Ten Toxic-Faith Characteristics

"It is not hard to tell a healthy faith system from a toxic one.  The toxic-faith system stands out with its obsessive people who victimize family members and destroy their own faith in God."    Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton


Toxic Faith is a power-packed resource!  It contains crucial information about toxic faith systems.  For those who suspect they have been negatively influenced, I urge you to get the book.  I do not know the authors (although I'd love to meet them!) and this is a FREE endorsement which I am thrilled to make.


One of the most important chapters is entitled "When Religion Becomes an Addiction".  Let's be clear…  RELIGION DOES NOT EQUATE WITH JESUS CHRIST!!!  Religion is a tool Satan uses to ensnare unsuspecting victims.   Yes, religion can become an addiction just like alcohol and drugs.  In the Bible it's called "idolatry". 


The subsequent chapter, "Religious Addiction:  The Progression", explains in great detail the foundations for religious addiction and the characteristics of the three states of religious addiction, specifically:.  (1) the early stage (2) the middle state, and (3) the late stage.  These three long lists are absolutely crucial in diagnosing whether one is "under the influence" of toxic faith.  If you suspect that you have been affected, please consult this book.


Now let's examine toxic faith systems.  Please understand that I am not criticizing all ministries.  There are excellent churches and ministries throughout the world that are committed to helping people grow their faith and develop a close relationship with God.  As Arterburn and Felton explain, "Knowing the characteristics of a toxic system can be helpful in evaluating whether a ministry is poisonous or pure, addictive or freeing." (p. 136)


Ten Toxic-Faith Characteristics (p. 159)


1.  The members of the toxic-faith system claim their character, abilities, or knowledge make them "special" in some way.


2.  The leader is dictatorial and authoritarian.


3.  Religious addicts are at war with the world to protect their terrain and to establish themselves as godly persons who can't be compared to other persons of faith.


4.  Toxic-faith systems are punitive in nature.


5.  Religious addicts are asked to give overwhelming service.


6.  Many religious addicts in the system are physically ill, emotionally distraught, and spiritually dead.


7.  Communication is from the top down or from the inside out.


8.  Rules are distortions of God's intent and leave him out of the relationship.


9.  Religious addicts lack objective accountability.


10.  The technique of labeling is used to discount a person who opposes the belief of the religious addict.



No doubt some of our readers are "reeling" after reading this list.  I'll be frank — I am ANGERED beyond words!  I am so grateful that the internet allows a way to get this information out to those who desperately need it.  Praise God for this communication tool!


Arterburn and Felton explain each of these characteristics in great detail, so if any of this information has struck a nerve, please consult their book.  Here's how they end this chapter on characteristics of a toxic-faith system:




"Knowing the characteristics of a toxic-faith system enables individuals to evaluate the characteristics of their church or organization.  When members of toxic-faith systems identify them as such, there is hope that multiple generations of abuse will discontinue.  


At last, followers can see and feel manipulation by religious addicts.  The persecution will stop when they refuse to be victiimized.  When many victims move away from the system, the toxic leader may be forced to become accountable, while other addicts may recognize the reality of their compulsions.  This may force religious addicts back into a real relationship with God, free of ego, manipulation, and the victimizing of those outside the system."  (pp. 158-159)


On Thursday, I plan to explain "The Five Roles in a Toxic-Faith System" (which Lisa mentioned in her Amazon book review), and wrap things up.  I am burdened that so many lives have been devastated by toxic-faith systems, but hopefully this information is helping some recognize strongholds in their lives.  May they have the courage to break free…



Ten Toxic-Faith Characteristics — 12 Comments

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    Those within the Baptist Mafia know these by heart!

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    1. The members of the toxic-faith system claim their character, abilities, or knowledge make them “special” in some way.

    3. Religious addicts are at war with the world to protect their terrain and to establish themselves as godly persons who can’t be compared to other persons of faith.

    We see these two on many blogs. Those who are “professionals” with titles in ministry come on blogs to say how sinful it is to discuss problems/sins/behaviors of leaders on blogs. Or, we are unforgiving, hateful and bitter. Or, we ignore our own sins. (We are not professional christians being paid)

    For some strange reason discussing or making public the sins of a public teacher/leader/pastor is MORE SINFUL than the leader doing the sinful deeds or teaching wrong doctrine.

    It is like they have a protection racket. but, in effect, those with the same titles are very scared and they should be.

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    Are these characteristics part of the “playbook” hyper-authoritarian pastors follow?

    Would you give a quick summary of what you used to read on the “pastors.com” website (is that the correct name) before it went underground?

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    They privatized the “transitioning the church” thread. In that thread you could read pastors giving pastors advice on how to get rid of the dissenters.

    The dissenters were for several reasons:

    1. The pastor was new and was changing many things (they always think it is “their” church
    2. The pastors were implementing a new program such as purpose driven, transitioning it to seeker or more theatrical, or simply going praise songs when it used to be more traditional….or something else. (The big guru book was “Transitioning the church”)
    3. The pastor garnering more power by changing the bylaws or going elder led when it used to be church polity.

    The advice was varied based upon how influential someone was. It ranged from throwing them out (asking them to leave) to preaching against them without naming names. If they were influential or big money people, the advice was to win them over and go slowly with changes.

    They privatized the thread at least 2-3 years ago.

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    Lydia, Dee, or Deb,

    Could you please provide some links to blogs where this is done? Thanks.

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    No JT, I won’t. Maybe the others will. I simply do not care if you believe it or not and of course, the tactics are almost always in the comments.

    Just read one this morning by a pastor on a blog rebuking the blogger for “enjoying” his posts on the Caner scandal too much.

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    You must be fairly new to The Wartburg Watch. You really don’t need to consult other blogs to read about “Toxic Faith”. Dee and I have been writing about it since the beginning of our own faith watch blog.

    May I suggest that you consult the articles listed under the following categories FBC Jacksonville, FBC Dallas, Two Rivers Baptist Church, Steve Gaines (Bellevue), Prays Mill Baptist Church, for starters. We have included documentation in many of these articles.

    Don’t miss our posts under Sovereign Grace Ministries and C.J. Mahaney.

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    Deb and Lydia,
    I have read your blog as well as some of the ones you refer to in your blog but was curious to see “the other side”……..that is blogs where pastors/Calvinistas/etc. present their views on things which presumably are very different than yours. This doesn’t mean I don’t believe you at all.

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    I check out other blogs as well. Here are some I visit from time to time: cbmw.org, Gospel Coalition blogs (the number is growing!), Desiring God, View from the Cheap Seats, and Girl Talk Home. There are others…

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    I totally agree with Lydia about the messenger who reveals the sin of the leader becoming worse, in leadership’s eyes, than the sin. In other words, it’s okay for the pastor to lie to the congregation, but it’s not okay to let anyone know he lied.

    In addition to the ten, I would add, 1. Insecurity in leadership, which breeds the need to control everything 2. A works-based gospel, which brings heirarchical structure, thus elitism, haughtiness, and arrogance in leadership, 3. Exclusivity for the in-crowd in their country club type church, where only the leaders have good ideas, 4. Condemnation toward those who bring correction, 5. Ignorance among the congregation and leadership worship; idolatry.

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    Excellent additions!

    I can hardly wait to post the rest of the information in the book Toxic Faith.

    May blind eyes FINALLY begin to see…

  12. Notice: Undefined variable: button in /home/guswo2wr8yyv/public_html/tww2/wp-content/plugins/quote-comments/quote-comments.php on line 127

    By the way, JT, it’s interesting which blogs in my list DO NOT ALLOW comments, unlike our blog.