Spiritual abuse can be difficult to detect at first if you have never encountered it. In a manipulative congregation or church, the GOVERNING BODIES (ministers, elders) have slowly positioned themselves to take the place of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives even replacing Jesus with a body of men or one leader. They may try to put undue influence on the choices that people in their congregation are making. They might try to sway someone’s decision in a matter to keep them under their control, or to keep them from leaving the organization or church.
To “abuse” is to use something or someone to bad effect or for a bad purpose, especially regularly or repeatedly. Spiritual abuse happens when a spiritual authority, such as a cult leaders or abusive elder, pastor, governing body of men, seeks to control individuals and ensure obedience. Spiritual abuse is closely associated with spiritual manipulation and is not God’s plan for promoting spiritual growth.
A spiritually abusive group might claim that they are God’s sole channel of communication and that they alone can rightly interpret God’s Word. They might claim that salvation depends upon belonging to their church organization and that, since God speaks through them alone, there can be no further discussion on what the leaders say. They alone have “THE TRUTH” the leaders or Governing Body might point to God’s blessings on their work. They often pile on guilt if you question them or their understanding of a Biblical text. “ Independent thinking”, going against the “faithful slave” or leaders will get you shunned by the congregation
Abusive groups also place great emphasis on works—attending every meeting; volunteering to help at local, regional, and national events; and devoting required minimum amounts of time to proselytizing even going from door to door to publicly show you obey them.
Members are constantly reminded that the end of this wicked system of things is imminent and so there is very little time left to spread the “good news.” Everyone must do more in the advancement of “God’s work.” The dedication of each member is tracked and measured by the amount of time, effort, and money he or she gives to the cause. If an individual’s efforts begin to slip below expectations, it will be noticed. Armageddon or the end of the world is said to always be right around the corner.
Spiritual abuse can occur when church or cult leaders misuse Scripture to bolster their own authority and keep their members under their thumb. For example, a spiritual authority may use Hebrews 13:17 (“Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority”) to demand blind loyalty and unthinking obedience. A Governing body might say, “God has given me authority over you; thus, to disobey me is to disobey God.” If members grow uneasy and think about leaving, all the Governing bodies, pastors or elders have to do is say, “If you leave this group, where will you go? Instead of what Simon Peter answered Jesus, “Lord, to WHOM shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” They make the claim only we have the truth.” This type of manipulation is appalling, but it occurs more often than one might think. Our loyalty is due Christ, the Head of the church (Ephesians 1:22), not a particular organization, church, leader or Governing Body.
BE INFORMED NOT INFLUENCED
Cults and abusive church organizations pre-emptively insulate members from any information critical of the group. Members are taught early on to be skeptical of any negative report about the group and that “apostates” only lie about them. These “lies” are identified as a form of persecution, which “proves” they must be the one true religion. So, for example, if journalists report on leaders who have been found guilty of child sexual abuse, the organization simply tells its members they cannot believe anything the newspapers say about them—it’s all lies and smears. Even if you know a child or children that have suffered abuse within the congregation, members will defend their organization and governing bodies. Spiritually abusive leaders can become so clever at thought and information control.
The more committed to the abusive organization or church a person becomes, the more isolated he becomes from non-members, and the more he fears punishment if he tries to leave. Some people, after a lifetime of emotional investment in a religious group, simply do not know how they could survive if they left. They have no friends other than their fellow organization church members. They may have cut off contact with family members. They probably have no interests (social or intellectual) outside of their group. Such is their fear of being ostracized that many stay put, keeping their misgivings to themselves.
Then there is the shunning:
Hierarchy or pecking order religious organizations enforce shunning of all persons that leave the fold. Family, including mother, father, children, sister or brother will stop speaking to each other or helping in any way a member that leaves the organization. Some bar them from funerals. They misuse Jesus’ words that he came to” bring a sword not peace” at Matt. 10:34. This whole chapter is about the ramifications of following Jesus. Not being disloyal to a governing body, minister, leader or cult.
Matthew 7:1-5 “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a log in your eye? Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Ephesians 4:32: (ESV) “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
“Toxic faith has bad results, while real spirituality has good results. Toxic faith condemns; real spirituality releases. Toxic faith is works-based; real spirituality is faith-based. Toxic faith judges; real spirituality is all about grace.”