“Am I Still a Christian?”

Christians who have been spiritually abused often have a prolonged feeling of antipathy toward everything associated with Christianity – church, the Bible, even God. Not only do they feel they aren’t growing spiritually, they feel they have lost whatever progress in the faith they might have had. They begin to wonder, “Am I still a Christian?”

Something like this is often said about those who doubt their salvation: “The best evidence is not the memory of having raised a hand or prayed a prayer. Nor is it having been baptized or christened. The true test of the authentic work of God in one’s life is growth in Christ-like character, increased love for God and other people, and the fruit of the Spirit.”

This analysis may be helpful in general, but it doesn’t take into account the person who has experienced spiritual. It seems to depend on an unspoken assumption that the Christian life begins with the new birth, and proceeds in an unbroken arc toward Christian maturity, much the same way a newborn baby inevitably grows into an adult. There is never a prolonged period when a baby doesn’t breathe or drink or eat or grow.

But the spiritually abused have gone through an interrupted period where there was trauma, and growth was stunted. Jesus seems to take this into account in several of his analogies of the spiritual life. The parable of the seed and the sower comes to mind. There are seeds that sprout, but then fail to grow. Jesus speaks of us as branches. Branches have a life process. They begin with a bud, they grow, they bear fruit, they are pruned back. They may even have a dormant period, they may die and be cut off.

For survivors of spiritual abuse, there may be different criteria than growth, love and fruit. First, faith. Whether there is evident progress or not, the question is, do I still believe that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, or do I now flat out deny this? If I can no longer say I confidently believe this–because I am racked with doubts about everything–but I am not prepared to deny it, I think that still qualifies as faith, faith under siege but still hanging on by a thread. The seed, the fetus, may still be viable; the bare brown branch may still have hidden sap.

The second criteria would be discomfort. The Holy Spirit will not allow those who belong to Jesus to be comfortable turning away from him. If a person has no inner qualms about walking away from Christianity, I think there may be grounds to question their salvation. The person who has been spiritually abused may back off from Christianity, may even run in the opposite direction, but that is not proof positive they were never really a child of God. Even the apostle Peter went fishing for awhile after denying he knew Jesus.

Those who truly belong to Jesus will eventually be uncomfortable with their antipathies. They will be unable to decisively reject the faith and stick to it. So take heart – these are signs of life. Pruned branches eventually put out buds again, and begin to show signs of fruit.

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Margaret Irons and her husband Steve and three children were in the Fullerton Geftakys Assembly for twenty years. We left in March, 1990. We are still recovering and learning in Orange County, CA.

2 thoughts on ““Am I Still a Christian?”

  1. Thank you for this. Initially when I read that quote I felt really bad, thinking, I hope this post isn’t going to uphold this idea of maturity.

    Even after I came out of the religious abuse I had encountered for 15 years, I found other ex-members of the group telling me they had had some amazing experience of ‘abiding in the vine’ that I should hear about. I told them I was so sick of hearing about the next big thing.

    I agree that just having faith after abuse is a huge deal. A lot of my abuse survivors have lost their faith completely, something I completely understand. For me, having an individual relationship with God is maturing. My problem lay in spending my time comparing notes with everyone else thinking I was never going to get it.

    Its all relative I guess.

  2. Received two email comments on this article.

    TH in SoC said, “I like your perspective. We can be assured of our salvation because He who promised is trustworthy. Looking at myself for evidence of “growth” is not necessarily the best approach, and can lead to great harm. Do you remember when George Geftakys preached the “Fountain of Life” seminar, and what it did to many of his hearers?”

    I don’t – can anyone else comment on that seminar?

    Joe Sperling said, “Good post. I have to agree with you that the Doctor’s comment about fruit and love to God can be deceptive if one is a highly subjective person. When one who is highly subjective looks at themselves they would immediately say, “Well, I don’t see any fruit in my life. I must not be a true Christian.”

    But, as you mentioned, the very fact one is uncomfortable or feels troubled that they “don’t show any fruit” is a sure sign the Holy Spirit is still working within them. I read this book by an old Dutch Reformed author who said that even “the desire to have a desire for God” shows the Spirit is still working within that individual. I have to agree. I have read other blogs from those who now claim to be atheists who show no concern for that state – no trouble, no fear, no desire to return to the love of God. But then you will see others who are depressed for feeling they have failed God, etc. You know the Spirit is working in them for sure, or it wouldn’t bother them so badly, even if they have a completely wrong understanding of God’s Grace and work in their life.”

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