The following are some examples of what takes place IN ANY CHURCH where spiritual abuse and unbiblical authoritarianism is present.
■ COARSE and CRUEL TREATMENT
Many leaders of abusive churches, usually behind closed doors, often treat people cruelly and
abusively, even resorting to yelling and finger pointing. Past sins are recounted, unkind statements are made, and those being “counseled” are often castigated when they express disagreement with what is being said about them or others. Ones' questions or expressions of concern or doubt about church practices or about a leader are frequently viewed as the questioner's problem – he or she is a "rebel", "proud", "arrogant", "hates authority", is "divisive”.
Sinful treatment of church members however, does not occur behind closed doors all of the time. Most all members have personally observed individuals during public services, being disparaged or ridiculed from the pulpit or mentioned in sermons as “points of application.” Even when the individual's name is not mentioned, it is often abundantly clear who is being referenced.
Power-posturing is very characteristic in an abusive church system. Power-posturing simply means that leaders spend a lot of time focused on their authority and reminding others of it as well. This is necessary because their “spiritual authority” isn’t real – based on genuine godly character – it is postured.
Recently, a young couple told of attending a church where the “pastor” insisted that members treat what he says as if Christ Himself had said it because, “..In this flock, I’m the shepherd.” If this pastor’s spiritual authority were real, he would not have to demand that others notice it. Nor would he step into the idolatrous position he places himself in, assuming the place reserved for the King of Kings! The fact that “church leaders” are eager to place people under them – under their word, under their “authority” – is one easy-to-spot clue that they are operating in their own authority.
■ HIJACKING OF MARRIAGES (The most insidious of all aberrations)
“What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”
In an authoritarian – abusive church system, those in “church leadership” positions reveal their true colors over and over again when it comes to this verse of Scripture. Jesus’ words, Scripturally speaking, are being spit upon and trampled under foot by these spiritual monsters; wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15)
In an abusive church system, husbands and wives are being instructed to separate and even divorce from their spouse, the sole reason being when one of them “rebels” (that is, when they begin to clearly understand the Scripture) against the “leadership.” This evil counsel is right from the pit of hell itself. Church members are falsely being taught a scaled down rendition of the marriage institution and many are being led down to the slaughter house in order that the abusers' own man-made “position of authority” in the church can now be exalted and take precedent high above the authority of the husband and the marriage institution itself.
So what happens now is this: when the word gets back to the “pastors/elders” concerning one spouse who is beginning to question or disagree with what’s going on in the church, “battle mode” is now implemented. The “other spouse” will now be working with the “church leadership” to turn their mate around and “bring them to their senses” or to “make them an example” and “fix em’ good!” But when all else fails, separation and divorce is the next and final option. And the “obedient” spouse is all too eager to comply because this is what they have been taught.
Is a spouses’ decision to question the “pastor”, or church doctrine, or policy, or even to leave the church to attend another, so evil and rotten that the other spouse is being “counseled” to separate or even divorce if necessary from them? According to the lord's of the spiritual abusing institution, absolutely yes!
“Yes, this is evil and rotten because they are not honoring ME as they ought and they are refusing to ‘bow the knee’ to my authority over them! They will not acknowledge the three spheres of government that has been set up: 1) ‘the church’, 2) ‘civil’, and 3) ‘domestic.’ You dare not interfere with the churches authority, which is MY AUTHORITY!"
Who would ever have thought 100 years ago, that this will be the sad state of affairs in many, many "churches” today. Who would ever have thought that articles need to be written warning the church members of this evil, diabolical teaching that wicked shepherds are engaging in. Surely, right before our very eyes, evil men and imposters are waxing worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. 2 Tim. 3:13.
Instead of the Scriptural order of God, Christ, Man, Woman; now is has become God, Christ, pastor/church, man, woman!
Instead of the Scriptural command to wives that they be subject to their own husbands in everything; now it has become wives be subject to your own husbands in everything.......domestic!
Instead of the Scriptures stating that the husband is the head of the wife as Christ also is the head of the Church; now we have “THE ELDERSHIP” being head over BOTH OF THEM……EVEN AS Christ is head of the Church!
And instead of having, “What God has joined together, let not man put asunder”; we now have “Let the ‘pastor’ put asunder, what God has joined together.”
It doesn't get much crazier than this!
If there ever was a day when God might bring fire down from heaven upon the heads of these men with their despicable teachings and despicable behavior of “authority gone wild,” these are the days in which we are living. These are the days in which the “Lord is still a jealous God and avenges; the Lord avenges and is full of wrath; the Lord takes vengeance on His adversaries, and reserves wrath for His enemies.” Nahum 1:2
These are the days of Ezekiel 34 where the shepherds feed themselves; where the shepherds refuse to strengthen, refuse to heal, refuse to bind up that which was broken, refuse to bring back that which was driven away, refuse to seek after that which was lost; but with force and with rigor have the shepherds ruled over them.
The false teachings of these spiritual abusers in putting themselves and their “church” first,
has led to these dastardly deeds that are occurring everywhere.
But be not deceived. God is not mocked.
We’re living in dark dangerous times. Many “churches” today are no longer a “safe haven” to bring ourselves and our families to. The works of darkness, (Eph. 5:11; 6:12); the ministers of Satan, (2 Corth.11:15); the characteristics of the churches in all of Revelations Chapter 2 & 3 are ever present in these authoritarian – spiritual abusing systems.
Before God ever created children; before He ever created a church, or a family, or a government, He created the marriage institution. God's divine order is the MARRIAGE FIRST, then the family.
No other intruders allowed.
In other words, neither the family nor those in the church or in the government have any say in the marriage. Those in the church and the government have no say in the family (i.e., the home). The government has no say in the church nor the family. Only the marriage is sacred. When those in “positions of leadership” in the church, or anyone else, tampers with someone's marriage... THEY ARE TREADING HOLY GROUND! Marriages are made in Heaven.
Doesn’t it anger you with a holy anger that these so-called “pastors/elders" are so eager to break up other people's marriages; BUT, they would never ever tolerate someone doing that to their marriage.
As in so many other areas, they're nothing but meddling hypocrites!
One might ask, “What are we to do when we realize and then finally see these atrocities occurring? Should we confront? Should we just leave?” The only answer is to run away; get out as fast and as far as you can and drag your family with you.
You must understand that these questions will soon become irrelevant for you because the truth of the matter is that once you finally begin to believe God's Word and live by God's Word, you will not need to come out of the Church or leave the Church.
The Church will KICK YOU OUT! Many can personally attest to this, thankfully so. “Then if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.” John 8:36
■ PERFORMANCE PREOCCUPATION
In abusive spiritual systems, how people act is more important than who they are or what is happening to them on the inside. Love and acceptance are earned by doing or not doing certain things. Living up to the standard is what earns acceptance, the result of which is acceptance of behaviors, not people. For many reasons, church members sometimes obey or follow orders to avoid being shamed, to gain someone’s approval, or to keep their spiritual status or church position intact.
This is not true obedience or submission; it is compliant self-seeking. When behavior is simply legislated from the outside, instead of coming from a heart that loves God, it cannot be called obedience. It is merely weak compliance with some external pressure. This system does not foster holiness or obedience to God. It merely accommodates the “leaders” sick interpretation of spirituality and their need for control.
■ GOSSIP, SLANDER, TALE BEARING
Man's religion breeds every kind of wickedness; false witness abounds and gossip, slander and tale bearing is so common in authoritarian, abusive churches that no one thinks it is wrong. The Bible clearly condemns this practice: Leviticus 19:16, Proverbs 11:9, 11:13, 16:28, 20:19, Jeremiah 6:28, 9:4, Romans 1:29, 2 Corinthians 12:20, 1 Timothy 3:11, 5:13, 2 Timothy 3:3, Titus 2:3.
Yet, “church leaders” in authoritarian - abusive church systems seldom apply this to themselves. They somehow feel that they are “exempt” from having to avoid these evils. Within the context of “counseling,” many times the sins and failings of other individuals are frequently mentioned, as object lessons. Many times, they become the brunt of slander and gossip. At other times, even family members are sometimes asked to write down and submit information about the sins of those being counseled. This information becomes part of the “member's personal file” that may later be used to remind him or her of past sin, to gain control and/or to manipulate the member.
Oh yes. Haven’t you ever heard the analogy that is often used? “A medical doctor keeps files and records of your visits; records all of your ailments and statistics to use in aiding his/her understanding of your situation.” So therefore, it’s OK for the church leader to keep a file of all your faults and sins that have been confessed to him at counseling sessions, and then if necessary, use them against you! Among other things, what this sick behavior does is promote other church members to engage in this same gossiping and slandering sickness as well.
Despite many years of faithful service, in authoritarian - abusive church systems, malicious and slanderous information will often be communicated about recently dismissed members; and in some cases, not too-recently dismissed. False accusations, explicit and implicit, vilify them as false brothers, Judas’, demonized, God-haters, accused of treason, rebellion. Many church members within these systems uncritically accept these judgments about their former members assuming that the leadership would never slander.
This sin is obvious to the victims, but not commonly known among members since the slander, when coupled with shunning, serves to conceal the leadership's sin by "protecting" members from contrary information. In fact, in many cases, any information from ex-members is often labeled as “lies” and members are advised to respond to ex-members who initiate contact with such statements as "I am forbidden to associate with others who are not of like mind . . ." In such a church system as this, the members are easily manipulated and turned against their brothers and sisters in Christ.
■ UNSPOKEN RULES
In abusive spiritual systems, people’s lives are controlled from the outside in by rules, spoken and unspoken. Unspoken rules are those that govern unhealthy churches or families but are not said out loud. Because they are not said out loud, you don’t find out that they’re there until you break them.
For instance, no one at a church gathering would ever say out loud, “You know we must never disagree with the pastor on his sermons – and if you do, you will never be trusted and never be allowed to minister in any capacity in this church.” In this case, the unspoken rule is: Do not disagree with the church authorities – especially the pastor - or your loyalty will be subject. Rules like this remain unspoken because examining them in the light of mature dialogue would instantly reveal how illogical, unhealthy and anti-Christian they are. So silence becomes the fortress wall of protection, shielding the pastor’s power position from scrutiny or challenge.
■ PREOCCUPATION WITH FAULT AND BLAME
In an abusive church system, since performance has so much power, much is brought to bear in order to control it. Reaction is swift and furious toward the one who fails to perform the way the church deems fit. People have to pay for their mistakes. Responsibility and accountability are not the issues here: Fault and blame are the issues. In the New Testament, the purpose of confessing a sin is to receive forgiveness and cleansing. The shame-based church system wants a confession in order to know whom to blame – that is, whom to make feel so defective and humiliated that they won’t act that way anymore.
■ OBSCURED REALITY
In abusive church systems, the members have to deny any thought, opinion or feeling that is different from those who are “in authority” at church. Anything that has the potential to shame those in authority is ignored or denied. The church member can’t find out about life through normal trial-and-error learning because mistakes shame. Interaction with people and places outside “the church” threatens the order of things. The “church” defines reality. Consequently, you can’t find out what “normal” is. Problems are denied, and thereby they remain.
In an abusive church system, it will be often said that outside the “system”, there are evil, dangerous, unspiritual people who are trying to weaken or destroy “us.” This mentality builds a strong wall or bunker around the abusive church system, isolates the abusers from scrutiny and accountability, and makes it more difficult for people to leave – because they will then be outsiders too. The result: the people are misled into thinking that the only safety is in their church system. Ironically, Jesus and Paul both warned that one of the worst dangers to the flock was from wolves in the house. Matt. 10:16; Acts 20:29-30
■ OPPRESSIVE LEADERSHIP
“Jesus called them together and said, You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. NOT SO with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” Matt.20:25-26 The sense of "lording it over" in this passage carries the meaning of having power over, or control of another, and it is condemned by the Lord as inappropriate for leaders in the church. In fact, the Scriptures say NOWHERE that a church leader has “authority over the congregation.”
Yet, sadly, this is the hallmark and the defining characteristic of “leaders” in an abusive church system. In many such systems, church members are expected to “seek council from their elder” on matters regardless of whether they are moral issues. So, it is not uncommon for members to go running to their elders as to whether to buy a house; planning vacations; changing jobs; raising and disciplining children; moving to another location; dating; marriage; getting a vasectomy; going to movies; how much “to tithe”; or what to do or not to do on a certain day.
Those who do not seek such “council” are labeled independent and rebellious. Great stress is placed on the need to submit to the authority of the pastor or the elders with little or no right to question, which includes following their "suggestions". To refuse to do so is to be marked as a “rebel.”
By enforcing submission to their authority in areas not clearly mandated or proscribed by Scripture, i.e. in matters of conscience, many “church leaders” are imposing legalism, and are usurping the place of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. The consequence of this is that the members fall into an uncritical acceptance of whatever the leader says, in some cases violating their own conscience, and they gradually lose the ability to hear from God, or to decide for themselves, based on the clear meaning of Scripture.
■ REQUIRING HONOR
One of the many trademarks of the Pharisees was that they "love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogue; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.” Matthew 23
Another way to spot an abusive church system is when the “leaders” require the place of honor.
The less secure a leader is, the more important titles will be to him. The Pharisees had very little internal substance. All they had was the external polish. Clean but empty cups. When that is the case, it is very important that others notice the polished performance, since it is the sole source of value. Maybe to some, the removal of recognition sounds disrespectful. The true issue is not whether you choose to use a title or not. The true issue is whether you need it – whether you have to have it. The Pharisees required it, and Jesus pointed out that this is one mark of a false spiritual leader.
In all too many abusive church systems, the need to address your “church leaders” with their “proper titles” is very common; and failing to do so will absolutely NOT BE TOLERATED!
In authoritarian – abusive church systems, it is not uncommon to hear other evangelical fellowships/ministries denounced from the pulpit, while there is boasting about their own ministries. Generally, the criticism is leveled at others whose theological views are somewhat within the mainstream theologically but with whom the church system differs. Those holding differing views are sometimes described in pejorative terms, e.g., "stupid"; or “a juggernaut.” PRIDE is at the heart of this spiritual elitism that believes that they only are the few, perhaps the only local church that preaches the Gospel in purity.
■ REFUSING TO HEAR OR HEED CORRECTION
In abusive church systems, many times it will be emphasized the importance of soliciting and receiving godly correction (and rightly so), yet the “pastor/elder” himself often responds in a haughty, contemptuous, and abusive manner when questioned or when attempts are made to bring correction to him. Those who bring forward an issue or concern are often accused of being the problem, and charged with pride, arrogance, and a wicked spirit.
■ UNBIBLICAL EXCOMMUNICATION PRACTICES
Many authoritarian – abusive church systems greatly abuse the discipline of excommunication. In many cases, but certainly not all, the sole act of leaving the church can trigger the discipline of excommunication, although the reasons given are usually something else. In some cases, people have been publicly excommunicated from abusive church systems, after having left the church, without any warnings, and without even receiving a letter of excommunication.
Not only that, the “leaders” in these types of systems encourages the practice of shunning persons who leave the church, cutting off all social, and, as a result, business and family contact with such persons, a practice that is unique to cults like the Jehovah's Witnesses or highly isolated groups like the Amish.
Jesus said that the unrepentant believer, after two warnings, is to be treated as "a gentile or tax collector". Treating someone as "a gentile or a tax collector", means not to relate to them as you would a brother. It does not mean to cut off all social contact, for Jesus himself interacted with gentiles, including tax collectors. In all too many authoritarian – abusive church systems, the purpose of excommunication and shunning has little to do with the Biblical goal of restoration.
Clearly the intention is to keep those who have left from sharing their reasons for leaving with those in the church.