Loving Others: The Worst Thing A Codependent Can Do

Psychology AftermathYesterday I mentioned that people who are labeled as codependents typically receive counsel to put their own (felt) needs first rather than sacrificing themselves for the sake of others. In the sort of “Christian” counseling that uses Scripture (generally quoted of of context) to authenticate psychological principles, counselors find ways to convince clients that God would not want them to lose themselves in service to others.

In their article, Codependency, A Biblical View, the writers at Southern View Chapel say:

We are being told that it is very difficult to discern whether the behavior of a codependent was caused by his “illness,” or the “illness” was caused by his behavior. At any rate, Melody Beattie groups the problems of codependent people around the following categories: caretaking, low self-worth, repression, obsession, controlling, denial, dependency, poor communication, weak boundaries, lack of trust, anger, sex problems, miscellaneous and progressive (Codependent No More, p37-45). After reading her lists, you realize that few, if any, can totally escape the codependent label.

Minirth and Meier blame addictions and compulsions on codependency. Even more importantly, they claim that a codependent is unable to obey God: “The Christian’s foremost privilege and responsibility is to hear and respond to God. The codependent can neither hear clearly nor respond adequately. It’s that simple” (p171). How cruel God must be, to demand obedience from people who cannot obey because of their emotional illnesses (caused usually by harsh parents), then punish them because of their disobedience. Either the apostles of codependency are right, or God (in His Word) is — we cannot have it both ways!

I believe, based on my own involvement in “counseling ministry,” that Southern View Chapel is absolutely correct in their assessment that the theories on codependency diametrically oppose Biblical teaching. I’ve seen several instances in which Christians (whether genuine or merely professing) have declined to serve others out of concern that doing so might pull them into codependent behaviors. In essence, teachings on codependency boil down to convenient excuses for selfishness.

The Bible, on the other hand, calls Christians to exercise the same sacrificial love that Jesus Christ exemplified on the cross. As it so happens, the passage I’ve been working through in my Quiet Time lately reinforces God’s command to love at one’s own expense:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. ~~1 John 4:7-11 (ESV)

Let me be clear that Christ’s death on the cross extends far beyond a mere example of self-sacrificial love. Regular readers know that I’ve written many essays on Christ’s purpose in giving Himself to be crucified, and I’ll undoubtedly write many more such essays as time goes on. I definitely don’t want to reduce the implications of Christ’s atoning work to simply an example for Christians to follow. It means so much more than just that!

Yet Scripture does plainly teach that the Lord’s act of dying in our place establishes the standard of Christian love. The apostle John maintains that this type of love marks true believers. In contrast to codependency theories, love demands self-denial and calls Christians to set aside our own interests in order to benefit others.

Teachings on codependency appeal to our sinful natures. Perhaps saying it that bluntly seems harsh, but shouldn’t we be a bit harsh when it comes to mortifying our flesh? As Christians, we must reject psychological principles that lure us to disobey Scripture, and especially when they promote selfishness. Love, for Christians, is more than a choice — it’s a command from God.

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“My Mama Done Me Wrong” And Other Lies Of Codependency Counseling

c5fbb-psychologyIn the 80s, evangelicals eagerly read Love Is A Choice and Codependent No More (neither of which I’ll link to, lest people misunderstand me as promoting them). As I read Love Is A Choice, I convinced myself that my mom’s perceived character flaws somehow caused me to behave in a codependent manner. I began evaluating her, silently making note of all her supposed faults that I would no longer tolerate.

Friends reinforced my view of Mom, encouraging me to stand against those things in her that allegedly locked me into codependency. For the most part, I relished their validation. Heaven knows (I assured myself), she never validated my feelings! I nodded in agreement as I turned the pages and identified multiple ways that she apparently failed to “fill my love tank.”

The more books I read by “Christian” psychologists, the more harshly I blamed my mother for my sins  of anger and anxiety. Of course, back then I didn’t really acknowledge them as  sins. Rather, I considered them “psychological damage.”

Deep down, however, I wrestled with the thought that all the material I read on codependency (and especially the book, Love Is  A Choice) gave me convenient excuses to disobey God’s command to honor her (Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:1-3). Could it possibly be that the counseling ministry I worked in and the women’s ministry in my church influenced me to subjugate the clear teachings of Scripture to psychological principles? Yes, in the name of Christian ministry, I indeed created a way to extricate myself from God’s command to honor Mom.

Jesus had pointed words for those of us who use religion as a reason to dishonor our parents.

And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” ~~Mark 7:9-13 (ESV)

And just as the Pharisees concocted traditions that allowed them to violate God’s Law, so “Christian” psychology and its embrace of codependency theories allow evangelicals to blame their parents for their sins. I’ve shared my experience, not as an exercise in catharsis, but instead to demonstrate that teachings on psychological principles such as codependency actually lead people away from Biblical Christianity.

As with much of psychological counseling (whether or not that counseling labels itself as Christian), counseling that targets codependency issues puts the emphasis on  self, convincing the  counselee that she is the victim. She may, according to her counselor, be loving others in a desperate attempt to earn their love, God’s approval or both. As a result she loses her own sense of self, thereby placing herself under the control of others. Rather than freely loving them, says the teaching on codependency, she makes herself their slave.

When a   counselor identifies codependency as an issue, the counselee is shamed for putting others before self, and therefore encouraged towards putting her self-interest ahead of the needs of others. As I plan to discuss in an upcoming blog post, this attitude directly contradicts the Bible’s teaching.

For the purposes of this essay, we must recognize that the recommended selfishness leads the counselee away from honoring her parents by encouraging her to dwell on ways they’ve supposedly wounded her. Although the counselor pays lip-service to the importance of forgiveness, the bulk of the counseling explores various ways that the parents have, knowingly or unknowingly, inflicted damage.

As Bible-believing Christians, we must reject counseling for codependency, seeing its obvious opposition to basic Biblical doctrine. Its enticement to dishonor parents is just one of the ways it encourages disobedience to the Lord, but it’s a major one. And even without the other ways it distorts the Word of God, it grieves the Holy Spirit. In obedience to our Heavenly Father, then, we must  choose to honor our parents.

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Too Much Of My Writing

Sometimes I want to write solely for the sake of cleverly arranging words and phrases, delighting as their cadences and nuances animate them. Watching words flow from my headstick, through my keyboard and on to my monitor amazes me. Despite the frequent groping when my ideas resist confinement to my vocabulary (or maybe because I persevere in the groping), successfully taming those thoughts satisfies me.

Several years ago, I wrote five or six chapters of an autobiographical novel based on my two years in a nursing home for physically disabled adults of all ages. I quit writing when memories of sexual sin in that environment began playing with my emotions and making their way onto the pages (not a good thing). The story, so close to the truth of my experience in that place, ventured into an area where I knew I dishonored the Lord.

A couple years ago, I read the first few pages of my novel. The quality of writing surprised me, tempting me to return to the project. It had potential! But the problem remains that the culture among residents there bends  steadily away from the Lord, even among those who claim to love Him. And in order to adequately depict that culture, I would have to put myself back into those old feelings, and consequently I’d repeat attitudinal sins against the Lord. So, although my writing shone brightly on those pages, I don’t see a way to write the story in a way that glorifies God.

Writing simply to experience the thrill of molding words that may, if I’m talented enough, draw readers into my world offers a certain allure. The act allows me to transcend my Cerebral Palsy–as if controlling words makes up for the dependence on others for my basic necessities of daily life. It gives me a sense of power.

Yet I understand that my writing must shun the trap of being about me. God gave me this ability, not to inflate my already inflated ego by impressing prospective publishers, but so that He could use me to glorify Him.

As much as I enjoy the act of writing for its own sake, I really don’t want to “wag the dog.” I need to keep in mind that my writing ability is merely a tool of ministry, not a toy for amusing myself. Or my readers. The writing skills that God has graciously given me must show off His brilliance, letting my readers see how worthy He is of adoration.  If He gets obscured by any cleverness I have in turning phrases, shame on me!

Therefore, as much as I delight in the act of writing for its own sake, I must remember its greater purpose. I can’t permit my love of language to overpower the task of drawing attention to the Lord Jesus Christ. These words that I manipulate must never, by their artful arrangements, develop a texture so rich that it distracts readers (or me) from Him. I pray regularly for the ability to write creatively and skillfully. I also pray that any creativity or skill my writing possesses will only serve to magnify the wonderful Lord I love.

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What Choice Will My Heart Make?

Let’s do something different this week. After all, not all contemporary praise songs lack good theological content, just as not all hymns are doctrinally sound. And the song I’ve selected for this week reminds me of Job’s commitment to bless the Lord’s Name, even amid horrendous suffering. It challenges me to the core, honestly. Next time I walk through a trial, will my heart choose to bless His glorious Name? I hope so.

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Saturday Sampler: August 7-August 13

Heart Sampler 01Ryan Higginbottom of Knowable Word makes it clear that The Bible Is Not Boring as he explains reasons that we sometimes find it dull.  He also offers suggestions on ways to better engage with God’s Word.

Reading Gaye Clark’s article When God Sends Your White Daughter a Black Husband in the Gospel Coalition Blog brings back memories. My first fiance happened to be black, and a few people objected more to the interracial aspect than to the fact that he was also a false convert, unlike Clark’s son-in-law. Clark reminds us that outward appearances have nothing to do with building a marriage that honors Jesus Christ.

Elizabeth  Prata of The End Time warns that Relying on tradition and incomplete knowledge could be devastating . I love this woman’s high view of Scripture!

You’ve got to read The Rio Olympics and Calvin’s Mission by Tim Challies. I certainly didn’t know that Rio de Janeiro  was the site of the first Protestant evangelistic outreach to the Americas, did you? Nor did I know about the Confession that that band of Calvinist missionaries made…at the risk of their lives.

Christina Fox, one of the bloggers for enCourage, writes Older Women, Teach Us to Pray. She offers practical advice on how those of us who have, putting it gently, more life experience, can minister effectively to our younger sisters in Christ by praying for and with them.

Growing 4 Life’s Leslie A. shows that Standing Out in a Sea of Blessed and White is like being a featherless penguin. Furthermore, she insists,Christians need to be this way.

Sometimes you’ve got to state the obvious. Sharon Lareau of Chapter 3 Ministries, in her essay Despise All Obstructions to Knowing God gives well-known counsel, but counsel that none of us can hear too often

Okay, I’m giving you another one from Elizabeth  Prata. C.S. Lewis, “A Trojan horse for bad theology?” takes on one of my former sacred cows, and does so out of necessity.  I grieve that I, for so many years, winked at his faulty doctrine, but I praise God for helping me value Scriptural truth over literary genius.
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Codependency Or Godly Love?

Open Bible 02The other day, I read TWELVE STEPS IN THE WRONG DIRECTION, which examines the idea of codependency and its roots in Alcoholics Anonymous. It didn’t take long for memories of my involvement in ex-gay ministry, as well as in a church that incorporated psychological principles into its pastoral counseling, to flood my mind. I remembered times when I complied with the use of psychology in these venues, but I also remembered times of questioning whether or not certain concepts were Biblical.

The concept of codependency, in particular, troubled me. In a nutshell, codependency is a loosely defined disorder in which one person is overly affected by the behavior or condition of another person. Originally it referred to someone affected by a loved one’s alcoholism. The codependent person is obsessed either with fixing the loved one or with protecting him/her, usually to the point of sacrificing self. Such self-sacrificial attitudes, according to proponents of this philosophy, denotes psychological deficiencies in the codependent.

Obviously, this blog post doesn’t allow me to fully explain all the intricacies of so-called codependency, so I encourage you to read Codependency,  A Biblical View for an overview. But I world like to offer a few comments today on my primary problem with this teaching, hoping to write more detailed articles on the subject in the future.

Fundamentally, I believe that the theory of codependency directly opposes the Bible’s very clear teaching that Christian love demands dying to self (even physically, if necessary) for the benefit of others. Several Scriptures teach this self-sacrificial love, and we can’t look at all of them right now. So let’s examine a passage that I’m currently working through in my personal Bible Study time, and then compare it to things I was taught (and in turn taught others) about codependency.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. ~~1 John 4:7-12 (ESV)

Please notice, first of all, that verse 10 explicitly describes Christ’s death on the cross as the pattern that He wants Christians to imitate in loving others. Verse 11 insists that we follow the Lord’s example. It never makes qualifications, nor does it suggest a figurative application. In fact, the apostle John wrote these words at a time when Christians endured severe persecution, and probably did risk their lives for each other on occasion.

Christian love sacrifices self for other people and for the Lord. Consequently, it makes all levels of sacrifice, always putting self-interest last. At times, of course, godly love refuses to tolerate another person’s sin. But it never elevates personal interest at the expense of somebody else.

When the church I attended reached its height of teaching women to avoid codependent behaviors, I wanted to go to a women’s retreat. I asked a friend to help me with my personal care, remembering a night she had put me to bed and declared that every woman in the church should have the experience of helping me. But she informed me that God had “told” her to devote the weekend to being with Him. Evidently, enabling me to attend the retreat would have encroached on her spiritual well-being, making it necessary for her to set boundaries.

Her decision may have been good psychology. After all, she’d set a boundary protecting her special weekend with the Lord, and she probably received praise from certain leaders in the women’s ministry for not letting me pull her into codependency. Scripturally, however, she failed to die to self.

Teachings about codependency keep Christians from loving as Christ calls us to love. I’ve also been guilty of neglecting a friend’s wedding, claiming that God wanted me to “take care” of myself. Um, no — I was  actually just being selfish.

I have much more to tell you about co-dependency and its dangers, but I’ve run out of time today. As you have seen, however, I believe the teaching about it runs counter to the Bible’s teachings on sacrificial love. The cult of co-dependency is but one of many examples of how psychology opposes Biblical Christianity. We must adhere to our Bibles rather than allowing worldly philosophies like psychology to control our actions.

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Hobby Horses, Copy Cats And Blogging My Convictions

Lady's BibleWhat’s the difference between writing multiple blog posts on the same topic and riding hobby horses? After years of fancying myself as a “discernment blogger” (remember, I had a blog before this one), I find myself asking that question. This reevaluation comes primarily as a result of reading Erin Benziger’s May 24 essay, But Please, Don’t Call Me A Discernment Blogger, an article which has forced me to think through my subject matter and my motives in selecting that subject matter.

In many respects, I praise the Lord for Erin’s blog post because it shifted my focus back to Him. As she said, controversy sells, and I learned early in my blogging career that putting Beth Moore’s name in a title always did wonders for my stats. Writing Bible Studies, not so much. So yes, the Lord used Erin’s article to correct me. Through it, He reminded me that my blog is about pointing women to Him.

Additionally, I respect Erin, both as a blogger and as a godly woman. She’s been influential in leading me to solid Biblical teaching, for which I’m eternally grateful. Literally. I recommend her blog, Do Not Be Surprised and her podcast, Equipping Eve, wholeheartedly.

But I’ve realized lately that I don’t have to define The Outspoken TULIP  by Erin’s standards. While the Lord certainly used her essay to bring me necessary conviction, He never meant for me to agree with every jot and tittle that comes from her keyboard. As I believe she’d readily admit, she’s as fallible as I am, and she wouldn’t want me to be her lap dog.

My point is that, since reading But Please, Don’t Call Me A Discernment Blogger, I’ve felt fearful of addressing the very issues that I created The Outspoken TULIP  to address. Okay, I agree that there’s probably not much left to say about Beth Moore or Rick Warren. They’ve pretty much exposed themselves as false teachers, and the people in my life who follow them have written me off anyway. Further posts about them would only waste my time.

There are, however, topics that really do require continued coverage because few bloggers have written about them. At least, they haven’t written as fully and exhaustively as they have about Beth Moore and Rick Warren. Those topics include  (in no particular order) psychology, Charismatic theology, so-called Holy Yoga, contemplative prayer and reading Scripture out of context.  There are others. And even though I’ve written about those matters quite a bit, I haven’t said everything I want to say.

These issues have touched my life directly, as my autobiographical posts should have demonstrated. Because of my personal interactions with these doctrinal aberrations, I believe I can write about them from a fresh perspective rather than simply regurgitating the thoughts of other bloggers. Consequently, I just might actually bring something valuable to the table.

Does all this mean I’m turning The Outspoken TULIP  into a discernment blog? Not exactly. I will write about trends and false teachings more than I have since May, but I also intend to continue writing Bible Studies, posts about the Reformation and essays on living faithfully as persecution approaches. Most importantly, I intend to write for the honor of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. ~~1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (ESV)

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Why Sola Scriptura?

Bible AloneIt always saddens me that people have an aversion to history. Having moved to Boston from San Francisco, I find the history of my new home so thrilling that I can’t understand the indifferent attitude of my friends who have lived here all their lives.Why can’t they see what a treasure this place is?

It troubles me even more deeply that so many evangelicals fail to comprehend the importance of church history in general and the Reformation in particular. The history of our religion helps us understand why doctrine matters so much, both in showing us how the visible church has deviated from Scriptural teachings over its 2000-year lifetime and in showing us how godly men and women faced persecution and martyrdom in order to restore doctrinal purity to the Church. In studying church history, we often realize the preciousness of our faith. More specifically, the study of the Reformation causes us to realize the preciousness of the Bible.

Let’s start by talking about the most famous of the 16th Century Reformers, and then examining what 21st Century Christians can learn from his example. Martin Luther’s disagreements with the Roman Catholic Church originated with his study of Scripture, which he regarded as God’s highest authority. The Catholic Church (which held both religious and political authority at the time), by contrast, insisted that it has authority equal to the Bible. Officially, the Catholic still holds this doctrine, known as “Magisterium.” Over time, Luther observed that many Roman Catholic teachings had developed, not from the Word of God, but as a way for Rome to exploit and control the people.

Although Luther originally posted his 95 Theses strictly in response to John Tetzel’s oppressive tactics of selling Indulgences (see my October 23, 2015 blog post), the resulting conflict alerted him to Rome’s elevation of ecclesiastical authority.Thus, a major tenet of the Reformation was Sola Scriptura, meaning that Scripture alone is the Christian’s authority.

As I indicated a moment ago, Magisterium usually diverted attention away from God’s Word, leaving 16th Century laity at the mercy of church officials. Luther, until he understood justification by faith when he read Romans 1:17, had suffered personally from the church’s false teaching that Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross required human effort in order for it to effect a person’s salvation. As a young monk, he put himself through grueling acts of penance trying to atone for his sins. And once he finally understood the wonderful truth that Christ had fully paid for those sins, the Roman  Church excommunicated him for preaching justification by faith alone. Yet he clung to his conviction that Scripture, not Magisterium, had to be his final authority.

Later in his ministry, Martin Luther’s writings reflected the lessons he learned from his battles with Rome:

[Commenting on Psalm 119] “In this psalm David always says that he will speak, think, talk, hear, read, day and night constantly—but about nothing else than God’s Word and Commandments. For God wants to give you His Spirit only through the external Word.

Every time I read this quote, I marvel at how well it applies to the attitudes, and sometimes the outright teachings  of present-day Christians. Or more accurately, professing Christians. While the vast majority of evangelicals pay lip-service to the Bible’s authority, they all too frequently seek to augment it with human philosophies. I’ve written about many of the ways evangelicals compromise Scripture: Holy Yoga, psychological models, the Gay Christian Movement, mysticism and so forth.

All of these additions to Biblical Christianity contradict Sola Scriptura because they undermine the truth that Scripture provides all  we need (2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1:3-4). Just as Roman Catholicism supplanted Scripture’s supremacy in the Middle Ages, the trends that infiltrate today’s evangelical circles threaten to supplant its supremacy now. I believe this insurrection comes in part because we’ve neglected the lessons of the Reformation, especially in regards to its high view of Scripture.

We need to study the Reformation because it brings us back to a realization of the Bible’s authority and sufficiency. Martin Luther, along with many other men and women of his era, risked their lives by standing on the Word of God, rather than the ideas of human beings, as their sole authority. In studying them, we gain a greater appreciation for the Scriptures that they restored to us.

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All Evoking Worship

When I lived in California, I loved going to Mount Tamalpias. How often I enjoyed the wheelchair accessible Verna Dunshee Trail at the summit of the East Peak! I remember falling in love with that trail one afternoon when the peak towered above a fog bank. As sunshine caused the fog to sparkle, I knew I’d never see anything that beautiful this side of heaven.

A few days before I moved to Massachusetts to marry John, my friend took me up to Mount Tam one last time. That afternoon had crystal clear weather that allowed us to look down the plummeting ravines and out across the San Francisco Bay. We looked down on the back of a hawk in flight — a heady experience, I assure you!

My friend savored the magnificence of the moment (as did I) before remarking with a baffled voice, “I just don’t understand how anyone can deny the existence of God.” I shared her bewilderment. Mount Tam, no matter what the weather, always testified to both God’s power and His attention to detail.

The hymn I feature today reminds me of Mount Tam and its stirring proclamation of God’s greatness. It also floods me with joy as I think about Christ’s sacrificial death for me and the glorious day when I will finally see Him. Next to Jesus, Mount Tam has only enough splendor to begin my worship.

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