Every. Single. Sunday. We all stood on cue and sang Blest Be the Ties That Bind after the offering was collected. It got old—and it got me thinking. There are ties and there are bindings that kill the spirit, yet the church holds these things as solid doctrine. In this article and the next, I’ll talk about the lies that bind, and the ties that blind believers’ hearts.
Churches promote themselves as extended family.
We sing songs like, “Bind us together with cords that cannot be broken.” This can be healthy—or not. I have dear friends who grew to be family during the time we knew each other in church. Those relationships only get deeper with time. They are organic and natural. Yet, the church often tells lies that bind people together in artificial and spiritually abusive ways. At one church I attended as a child, members regularly called each other, “Brother Smith,” or “Sister Jones.” Such false and unwieldy attributions of family names belie an attempt to create a sense of interdependence and loyalty that rivals that of blood relations. Chosen family is a matter of the heart, not membership in an organization. When an institution superimposes language of family, it is often a coercive tool to inflate its important in the member’s life.
You must go to church to receive God’s grace.
Some churches and denominations teach that certain aspects of corporate worship are means of grace. In short, this means that God delivers grace to the church through these means. Depending on your denomination, the list includes the ordinances of baptism and eucharist, or sacraments like confession and absolution, penance, holy orders, and anointing of the sick. If these are offerings by the church as possible means of grace, this is well and good. But when a church teaches that you can’t receive God’s grace without these things, it tells a lie to bind its people and make them dependent on the church. Grace comes through Christ—ritual only embodies that grace. You don’t have to go to church and participate in the ordinances/sacraments to receive God’s favor.
You must be busy in our programs to practice good Christianity.
Some churches guilt their members about a lack of participation, and judge faithfulness by attendance. This false equivalency is a lie that binds people to congregational life. Often, church members have good reasons for their frequency of involvement. These churches don’t understand that turning out only once a week or once a month may be a parishioner’s healthy boundary, based on overinvolvement in the past. Or it may be a reasonable reluctance based on prior experiences. Or it could be appropriate avoidance of certain others in the church, where too much contact would be a terrible thing. Or, they may simply have learned what it means to actually rest on Sundays. You don’t have to be at church every time the doors open to be a good Christian.
You must stick with us because we’ll fix your messy life.
Church leaders that claim to have it all together usually do so out of a desire to control the behavior of the membership. By convincing folks that they need to be part of a church to keep their lives from falling apart, church leaders gain a sense of control. They make themselves the morality police for others in the congregation and encourage tattling behavior among members of the body. Stick with us, they say. We’ll fix you. And on the other side—if you leave, well, you’re just broken. It’s a lie, designed to bind the people to a controlling church.
If you leave the church, you step out of God’s protective covering.
Once, I drove past a church called The Ark. Whether they meant it or not, they suggested that they are the saved ones, and that anybody outside is fit for destruction. I’ve heard churches teach members that when they are inactive, they have stepped out from under God’s umbrella of protection. Church discipline that threatens excommunication employs this lie. They tell members that if they are disfellowshipped, not only are their souls in jeopardy of hellfire, but even their bodies are at risk. Manipulative and abusive church leaders warn, “Satan may attack you with sickness and injury if you leave the sheepfold.”
If you hear any of these controlling teachings coming from the lips of leaders, run—don’t walk—to the nearest exit. These are the lies that bind people to the church. Certainly, there are good churches that don’t employ scare tactics to tie you to congregational life. There are plenty of leaders with helping hearts who encourage but don’t require participation. But if you feel manipulated or guilted into attendance, please be aware that these are the lies that bind.