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What Does a “Bad Church Experience” Look Like

As a regular Christian church attender, there can be the impression that when someone says they have had a “bad experience” with their past church, it was likely that either a member called them out for a sin they didn’t want to hear about, or snubbed them in some other way. Or perhaps the music was not to their liking, or the Pastor did not smile at them when they neglected to attend last Wednesday night’s fellowship dinner. Whatever the reason, often it is based on a personal slight the reality of which happens both inside and outside the brick-and-mortar church. 

Over the last two years, I have had readers express frustrations over the “church” as if it is some separate living being that needs to be shunned as evil in and of itself. They fail to recognize that the true meaning of the term is a representation of sinners gathering together to worship God. Sinners remain sinners, even when grouped under the banner of “church”. And, to say we need to reject the God-ordained foundation of His ministry on earth (Acts 20:28) is the best example of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” in my view.

However, there remain numerious examples where church leadership and members can be seen as an examples of moral failure no different than their secular couterparts.

The Southern Baptist Convention

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) of which I have been a member for more than 20 years, is a classic example of the state of our sin-cursed church world. SBC scandals involving pastor sexual abuse of congregants have been in the public eye for the last five years. Over that same time period, the SBC presidency (much less some secondary positions) has been a revolving door due to lies and indiscretions (with the latest being the resignation of Willie McLaurin in August of 2023 for a relatively benign, but morally indefensible, falsifying of his resume).  The nation’s largest Protestant denomination has seen the forced resignation of Frank Page in 2018, Page Patterson in 2018, Ronnie Floyd in 2021, and now McLaurin in 2023, due to a combination of sexual abuse and misconduct (here and here). Where is the moral compass from the top? 

1 Timothy 3:2a – Therefore an overseer must be above reproach…

What is Worse

The deterioration in corporate leadership such as within the SBC or the Roman Catholic Church (here) is often directed at hiding behavior at the grassroots level. And, as with everything else in our human experience, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And the hidden truth is that there are extremes within some Christian churches where discipline and control fall so far out of the bounds of what Christ intended, they need to be called out for what they are, which is “member abuse”. The more public versions of this come out eventually through issues like sex abuse. However, there is a deeper and more illusive corruption in a small minority of Christian churches that needs to be acknowledged as well. It has to do with overly aggressive pastors and elders who force arcane mandates on their congregants in the name of Biblical purity. 

An Example

Medium.com has been an eye-opening experience over the last few years as I have communicated with many who have been displaced by the traditional Christian community. Most, in my view, have deconstructed their faith under false pretenses, something I write about extensively. However, there are others such as a former church member who reminds me how twisted and harmful a powerful pastor can be over God’s flock put under his leadership. It is another example of the extent to which we can fall while dragging others down with us. Further, it is a testimony to the damage one abusive pastor can inflict on the testimony of the broader group of a denominaiton.  

The list directly below highlights one person’s experience growing up in a “Christian Fundamentalist Church”. 

No movies, no VHS tapes, no TV, no family videos, everyone outside their specific church was evil, could only play with church friends, couldn’t ride a school bus, have conversations with those with differing opinions, parental sexual abuse within the church, regularly beaten with a belt for any questionable behavior, and siblings attempted suicide multiple times. 

Some reading this individual’s experience can pass it off as a fringe, extremist group that should have no bearing on God’s desire for the Biblical Christian church. And, of course, they would be correct. However, when these kinds of abuses happen within the context of the Christian faith and are exposed (as they should be), similar to the mess the SBC is in, it confirms to the non-believer that there is a broader state of the Christian hyprocracy.  

As Biblical Christians, we need to recognize that there are many who have become disenfranchised with the “church” for very good reasons as they see us function like the rest of the world, or worse. 

1 John 1:8 – If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 

However, recognizing there are bad apples undermining the credibily and testimony of the Christian church does not offer any excuse for the behavior. 

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AuthorJeff Hilles | BCWorldview.org

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