).  As Johnson and VanVonderen note, “It’s time for many of us to shake off the religious system and expectations we’ve created, and return to joyful freedom in Christ.”


Have you noticed?  Some Christians have forgotten the incredible price that was paid, in blood, for our freedom in Christ.  We’ve been called to a spiritual life built upon the free gift of God’s grace (Eph. 2:8,9).  The works we are to do are only those that our God and Father prepared for us (v. 10).  It is to God alone whom we will answer for what we have done in His name and what we may have failed to do (Matt. 25).

Dynamics in Play

This “forgetfulness” – in which freedom in Christ is swapped or squelched for legalism, domination, or lock-step-it is – may turn into spiritual abuse.  In Identifying the Abusive System (The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, pp. 63-70), Johnson and VanVonderen identify the following dynamics in play within a spiritually abusive system:

  1. Power Posturing. This is when leaders spend lots of time focused on their own authority as well as reminding others of it, too.  They spend a lot of time and energy posturing about how much authority they have and how everyone else is supposed to submit to it.  “The fact that they are eager to place people under them – under their word, under their ‘authority’ – is one easy-to-spot clue that they are operating in their own authority.” (Emphasis in original, p. 64)
  2. Performance preoccupation.  “In abusive spiritual systems, power is postured and authority is legislated.  Therefore, these systems are preoccupied with the performance of their members.  Obedience and submission are two important words often used.”  (p. 65)
  3. Unspoken Rules. “In abusive spiritual systems, people’s lives are controlled from the outside in by rules, spoken and unspoken.  Unspoken rules are those that govern unhealthy churches… but are not said out loud.  Because they are not said out loud, you don’t find out that they’re there until you break them.” (p. 67).  In a nutshell, unspoken rules revolve around the “It’s better to be nice than honest” mentality.  If you disagree openly or publicly, expect to be punished and suffer one of two consequences for breaking the “don’t talk” rule: neglect (being ignored, overlooked, shunned), or aggressive legalism (questioned, openly censured, asked to leave.)

–          The “Can’t Talk Rule.” The most powerful of all unspoken rules in the abusive system is the “can’t talk” rue.  Here’s what’s behind it: “The real problem cannot be exposed because then it would have to be dealt with and things would have to change, so it must be protected behind walls of silence (neglect) or by assault (legalistic attack).  If you speak about the problem out loud, you are the problem.  If some way you must be silenced or eliminated.”  The authors continue,  … The truth is, when people talked about problems out loud they don’t cause them, they simply expose them.” (p. 68)

–          No Conflict. This is a common “unspoken rule,” often resulting in false “unity” or “peace.”  Both are important in th4 Body of Christ.  But experiencing true peace and unity does not mean pretending to get along or acting like we agree when we don’t.  But according to the unspoken “no conflict” rule, ruffled feathers are swept under the rug.  Conflict might be a sign that something is wrong, and according to the “rules,” there can’t be anything wrong.  That’s why ignoring a conflict just makes things worse over the long run, because the heart issues involved aren’t ever addressed, and what isn’t addressed can’t be resolved.  (See James 3:14-18)

Lack of Balance, which shows itself in two extremes: Extreme Objectivism which elevates objective truth to the exclusion of valid subjective experience, or 2) Extreme Subjectivism, when “what is true is decided on the basis of feelings and experiences, giving more weight to them that to what the Bible declares.” (p. 70)

Join us next time for “Authority Gaps and Attitude Snaps”

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