Codependency in Church Systems
In spite of the prevalence of methods and literature devoted to church health, many churches remain plateaued or are declining. Some churches ignore reality and base their worth and identity on things less than biblical identity and Christian mission. Many declining churches demonstrate an environment similar to the codependency seen in addictive family systems. The published literature has expanded the understanding of the concept of codependency that was traditionally applied to family systems affected by alcohol and substance abuse by applying it to dysfunctional organizational structures. Some dysfunctional churches exhibit dynamics similar to codependent family systems. To investigate this idea I adapted the Spann-Fischer Scale for Codependency, and in a pilot study of nine churches, developed two scales: Church Health (a = .891) and Church Codependency (a = .745). A moderate negative correlation (r = -.431) between these scales supported the hypothesis that codependency can be measured and that is has a corollary relationship to church heath. The concept of codependency possesses elements that could assist church leaders to better understand dysfunctional churches. The idea suggests a new approach to church health in certain environments and provides a new lens through which those desiring to help the local church grow might view their work.
Codependency in Church Systems:
Many churches decline each year in spite of efforts to revitalize. Others exist in a state of frustration, and the leaders of these churches likewise feel frustrated. The church fails to grow and resists outside assessment, and the church as a system functions in a way that perpetuates the church’s poor health. Pastors and leaders feel a sense of shame and loss of identity, and the dysfunction escalates. Some churches exist in a state that resembles addiction in that the church resists health and maintains dysfunctional and unhealthy behavior. The problem perpetuates as a systemic dynamic within the overall relational structure of many dysfunctional churches. A solution might lie in addressing the dysfunction in a manner similar to addiction intervention and recovery.
Within relational systems, codependency develops through dysfunction and perpetuates as a misapplied identity through feelings of shame. Similar to addiction to a substance, codependency manifests as a relational addiction where individuals seek identity and self-worth from relationships that prove unable to establish a person’s worth. In the classic alcoholic family system, the codependent members seek worth from the substance addiction of the alcoholic and base their identity on the addicted person. Current research suggests systemic codependency in various corporate environments, and the possibility that the ecclesiastical environment likewise manifests some measure of codependence seems likely. The church in a manner similar to substance addiction or the relational addiction dynamics of codependency may seek its worth and identity from sources unable to provide worth and healthy identity. Foundations of many forms of dysfunction within the ecclesiastical environment may exist within the addicted family system and in some commercial environments.
The church as a family system forms an environment in which the possibility of relational dysfunction similar to traditional codependency in a substance-abusing environment might exist. Through dysfunction introduced from various persons within the environment it seems likely that the system of relationships making up the church might experience corporate shame and misapplied identity that manifests similarly to the traditional addicted family system. Traditional addicted family systems ignore reality and shun outside help or intervention in a spiral of dysfunction that increases the unhealthy dynamics of the family system and damages the individuals within the system. The toxic environment resists change and descends further into toxicity. Many churches likewise demonstrate traits similar to the addicted family system. Dysfunctional churches seem to resist outside help as they clings to dysfunctional or damaging behaviors and outdated methodology. The dysfunctional church in many ways resembles the addicted family system. Codependency describes the underlying dysfunction in the addicted family system, and it might likewise underlie much of the brokenness of the dysfunctional church.
Many current church health assessments ignore underlying relational health and create shame based results that might actually create further relational dysfunction in the system that manifests later as church splits or dysfunction. The identity of the church as a relational system becomes tied to numerical indicators rather than healthy relational identity in Christ. Shame and loss of identity in leadership and in the church as a system leads the church further from missional effectiveness and health in the long term. Addictive tendencies within the system that seek health from sources less than God forms the core of the issue.
Toward a Biblical View of Addiction
A biblical theological approach to the issue provides a lens through which a church can find wholeness and missional effectiveness in a culture bound in addictive patterns. Wine provides a lens through which other addictive behaviors such as codependency can be addressed. As the motif unfolds in the covenants of the Bible, wine typifies relational wholeness through the Holy Spirit. The motif unfolds in two threads: (1) a type of joy, fruitfulness, and relief in a fallen world and (2) a type pointing to judgment. The church able to discover the wholeness to which the type of wine points can renew its effectiveness to a culture bound by addictive behavior and human attempts to seek spirituality apart from God.
The Bible begins with God’s command to be fruitful and subdue the Earth in relational unity with God (Gen. 1:28). God conditions His blessings with a command to refrain from eating one particular fruit of the Garden while remaining in a dependent relationship with God as the superior party in the covenant (Gen. 2:17). The serpent, however, approaches the first couple with the idea that the blessings of creation reside in a created substance rather than a relationship. God extends His blessing conditioned by human choice to remain in a relationship with God as the source of life, but the humans choose to seek life on their own terms. The source of blessing forms the core of the issue. Humanity must choose between God as the source of wisdom, fruitfulness, and blessing or the substance of the fruit as the source. Pride rests at the center of the choice. Humanity can remain in humble submission to God’s command or seek self-exaltation apart from God’s command. Seeking a source outside the relational covenant for fulfillment results in separation from the blessing of the covenant. Similar to addiction in which humans seek results from a substance or behavior that actually separates from the desired results, humanity looks to ever-increasing doses of rebellion and descends into further separation.
Human tendency to strive continually for the blessings of covenant relationship apart from the relationship forms the core of addiction. Wine in the biblical record points to life in covenant relationship through renewed fruitfulness in relationship with God. Drunkenness, however, reveals humanity’s tendency to seek the substance of the typological object rather than the fulfillment of the type. The same action points in two opposite directions depending on the motive of the user. Humans tend to seek a temporal source of joy and spiritual satisfaction rather than the eternal source that provides deeper eternal fulfillment. The substance provided by God often takes the place of God as the object of worship and draws the human further into the illusion of control and away from the God who demands control.
Drunkenness forms one of the Bible’s clearest images of sin and judgment. David, for example, laments the judgment brought by surrounding nations and states that God has given Israel “wine to drink that made us stagger” (Ps. 60:3). Jeremiah similarly uses wine in a pronouncement of judgment against Moab (Jer. 48:26) and equates drunkenness with judgment (51:39). Wine confuses the ungodly and represents God’s judgment on those who ignore Him. Leland Ryken observes that drunkenness in almost all cases appears as an image of God’s judgment and “an awesome picture of human confusion and helplessness brought upon themselves by their God-defying arrogance.” Drunkenness also appears as judgment in the image of the cup as a “special horror” that implies a “humiliating progression” as something a “person does deliberately.” Judgment appears in the image of the cup of wine in Psalm 75:8.
The typology of wine confuses if one does not consider the antitype. Wine points to judgment but also often relates to blessing from God. Isaiah’s picture of restoration includes the image of wine as a blessing from God (Isa. 25:6). Solomon portrays wine as a type of relational wholeness (Song of Sol. 1:4, 4:10). The Psalms portray wine as a symbol of relief from distress (Ps. 104:14-15). Ecclesiastes describes wine as something that “gladdens life” (10:19). Wine leads to destruction and serves as a strong metaphor for judgment from God, but it also carries the expectation of gladness and relief from distress. Wine numbs the senses and relieves those surrounded by the sorrow of life in a fallen world, but wine also points to a relationship with God through the Holy Spirit as the ultimate Comforter.
Drunkenness can seem spiritual. Those alienated from God and seeking spiritual salve for the pain and judgment experienced in a fallen world often look to wine for relief. God promises complete spiritual salve and healing in an outpouring of His Spirit. Isaiah points to the promise: “Be drunk, but not with wine; stagger, but not with strong drink!” (Isa. 29:9). Jeremiah describes an experience of intoxication without wine, “I am like a drunken man, like a man overcome by wine, because of the Lord and because of his holy words” (Jer. 23:9). God sees the pain of life in a fallen world and brings relief and victory. Wine points to relief in the presence of the Spirit and drunkenness points to judgment. The Spirit brings an experience similar to intoxication, but the experience leads to God’s blessing. Wine serves as a gift from God to soothe the fallen soul in a former age in which the Spirit is not yet poured out on all flesh. Wine may temporarily sooth the heart, but the temporary nature of wine easily leads to drunkenness and further separation from God.
The two threads of judgment and promised blessing intersect at the Cross. Jesus uses the metaphor of a cup to describe His obedient submission to God’s will (John 18:11). The cup of fellowship motif at the Last Supper carries through to Gethsemane and the motif of the cup as judgment. Jesus offers the cup to the disciples at the Last Supper as fellowship and promise while He takes upon himself the cup of wrath and judgment. The two threads of the type of wine involving both judgment and restoration separate at the Cross. Jesus endures the judgment and gives His followers the restoration. The image of wine carries further as Jesus endures the Cross. He accepts suffering and judgment while refusing the relief of wine (Matt. 27:34, Mark 15:23). Sinful humans seek to alleviate the suffering of a sinful world through wine, but Christ endures the Cross without the numbing effect of wine. He takes the full effect of pain and judgment so fallen humanity can have the full effect of joy through grace.
Addiction is a futile attempt at restoration through the application of more of a substance in spite of the fact the substance brings the user into further isolation from God. Efforts to find spiritual wholeness on human terms and in human control form addictions.
The type of wine reaches completion at the Cross and fully appears in the believers at Pentecost (Acts 2). Observers of the outpouring of Pentecost, however, fail to separate the blessing and judgment and immediately interpret the event as mere drunkenness (2:13). They fail to understand the work on the Cross as Christ taking their judgment on himself. To the observers the threads of judgment and blessing remain linked. At Pentecost the blessing of God is poured out, and Jesus takes the judgment on himself. The fulfillment previously sought in human effort flows freely without the judgment and addictive tendencies.
Many approaches to the issue of alcohol pull Scriptures from their context without understanding that the addicted person seeks spiritual fulfillment through his or her addiction. The addict may simply fail to realize that what they seek in the imperfect substance of wine is available in the presence of the Spirit. The church must model spiritual wholeness in terms of joy, relationship, fruitfulness, and missional effectiveness. The addict may well be more spiritual than the legalist Christian as the addict at least still searches for something more. The addict and the legalistic Christian are both addicted to substances or methods that fail to bring the promised results. The addict seeks more wine, and the legalist seeks more rules and control while attempting to force others into their addiction to rules and control.
The passages of Scripture relating alcohol use and the life of those in the church prove difficult to understand apart from a typological view of alcohol. When the type finds fulfillment, the type ceases to be useful. Once the destination is reached, a map is useless. If spiritually fulfilled through the infilling of the Holy Spirit, the believer has no use for wine. Paul instructs deacons and elders, for instance, not to be “addicted to much wine” or “slaves to much wine” (1 Tim. 3:8; Titus 2:3). A person under the control of wine cannot lead others to fulfillment in the Spirit as they would still be searching themselves. The use of alcohol among leaders as a moral issue is not the point of the text; the direction of the believer who seeks fulfillment in wine or the fullness of the Holy Spirit is the issue.
Paul warns that drunkards will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:10; Gal. 5:21). Since fulfillment of the Kingdom begins at the Cross and realizes in the believer in the overflowing experience of Pentecost, a person still under the addictive pattern of alcohol has failed to encounter the fulfillment of the Kingdom. They fail to inherit the Kingdom because they do not seek the Kingdom. They seek the benefits of the Kingdom in their own control through the illusion of control in a substance. Addiction carries the person further from the desired effects and deeper into the use of the substance. Whether the substance is alcohol, legalism, or any idolatry the issue is that the person has not repented or turned from their sinful desire to discover spiritual wholeness on their own terms and in their own illusion of control.
Paul portrays the drunkard as a person still in darkness: “Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning” (1 Cor. 15:34). He describes drunkenness as something done at night or in incomplete revelation (1 Thess. 5:7). The addicted person is a spiritual person who in many cases is simply in darkness concerning the completeness offered in a relationship with Jesus through the infilling of the Holy Spirit. The church that fails to reveal the light of a renewed relationship in an active infilling of the Holy Spirit lives as much in the dark as the chemically addicted. The non-Spirit-filled church may free someone of chemical addiction, but they will likely replace the chemical addiction with other addictive behavior. Gossip, legalism, gluttony, and many other behaviors simply become sinful replacements for chemical addiction if the church community fails to meet the inner need for spiritual fulfillment.
Paul’s focus on wine and the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 5:18 provides the centerpiece of the issue. A believer has no need for wine that leads a person further from the source of life. He or she should observe the spiritual desire typified by wine and recognize that the Spirit makes a far superior means of fulfillment available. Through the continual infilling of the Holy Spirit the believer has no use for the inferior type of wine. The Spirit makes the antitype freely available and the type is obsolete as the type only points to the need for fulfillment. Pleasing God through abstinence as a moral issue does not form the main point of the passage. Paul emphasizes acceptance of God’s plan rather than consuming the fruit of prideful and fallen human effort.
Paul writes to the church in Ephesus in order to encourage power over darkness demonstrated in the believer’s walk in the light of Christ’s power. The message communicates to the struggling person that hope for something better than the darkness of the present world exists in the light of God’s active presence. Paul addresses those who were “dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked following the course of this world” (Eph. 2:1-2). Humans by nature seek some form of spiritual wholeness. Apart from Christ humans seek wholeness in terms of the “course of the world” or the pattern set forth by the “prince of the power of the air” (v. 2). The pattern of addiction reveals humanity’s broken spirituality. Alcohol, sexual immorality, codependency, and the like provide some sense of spiritual salve for fallen humanity, but they become patterns in which the human spirit is further damaged and drawn into deeper despair.
The downward spiral of addiction appears frequently within American churches. Spiritual seekers attempt to find spiritual wholeness through pragmatism or quick-fix experience rather than in God’s plan. Addictive patterns of seeking spirituality in human terms and human control form the foundation of spiritual experience for many. For example, traditional Pentecostal altar services began as a means of relational connection to God through the Holy Spirit. The altar services, in many cases, became a pragmatic tool in which the substantial elements of the service are manipulated and controlled to provide an experience in which spirituality becomes more like a purchased experience than a relational encounter in God’s control. As a result, persons often seek further control and manipulation of the experience rather than the Spirit. Codependent relationships in which another’s spirit defines someone else’s spiritual condition frequently appear in religious environments. Pastors, for example, often base their self-worth on the number of seats filled or the pragmatic results of their efforts. Pride of self replaces the authentic spirituality of the Holy Spirit, and the result resembles an addictive spiral as it seeks pragmatic results through methodology.
Humans have a God-given thirst for deeper spirituality and restored relationship. Pride causes humans to seek spirituality on human terms and in human control. The thirst, however, comes from God to draw fallen humans to the restoration of His presence paid for at the Cross. The substance abuser seeks a salve for the pain of fallen humanity. The salve proves temporary and leads the user further into the spiral of addiction in which the user seeks more of the substance in ever more futile attempts to ease the pain of the world. The addicted simply have never encountered the Spirit of God to which wine points in the Bible.
Humans try many things to control their spiritual journey such as consumerism, accumulation of wealth, popularity, or power. Humans by nature are prone to the spiral of addiction. When seeking to control their own future and spiritual condition, humans often seek more of the substance sought for spirituality in an addictive spiral rather than face the futility of the effort. Apart from forgiveness, repentance, and the infilling presence of the Holy Spirit, there will always exist some form of addiction whether to a substance or to power, popularity, and possession. Similarly, churches often seek to form human controlled spiritual community and measure the community through pragmatic efforts and results rather than in the power of the Holy Spirit. The fruit in the Garden provides the first example of human effort leading to decline and isolation, but each human in some form seeks his or her own forbidden fruit for spiritual fulfillment rather than the presence of God. Rather than seeing the addicted as weak and morally corrupt, perhaps the church can see itself as sharing in the thirst for authentic spiritual presence.
Biblical Solutions for Addiction
Churches must not address addiction as a simple moral issue. The drunkard seeks spirituality in the only known source in many cases. Mark R. Laaser, George Ohlschlager, and Tim Clinton observe the addict’s hopeless search for fulfillment: “Addicts don’t know a better life. In most cases addicts don’t know true love and intimacy—they don’t know a true relationship with God. Addictions are embraced as the perverse substitutes—false love and false intimacy.” The addict or codependent organization may simply seek the same thing the Spirit-filled believer has found except they are unaware of the greater antitype of the Holy Spirit and have accepted the lesser type of wine. A church must provide more than moral imperative to the addict concerning wine or drug use; it must demonstrate the completeness of a relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit-filled community of the church should freely offer everything the addict looks for in addiction.
The addict and many who attempt to live Christianity as a religion and not a relationship share many common characteristics. Moral imperatives can become means of seeking spirituality on human terms rather than relationship. Religious addiction may well be a more absurd contradiction than substance abuse. Churches who seek dogmatic morality and exhibit codependent relationships have little ability to reach the addicted in their community.
The community living in the contradiction found in seeking works-based spirituality in restrictive religion will fail to reach the addict. The solution for human religious contradictory efforts, which always lead to further addictive behavior whether legalism or substance abuse, is to look to the Spirit as the ultimate end to which all human efforts point.
Paul describes the struggle between addiction and Spirit, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). Paul uses the most common and stereotypical of addictive behaviors in contrast with the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Both actions focus on continual action on the part of the person. Stop continually seeking spiritual wellness or salve through addictive behavior as in drunkenness because it only leads to debauchery or further spiritual alienation from God. Instead, continually seek the presence of God through the infilling of the Holy Spirit which leads to the imperatives listed subsequent to verse 18. Fee observes the passage’s emphasis: “Paul is not so much telling them not to get drunk—that is assumed under walking in the light and thus walking wisely—as he is urging them continually to live in/by the Spirit.” Continual focus on the infilling presence of the Holy Spirit breaks the pattern of systemic codependency and addiction.
Paul’s contrast of drunkenness and the infilling of the Holy Spirit reveals the heart of the issue. Both lead to different results through continual action motivated by spiritual longing. Andrew T. Lincoln observes that the shift to the contrast between wine and the Spirit is a contrast between wisdom and folly involving the person coming under “the control of external power.” Ernest Best describes the contrast as one between the anesthetizing response to darkness of wine and the response of light in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Paul looks past moral imperative to the essential nature of addiction contrasted with life in the Spirit. Wine as a salve for the soul in turmoil and a builder of relationship remains a common theme even in current culture. Rather than a simple moral imperative, Paul references a new revelation or biblical mystery that he unfolds in the passage. Wine in past times and cultures represents a form of spirituality now replaced by the complete revelation of the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Persons have the ability to choose their source of filling. Paul’s subsequent description of life in the Spirit illustrates relational wholeness rather than addictive and broken relational systems.
For example, the exhortation to put on the “armor of God” is a community discipline for strength against the enemy (Eph. 6:11). The strength itself comes from the continual infilling of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the believers in community. Paul’s letter from this perspective contrasts the imperfect form of spirituality seen in addictive and codependent behavior with the completed work of Christ extended through faith by grace and made alive through the continual infilling of the Holy Spirit. The power of the letter to the Ephesians is perhaps found in the realization that those descending into addictive patterns seek what the Holy Spirit provides.
Through the unfolding motif of wine and its fulfillment in the Holy Spirit churches can observe God’s promise to the person seeking spiritual wholeness. The fullness of the Holy Spirit manifested in the community of the local church provides the only effective solution for an addicted culture. Likewise, churches must ensure that their systemic environment is not addictive through codependent tendencies to discover wholeness through any means other than the Holy Spirit’s activity.
Current Literature on Codependency
Codependency originally described those affected by another person’s alcoholism. Over time the concept has emerged to describe the condition underlying all addictive behavior. Codependency has also emerged as a concept to describe dysfunctional behavior in an organization. Robert Hemfelt, Frank Minirth, and Paul Meier call codependence an “epidemic of staggering proportion” and estimated that 100 million Americans are affected by the condition.
Most definitions focus on the loss of self or identity in the codependent as he or she looks to someone or something outside of his or herself to establish self-worth. Nancy Groom, for example, observes, “Codependency is a self-focused way of life in which a person blind to his or her true self continually reacts to others being controlled by and seeking to control their behavior, attitudes, and/or opinions, resulting in spiritual sterility, loss of authenticity, and absence of intimacy.” The codependent has low self-worth and high levels of shame and looks to a source outside of self that is insufficient to restore worth or counter shame.
Virginia Curran Hoffman defines codependency as misplaced focus: “Codependence is an unhealthy pattern of relating based on low self-esteem and on the belief that one’s worth depends on attachment to, or the approval of, some other person or group.” June Hunt observes the codependent relationship as one in which “you allow someone else to take the place that God alone should have in your heart.” She calls codependency a “misplaced dependency.” Codependency exists when a person or organization relies on a substance, person, or other group for identity.
Codependency as a concept evolved rapidly from the spouse of an alcoholic to the concept of a systemic condition that might underlie all addiction. Use of the term expanded to include relational systems. Codependency forms a useful construct for viewing relational dysfunction, but much danger remains in overuse of the term or in popularized and fuzzy definitions of the term that strip the term of any real meaning. Part of the problem may stem from attempts to isolate codependency as an individual phenomenon that can be diagnosed as a medical illness. Codependency exists as a social phenomenon and only manifests within relationships. The underlying needs and motivations might prove assessable in the individual, but assessment of codependency must include the system in which it manifests.
From a religious perspective codependents look to something less than God to gain worth and self-definition. Jeff VanVonderen provides an example of a religious-focused definition: “Codependency is an addiction that results from an idolatrous relationship with someone who is chemically dependent. A codependent person turns to something other than God for his source of well-being.” The codependent person places the dependent in the place of God.
Earlier definitions define codependency in terms of reaction to the dependent; however, emerging definitions establish codependency as a shared condition in which the codependent and dependent both depend on sources of self-worth unable to establish worth. The resultant society perpetuates the dysfunctional in an addictive spiral. An idolatrous search for significance in substances, persons, or organizations unable to meet the needs of the searcher further separates the searcher from significance and contributes to a societal downward spiral similar to the classic addictive spiral of the alcoholic.
The Characteristics of Codependency
The codependent problem is a relational problem best seen in relational systems. Confusion exists, however, when solutions to the problem center on repairing the relational problems rather than the underlying systemic issue of codependency.
Pia Mellody provides a list of symptoms of codependency: difficulty expressing appropriate levels of self-esteem, often appearing grandiose, trouble setting appropriate boundaries and expressing reality, failure to take care of personal needs and wants, too dependent or anti-dependent, often fails to moderate, and will see relationships and needs dichotomously. Mellody’s list focuses on the individual, but most of the symptoms are only observable within a relational system. However one views the symptoms, the essential nature of the disease involves the codependent seeking self-worth and elimination of shame through something unable to bring the desired result. The symptoms all relate to subsequent lies, denials, and manipulations in order to maintain the illusion that the unmet needs can somehow be met. The illness seems in every way similar to classic addiction, and addiction itself may well be seen as a symptom of the broader concept of codependency. Classic views of codependency often see codependence as an addiction to people, but in most current views it appears as the underlying factor in all addiction to substances, processes, and people.
In the emerging view of codependency as a systemic relational dysfunction assessment and identification require viewing the symptoms in relationship to each other and within the context of the broader relational system. Within the relational system codependency can emerge with several characteristics. James V. Potter and Paula M. Potter provide a list of common systemic characteristics: conflictual and enmeshed relationships, group identity that overrides individual identity, poor personal boundaries, rigid rules, control and manipulation, guilt, shame, violence, and abuse. Within the system the individual experiences interpersonal and intra-personal conflict, external focus at the expense of personal care, low self-identity, low self-confidence, self-hate or self-loathing, corporate identity that overrides personal identity, and the inability to express his or her real personality within the relational system. Philip St. Romain provides a list of the systemic characteristics of codependency using family system theory: many covert rules; little freedom to talk about feelings; secrets; rigid rules enforced through extreme punitive measures; shamed individuals; feelings of tiredness, tenseness, and anger; attempts to present a picture of “having it all together” to the world; and emotional bonding primarily occurs through negative feelings.
In summary, some form of codependence exists in almost all humans as any person to some degree displays symptoms. The symptoms point to a deeper issue in society. Many illnesses, compulsions, defective systems, relational dysfunctions, and the other larger issues in society resemble codependency. Individuals, organizations, or society as a whole might show characteristics. It may be best to say that a person is involved in a codependent system rather than that the person is a codependent. From an organizational standpoint, family systems theory would indicate codependency in an organization such as a church relates equally to the primary leader, the system itself, and the dynamic of every relational interaction within the organization. Sin and shame permeate every area.
A common theory of causation of codependency emerges from a spiritual view. The twelve-step recovery standpoint forms much of the theory and the underlying causation comes from efforts of individuals within the system to be God. VanVonderen argues that the “heart of all harmful dependencies is the issue of idolatry.” Where there is care, unawareness, and shame, harmful codependent relational patterns will emerge. From the spiritual viewpoint, the person who introduces codependency into the system proves less important than the original problem of shame and idolatry shared by all humans. Every person, to some degree, contributes to the codependent system as “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:22). Whether introduced to the child as early a six months old or introduced in a system through leaders, the system itself, or all within the system, the issue is one of coping with sin and separation from God through substances or persons that actually draw the person or system further from relational wholeness. Paul’s words to Ephesus come to mind. An addicted person must choose to break the addictive cycle of drunkenness which leads to further isolation and encounter the infilling of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18).
The idea of organizational addiction is a fairly new concept. Anne Wilson Schaef and Diane Fassel provide a primary observation of the tendency of organizations to behave similar to individuals in addiction: “Organizations themselves function as addicts, and because they are not aware of this fact of their functioning, become key building blocks in an addictive society, even when this dramatically contradicts their espoused mission or reason for existence.” They define addiction as “any substance or process that has taken over our lives and over which we are powerless.” An addictive organization possesses many characteristics: denial, confusion, self-centeredness, dishonesty, perfectionism, scarcity models, crisis orientation, depression, stress, abnormal thinking processes, forgetfulness, dependency, negativism, defensiveness, projection, tunnel vision, fear, and ethical deterioration. Schaef and Fassel believe the organization can form more than just the setting for addictive behavior; it can form the actual substance of addiction.
From this perspective issues in many organizations may stem from addictive tendencies in that they continue to focus on a methodology unable to produce the results desired. Focus increasingly shifts to lofty visions while denying the reality of systemic dysfunction. The focus, for instance, may remain on numerical results while the organization ignores inherent weaknesses in their core product or leadership. Schaef and Fassel conclude: “We feel that there is no real possibility for change and transformation in the organization unless those involved recognize that they are addictive and function the same as an active addict. In fact, we believe that the key to organizational transformation lies in this truth.”
Codependent behavior appears similar to an alcoholic seeking relief through the substance of alcohol rather than true relief through emotional health. Instead of submitting to the lengthy process of working for emotional health, the alcoholic seeks instant relief through alcohol in spite of the fact that it creates the opposite of the desired results. Systemic addictive tendencies damage the organization through overreliance on previous models and denials of current reality.
Churches often use religion as escapism. VanVonderen observes religious escapism that fails to confront reality: “If a relationship with Christ does not drive us into the events that have caused us pain in order to face them, but instead serves as an escape which enables us to avoid problem relationships, then it has become as much of an escape to reality as chemicals.” Hoffman likewise observes the tendency to use religion to escape reality:
If our desire is to escape from reality into a warm haze where we can avoid what we do not want to face and where we can feel reassured that we are safe but helpless children, we may be using religious ritual the same way some use alcohol or drugs, for mood-altering, anesthetizing, making the world go away.
Religion used as escapism fosters a denial of reality promoting dysfunction within the system. Churches often reduce Christianity to a familiar formula that brings a spiritual high through music and dramatic preaching. It seems lively, but at heart it may form the substance of addiction and codependency in the congregation. Schaef and Fassel observe the common tendency to substitute religious practice for authentic spirituality: “Whenever we confuse religion with spirituality, we are opting for the structure, control, and rules of an addictive system.” Schaef and Fassel link the church to an addictive substance that may actually prevent relational wholeness: “We recently began to realize we were seeing something more than the organization as a setting for addictive behavior: in many instances, the organization was itself the addictive substance. It was both setting and substance.” A codependent church spends its time distracting members from the obvious underlying faults in a way that is similar to the denial and delusion of the addicted person.
A common intervention in plateaued or declining churches involves emphasizing mission and vision statements. Schaef and Fassel however conclude that overemphasis on mission and vision may actually prevent an organization from confronting the issues that form the actual dysfunction: “When organizations function as the addictive substance, it is in their interest to keep promoting the vision of the mission, because as long as the employees are hooked by it, they are unlikely to turn their awareness to the present discrepancies.” Future health in declining or plateaued churches may come from looking to Jesus for personal identity formation rather than the latest programs or the next mission initiative.
Differentiation between healthy spirituality and dysfunctional codependency proves difficult in religious environments. St. Romain points out that “Ministry is about helping, serving, and giving—all of which codependents do in a distorted manner.” Characteristics of codependent ministers include over-responsibility, self-neglect, unassertiveness, inability to set boundaries, non-confrontive leadership, approval-seeking, people-pleasing, controlling behavior, rigidity, defensiveness, distorted teaching, comparing, niceness, resentfulness, emotional numbness, depression, and loss of self.
The end result is that “the life of ministry becomes a dessert of narcissistic searching for one’s own reflection rather than striving to be one of the true representatives of the Christ of God.” A primary differentiator between healthy serving and codependent attachment appears in self-differentiation among ministers. A minister must take identity in his or her relationship with Christ through the Spirit rather than the descent into debauchery that results from false identity in substances or persons, even if the ministry appears to be successful in terms of human compassion.
Assessment Instruments for Codependency
Codependency’s existence systemically in the church requires a means of assessing the level of codependency within the systemic environment. A congregation seeking health must face the reality of dysfunction, and an adequate testing instrument would help the struggling congregation to begin the process of discovering healthy relational dynamics. The Spann-Fischer instrument provides a widely accepted assessment instrument for codependency in individuals. Adaptation of the Spann-Fischer from an individual assessment instrument to an instrument for evaluating systemic relations may prove useful for assessing codependency in systems.
It seems reasonable that systemic codependence might exist in the church environment and that there may be a correlation between church health and the concept of codependence. The existence of codependency and a correlation between its existence and overall church health would indicate that a new approach to church health might be warranted in many churches. The underlying relational system forms the primary focus in the codependent system, and formation of identity and alleviation of shame through repentance might best help the codependent church.
In a survey conducted in 2015 using an adapted Spann-Fischer scale and a church health assessment a statistically significant corollary relationship between the two scales were demonstrated (r=-.431). The church health scale demonstrated internal consistency with an overall reliability coefficient of .891 (as measured by Cronbach’s Alpha). The codependency scale demonstrated internal consistency with a Cronbach’s Alpha of .745. The data suggests that the two constructs of this instrument (Church Codependency and Church Health) provide a measure of construct reliability. The data seems to support the primary thesis that codependency exists and can be measured in the systemic church environment. The moderate negative correlation suggests that an inverse relationship exists between church health and codependency. In other words, when church health increases, codependency decreases.
As in recovery from addiction, recovery from codependence emerges from a step-by-step journey done in relational system. Wegshcheider-Cruse and Cruse observe that recovery from the relational dysfunction of codependency must be done in relational systems: “It is difficult to recover from codependency in secret.” Recovery for individuals or institutions involves confronting delusion with new information, creating safe atmospheres where feelings can surface, and creating environments where detoxification and detachment can occur. Addressing the issue and discovering genuine identity and health for individuals and the church system require the development of teaching that can reveal the entrenched denials and delusions keeping the codependent stuck. The church should model counter-cultural life in Christ, and assuming the statistic that over 90 percent of Americans manifest codependent tendencies, the church must prevail against the culture of codependency.
Recovery means acknowledging powerlessness and embracing God’s control. Church leaders must acknowledge any codependent tendencies and teach the church through example that personal identity comes only from relationship with Christ. The present reality for the American church involves powerlessness, compromise, and missional ineffectiveness. Acknowledging the pain of the church’s present situation and the possibility that the church can often function as an institution that actually prevents formation of Jesus’ identity in believers forms the first step toward wholeness. Rather than modeling new life in Christ, the church has often simply reflected the prevailing codependent culture.
Discipleship, for example, must shift from creedal memorization and cultural conformity to a prevailing church culture of Christ formed identity. Worship, likewise, must shift from performance that often celebrates common false identity to a genuine relational encounter that forms true identity. A healthy pastor must lead the process and examine his or her identity in Christ. Church life must aim for a life lived in interdependence with God and each other rather than the extremes of codependent enmeshment or counter-dependent disengagement.
VanVonderen observes that recovery from dysfunction is an intentional process: “Individuals and families become dysfunctional by accident. But they get well on purpose.” Recovery involves embracing life. VanVonderen continues: “The way to have life is not by trying hard not to be dead. It is by coming to what can give life.” Pastors must lead their churches in recovery from false identity and shame as they embrace new life in identity with Christ. Accurately identifying codependent tendencies within the church organizational system forms the first step in addressing the problem and bringing health to affected churches.
Addictive thinking disempowers the organization. Enemies outside always seem to prevent success. Ineffective behavior wastes energy and hurts the organization. Lies, cover-ups, denials, and the demands of the addictive organization leave the members of the organization tired and disheartened. Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan observe, “A bad organization will defeat a good person every time.” Organizations or individuals should gladly leave addictive patterns and thinking for new ideas filled with the possibility of effectiveness. For many reasons, people dogmatically persist in their addictive behaviors and organizations do likewise. Senge describes a possible reason for resistance: “Systems thinking is especially prone to evoking defensiveness because of its central message, that our actions create our reality.” Most refuse to change until forced to change by the consequences of their addictive behavior. Unfortunately, the change often comes too late. In order to transform the church from addictive thinking to systems thinking, the church must accept the consequences of actions and accept responsibility for the future. Once the church accepts responsibility for its own future and accepts that its actions have consequences, the shift to a learning environment can begin.
Honesty and authenticity form the essence of the change to systems thinking from addictive thinking. A church must honestly assess present realities that prevent it from achieving the desired future. Senge states that the essential skills are “seeing interrelationships rather than cause-effect chains” and “seeing processes rather than snapshots.” A healthy church needs vision that extends further than simply fixing the current problem. Likewise the vision cannot loom so large that it forms a foil to honestly looking at the shorter-term vision and its possible execution. Both simple problem solving and elevated vision separate the church from the reality of the present and the steps required to actually accomplish an attainable vision.
Systemic solutions must replace short-term fixes that serve as a foil for the change actually needed. Marquardt suggests developing the skills of systems thinking, using mental models, personal mastery, self-directed learning, and dialogue to develop systems thinking in the organization. Dialogue must open between diverse leaders as the church seeks new perspectives. Robert E. Quinn describes the organization that dies the slow death of attempting to preserve the “normal state” as externally-driven, internally closed, self-focused, and comfort-centered. Each of these describe the condition of a dysfunctional church driven by seekers outside the organization, closed to internal growth, focused on its own preservation, and centered by the desires of many members who seek comfort or personal preference over growth. Quinn describes the well-led learning organization as other-focused, externally open, internally directed, and purpose centered. Healthy change process involves the organization as a whole working through a recovery process that begins with acknowledging its own powerlessness and looking to God to restore sanity and health. Accurate assessment of codependency in the church system is a necessary first step in empowering the church to discover health.
 Karl Barth calls God the “genuine Counterpart” and points to God as the fulfillment of all human longing. He states, “God is indeed the genuine Counterpart which alone can finally and primarily satisfy human beings and all creation as such.” Karl Barth, “Selections from Church Dogmatics (1932-1967),” in Karl Barth: Theologian of Freedom, ed. Clifford Green, 171-264 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991), 171.
 Dumbrell describes the nature of the pre-fall covenant as entailing “the obligation to understand the nature of the relationship and the duty to maintain it by exercising a God-centered life.” Dumbrell, 36. The Fall therefore is a denial of God-centered living and a descent into forming identity on other basis than God.
 The fruit had no substantial consequence inherent in itself, and sin is in no way a substance. Adam and Eve, however, believe there was some substantial benefit within the substance of the fruit. They look to a substance rather than God. They, like the chemically addicted, look for spirituality in a substance. Grenz describes something as “substantial” if it “‘stands under’ or goes into the making of a person.” Grenz, 155. Adam and Eve looked to the substance of the forbidden fruit to establish their identity apart from God.
 Paul Tillich makes the case that any object can be sacramental as long as “the transcendent is perceived to be present.” The distinction between holy and demonic, to Tillich, is found in God’s “unconditional demand.” Adam and Eve, to Tillich, would be attempting to make an object sacramental in that it imparts life apart from God’s command. Paul Tillich, Paul Tillich: Theologian of the Boundaries, ed. Mark Kline Taylor (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991), 91.
 Grenz defines sin as “our failure to reflect the image of God.” Grenz, 187. Since the image of God is in the context of “life in community” sin is a failure of community both in fellowship with God and with fellow humans. Ibid., 179. Grenz continues, “In its essence, sin is also whatever disrupts and seeks to destroy the community God seeks to establish. Summarily stated, sin is the destruction of community.” Ibid., 187.
 Original sin may best be seen as a community phenomenon. The image of God denied in Adam and Eve’s sin manifests in the community through division and murder. Grenz writes, “What ought to drive us to a quest for God and the fulfillment of our destiny to participate in the community of God degenerates into a search for a humanly devised substitute. We thereby miss the mark and suffer the consequences.” Grenz, 206.
 Leland Ryken, “Wine,” in Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, ed. James C. Wilhoit and Tremper Longman (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1998), 953-954.
 Ibid., 221.
 Leyland Ryken, “Cup,” in Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, ed. James C. Wilhoit and Tremper Longman (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1998), 186.
 Grenz describes the interrelation of love and God’s wrath and judgment, “The possibility of experiencing love as wrath arises out of the nature of love itself. Bound up with love is protective jealousy.” When wrath is missing from love “love degenerates into mere sentimentality.” Grenz, 73.
 See also Mark 10:38.
 Tillich describes Pentecost as the centering of humanity. Having lost their centeredness at the Fall, Pentecost reestablishes through ecstasy the centered unity of God through faith, relational unity, and universality expressed through mission. Tillich, 279-280.
 Anderson observes the new structure necessary; “The effects of sin are not overcome through a more rigorous form of spirituality but through a renewed structure of sociality.” Ibid., 168. The Spirit redeems the community from dysfunction, and in the redeemed community the sinner finds salvation and holiness.
 E. Earl Ellis reminds that Paul is “not concerned to lay down rules for society.” Paul instead “directs his apostolic teaching only to the Christian community.” E. Earl Ellis, Pauline Theology: Ministry and Society (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1997), 54.
 While Pauline authorship is debatable, the inclusion of Ephesians in the canon is generally not debatable; therefore, Pauline authorship is not essential to this chapter’s argument. This chapter will refer to Paul, however, as the author of Ephesians and include the epistle in Pauline epistles.
 Frank D. Macchia observes the common tendency to focus on human effort; “Materialism, social influence, political agendas, social movements, or anything human, even things noble in themselves, can be made into destructive idols if granted the absolute significance that belongs alone to the triune God.” Frank D. Macchia, The Trinity: Practically Speaking (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2010), 164.
 Duffield and Van Cleave observe the results of focusing on the wrong source for spiritual fulfillment; “The world’s spirits give a lift with a let-down; the believer’s anointing with oil and wine brings inspiration without desperation.” Duffield and Van Cleave, 117.
 Mark R. Laaser, George Ohlschlager, and Tim Clinton, “Addictions,” in Caring for People God’s Way: Personal and Emotional Issues, Addictions, Grief, and Trauma (Nashville: Nelson, 2005), 268.
 Victor Paul Furnish points out that the essential nature of Paul’s ethic derives from “the experience of being ‘in Christ.’” Victor Paul Furnish, The Moral Teaching of Paul. 3rd ed. (Nashville: Abingdon, 2009), 19. Furnish describes Paul’s focus and states that he “is not a philosopher-moralist addressing ‘secular’ men, but an apostle bearing a gospel to men who have been baptized ‘into Christ.’” Victor Paul Furnish, Theology and Ethics in Paul, 2nd ed. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 89.
 Roger Stronstad describes the church that sees itself as a didactic community “where sound doctrine is treasured above charismatic action” or as an experiential community where “the focus is on experience rather than on service” as churches that have left their prophetic heritage “for the pottage of self-seeking experience and blessing.” Roger Stronstad. The Prophethood of All Believers: A Study in Luke’s Charismatic Theology (Cleveland, TN: CPT, 2010), 121.
 Anderson the underlying cause of the problem leading to ineffectiveness in mission; “The problem comes when any principle is made into a normative criterion and imposed as a rule or law that excludes the Spirit of Christ as the criterion that upholds the normative teaching of scripture.” Anderson, 98.
 A. Skeyington Wood observes the possibility that en pneumatic in 5:18 refers to the locus of the filling. Paul is in his view telling the reader where to be filled with the Spirit. The person with a broken spirit is to be filled in the human spirit with the Holy Spirit rather than addictive substances or dysfunctional relational patterns. A. Skevington Wood, “Ephesians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon, ed. Frank A. Gæbelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), 72. William Hendriksen in contrast emphasizes en pneumatic as Spirit contrasted with drunkenness rather than the locus of the filling. In either case the Spirit is contrasted with the emptiness the person seeking wholeness through something less than the completeness of the infilling of the Spirit. William Hendriksen, Exposition of Ephesians in New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1967), 239. Peter O’Brian states that understanding the passage as an instrumental dative indicating the means by which believers are to be filled (by the Holy Spirit) “is preferable and makes better sense.” He translates the imperative as “be filled by the Spirit in the spirit.” Peter T. O’Brien, “The Letter to the Ephesians” in Pillar NT Commentary, ed. D. A. Carson ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 391. Harold W. Hoehner states that understanding en pneumatic as simply human spirit is unlikely as Paul refers to spirit as something from outside a person thirteen times in Ephesians (1:13, 17; 2:2, 18, 22; 3:5, 16; 4:3,4,23,30; 6:17, 18). Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002), 702. He further observes that wine and the Spirit are contrasted two other times in the Bible (Luke 1:15; Acts 2:13-18). Both instances refer to the Holy Spirit and not the human spirit. Ibid., 703.
 John Muddiman states that the word asôtia has the same root as sôtêria and implies general unhealthiness. John Muddiman, The Epistle to the Ephesians in Black’s NT Commentaries (London: Continuum, 2001), 247.
 Fee, 720.
 Macchia calls the infilling described in 5:18-19 as a “charismatically interactive experience.” Macchia, 254. Spirit infilling is a community experience that must affect the systemic dysfunction in the community as much as it must affect any individual within the community.
 Ernest Best observes that the contrast in the passage is not between two entities (Spirit and wine) but between two conditions (drunkenness and Spirit possession). Ernest Best, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Ephesians, The International Critical Commentary, ed. J. A. Emerton, C. E. B. Cranfield, and G. N. Stanton (Edinburgh: T and T, 1998), 506.
 Hendriksen the use of alcohol to both alleviate pain and seek spiritual wholeness; “By the ancients, moreover, an overdose of wine was often used not only to rid oneself of care and to gain a sense of mirth but also to induce communion with the gods and, by means of this communion, to receive ecstatic knowledge, not otherwise attainable.” Hendriksen, 240.
 Andrew T. Lincoln. Ephesians, Word Biblical Commentary 42, ed. David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker (Dallas: Word, 1990), 344.
 Best acknowledges Barth’s view of wine as a reference to the Dionysus cult but uses the reference to point to darkness in general as a response to human pain. Best, 507. John Muddiman states that the direction of Ephesians 5:22 derives from 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8 and Romans 13:12 and points to worship direction as either the dysfunction of the Dionysus cult or genuine worship in the Holy Spirit. John Muddiman, The Epistle to the Ephesians in Black’s NT Commentaries (London: Continuum, 2001), 247.
 Stephen E. Fowl observes human power to choose; “If Paul admonishes the Ephesians to be filled by the Spirit, there must be some sense in which this is in their power.” Stephen E. Fowl, Ephesians: A Commentary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2012), 177.
 The current accepted spelling for “codependency” does not include a hyphen. Older works and some who want to emphasize the relationship to the dependent use a hyphenated spelling for the term. This chapter will use the non-hyphenated spelling except in quotes to preserve the author’s spelling.
 Robert Hemfelt Frank Minirth, and Paul Meier, Love is a Choice: The Definitive Book on Letting Go of Unhealthy Relationships (Nashville: Nelson, 1989), 8.
 Nancy Groom, From Bondage to Bonding (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1991), 21.
 Virginia Curran Hoffman, The Codependent Church (New York: Crossroad, 1991), 15.
 June Hunt, Codependency: Balancing an Unbalanced Relationship (Torrance, CA: Rose, 2013), 9.
 Jeff VanVonderen, Good News for the Chemically Dependent and those Who Love Them (Minneapolis: Bethany, 1995), 92.
 Pia Mellody, Facing Codependence: What It Is, Where It Comes From, How it Sabotages Our Lives, rev. ed. (New York: Harper, 2003), 4.
 James V. Potter and Paula M. Potter, Conquering Codependence: Restoring Your Self-Identity (N.p.: AFS, 2011), 30.
 Ibid., 38-39.
 Phillip St. Romain, Freedom from Codependency: A Christian Response (Wichita, KS: Contemplative Ministries, 2010), 21.
 VanVonderen, 17.
 Ibid., 65-66.
 All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the English Standard Version.
 For a controversial but interesting view of codependency and human initiative in holiness see Leo Booth, The Happy Heretic: Seven Spiritual Insights for Healing Religious Codependency, N.p.: HCI, 2012. Booth advocates a Pelagian view of holiness which emphasizes human initiative in holiness. He points out that complete reliance on God for growth may be simply another external focus for a codependent person.
 Anne Wilson Schaef and Diane Fassel, The Addictive Organization: Why We Overwork, Cover Up, Pick Up the Pieces, Please the Boss, and Perpetuate Sick Organizations (New York: HarperCollins, 2013), 54, Kindle.
 Ibid., 57.
 Ibid., 62-68.
 Ibid., 118.
 Ibid., 138.
 Bowen Theory provides a useful lens for looking at systemic codependency. Bowen’s early works analyze codependency in systems and emerge to describe dysfunctional systems and their traits. For useful discussions of Bowen systems theory, see Peter L. Steinke, Healthy Congregations: A Systems Approach, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: The Alban Institute, 2006); Peter L. Steinke, How Your Church Family Works: Understanding Congregations as Emotional Systems (Washington, DC: The Alban Institute, 2006); Ronald W. Richardson, Creating a Healthier Church: Family Systems Theory, Leadership and Congregational Life (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996); and Ronald W. Richardson, Polarization and the Healthier Church: Applying Bowen Family Systems Theory to Conflict and Change in Society and Congregational Life (Toronto: CreateSpace, 2012).
 VanVonderen, 37.
 Hoffman, 134.
 Schaef and Fassel, 67.
 Ibid., 118.
 Ibid., 125.
 St. Romain, 81.
 Ibid., 81-83.
 Ibid., 41.
 Wegscheider-Cruse Cruse, 109.
 Ibid., 125-126.
 Weinhold and Weinhold, 3.
 VanVonderen, 13.
 Ibid., 18.
 Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done (New York: Crown Business, 2002), 177.
 Senge, 220.
 Senge, 73.
 Marquardt, 24.
 Robert E. Quinn, Building the Bridge as You Walk on It (San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 2004), 19.
 Ibid., 22.