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Toxic Faith

Is Toxic Faith Ruining Your Prophetic Witness and Destroying Your Marriage?

When toxic waste is allowed to seep into a river, that river is poisoned. Fish die, the water smells bad and right-minded people stay away. Unfortunately, toxic ideas often are allowed to seep into the River of Life and peoples’ faith becomes toxic—with pretty much the same disastrous results. It is faith that stinks.

Toxic faith is faith that brings self-righteousness and pride, restlessness and despair and often manifests itself in the harsh criticism of other Christians. Not all faith saves and not all faith pleases God. Even the demons have faith (James 2:19). Some faith is not that at all, but mere head knowledge. The Bible says that it is possible to believe “in vain,” i.e., “without fruit” (1 Cor. 15:2). Some faith is even “dead faith” (James 2:17).

Is toxic faith stealing your joy, and the joy of those around you, so that “the blessed hope” (Titus 2:13) no longer has the power and the appeal that it used to?

Christian Leadership and the Four P’s of Toxic Faith

Christians are often products of those whom they follow. This may be a pastor, or televangelist with a magnetic personality. Unfortunately, many leaders are characterized by the Four P’s of Toxic Faith:

  • Profit—The charlatan evangelist who is making “big bucks” by his/her “ministry.”
  • Power—The abusive religious figure who dominates others. This is the spirit of Antichrist.
  • Pleasure—The religious figure who justifies carnality on the basis of authority and takes advantage of women and children.
  • Prestige—“I am the anointed one. My miracles are more miraculous than yours.”

Tragic Headlines

  • A Baptist pastor and wife convicted in 2000 of abuse of a girl they received from an orphanage.
  • A headline from Louisiana of nude Pentecostals crashing into trees as they flee from Satan. They had pulled into a KOA campground and claimed that the contents of a large camper really belonged to them. The owner of the camper didn’t agree.
  • A 49-year-old faith healer threatens children with hellfire if they don’t have carnal relations with him.

These examples are extreme. Most do not practice their toxic faith in this way. That’s why these stories make the headlines. It is the very nature of reporting that sells papers to find extremes. Yet, these extremes highlight the Four P’s of Toxic Faith and help us discern toxic faith. These extremes are in seed form everywhere.

Manifestations of Toxic Faith (TF)

  • Compulsive religious activity. Those suffering from TF feel that they have to impress God with their religious sincerity. They also feel that they have to impress themselves and others. Some individuals are compulsive hand-washers. If they don’t wash repeatedly (even after just having washed their hands!) they are certain some horrible malady will overtake them. Compulsive religious activity is similar.
  • Impatience with others. “Why does it take you so long to mature in the faith?”
  • A following committed to a dynamic (albeit insane) leaderDavid Koresh, Jim Jones, Tony Alamo
  • “Bulletproof faith”—The belief that “if I have enough faith I will be protected from bad things happening to me and my family, and if bad things do happen it’s because of my lack of faith.”

Some of the teaching to which Christians are exposed produces toxic faith. Quite often this kind of “religion” can lead to abuse:

  • The Manipulative Religious Leader Who Is An Authority Figure—When life doesn’t work out as promised by some televangelist, the believer is taught to blame himself or herself. Sometimes God is blamed and the individual concludes, “God has let me down.”
  • False Guilt—“If you were a better Christian your kids wouldn’t be in trouble with the law.”
  • Spiritual Arrogance—“Look at those poor slobs; if they only obeyed God like I do they would be better of.”

Husbands, Wives, the Home, and Toxic Faith

Both husbands and wives exhibit TF. Men are perhaps more prone to become physically abusive, but women show the symptoms of TF when they nag, gripe, and complain. Intimacy is impossible in such a setting and leads to a host of other evils.

As the level of frustration grows in the home, the children sense that “something is wrong.” In a real sense, kids with parents exhibiting TF become “orphans.” They look for love in the wrong places and get a counterfeit. When their grades plummet and they get in trouble with the law, the TF of the parents makes healing and reconciliation impossible.

TF often holds hands with legalism. Keeping the rules becomes the main thing. The person’s worth is based on the person’s performance. Since yielded Christian behavior does not flourish in an atmosphere of TF, individuals become more depressed and filled with a sense of hopelessness. They are highly prone to believing hair-brained conspiracy theories and suffer from the-sky-is-falling syndrome.

Breaking Free

  • Christ, Our ExampleThere is nothing in the Bible that teaches us to repeatedly pray: “Lord, make me more like the Heavenly Father,” or “Lord, make me more like the Holy Spirit.” Christ is our example: “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). We should love as He loves (John 13:35), think as He thinks (Phil. 2:5), and walk as He walks (1 John 2:6). WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) is a good question to ask when challenged by people and circumstances.
  • An Active Attitude of Servanthood—It’s the pagans who exercise “lordship” and “authority,” but Jesus said “I am among you as he that serveth” (Luke 22:25, 27). It was this spirit of domination that was causing problems in the churches of Galatia, so Paul  counseled, “by love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13).
  • Respectful and RelationalReligious addicts manifesting the symptoms of TF abandon relationships claiming that God is all that matters. The “I-don’t-need-you” attitude is often a clear indicator of pride. But the more we love and honor God, the more we will love and honor one another. A TF system sees everything in terms of “them” and “us.” Devotees of this system see two groups. There is no middle ground. A toxic church or ministry fosters the mentality that everyone who is in the “them” group is a threat to Christianity. The “Us’s” usually flock around a ritual or pet doctrine around which they cluster like moths around a bulb. Those who don’t agree with the “Us” view of this pet doctrine become the “them.” It’s disgustingly divisive and misses Jesus. These religious addicts strive for conformity with the elite leader and the elite crowd formed by  other religious addicts manifesting the symptoms of TF. They often talk alike, dress alike, comb their hair alike, and express the same likes and dislikes. TF thinking is marked by the absence of personal convictions and the blind acceptance of someone else’s definition of what is right.
  • God-Reliant Rather Than Self-Reliant—“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). Paul was not self-confident but Christ-confident.
  • GrowingNone of us has arrived yet but we are getting closer. Christian maturity doesn’t mean that we no longer have to grow.
  • Non-defensiveThose in the grips of TF see their system as sacred. Every threat to the system and their way of life is an attack on God (so they think), and such threats must be stamped out. To this end they write great dissertations and religious tomes that seek to demolish everyone else.

Those in a healthy faith walk with God refrain from defining all aspects of truth, including personal minutia, for others. Satan knows he can’t destroy the message of the cross so he tries to pervert it. TO AVOID SIN’S TRAGEDY, LEARN SATAN’S STRATEGY. Toxic Faith is one of his deadly weapons.

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Larry Spargimino

Dr. Larry Spargimino is co-host of the SWRC broadcast and joined the ministry in 1998. Larry researches and writes books and articles for the ministry, assists on tours, and helps answer listeners' theological questions when they call the ministry. Larry holds a doctorate from Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and pastors a local church.

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