Spiritual Abuse And A Simple Way to Overcome
You would think churches would be safe havens from the dog-eat-dog world around us but the truth is, churches have become very UNSAFE places to be part of.
-That is unless you just go to service, toss in your offering, leave without any real interaction with the assembly, or give unquestioning loyalty to the leadership..
In 24 years of "church" life, we could fill a book with not only our own personal stories, but those also of a multitude of co-church workers and friends from other assemblies. In the institutionalized, denominationaized, Nicolaitane church world, "Touch not mine anointed" and "obey them that have the rule over you" are two of the most dangerous verses in the Bible. They are used to create an environment where the pastor/priest/king is right, even when he is wrong, and woe be to those who become a percieved threat to their administration.
Examples of church abuse we have witnessed:
-an adulterous pastor refusing to relinquish his position and control of church business management, and members who continued to submit to him while the affair continued.
-members who were marginalized, falsely accused, put-down, name called, falsely labeled by their pastor.
-a pastor micro-managing his leaders lives AND every church service. We know of one who demands his leaders sit in a certain place, dress a certain way, always smile and act happy, and controls who, where, and how they fellowship. He controls the books they read and requires strict attendance to every meeting.
-financial abuse and manipulaton of scripture to support a self-serving ministry and clergy lifestyle.
-the rampant use of fear as a tactic to control, "lord over", and manipulate the folks in the pews.
-a church where what you $$gave determined whether or not you got the pastors attention and/or a postion in leadership. Legalistic tithing required for leadership.
These two sites might be meaningful to some and helpful to others caught in an abusive church:
1.Spiritual abuse website and testimonies. When we came out from the church system, we found countless others who also suffered as a result of the "error of the Nicolaitanes".
"The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse" by David Johnson & Jeff Van Vonderen This book really ministers to many who have been hurt. What follows are a few excerpts:
“‘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 suspect.
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.” (p.67)
“If you speak about the problem out loud, you are the problem.” The truth is, when people talk about problems out loud, they don't cause them, they simply expose them.” (p.68)
“Too many churches communicate this kind of shaming message: ‘The problem is not that your boundaries were crossed and violated, the problem is that you talked. If you would not have made such a big deal, everything would still be fine.’ If a person accepts that message, they will stop talking.
The real problem, however, is that if a Christian who feels violated stops talking, then the perpetrator will never be held accountable for his behaviour.” (p.69)
4. Lack of Balance
“This approach to spirituality creates a system in which authority is based upon the level of education (Bible college, DD's, etc) and intellectual capacity alone, (i.e.carnal authority -rm) rather than on intimacy with God, obedience and sensitivity to his Spirit.” (p.70)
“The other manifestation of lack of balance is seen in an extremely subjective approach to Christian life. What is true is decided on the basis of feelings and experiences, giving more weight to them than what the Bible declares.” (p.70)
“Even further, we believe it is dishonest—even dangerous—simply to receive and act upon a spiritual directive because you are ‘supposed to be submissive’, or because someone is ‘in authority’. In the end, God is the One before whom we must all stand, the one to whom we must answer.” (p.71)
They tie up heavy loads, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger (Matt. 23:4).
“In a place where authority is grasped and legislated, not simply demonstrated, persecution sensitivity builds a case for keeping everything within the system.
Why? Because of the evil, dangerous, or unspiritual people outside of the system who are trying to weaken or destroy ‘us’. This mentality builds a strong wall or bunker around the abusive system, isolates the abusers from scrutiny and accountability, and makes it more difficult for people to leave—because they will be outsiders, too.” (p.73)
“Ironically, Jesus and Paul both warned that one of the worst dangers to the flock was from in-house wolves (Matthew 10:16; Acts 20:29-30).” (p.74)
6. Misplaced Loyalty
“The next characteristic of spiritually abusive systems is that a misplaced sense of loyalty is fostered and even demanded. We’re not talking about loyalty to Christ, but about loyalty to a given organization, church, or leader.” (p.76)
“A common way this is accomplished is by setting up a system where disloyalty to or disagreement with the leadership is construed as the same thing as disobeying God.
Questioning leaders is equal to questioning God.
After all, the leader is the authority, and authority is always right. This causes people to misplace their loyalty in a leader, a church or an organization.” (p.76) They call it sowing discord
“There are three factors that come into play here, adding up to misplaced loyalty. First, leadership projects a ‘we alone are right’ mentality, which permeates the system. Members must remain in the system if they want to be ‘safe,’ or to stay ‘on good terms’ with God, or not to be viewed as wrong or ‘backslidden.’ (or under "spiritual covering", for which there is no scripture in the NT).
The second factor that brings about misplaced loyalty is the use of ‘scare tactics.’ For example:
God is going to withdraw His Spirit from you and your family.
God will destroy your business.
Without our protection, Satan will get your children.
You and your family will come under a curse.
The third method of calling forth misplaced loyalty is the threat of humiliation. This is done by publicly shaming, exposing, or threatening to remove people from the group.
In the abusive system, it is the fear of being exposed, humiliated or removed that insures your proper allegiance, and insulates those in authority. (The pastor was protected by the group and loyalty to him was promoted) You can be ‘exposed’ for asking too many questions, for disobeying the unspoken rules, or for disagreeing with authority.
People are made public examples in order to send a message to those who remain. Others have phone campaigns launched against them, to warn their friends and others in the group about how ‘dangerous’ they are.” (p.76,77)
Given the fact that the pastors that head these churches have their paycheck and career, is there any wonder that any real or percieved threat to their "ministry" must be dealt with quickly. In our old church, this policy was called "The 24 Hour Rule" in which any "discord" was to be reported within 24 hours.
After 24 years of loyalty to "the system" in place at our old church, Dayspring, we finally found ourselves in the position of marginalization and "discord sowing". - (when we started mentioning the lack of scripture for tithing).
Thankfully, we now realize this was what God used in our lives to deliver us from bondage to a manmade system. We "followed the lamb" right out the door and have never looked back.
Someone is going to read this and begin to recognize they are caught in a church system.
Others will recognize the abusiveness of the "church" they left behind.
One thing is certain, no matter what your experience may have been, we are all called to forgive "70 times 7".
Forgiveness may be a cross to bear, but we are given no choice: "Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me."
"And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
And that is how we overcome spiritual abuse.
-a brother rebuked for missing a prayer service when his wife was going into labor contractions.
-pastors managing a church like it was a family business (which it was/is).
-The pastor is right, even when he is wrong.
-creation of organizational structures foreign to New Testament Christianity.