3. Signs of Cultic Behavior

Article 3 on the series: The Hierarchy System of Church Government

3.  Signs of Cultic Behavior

Whenever different cultures come together under one umbrella of faith, the blending of cultural often occur and the belief system and behavioral practices mesh together as one. Within Christianity, this kind of blending is not only dangerous to its core foundation of faith, but it is considered by the Church as a cult. Sadly, its threat has been around since the time of Christ.

A religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader.
American Heritage Dictionary

In a Gentile society filled with beliefs in multiple gods, Gnosticism entered into Christianity in the churches in the Lycos Valley in Asia Minor as early as 60 A.D. The entrance of Christian cults came into Christianity through a group called the Nicolaitans who carried Gnostic beliefs, and considered themselves superior over others in the Church for their “special knowledge.” These elitists were prideful over their erroneous beliefs and felt superiority over others in the Church.

Bringing this thought into more modern times, cults grew rapidly in the United States when the constitutional guarantee of religious liberty came into place around the time of the Civil War and the mass immigration of Europeans to America. Not only were there Christian revivals, cults grew to immeasurable limits. As immigrants from Europe and other parts of the world flooded into the United States, the existence of diverse cultures expanded. Again, when two or more cultures exist together, belief systems will clash and eventually mesh, intertwining with each other. Out of that, new beliefs will be formed.

The existence of diverse cultures and religions expanded even further following World War II. American troops stationed in Japan were exposed to other religions and they brought some of those beliefs back home to America. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson repealed laws that had severely restricted immigration from Asia to the United States. As a result, large number of people from India, Japan, Korea, and southwest Asia came to the United States. With them came gurus, swamis, and those who sought to establish American branches of their religious movements. The social upheaval and instability of the 1960s, along with the experimentation with alternative lifestyles, contributed to the surge in cultic activity as well. As the drug population increased, such movements as Satanism, witchcraft, and occultism increased. [1]

Denominations versus cults

People sometimes confuse Christian “cults” with early Christian “sects.” The more modern word for “sects” is “denominations.” Many Christians have broken away from an established Christian church, often in protest against something they see as corrupt or impure doctrine, but still adhere to ALL five basic core tenets of Christianity. These five basic core tenets, meaning Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, as described in the Bible, are still their foundational belief system. These would not be considered as a cult.

Cults, on the other hand, establish their own basic core teachings, promoting their own religion, and use the Bible AND other material as their source. While they certainly are not Christian, they have their roots in Christianity; and as such, are considered a cult.

There are two elements of cults that one needs to understand: Doctrine and behavioral practices . To fully understand Christian cults, one must understand what denotes a cult, which then brings one to need to know what is core Christianity, according to the Scriptures. In other words, to discover a lie, one must first know truth. Let’s first look at “what is Christianity?”

How to “doctrinally” discover a cult

The basic core tenets of Christianty

Christianity has its core foundation in Judaism. It began with a small group of Jews who accepted all of the teachings of the Old Testament Scriptures, but centered in on the arrival of the long-awaited prophesied Messiah. Jesus of Nazareth came as a fulfillment to earth in the flesh, in the form of a man, and shed his physical blood and died on the cross of Calvary, as prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures. Considered “core Christian doctrine,” God then resurrected His Son Jesus from the dead, and promised to all who believe in Him, they would rise from the dead to rule and reign, as well as spend eternity with Him in heaven.

The basic core tenets of the Christian faith carries five components:

1. The belief is that Jesus is the Son of God, yet He is God – He is part of the Trinity – the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit – the God of three in one.
2. Jesus physically died on the cross, shedding His physical blood for the sins of mankind.
3. In three day God bodily raised Jesus from the dead.
4. Presently, Jesus sits at the right-hand of the Father interceding for His body on earth.
5. A day will be coming soon when Jesus will return to bring His body of believers unto Himself to spend the joys of eternity with Him and rule and reign together - forever.

These five basic core beliefs can be seen throughout New Testament Scripture and are also listed in the Apostle’s Creed, which is repeated regularly in many mainline denominational churches today. While “true” Christian churches MUST carry ALL of these five basic core tenet beliefs, which would claim them as Christian, through the centuries, there have been multiple variations of other doctrines that have entered into the Church. As such, many denominations of churches have come about. Its foundational doctrine, however, rests on the five basic core tenets of the Christian faith.

It is important to know that any church that has left EVEN ONE of the five basic core tenets of the Christian faith would not be a “true” Christian church, but a cult.

Examples of Christian cults

The following are examples of churches today which claim to be Christian, but do not carry ALL five core tenets of the Christians faith, and should therefore be considered a cult:

The Mormon Church of the Latter-Day Saints: The Mormon Church carries the belief that Jesus is NOT God - He was simply a prophet or elder. They believe He died on the cross for the sins of mankind, but only as a man - not as God. They have missed the first and most important tenet of the Christian faith. They use the Bible AND other material, such as the Book of Mormons and the Book of Abraham as their core doctrine. While they claim adherence to the other core tenets of the Christian faith, it has twists that violate Scripture and the core of Christianity. Again, one has to adhere to ALL five basic core tenets of the Christian faith in order to be considered Christian.

The Jehovah Witnesses: The members of the Jehovah Witnesses believe in Jesus as the Son of God but also believe that He is not coming back for ALL believers. According to their beliefs, only a certain portion is entitled to go to heaven, and that number has already been fulfilled. The rest of the Jehovah Witnesses must remain on earth for all eternity. Their fundamental beliefs on end times are twisted in comparison to orthodox Christianity. Again, ALL five components MUST be adhered to in order to be called Christian.

If any church adheres to some, but not ALL five of these components, remember, it is then considered a cult.

How to recognize cultic “behavior”

Cultic behavior generally begins with its leader. The charismatic leader generally has followers who feel intense loyalty toward him or her. Often these leaders claim they are “accountable only to God,” excusing themselves from any earthly accountability. The followers are led by persuasion and control, often subtle, to advance the goals of the group’s leader to the possible, or actual, detriment of its members, their families, or even the community. [2] Cults can range from subtly deceiving to dangerously violent.

Cults can be appealing in the beginning to some

The Episcopal form of government, with the hierarchy system, is a feeding ground within all cults. The importance of evangelism is taught, having the purpose of bringing others into their cult. For “full” membership, members are often required to go out to evangelize others. Generally, cults, which often go under the guise of being a church, are quite appealing in the beginning, with its members targeting those who are vulnerable, needing love and a sense of belonging. These vulnerable people generally are not familiar with the Word of God to recognize the erroneous doctrines that is taught. Most of them, however, have had some sort of religious background, generally not having a personal relationship with Christ, but simply with dead, dry rules of a church. They hear the name of Jesus, thinking it is a good sign; they have a sense of being loved and accepted, and then they fall prey to its erroneous indoctrination. In time, they are caught in a web of deceit and have often enmeshed themselves into the community through marriage and other close relationships. If the member comes to recognize what is happening, it comes with the pressure of alienation from their “new” family and friends, along with those of their cultic community. Very few then are willing to be cast away from those they love.

The more dangerous cults begin the same way as the more subtly deceiving ones - loving and caring; however, in time they use fear and intimidation tactics, and it often results in prison-like bondage to its members. Spiritual abuse, which is always prevalent in cults in one form or another, often turns to emotional and physical abuse. It can even go so far as having a fear for one’s own life. Examples are David Koresh with his Branch Dividians which started out as a Seventh Day Adventist Church.  David (Moses) Berg of the Children of God started out with the Missionary Alliance Church.  Jim Jones with his People's Temple was a Bible thumper in the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ denomination.  What seemingly started out as right, ended as the leaders changed correct doctrine slowly into false or cultic doctrine.  Cultic behavior on the members of the congregation continued, turning the church into a dangerous cult.  Sadly, most of the parishioners perished in their cult believing they were following God by following their leader.

Other cults that are physically less dangerous can be just as dangerous as the leaders  mentally indoctrinates their followers as new doctrine begins to take place.  With Bible in hand, a preacher speaks out something that has not been heard before, and it seems remarkable and "makes sense."  While it cannot necessarily be confirmed by other scripture, or else "pet scriptures taken out of context" are used, it appears as a "new revelation of truth."  Straying from the truth has begun.

Today, there are an estimated 5000 cults in the United States hungering for souls, worship, and money. Sadly, that amounts to around 5% of U.S. people today who are involved in some sort of cultic activity. [3]

Cultic behavior is also seen in Christian churches

As was pointed out previously, there are two elements of cultism – doctrine and behavior . Once a person, however, learns the basic core tenet of Christianity, it is much easier to doctrinally distinguish a cult from a Christian denomination. Cultic behavior, on the other hand, is far more subtle, and has even crept into some independent Christian churches that follow the Hierarchy System of Church government.

While certain independent churches can remain on the "fringe of doctrinal truth and error," yet still claim the five core tenets of faith, they can carry some cultic behavior and still be listed as a Christian church. As subtle as it is, thousands upon thousands of Christians are trapped in its grips without realizing they are involved in cultic behavioral activities in their own church.  Because this is a real and present danger in the Christian church today, this article purposes to expose such behavior that arises out of churches that adhere to the Hierarchy System of church government in an effort to warn those who are willing to examine such behavior and return to Scriptural behavioral truths.

Spiritual covering

As was pointed out in the 2nd article of this series, over the past decades there have been many independent churches, particularly in the charismatic realm, that have been birthed. They are generally inter-denominational or non-denominational in nature. They range from house churches, community churches, large and mega-large churches. Most of these kinds of churches are good churches, having a board or ministerial association over them to which they are responsible to their congregation in their doctrine, behavior, and finances. There are, however, some independent churches which have chosen to follow the Episcopal form of church government as well as the Hierarchy System, but with a new twist. This new twist carries a belief that all Christians within the church MUST have a covering. Taught by the late Asian Christian author Watchman Nee, the belief is that each individual believer must be in obedient submission to someone else; that is, each individual must be "covered" by another. This implementation of a "covering" is meant to protect individuals and the entire church from bad decisions and demonic infiltration. Through this chain of command, the people below are “supposedly” protected by those above. A spiritual covering then, which is generally the leader(s) of that church, is considered the divine pattern to maintain accountability. The pastor, however, generally has no covering, or claims to have a covering by someone (or some ministerial organization) which is no more than outside pastoral colleagues who carry the same kind of accountability as they do, meaning “they each are accountable only to God.” To raise issues with them would be pointless, because they are all supportive of one another, serving the same purpose.

Most of these kinds of churches are self-run under one head pastor of a large or mega-large church. In an age where superpastors of mega-large churches are popular, the teaching of a spiritual covering simply feeds into the growth of the Hierarchy System of church government. These kinds of churches have ranks of authority with the head pastor at the top, various pastoral and support staff below, volunteer leaders and helpers, and the laity at the bottom. Each rank underneath is submissive to the one above, but all are submissive to the top. Generally, the lower ranks must obey the higher ranks in all spiritual matters, as well as other matters in which that particular church, which is run by the head pastor, designates. No matter how many ranks are involved, this system tends to be based on the premise that one can work his or her way up the ladder through these ranks to gain superiority over those underneath them. It becomes an unspoken belief that a few will climb high enough to reach the levels of authority, power, and control over several below them. [4]

Sadly, this chain-of-command system where everyone must be covered by another goes beyond what the Bible teaches about authority, and as such is in biblical error. Such a structure is conducive to power abuse as it becomes a prime feeding ground for spiritual and other abuses.  Christians have one covering - Jesus Christ.  He is our head and we are His body.  We are covered under His blood.

Spiritual Abuse

What is Spiritual Abuse
Spiritual abuse is the misuse of a position of power, leadership, or influence to further the selfish interests of someone other than the individual who needs help.

The term “spiritual abuse” was coined in the late 20th century as reference to abusive behavioral practices that are primarily seen in fundamental or conservative churches in the charismatic movement or Pentecostalism [5] that adhere to the Hierarchy System of church government structure. It was a term first used by Christian counselors, followed by apologists in the Christian counter-cult movement.

Spiritual abuse distorts or severs our relationship with God

It cannot be emphasized too strongly that spiritual abuse is dangerous for the spiritual growth of any Christian. It either distorts or severs a believer’s relationship with God. Our identity is supposed to be derived from knowing who we are in relation to God; therefore, spiritual abuse harms self-concept and self-worth. It can go so far as to cause mental and emotional distress, and is considered a form of mental or emotional abuse.

The beginnings of spiritual abuse within a church

Let’s take some time now to look at the roots of spiritual abuse to try to understand how easily a church can fall into such a trap.

A leader who have a tendency to be controlling over others, and who places his or her church under the Hierarchy System of church government, has already set himself or herself up, generally unknowingly, to become someone who could one day become a spiritual abuser. These kind of people generally are good honest people who began their ministry with pure intent to preserve the Word of God and the workings of the Holy Spirit, as they believe was practiced in the 1st century A.D. One of the biggest temptations of mankind, however, is the use of “power.” The need to control others is very strong. It is just as prevalent in the Church as it has always been in the world. Without a solid prayer life and prayer support from others, as well as totally leaning on the Holy Spirit for help, these vulnerable top leaders run the risk of desiring and eventually acting out that power. Instead of the scriptural mandate to practice servant leadership, these churches slowly leave the “love” mandate on which Jesus set up for His Church. This change is subtle, and slowly over a period of time, these higher ranks of church leaders, like those who have gone before them, change as they begin to see themselves as superior over those under them. As these kinds of churches change, and they will, the dangers increase while subtle cultic behavior increases and the victims of spiritual abuse begin to arise.

The corporate mindset and its dangers

There are many large or mega-large churches that have set up a “corporate” mindset to run their church. This is a real and present danger in the church, because the Hierarchy System of Church government, having a spiritual covering, are generally in place. Its corporate members can range from volunteer group leaders to leaders of leaders, paid staff, heads of staff, and various positions of pastoral staff – all under the control of the head pastor. Instead of the leadership serving the people, the people end up serving the leadership. If allowed to continue with the corporate mindset, claiming the church needs to be run as a business, a healthy church and the congregational members can deteriorate so far to where each person on the rung of the hierarchy system become “servant victims” to an unhealthy leadership of hyper-authoritarians, demonstrating egocentric personalities in a “religious power machine” of toxic cultic behavior and control. Once this occurs, the organization takes on a self-serving mentality; meaning, whatever needs to be done to protect the ministry is legitimized and spiritualized.

A healthy church puts the needs of others ahead of the needs of the ministry, whereas a “corporate” mandated church puts the needs of the ministry ahead of the needs of their people.

This kind of mindset can begin with such simple things as numerical growth or building programs. If the church loses sight of its original purpose – loving God and serving others, the need for bigger and better has only begun. If the church is in a building program, this need may only increase. Growth can become an obsession and success is often determined by the number of seats filled, gaining more space, higher offerings receive, and running bigger budgets. The ministry becomes defined in finances and ever-increasing assets. The people of the congregation get caught up in this blaze of glory, and sermons begin to sway from biblical truth, ministering life, to what would increase the “corporate body of that church.” Promotion, production, and ministry image grows as it abandons what the church was originally set up to do. Programs become priority as it replaces people. Instead of leaders having the mentality of servitude, the people within the congregation becomes slaves to a mindset that puts organization needs above the needs of the people. The feelings, hopes, and needs of the people become less of a concern, and the prime objective is to make sure that the organization survives and thrives. Sadly, this kind of church has then turned into a “corporate mandated church.” By this time, the members of the congregation generally feel such loyalty toward their pastor and church, and so subtly, without realizing it, they are serving the purpose of the church instead of serving the Lord - and they are not even aware of it. Success becomes the message for the church and its members. It is at this point where indoctrination can take place as each week the congregate members hear the same message of self-promotion. Scripture verses begin to be taken out of context, with interpretations of the Bible having twists of personal opinions and gains rather than God’s intent. As time continues, the preaching gets further from the truths of God’s Word as “pet” scripture verses are used to manipulate the “whole of Scripture” to support any erroneous doctrine which would serve its purpose. Those errors can even go so far as to contradict reason and Scripture on which long-held Christian beliefs are supported. As such, indoctrination continues as the people in the congregation continue to nod their heads in support of their pastor’s preaching and they lose their ability to critically think and scripturally research out its error.

Pride, perfection, and elitism

Elitism becomes the norm in the church as it is modeled from the top on down; however, it is often seen by many congregate members as success of one’s pastor(s) and top leaders.  These top leaders often live in luxury while those on the lower rung of the hierarchy ladder struggle to financially support the needs of church.  Yet, this kind of living "seems" to be supported by one and all within the church. 

While ministry at the altar is encouraged by its leaders to the congregation, the leaders are rarely seen coming forward to receive personal ministry for themselves.  Humility has been replaced by pride as the facade of perfection and excellence is demonstrated to the congregation.  The pastor becomes more unapproachable and what he or she used to do is now replaced by those lower on the rank of authority.

When a Christian leader ceases to be an example to others in humble servitude
and begins to model a pattern of perfection or excellence, spiritual abuse
toward others is at its core

These sins are issues of the heart for not only the pastor but those leaders under him or her. Titles and roles are promoted, referring to and treating people according to their status. Those who desire to work their way up the ranks of the “spiritual corporate ladder” to attain “their place in God” become preoccupied with striving in that climb within that hierarchy system of their church, usually unaware of the sins that want to encompass their heart as well.

The higher the climb, and the longer one remains in that kind of environment, the more one sees the ramifications of spiritual abuse – especially for those on the lower levels. Generally, however, the will to leave is filtered by the desire to enjoy one’s own level of prestige, success and power, as well as enjoying the multi-faceted components of the ministry. While the infrequent congregate attendee of the church may be blind to what is going on, internal things begin to change for those who are actively involved. What these active members once saw as a surface of unity, now shows discontent, with quiet whispers, rumors and secrets that are beginning to come to the surface. If the church is a large multi-faceted ministry, the “rewards” of being involved initially outweigh the “consequences” of any spiritual abuse seen or experienced. In time, however, they, themselves, begin to put the needs of the ministry above meeting the needs of others. This is especially true for the active members who are trying to climb that “spiritual corporate ladder” within their church. That heart of love and humility and servitude toward others is replaced by a hardening of the heart to others in need. Their personal relationship to Christ begins to decline as they have now joined the ranks of control by an authoritarian hierarchy. After a period of time, the consequences of such a system begin to outweigh the rewards experienced, and those who have the courage end up leaving such a system. They leave, however, wounded, having the need to be healed. Sadly, those who stay within the ranks have already hardened their heart out of self-preservation and are fallen puppet victims within their ranks of the hierarchy system within their church.

The abusive leaders, who are those who are suppose to be accountable and responsible to those they serve, become judgmental, considering themselves more superior and more spiritual. They rationalize their behavior, mocking and calling those who leave as disgruntled, treating them like sinners and outcasts and use them as scapegoats in private and public conversations, or even sermons, not realizing or caring that they are wounded and in need of healing. The message these leaders portray is that “these kinds of people are divisive.” The message is then conveyed either publicly or privately that “contact with them would be sinful gossip and would only stir up more division.” For fear of not being considered loyal to their leaders and being alienated within their church, many cut off all ties of friendship with those who leave. Just as sad, those who leave cut off all ties with friends and loved ones within the church out of fear of being shunned by them. This only creates more wounds in the already wounded victims who have left the church.

These kinds of abusive leaders have now become poison to not only their church but to the Body of Christ as well. They will one day be held accountable and responsible to God and will then have to be judged by Him for the damage they created.  Those who remain in such a church will become just as abusive to those who have left such a ministry, considering themselves as more spiritual and scripturally correct, having elitist personalities, with no idea they have been deceived and are actually on the road of backsliding in their own faith.  Just as their leaders, they too have become a poison to the Body of Christ and will one day have to be held accountable and responsible to God for such actions.  It becomes a cycle of poison in the Body of Christ.

The six categories of a spiritually abused church

The people within a spiritually abused church generally fall into six categories:

1. Those infrequent attendees who are ignorant and unaware of what is going on, and since it does not affect them, they do not care.
2. Those who are aware, but like being a part of the church’s multi-faceted functions, which include being part of a large ministry, and the notoriety it brings.
3. Those who see or are feeling spiritual abused to some degree but hopes things will eventually change.
4. Those who are climbing “the spiritual corporate ladder” within the church, believing they are obtaining “their place in God.” For most, this is a genuine desire to serve God, but in time it turns to self preservation as they either want to stay at their particular rung of the ladder or climb higher for the prestige it brings. By this point of time, they are either witnessing spiritual abuse in others or experiencing it themselves to one degree or another. Fear of loss and intimidation often rules them to do nothing about it.
5. Those who choose to fight against any such abuse. They are generally “marked” by those higher on the corporate ladder as divisive. Loss of position often happens.
6). Those who have had enough and choose to leave.

The ramifications of spiritual abuse

Spiritual abuse is generally subtle and difficult to be recognized by new members within the congregation. The excitement of a growing ministry is escalated as the subtle undertones of abuse slowly take place within its members, who unknowingly are becoming its victims. In time, however, there will be those who sense the feelings that “something is not right” as they see the elitism of those above and that what they once thought they saw as servitude toward others is now seen as the members serving the needs of the church. They are now faced with a decision – stay or leave. If they chose to stay, they will either harden their hearts and become indoctrinated to where they too will become puppets to the leaders above them, which will lock them into a web of deceit and spiritual backsliding, or they will go through a gambit of emotions and experiences that will one day have to be faced. Either way, their spiritual growth begins to decline.

In a Hierarchy System of church government where the church has become spiritually abusive, the head pastor expects their congregation to obey him or her as each leader underneath on the “spiritual corporate ladder” rubber stamps him or her in all aspects of the ministry, thus distorting the concept of spiritual authority. “Pet” scripture verses or passages taken out of context are used to support his or her position in sermons to the congregation. Most people within the congregation and those on the “spiritual corporate ladder” will want to conform for fear of being “disobedient to God” or alienation by their leaders above them. This abuse carries the greatest hold over inexperienced, naïve, and dependent individuals who are seeking a strong leader. This then perpetrates manipulation and control as the top leaders continue to exhibit their elitist personalities and abuses. Those who have chosen to harden their hearts to its abuse rationalize the behavior of their leaders regardless of the abuses they either witness or experience themselves within the church.

The following are common abuses and ramifications seen within churches that run on the Hierarchy System of church government.

  • The misuse or distortion of spiritual authority : The misuse shifts when a church moves from “general respect” for a person holding an office who displays open accountability and the capacity to question or challenge decision to where members loyally submit without any right to dissent. While the spiritual abuse may not be necessarily openly deliberate, the outcome is the same. Often the scripture passage that states “touch not my anointed” (referring to a particular Old Testament prophet) is implied that one cannot be critical of their church leaders without being critical of God.

    It is taught that unity means that everyone MUST NOT question anything taught by the head pastor. Those who question anything are considered disloyal.  It is subtly taught that if anyone questions or have a difference of opinion from that of the head pastor, are told not to talk about it to others, stating that would be gossip, spreading of rumors, which, of course, is a sin. They are told to go to one of the leaders in the church, who in private will not openly discuss any questions, but will make every effort to point out the error of that person's ways. If the person does not concede and submit to those ways, he or she is then “marked” and considered divisive.  Any "marked" person involved in any leadership position, are often released of their position.  For fear of loss, this alone brings most people to keep quiet. 

  • Manipulation and control : Things run smoothly as long as there are no challenges from anyone. When those challenges do come, as most assuredly they will, the leaders turn to manipulation and control, building fear, guilt and intimidation to bring people into submission. The goal is unquestionable obedience, group conformity, and stringent loyalty from those on every rung of the “corporate ladder.” Sadly, many leaders on the “corporate ladder” who want to be considered loyal to its leaders and the ministry use the same kind of power on those below them. Any question or criticism of upper leadership would be considered slanderous, divisive, or factious.

  • Elitism and classism from other churches:  Abusive churches depict themselves as unique and strong, separating themselves from other churches unlike them. They no longer interact with other local churches in the community, especially smaller churches, because of their “elitist” personalities. They are then seen by outsiders as snobbish and self-serving instead of loving and caring for those who need.

Outside opinion:  In spite of the image the church wants to portray, outside criticism and evaluation will become public as secular society begins to critically examine the church and its leader(s). Their efforts, or opinions, however, are dismissed and scorned by those within the church, claiming its disruptive efforts from outside the church came from Satan by the hands of evil people who were seeking to hinder or thwart their ministry.

Elitism within the church: Those involved on the “spiritual corporate ladder,” are generally preoccupied with power, promoting their church hierarchy, referring to and treating people according to their titles and roles. It is taught that Jesus poured himself into only 12 people; therefore, the head pastor does not need to involve him or herself with the congregation – only a top few leaders.

In a day when superpastors in mega-large churches and popular televangelists speak out to millions, the tendency to refer to them as experts in the Bible are strong and advertently are placed on a pastoral pedestal, which only supports elitism even further.

It becomes apparent to all that only the elite within the church are allowed “to speak out for God.” In other words, be allowed to speak out to the congregation in prayer, prophecy, tongues, or interpretation.  For those who would try, they run the risk of being publicly embarrassed and humiliated. In a church where the unspoken premise is that one can work his or her way up the ladder of ranks to gain superiority over those underneath them, it would be considered “spiritual suicide” to question those above within the church.

  • Outside ministries: Congregational members who would like to begin a ministry outside of their church are “encouraged” to put their ministry under the umbrella of their church. In a church that believes in a “spiritual covering,” it becomes an understanding that if they don’t, they would be considered divisive and disloyal and open to the wiles of Satan. If that ministry then is permitted to be under the church, it would be controlled by the church. Often the one who began the ministry loses it to whomever the church would appoint to run that ministry. 
  • Increased performance: For abusive leaders, everything is based on what is best for the ministry. They expect those in the congregation, as well as those on the “spiritual corporate ladder” to make heroic financial, time, and emotional sacrifices for their church. Pleas for money become emotional as fear of disloyalty increases. Sadly, the spiritual growth of each member decreases as fear and questions increases.
  • Indoctrination: Interpreting Scripture becomes the sole responsibility of the head pastor. When abuse is present, the twisting of scripture is common to convey a personal opinion rather than God’s intent. Some even claim to receive direct messages from God about their church or individual members, but these messages typically deviate from Scripture and reality. When hearing sermons that support the purpose of the church, most congregational members nod their heads in agreement, under the guise of unity, while indoctrination fills their spirit. Critical thinkers, however, either quietly question what is being said, so as not to create dissention, or later openly question and debate, and will receive the wrath of the leaders above. Either way, critical thinkers will ultimately leave the church.

For those members who have the courage to leave such a church, they are often in need of healing and help in finding another Body of Christ where they can feel loved by leaders who serve in honest love and humility. Without help and support, they run the risk of finding another church similar to the one they left and the cycle begins all over again.

The spiritual damage of being in a spiritually abusive church

Again, it cannot be emphasized too strongly that spiritual abuse is dangerous for the spiritual growth of any Christian. Spending quality time with the Lord in His Word and in prayer, along with fellowshipping with the Body of Christ should be one of pleasure and fulfillment. Instead, the desire to attend church, along with personal prayer and devotional time with the Lord diminishes when spiritual abuse is present. It is replaced by the busyness of working for the ministry.

The next article will discuss ways of helping those who have left spiritually abusive churches to get back on track in their relationship with the Lord and find a solid Christian church where they feel loved by leaders who serve the Lord in humility and demonstrate respect for others.

Click here for next article in this series

End Notes


[1] http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761580494/Cult.html
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Andries/drafts/cult
[3] http://www.caic.org.au/biblebase/abuse/beyondac.htm
[4] http://www.geocities.com/restministries/about.html REST Ministries Ron Henzel
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritual_abuse

Written by Pastor Joyce A. Erickson

Believers Bible School, Founder https://believersbibleschool.com/