<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”https://www.slideshare.net/bmunson3/spiritual-abuse-4-structures” title=”Spiritual Abuse Part 4, Structures” target=”_blank”>Spiritual Abuse Part 4, Structures</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/bmunson3″ target=”_blank”>Bob Munson</a></strong> </div>
Based on the recommendation of a former pastor of mine, I have started reading “The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative” by Christopher J.H. Wright. It is still early (I haven’t reached page 100 yet) but I have found much value in what I have read so far. The book seeks to look at Missions from the grand narrative (the eschatological history through the Old and New Testament) of the Bible. It isn’t a Missions Theology perhaps, but it seems to me to be a refreshing first step… a Biblical theology of missions.
If that (a Biblical theology of missions) was its only accomplishment (drawing missions inductively from the entire Biblical text) it would be a worthy accomplishment. Wright, however, seeks to go further and suggest a missional hermeneutic for Biblical interpretation. At first thought, this seems flawed. It suggests a Procrustean process of jamming the Bible into a mold, and changing the interpretation to fit that mold while removing or ignoring things that ultimately don’t fit. (I am sure many/most of us can come up with examples of this). But the Bible, as God’s message of love and hope to man is arguably a direct product of God’s mission, and a clear proclamation of that same mission. As such, missional interpretation seems quite appropriate.
I have heard many people involved in Christian missions say that they do missions because of the “Great Commission.” But there are a few more GREATS needed.
1. We may do missions “because” of the “Great Commission.” But
2. The Great Commission is simply application of the “Great Commandment.” But
3. The Great Commandment is simply a summarization of the “Great Communication” (God’s Special Revelation). But
4. The Great Communication is simply the literary form of the “Great Creation” (Referring to God’s revelations in physical creation, in narrative creation, in self-disclosure). But
5. The Great Creation is the artifacts and observed behavior of God our “Great Christ.” (In this case, Christ is used, utilizing the ‘C’, to described God as the one who reigns.)
Anyone who stops at the Great Commission, has stopped way too early.
I’ve been doing some more research on authoritarian religions, both classic “cults” and Christian groups that utilize “cultic” practices. While there are notable, and welcome, exceptions, so many of the resources available are from people (some as part of organizations and some as not) who have left these authoritarian groups and have decided to reject (sometimes quite angrily) all religion (or at least theistic, organized religion).
One would assume (naively?) that religious people would be deeply concerned about groups that harm their membership, and have at least as much concern, if not more, for members of such groups. That doesn’t seem to be the case.
Why might this be. I don’t know. Let me suggest a few possible reasons:
1. It may be easy for churches and church members to oppose some of the classically weird cults… but it is awkward to challenge churches or denominations that are doctrinely closer to home, while still utilizing authoritarian (cultic) methodologies. It is often easier to ignore, denigrate from a distance, or (and I have seen this remarkably) act as if such groups don’t exist.
2. Christians/Christian groups that do challenge such groups tend to be more focused on apologetics then people. (At least it seems so to me).
3. There is a greater focus among many Christians on conversion (sudden change) rather than nurture, reconciliation, healing, sustaining, and liberation (typically much slower processes).
4. Related to #3, Christians like to focus on “low hanging fruits.” We want people for whom we can evangelize and then (perhaps) disciple. But people from authoritarian cults, as well as Christian-based authoritarian groups, are difficult to convert since they are taught not to listen to “deceivers.” And those who leave cults are often turned off to religion and God in general.
5. Christians (like most people) have trouble applying the Great Commandment. We are to love all people (including enemies). Members of groups that are hostile are easy to label as “the enemy.” Those that leave these groups often connect to groups that are (not surprisingly) anti-religious. As such they still seem like enemies. It is easier to hate or ignore enemies.
But what a shame! Those who are abused spiritually (religious abuse or other spiritual abuse) are certainly those in great need of help… of liberation. When we fail to do this, it is hardly surprising that such people (and the broader public) tend to label Christians with the same brush applied to authoritarian groups.
Of course, we need to be careful with labels anyway. Using the term “cult” for every group that we have issues with, can build barriers with both groups and their members. Additionally, I was raised in a church that described itself as “Fundamentalist” but wasn’t authoritarian (despite the fact that Fundamentalism is often described as being, by definition, authoritarian). There is a danger with being too quick to label, and an equal danger of applying characteristics carelessly to labels.
Demonstrating genuine love and care for all people regardless of the group they are with (whether that group is “for us” or “against us”) is a good start in helping people in need.
“Many men say there is one God; the Father, the son and the Holy Ghost are only one God! I say this is a strange God anyhow—three in one, and one in three! It is a curious organization. . . . All are to be crammed into one God, according to sectarianism. It would make the biggest God in all the world. He would be a wonderfully big God—he would be a giant or a monster.“
-Founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith “History of the Church * Volume 6 Page 476 * 1844)
Long ago I had a roommate who was Mormon (LDS-variant), and I started reading up on that particular religion. But now, looking at this quote, I can’t help focusing on the term “monster.”
I looked up the definition for “monster” that shows up on google… “an imaginary creature that is typically large, ugly, and frightening.” I find the definition highly inadequate. Of course, the term monster is sometimes used for a very evil person, but even within the specific definition shown above, there are inadequacies. A monster does not have to be imaginary. In fact, the most powerful monsters are those that exist in a state of doubt. The most powerful monsters are not the ones that we KNOW do not exist, but the ones that exist in the mental limbo between fact and fiction.
In the quote of Joseph Smith above, the Trinity (or Triune God) is described as a monster. If one can say that the Trinity is large, frightening, and exists in the uncomfortable place in our minds between fact and fiction, then perhaps we can say that the term “monster” applies. The quote by Smith in other aspects is certainly not very theologically astute (I think even Mormons would have to admit this) but perhaps the term monster is informative of a problem in Christianity.
So How Does One Destroy a Monster?
Option #1. Kill It. One can look back to stories like Frankenstein or Dracula (and a host of B-rated monster movies). One can picture villagers with torches and pitchforks coming to kill first, ask questions later.
This option doesn’t help us. Regardless of whether God as Trinity exists, killing is simply not a viable option.
Option #2. Deny It. How do you destroy chupacabras? Deny they exist. They are only stories. How do you destroy ghosts? Deny they exist. The problem with this, historically, is that some things that were seen as monsters (giant animals of the ocean and land) were denied, only to be shown as really existing years later. Giant squid (and Colossal squid) proved to be very real. Meteorites (rocks falling out of the clear blue sky) were denied by “intelligent folk” until their existence became undeniable. Ghosts and aliens can be removed by denying… but what if they are proved to exist? Denial doesn’t always work.
This option can be used for the Trinity. However, generally, those who use this method in its simplest form, are actually denying God as a whole… not just His nature. To accept God, while denying the Trinity, most would go to Option #3. There are exceptions. Some like to argue that the Trinity doesn’t exist because the term is not used in the Bible. <Of course, that is just intellectually lazy. The term “Trinity,” like most theological terms are not used in the Bible. Rather they are developed inductively from the Bible, history, and logic. One has to analyze the inductive reasoning… not a label or a specific verse. However, even here, those who use this argument still then move to Option #3 eventually.>
Option #3. Rationalize It. How could Santa exist? He would have to be able to travel at light speed, fit through holes far too small for any obese person, and carry loads around that would crush any roof top. UFOs must be weather balloons, satellites, and mass hysteria.
Regarding the Trinity, this is the lead one for many groups. Joseph Smith seemed to be attempting a rational argument against the Trinity.
I probably need to add an important note here. When people say “rational” or “rationalize” they often think imply “logical.” After all, the term “irrational” is often used to imply being illogical. Yet, in practice (especially in circumstances like this one) what is meant by rational is “conformed to personal or cultural experience.” When one says that the Trinity is irrational, they mean that 3 persons within one deity is outside of one’s personal experience. Our own experience is 1 person within one being. Sure we may accept the mystery of the unconscious and conscious mind existing and interacting within our own individual self, but we are used to seeing them as aspects of one person, not manifestations of two. Of course, if we encountered being that unambiguously had a dual personhood as we see in the trinity, we would not find such a concept to be even remotely irrational. To the Romans, the imagery of Janus may well make a trinitarian (or binitarian at least) view seem not so strange. Today, a 3-in-1 being in the Marvel Universe (The Living Tribunal– Equity, Necessity, Vengeance) and a 4-in-1 being in Adventuretime (“Grob Gob Glob and Grod”) provide fictional representations that open up our cultural minds to what is possible. Helps make things less monsterous and culturally irrational.
Rationalizing away the Trinity can go in different directions. Mormons go towards a 3-in-3 position. This kind of moves more towards a Hindu-type trinity (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva) of three divinities that do not exist as a unity in any important way. Some groups (United Pentecostal Church is a well-known proponent) go towards Modalism. God is 1-in-1 because Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are simply manifestations of one God, not three persons. This is like our conscious and unconscious minds are manifestations of one person. Many groups (Jehovah’s Witness and Islam) go towards Radical Monothesim. This is also 1-in-1 but where Son and Holy Spirit are not divine persons. All of these seek to align God with one’s personal experiences.
Option #4. Understand it. Huge squids stopped being monsters, not through killing, denying, or rationalizing, but through identifying and understanding them. The Komodo dragon went from monster to (monsterous) lizard once it was recognized and understood,
If the Trinity is real and is correctly induced from the Holy Bible, then the Triune God ceases to be a monster through understanding God’s nature. That doesn’t ignore mystery. After all, if God created us in His image rather than we creating Him in ours… it is normal that we do not understand many things of God. But as we understand God as Trinity, He can move away from monster status to a social being who created us and interacts with us.
So what now? As a Trinitarian (historical) Christian, I believe that we have sort of turned the Trinity into a monster. There needs to be changes:
- We need to teach the Trinity. But it should be taught not simply as a creedal statement. It should not be taught by prooftext. It should be taught as it is… an outflowing of inductive reflection on God’s revelation.
- We need to connect it to other theology. It is not simply a teaching disconnected from the rest. If there is unity of Father, Son, and Spirit, what ramifications does that have? Many imagine salvation as God the Father ready (happily ready) to condemn us to hell, with Jesus (as Son) jumping in and telling Him He can’t because we were saved by the blood of Christ. This is horrible theology (more of a Tritheism than anything else) and certainly is inconsistent with sound Trinitarian doctrine.
- We need to understand the importance of the Trinity. Why is it important? For me, the fact that God is characterized eternally as love and social/relational (regardless of His creation) is best explained by a unified God who is inherently a social being.
- We need to avoid our own traps of rationalization or at least overexplanation. There is mystery in God’s nature. While we may recognize God’s Triune nature, we don’t have to be guilty of trying to dogmatically define everything. Mystery is both accurate, humble and intellectually honest.
My son noticed it. We went to a hospital here in in the Philippines… to the Nuclear Medicine lab. Right behind us was a big heavy door. My son Joel pointed to two symbols there. One was a Radiation (tri-foil) symbol. Above it was a smaller symbol… a crucifix.
Here in the Philippines we are not as prone to compartmentalize faith. Having religious symbols next to symbols of science, government, and such… in public places, is not thought strange or inappropriate.
But it got me thinking about the two symbols. Both symbols have a history to them. One is a very old symbol (the crucifix), while the other, newer, but still having considerable history to it. The tri-foil dates back to about 1946, still making it almost 70 years old.
Both symbols have broadened and changed in meaning over time. The crucifix (cross) symbolized degradation– curse– in its historical context. That meaning is not eradicated but has been shoved down as new meanings have supplanted. The Tri-foil has been a warning of hazard due to ionizing radiation (alpha, beta, gamma, neutron)… that is still its main meaning but new meanings have also crept in. The symbol has been morphed into a symbol (looking different but still showing its inspiration) for fallout shelters… a symbol of protection. In its original form it is used in hospitals, not only to give warning, but to suggest testing and treatment, through x-ray photography and radiation treatment.
A. As Symbols.
There are a number of ways that the crucifix and the tri-foil are similar:
1. They are both symbols of power. One symbolizes the power of the atom… power that can be harnessed for good or evil. The other symbolizes the power of God both in potential and in will to do good.
2. They both are symbols of healing and hope. The tri-foil is recognized as a symbol tied to many processes that are considered beneficial… medical treatment, medical evaluation, disinfecting, and so forth. The crucifix symbolizes God’s provision for restoring man to Himself.
3. They both are symbols of controversy. The tri-foil is often seen as a symbol of what is wrong with the modern world, whether it be the atomic bomb, dangers of nuclear waste, genetic engineering and other activities where man appears to be “playing God.” The crucifix is seen by some as morbid, or out of touch with modern thought. Even among some Christians (such as Protestants) the crucifix is often seen as “putting Christ back on the Cross.” (Although I am Protestant, I don’t see that any more than a church setting up a Nativity scene is putting Jesus back in the cradle.)
4. They are both symbols of mystery. The tri-foil warns us of things we cannot see or feel emanating from something called atoms, another thing we cannot see, or even understand. (Anyone who thinks they understand atoms is not up-to-date with the present theories of atomic structure and sub-atomic particles.) I recall, from my days as a nuclear engineer, walking through Reactor Compartment Upper Level of a nuclear plant in Idaho and feeling nauseous. The nausea wasn’t directly caused by radiation or contamination there… but simply the knowledge that there were things I could not see or feel or fully understand that were going into my body that I could do nothing about. The crucifix symbolizes the mystery of divine atonement. It is often described simply (Christ died for us). But the more we dwell on this, the more mysterious it is.
B. In Juxtoposition.
Returning to the hospital, it occurs to me that the relationship of the two symbols was important.
1. The tri-foil was bigger and at eye-level. The symbol was there warning of a hazard. It was important that people quickly see it and take heed to the danger. While there is warning in the crucifix, that warning is more generally relevant, and less relevant at the moment. Additionally, since it was a medical hospital… the symbols of “science” are needed to give comfort that the hospital has competence in its secular, recognized function. A medical doctor can have a Bible with him (or her), but it is more critical to have the symbols of the profession (stethoscope, name badge, clipboard, lab coat) to provide confidence in the patient that the individual has competence in his (or her) profession. A hospital chaplain can carry around a thermometer, for example, but it is more important that he (or she) has a clerical collar, a chaplain’s coat (or other clerical garb) and a Bible. The dominant symbols provide comfort of competence.
2. The crucifix was placed above the the tri-foil. It was smaller (since it was not meant to be as immediate of a warning). For the same reason it was not placed at eye-level. However, placing it above the tri-foil symbolizes the idea that God is above all, and the ulitmate protector and healer. Scientific/natural discoveries have benefits but ultimately all submit to God as Lord and Creator of nature.
Symbols matter. They mean something whether we acknowledge or not, and whether we are cognizant of their effect on us. We need to choose our symbols wisely… not necessarily applying theological importance to them (suggesting that the symbol itself has power or inherent meaning), but recognizing their ability to affect change in the hearts and minds of people who apply meaning to them.
So what does this have to do with missions? I would argue that the situation in the Burned-Over District is undesirable. A lot of the groups (Mormons, Spiritualists, and some of the Utopians) were non-Christian or syncretistic organizations. Some, like the Millerites, have a complicated relationship with historic Christianity
Perhaps the situation was created… it did not just happen. This is, of course, not a research study… just reflection on a single historical phenomenon. But here are some thoughts on what might set the stage for spontaneous development of non-Christian faiths in an area of Christian
1. Overemphasis on Evangelism with Underemphasis on Discipleship. The term “Burned-Over District” had to do with revivalism. The term suggested that there were so many evangelistic revivals in the area that they ran out of people to convert. However, revivals tend to push very hard on a visible conversion, with little follow-through. This is an all-too-common reality. I have certainly seen that here in the Philippines.
2. Lack of Foundational Base. <Yes this is related somewhat to the previous item.> While it may be true that too many clergy (like chefs) can spoil the soup (or the revival), there is still a role for clergy. Clergy can provide a sound theological, Biblical, and historical basis for one’s spiritual transformation. Without that, anyone can come along as a wolf among sheep and reinterpret the experience. Here in the Philippines, we used to do a lot of medical missions. The problem was that often (but not always, of course) our hosts did not provide the necessary follow-up. Other groups would sometimes descend on those who had made decisions of faith. An experience that cannot be attached to a sound foundational perspective, can equally misdirect.
3. Unrealistic Expectations. The growth of radical groups, apocalyptic groups, and utopian societies suggests that many of the people who were interested in faith, were disillusioned. This can happen when one is given unrealistic expectations as to what will happen after a faith conversion (or at least a faith experience). Life doesn’t necessarily become rosy. Prosperity or even reduction of suffering is not promised. The new fellowship of believers can, sadly, also be less than hoped. Following Christ can be a path of suffering, serving God faithfully, within a network of flawed believers. When one is told things that are not true, when the emotional high of revival wears off, dissatisfaction can set in, leading one to look elsewhere.
4. Unbalanced Response to Rapid Social Change. Change can be good. Change can also be bad. When change exists, the church must know how to adapt to it. The church should not be “faddish”… simply following the culture around it. However, if the church simply rejects all change, it can be seen as culturally irrelevant… marginalized. Other groups that seem to be relevant (or at least aware) culturally, may be enticing. I believe there is balance here. Because if the church is too quick to change with the culture, it loses the solid Biblical, theological, and historical foundation that is needed (as listed above).