Spiritual Abuse is Alive and Well

Spiritual abusers produce tainted fruit poisonous to the cause of Christ

By Jim Allen

Not too long ago a young lady wrote to Got Questions describing a spiritual lashing from a church leader that left her shaken. Already a devoted follower, she was severely reprimanded for declining to help finance a special project, even though she was already a faithful tither. Left crying and babbling for thinking she was fallen from grace, the apostle* continued the verbal lashing by reminding her she also needed to apologize for challenging apostolic authority.

This lady (I will name Faith) wrote, "I went home completely devastated. I got up...that morning and sent an email telling her that what she did was callous, hurtful, and totally ungodly and that I would never place myself in this type of situation again." She went on to say, "I am done with church!"

So sad, and yet this is what genuine believers encounter all too often in abusive churches. Abusive leaders, like this self-proclaimed apostle, are like a diseased vine that draws up a full measure of abhorrence from the pit of hell (2 Peter 2:1). Their often double-dealing oratory produces tainted fruit that is poisonous to the soul and damaging to the cause of Christ (Matthew 7:17-20). I have witnessed these abusive church leaders firsthand and know the damage they do. I am no longer surprised by the lives they destroy. They and their kind do not know the peace of God (Romans 14:17). They are wholly unaware of what they are doing because they are blind guides walking in darkness (Matthew 23:24).

For some time now a growing number of evangelical churches have been promoting the five-fold ministry described in Ephesians 4:11. They reason if we still need evangelists, pastors, and teachers then we also still need apostles and prophets. While the ministry gifts are for building up of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12), it is important to remember these gifts have always been in effect and are so today. But as we have seen, the five-fold ministry has been hijacked by charlatans to build up new movements by ensnaring and mishandling the innocent.

May I assure you, there is no need for a new movement by prophets and apostles to speak afresh what the Holy Scriptures have already spoken? Everything God had to say was said and recorded in the New Testament (Hebrews 1:1-2). There is no "new thing" God is saying to the church today.

Faith went on to say her former church embraces Myles Munroe's "Kingdom Now" message.** While Munroe is a prosperity preacher, his beliefs parallel the New Apostolic Reformation movement.*** Munroe believes there is great need for spiritual leaders (apostles and prophets) to help lead people, and herein the need for these special anointings to guide the church. Of course, they are wrong because the Bible disagrees (John 16:13). As a result, Munroe endorses extra-biblical revelation by way of apostolic and prophetic utterance. The problem with the Kingdom Now message is its doctrine is tainted by false teachings and self-promoting leaders.

The author of Acts writes, "For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock" (Acts 20:29). While there are Bible-based churches, many others have devolved into deep fountains of heresy. These religious institutions excel at displaying pretense, promoting greed, and spinning webs of unending confusion while trying to rid themselves of doctrine they view irrelevant.

Wounded and saddened, Faith left her church to get away from the sham, control, and abuse. She would no longer tolerate mistreatment from anyone at any time for any reason. She wasn't rejecting Christ, but: spiritual abuse :
The word abuse is used to describe the mistreatment or misuse of virtually anything. We speak of abuse of trust, drugs, institutions, and objects. These forms of abuse are sinful for the same reason that abuse directed at people is sinful. Such mistreatment is motivated by selfishness and results in damage and destruction. People abuse others for a variety of reasons, but selfishness underlies all abuse. We tend to lash out when things do not go our way.
I cannot think of a better place for Faith to be right now than in His presence, away from the madness of those who claim to be Christian. Jesus had strong words for abusers: "But whoever shall offend one of these little ones who believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea (Matthew 18:6)."

In flow with the words of Jesus, are we not also like the little ones who gathered around the feet of Jesus to learn of His holy ways? While there are many things yet to learn, learning how to handle abuse from the brethren (if they are brethren) should not be one of them. The apostle Paul wrote about learning experiences when he wrote, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). Apart from God's plan to deal with Faith's abuser (Romans 12:19), the Bible says forgive those who hurt you (Matthew 6:14). Why? Because abusers do not always know what they are doing (Luke 23:34). Whatever the reason for Alice's abuse, this apostle was ill-prepared to lead anyone because she did not know that leadership begins by addressing the needs of others before your own, like a mother caring for a child (Matthew 23:11).

On the upside, not all abusive people are dark spirits. "The hurt and harm of spiritual abuse is rarely inflicted upon people with the intention to wound anyone. Most spiritual abuse is inflicted by Christians who are very sincere, who believe they are obeying the Bible in sharing Christ with others, and who often believe that they are being led by the Holy Spirit." [1] But even the most sincere among us can get it wrong from time to time.

While spiritual abuse does occur in churches, the abuse experienced by Faith was in a church operating in deep error (Revelation 3:1-3). In his article "Spiritual Abuse," Major Scott Nicloy quotes evangelical sociologist Ronald M. Enroth's Churches that Abuse:
Abusive churches...are first and foremost characterized by strong, control-oriented leadership. These leaders use guilt, fear, and intimidation to manipulate members and keep them in line. Followers are led to think that there is no other church quite like theirs and that God has singled them out for special purposes. Other more traditional evangelical churches are put down. Subjective experience is emphasized and dissent is discouraged. Many areas of members' lives are subject to scrutiny. Rules and legalism abound. For those who leave, the road back to normalcy is difficult.
Dark and mean-spirited abusers do not love because they do not know God (1 John 4:8). Consequently, the apostle that abused Faith never sensed the need to apologize for the abuse because in her mind disciplining Faith, however severe and for whatever reason, was for God's glory.

But even when abusers fail to apologize, the Bible admonishes us to pray for those who abuse us (Matthew 5:44). Forgiving someone removes the arrow shot deep into the heart. When the heart is free from the penetrating sting of the arrow, it will pulse freely with the grace of God's healing love.

By sending the email, Faith removed herself from the madness. Now, she is on the outside looking in. Finding another church at this time may be difficult for Faith, but that is okay. She probably knows what to look for:
The importance of true Christian fellowship is that it reinforces these things in our mind and helps us to focus on Christ and His desires and goals for us. As iron sharpens ironů Christians in fellowship sharpen one another's faith and stir one another to exercise that faith in love and good works, all to God's glory.
In closing, there are many stories like Faith's; and, while many victims have agonized at the hands of church leaders for centuries, abuse can never be right and it can never be justified for God's glory. While each story is unique and notable, each is also disquieting. Though Faith's story is all of these things and worth sharing, the good news is she is now free from her oppressors to discover the truth about the true church (John 8:32; Ephesians 4:4-6).

* From the GotQuestions article "What is an apostle?":
There are some today who are seeking to restore the position of apostle. This is a dangerous movement. Frequently, those claiming the office of apostle seek authority equal to, or at least rivaling, the authority of the original twelve apostles. There is absolutely no biblical evidence to support such an understanding of the role of apostle today. This would fit with the New Testament's warning against false apostles (2 Corinthians 11:13).
** From the GotQuestions article "What is Kingdom Now teaching?":
Kingdom Now proponents believe that God lost control over the world to Satan when Adam and Eve sinned. Since then, the theology goes, God has been trying to reestablish control over the world by seeking a special group of believers — known variously as "covenant people," "overcomers," or "Joel's army" — and that through these people, social institutions (including governments and laws) would be brought under God's authority.
*** From the Youth Apologetics Training article "What is the New Apostolic Reformation?":
The NAR is a vast global network of self-appointed "apostles and prophets". This group has no official leader although many see C. Peter Wagner as the most influential and authoritative voice in the movement. One of the key beliefs in the New Apostolic Reformation is that apostles and prophets are for today. These apostles and prophets are believed to receive revelations from God and then pass them down to their congregations. According to the NAR, apostles hold the highest authority, then prophets and then finally pastors, teachers and evangelists. This top down hierarchy makes the typical NAR church a perfect environment for oppressive and controlling Covering Theology.

1. Nicloy, Scott; Micronesian Seminar; "Spiritual Abuse"

Published 6-17-14