Spiritual Abuse is Alive and Well

Spiritual abusers produce tainted fruit poisonous to the cause of Christ

By Jim Allen

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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 Faith'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).

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

Image Credit: Stuart Richards; "It Could be You;" Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Church-Issues  | Controversial-Issues  | Current-Issues  | False-Teaching  | Sin-Evil
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Published 6-17-14