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I want to address something we've never talked a lot about in our community. It's called bitterness.

Bitterness is secret hatred.

Someone like myself, who just lets it all hang out, has a lot of trouble with anger. Everyone knows that. Anger is the most open and obvious form of hatred. I blow up at people and blast them. But I don't hold grudges. I'm not trying to justify anger, and I'm working at controlling it. But I'm angry with bitterness at the moment... much more than I am angry at people, and I want you to understand why.

It's such a horrible, cancerous thing that can totally destroy people. Many people who have been part of our fellowship in the past became really screwed up inside because they could not even admit to themselves the hatred that they felt toward certain people (and maybe toward God himself). Because they could not admit to it, they could never deal with it.

This is one of the most deadly things about bitterness. Because it is hidden, it just grows and grows without ever being dealt with. By its very nature, it often stays hidden even from the consciousness of the person who is experiencing it; and efforts to point it out are almost always met with denials. It takes real humility to even consider that you might be guilty of bitterness.

It is quite a voyage of discovery when we start trying to delve into our own minds in order to learn the secrets behind why we do things. Ross has observed that bitterness generally relates to having been corrected in the past. If we are each honest and will think back to past corrections, we should be able to see the truth in this.

I'm not sure that "bitterness" is always the right word for it; but at least there is a "hurt" that accompanies almost all criticism, and this hurt forms the basis for a potential for bitterness. Then, when someone finally decides to make a break with the community, because discipline in general is becoming too much of a drag, all of those past corrections come flooding back from their memories, and the hurts quickly turn to bitterness.

This concept perfectly describes what happens with anyone who leaves this fellowship (or any other fellowship which believes in discipline). Because cult-busters are primarily ex-members of close-knit, disciplined groups, bitterness about the disciplines that they experienced forms the basis for much of the cult-busting mentality. (It may also be why so many people are bitter toward their fathers.)

This bitterness thing rewrites all of the past, so that the person or persons who criticised the bitter person (usually me in our case) suddenly becomes, not a loving guide, but a cruel monster. Even other members of our fellowship who have not been known for being disciplinarians start taking on the characteristics of a monster in the minds of those who leave.

They start with a call for the group to expel the leader in order to save themselves, but if others do not accept this call, eventually it becomes a call for the group to expel the entire group, i.e. anyone who is party to criticising their rebellion. And don't be deceived... the very same thing can happen to any one of us. It's as simple as letting go of the desire to grow through discipline.

Remember too, that the rebels, in their attempts to sow division within our ranks, will always try to exploit our own tendencies toward bitterness. They will do all they can to steer talk around to criticisms of the disciplines that we practice, and to tempt us to rebel against discipline within the community, or to make unnecessary challenges against leadership, in the same way that they have done.

They challenge us to have the guts to stand up against the leadership to prove that we are not puppets. Obviously we don't want to be unthinking puppets, and so it is tempting to accept their challenge.

But neither do we want to be unthinking rebels. We have to face up to what is going on in our own spirits, and not shift the blame on to leaders.

How is it possible for former members to tempt us to rebel? Is it not because they are playing on our pride and on our potential for bitterness against discipline? This giving in to pride and spiritual laziness is the rebel's downfall; but it could happen to any of us at any time, if we don't examine ourselves first.

Discipline, by its very nature, "hurts" us at times. Imperfect leaders are apt to be impatient or to exaggerate our sins, thus hurting us even more than is absolutely necessary. But I think it is important to keep our mental and spiritual slate clean by confessing these hurts to God, and, if necessary, to those who are disciplining us, so that we do not continue to carry them around, only to have them explode when a decision is made to leave the community.

As we have observed, the reaction of those who leave is usually far out of proportion to the whole event which supposedly triggered the departure. This means that these people have harboured bad spirits for a long time. They will probably argue that they feared expressing their disagreements with the leader at the time. But fear is no excuse for them not dealing with their own problem of bitterness. And it is not a valid excuse for any of you either.

What is more likely is that these people have abandoned their secret relationship with God. Without that, it is impossible to rise above bitterness, pride or any other sin for that matter.

When they leave God out of the picture, their world is then reduced to community politics, personalities, arguments over opinion issues, and selfish ambitions. Listen to what comes from the mouths of ex-members and you will rarely ever hear God mentioned. God's will loses importance to them, and their own will becomes all important.

Some go so far as to ridicule the idea of anyone even knowing what God's will is, and they will tell you that most of the evil in the world came from those who believed they were doing God's will. Is it any wonder that they lose the ability to deal with sin in their own lives?

We have this idea that one should accept the discipline without complaining about it. After all we learn through experience that no matter how nicely a criticism is made, it's still going to hurt, so there's no point arguing that the critic didn't go about it in the right way. But I think it's vital that we at least confess these hurts to God: not murmuring to God about the critic, but genuinely praying to God that we will not allow these hurts to cause bitterness between us and those who correct us.

And how often and how fervently do we pray for our leaders? The Bible tells us to pray for all those who are in authority over us. If you do, you will find it much easier to sympathise with their weaknesses. If the leader is in serious error, maybe your prayers can help God to change him or her. But more important than changing the leader is that such prayers may help you to be better able to receive criticisms (even the occasional unfair criticism) without bitterness.

By praying like this, you can keep the spiritual slate of your heart clean. You do not need to carry such things around, waiting for the day when some giant explosion will expose it all.

I pray that all those of us who remain have taken all necessary steps to expunge ourselves of any bitter spirit.

(See also From Bitter to Better.)

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