Spiritual Abuse and Common Characteristics

"‘Thus says the Lord God, “Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock. Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them."

Ezekiel 34: 2(b)-4

http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=25037&picture=churchChurch by Junior Libby

We are so grateful to Boz Tchividjian and G.R.A.C.E. for their Public Statement Concerning Sexual Abuse in the Church of Jesus Christ and their petition to garner support against sexual abuse in the church.  In case you missed Dee's post on this latest development, you can read it here.  Their goal is to obtain 10,000 signatures, so please take the time to add your name to the petition (as both of us have done).

We believe that sexual abuse in the church is closely linked to spiritual abuse.  Dee and I are grateful for the internet and the wealth of information that is being made available on the topic of spiritual abuse.  Three years ago we were educating ourselves about this serious problem in Christendom and sharing our findings with our readership (which was small at the time). 

For those of you who were not here, we thought it might be helpful to re-publish some posts from our archives on spiritual abuse.  Here are two of them.  In our upcoming post, we will feature some related information. 

There is no room in the body of Christ for spiritual abuse, and we must work hard to rid Christendom of it.  May God have mercy on those who spiritually abuse the flock.


What Is Spiritual Abuse? (link)

"Spiritual abuse occurs when someone in a position of spiritual authority, the purpose of which is to 'come underneath' and serve, build, equip and make God's people MORE free, misuses that authority placing themselves over God's people to control, coerce or manipulate them for seemingly Godly purposes which are really their own."      

Jeff VanVonderen

When Dee and I launched The Wartburg Watch, our goal was to discuss "faith issues".  As we began to investigate trends within Christendom, two problems came to the fore — spiritual abuse and hyper-authoritarianism.  We have discussed these problems before; however, since our readership has grown quite a bit, we feel obligated to cover these issues again, this time in greater depth.  PATRIARCHS BEWARE!  You will be learning from women.  Read at your own risk . . 

According to the Wikipedia article on Spiritual abuse, the term was not coined until the latter part of the twentieth century.  It certainly appears that this form of abuse in on the rise and is causing great harm to the body of Christ.      

Ronald Enroth in Churches That Abuse identifies five categories of characteristics that describe Spiritual Abuse (listed in the Wiki article):

1. Authority and Power – abusive groups misuse and distort the concept of spiritual authority. Abuse arises when leaders of a group arrogate to themselves power and authority that lacks the dynamics of open accountability and the capacity to question or challenge decisions made by leaders. The shift entails moving from general respect for an office bearer to one where members loyally submit without any right to dissent.

2. Manipulation and Control – abusive groups are characterized by social dynamics where fear, guilt, and threats are routinely used to produce unquestioning obedience, group conformity, and stringent tests of loyalty to the leaders are demonstrated before the group. Biblical concepts of the leader-disciple relationship tend to develop into a hierarchy where the leader's decisions control and usurp the disciple's right or capacity to make choices on spiritual matters or even in daily routines of what form of employment, form of diet and clothing are permitted.

3. Elitism and Persecution – abusive groups depict themselves as unique and have a strong organizational tendency to be separate from other bodies and institutions. The social dynamism of the group involves being independent or separate, with diminishing possibilities for internal correction and reflection. Outside criticism and evaluation is dismissed as the disruptive efforts of evil people seeking to hinder or thwart.

4. Lifestyle and Experience – abusive groups foster rigidity in behavior and in belief that requires unswerving conformity to the group's ideals and social mores.

5. Dissent and Discipline – abusive groups tend to suppress any kind of internal challenges and dissent concerning decisions made by leaders. Acts of discipline may involve emotional and physical humiliation, physical violence or deprivation, acute and intense acts of punishment for dissent and disobedience.

In the Wiki article on Spiritual Abuse, Agnes and John Lawless argue in The Drift into Deception that there are EIGHT characteristics of spiritual abuse, and some of these clearly overlap with Enroth's criteria listed above.

They list the eight marks of spiritual abuse as comprising:

1. charisma and pride,
2. anger and intimidation,
3. greed and fraud,
4. immorality,
5. Enslaving authoritarian structure,
6. Exclusivity,
7. Demanding loyalty and honor,
8. New revelation.

According to the above article, "The basis of spiritual abuse is when these characteristics are overstretched to achieve a desired goal that is neither supported by spiritual reality nor by the human conscience."

One of the signs of spiritual abuse is FEAR, and intimidation is often the tactic used by spiritual leaders who try to control, manipulate, or dominate their followers.

There is so much more information to share on Spiritual Abuse, and we will pick up with this topic tomorrow.


Spiritual Abuse – Common Characteristics (link)

"Spiritual abuse is as old as false religion itself.  While the practice is old, the term "spiritual abuse" may have been coined first by Jeff VanVonderen."   David Henke 

My heart breaks for those who have been spiritually abused.  I praise God that there are excellent resources on the internet that can help victims of spiritual abuse become survivors

One such resource is provided by Watchman Fellowship, which we highly recommend.  David Henke has written an excellent article that will help Christians identify spiritually abusive organizations.  Henke makes an extremely important point regarding their organizational structure.  He explains that often spiritually abusive ministries will have "top down" hierarchical structures.   This cannot be over-emphasized!  It's the primary reason why spiritual abuse persists.

Henke has compiled a list of common characteristics of spiritual abusive ministries, which we believe are excellent!  Although we shared similar characteristics in yesterday's post, we believe they bear repeating.  

#1) Authoritarian

The most distinctive characteristic of a spiritually abusive religious system, or leader, is the over-emphasis on authority. Because a group claims to have been established by God Himself the leaders in this system claim the right to command their followers.

This authority supposedly comes from the position they occupy. In Matthew 23:1-2 Jesus said the Scribes and Pharisees "sit in Moses' seat," a position of spiritual authority. Many names are used but in the abusive system this is a position of power, not moral authority. The assumption is that God operates among His people through a hierarchy, or "chain of command." In this abusive system unconditional submission is often called a "covering," or "umbrella of protection" which will provide some spiritual blessing to those who fully submit. Followers may be told that God will bless their submission even if the leadship is wrong. It is not their place to judge or correct the leadership – God will see to that.

#2) Image Conscious

The abusive religious system is scrupulous to maintain an image of righteousness. The organization's history is often misrepresented in the effort to demonstrate the organization's special relationship to God. The mistaken judgements and character flaws of its leaders are denied or covered up in order to validate their authority. Impossibly high legalistic standards of thought and behavior may be imposed on the members. Their failure to live up to these standards is a constant reminder of the follower's inferiority to his leaders, and the necessity of submission to them. Abusive religion is, at heart, legalism.

Abusive religion is also paranoid. Because the truth about the abusive religious system would be quickly rejected if recognized, outsiders are shown only a positive image of the group. This is rationalized by assuming that the religion would not be understood by "worldly" people; therefore they have no right to know. This attitude leads to members being secretive about some doctrines and the inner policies and proceedures of the group. Leaders, especially, will keep secrets from their members. This secrecy is rooted in a basic distrust of others because the belief system is false and can not stand scrutiny.

#3) Suppresses Criticism

Because the religious system is not based on the truth it cannot allow questions, dissent, or open discussions about issues. The person who dissents becomes the problem rather than the issue he raised. The truth about any issue is settled and handed down from the top of the hierarchy. Questioning anything is considered a challenge to authority. Thinking for oneself is suppressed by pointing out that it leads to doubts. This is portrayed as unbelief in God and His anointed leaders. Thus the follower controls his own thoughts by fear of doubting God.

#4) Perfectionistic

A most natural assumption is that a person does not get something for nothing. Apart from the express declarations of salvation by grace through faith God has given in the scriptures, it would be natural to think that one must earn salvation, or at least work to keep it. Thus, in abusive religions all blessings come through performance of spiritual requirements. Failure is strongly condemned so there is only one alternative, perfection. So long as he thinks he is succeeding in his observation of the rules, the follower typically exhibits pride, elitism, and arrogance. However, when reality and failure eventually set in, the result is the person experiences spiritual burnout, or even shipwreck of his faith. Those who fail in their efforts are labeled as apostates, weak, or some other such term so that they can be discarded by the system.

#5) Unbalanced

Abusive religions must distinguish themselves from all other religions so they can claim to be distinctive and therefore special to God. This is usually done by majoring on minor issues such as prophecy, carrying biblical law to extremes, or using strange methods of biblical interpretation. The imbalanced spiritual hobby-horse thus produced represents unique knowledge or practices which seem to validate the group's claim to special status with God.

Thank you, David Henke, for explaining these characteristics in such an understandable way!  

Our purpose in focusing on spiritual abuse is first to help those who have been hurt to recognize that they have been abused and second to help them heal from these devastating experiences.  

In our upcoming post, I will be reviewing an important book called Toxic Faith, written by Dr. Stephen Arterburn.  Until then, here is Dr. Arterburn addressing spiritual abuse, which he calls "Toxic Faith". 

TOXIC FAITH – Surviving SPIRITUAL Abuse (Part 1)

TOXIC FAITH – Surviving SPIRITUAL Abuse (Part 2)

Lydia's Corner:  2 Kings 18:13-19:37   Acts 21:1-17   Psalm 149:1-9   Proverbs 18:8

Comments

Spiritual Abuse and Common Characteristics — 68 Comments

  1. Jeff Van Vonderen's work was SO helpful to me years ago when I was dealing with this stuff in my own life. When you scroll through that list and realise that you can tick almost everything he lists, you realise that you are not the one going crazy. Just having a name to put towards your experience is a major step towards healing, because you no longer have to take responsibility for the weirdness yourself. It is also a big step towards realising that God is not as they represent Him, and your relationship with God doesn't have to feel like abuse.

  2. I had never heard Steve Arterburn speak on spiritual abuse before. He’s really good. Those videos are worth watching. I like his advice to simply walk out the door of an abusive church. Staying in the church and going to the services, simply enables the leadership to continue abusing.

  3. I am grateful that I have never been part of a church that would be characterized as abusive. However, we are in the process of leaving one that we believe is heading there. I would appreciate prayers for that!

    I truly appreciate all that you, Dee and Deb, do for the Christian community. Even if you are women. [;)]

  4. Well, my winking smiley didn’t work. One more try: :wink:

    If that doesn’t work, well, just know that my last sentence in the above comment was supposed to be a funny.

  5. Janey wrote:

    I like his advice to simply walk out the door of an abusive church.

    Easier said than done if you have NO friends or contacts or life outside of church.

    My writing partner has told me of many churches whose members have NO contact whatsoever with anyone outside the four walls of their church. ALL their friends are “friends from Church.”

    To prevent this, all I can say is from the mouths of cartoon ponies, i.e. Princess Celestia’s advice to Twilight Sparkle:
    “Make some friends.”
    OUTSIDE of Church.

  6. Although my old church only exhibited some of these characteristics (that I know of), I keep feeling anger at that whole situation. I’m angry with myself for falling for it and staying around for three years, and angry with the abusive system that believed itself to be God’s gift to my city.

  7. No More Perfect wrote:

    I am grateful that I have never been part of a church that would be characterized as abusive. However, we are in the process of leaving one that we believe is heading there. I would appreciate prayers for that!
    I truly appreciate all that you, Dee and Deb, do for the Christian community. Even if you are women. [;)]

    Our former church was / is well on its way to becoming an abusive church. Praying you will find peace as you exit.

  8. This is an enormously helpful summary for me. One thing that I think is important to remember is that there are various ways these abusive characteristics manifest themselves and play out in people’s lives, and that a church doesn’t have to have all of them to be really sick. Any one of them is a huge red flag. I’ve been fortunate never to have been in a church where these traits were present in the institution, and only rarely in a few odd Christian brothers’ and sisters’ lives. But I have a family member who is in a group that is extremely authoritarian and spiritually elitist, and you would not believe the ways this has played out in their behaviors, actions and words, some of which are just plain evil, and nearly completely destroyed relationships with family members.

    There are real consequences to churches that adopt these traits, and those consequences don’t stop at the church door; they spread wider than probably anyone can imagine. And what is worse, they turn observers and seekers off completely because they have nothing of the love or character of Jesus.

  9. I was part of an abusive church for 12 years, and I stuck around for a few reasons. It was my first church outside of Catholicism, and a lot of biblical truth became obvious to me. At the time, the pastor was energized and focused, and eventually he parcelled off his counseling and pastoral duties, so now all he does is write sermons. My husband dislikes change, and I thought (mistakenly) that we could trust the friendships there. I always had a problem with authority, especially spiritual authority, in that I don’t believe in the concepts. One does not need authority unless something is wrong and discipline is needed. Also, there was a definite squashing of outside ideas, and a pattern of conformity and need to fit in.

    And I always thought that they needed one woman who was willing to buck the status quo. The last straw was when I had an argument with one woman over a book the group wanted to read. There is an excellent article on Patheos dated July 13, 2013 called Women Who Hate Women Who Lead. I was the person who was happy with my life choices, and this woman had a college degree, but works in a factory lifting heavy boxes with men. I was her scapegoat for the bad choices she had made in her life.

  10. I think the feeling of leaving the only community-like place you’ve ever known can bring a lot of hesitation when people are ready to leave. I know it did for me. When I left CLC, I had a picture in my head of myself in a little rowboat out in the ocean waves all along. But Jesus was in the boat with me protecting me and guiding the boat. So I knew ultimately I couldn’t go wrong and would be safe. I joined a megachurch after CLC, and even though I got involved in the singles ministry and joined a ladies’ bible study, it was tough going at first. I remember being at a ladies’ retreat and knowing one person. I sat in a far hall of the hotel and just cried and cried. I’m now 13 years later and many experiences later, but I can attest that the Lord does guide you.

  11. Former CLC’er wrote:

    But Jesus was in the boat with me protecting me and guiding the boat. So I knew ultimately I couldn’t go wrong and would be safe.

    Thanks for this. This is helpful to me right now.

  12. This is a great post but you know what? It doesn’t help. :(

    I just can’t seem to get a bead on what the deal is with this church I’m in. I can’t quite call it abusive but I know some of the leadership have drawn deeply from sources who have been named unfavorably on this blog in comments if not in articles. They seem to be off only just enough so that they fly under the abusive radar, and they have good hearts so no one would ever think such a thing of them.

    I wonder if there is such a thing as a useful idiot church? Because that’s the kind of harm they do when they are doing harm. And that they are generally pretty good guys generally doing good things kinda covers that up. :???:

    It’s like one of those medical situations when a diagnosis isn’t perfectly clear but something is not right.

  13. formerly anonymous wrote:

    just can’t seem to get a bead on what the deal is with this church I’m in. I can’t quite call it abusive but I know some of the leadership have drawn deeply from sources who have been named unfavorably on this blog in comments if not in articles. They seem to be off only just enough so that they fly under the abusive radar, and they have good hearts so no one would ever think such a thing of them.
    I wonder if there is such a thing as a useful idiot church?

    oh yeah. Taht is a great way to describe the megas i was in and out of. EVerything looked great on stage, with the volunteers, bit happy places. lots of smiley faces. Great stage personas.

    how any folks do you think ever asked to see a budget? how many actually disagreeed publicly with the leadership over doctrine or an expensive decision. (nothing was ever voted on these places abut a long term campaign that actually sold the idea to get more money and it always worked)

    The staff of these places are torallty different. it is totally top down, secretive and group think. They are sick places.

    now, for those who dared ask to see a budget or disagree publicly, they seemed to disappear. There was an joke among staff they were swimming with the fishes. get the double meaning?

    The useful idiots provide the money and the audience. The celebs thank them until they start asking too many questions. Oh, and God is always blessing their decisions even when they go wrong. no one knows.

  14. I’m glad to see my article is being well used. I began following the SGM saga recently and it is ANOTHER sad episode for the Church. I travel to the DC area a couple times a year to visit family AND counsel dissident from another abusive church in the area. If I can be of any help just let me know.

  15. formerly anonymous wrote:

    It’s like one of those medical situations when a diagnosis isn’t perfectly clear but something is not right.

    Well doctors will ask if you smoke or exercise. So we must ask some questions upfront. Can I see a detailed budget quarterly and does the congregation have business meetings and vote? Does a lay person run the business meetings? If none of these things happen then there is no accountability system in place. That does not mean people vote right or that there are no problems. It simply means you do not have to check your brains at the door to go there. You can be as informed as you chose to be. Churches that operate on the Priesthood of believer model are rare these days. Good luck finding one. I don’t do the elder rule…er led model anymore. Too many of them out there still with pimples in the YRR movement or it is the millionaires club in megas. I like it when the janitor and the housewife both have a vote, too. Keeps us real.

  16. formerly anonymous wrote:

    I just can’t seem to get a bead on what the deal is with this church I’m in. I can’t quite call it abusive but I know some of the leadership have drawn deeply from sources who have been named unfavorably on this blog in comments if not in articles.

    I know what you’re talking about. Some of these churches authoritarians to run the show. Or they have fallen into the “us against the world” view, where “we” are the only good Christians and outsiders are not up to our standards. “We,” in this church, are good and elite. “They” are weak Christians, at least — or worldly and carnal, at most. I used to attend a church that toyed with the motto: “The Premier Church of ___[location]___.” The leadership had to be told publicly several times that this motto completely missed the point of being the Body of Christ.

  17. I don’t want to minimize the trauma or the importance of discussing spiritual abuse in the American church, because I think this is an important topic. However, a related topic is that of spiritual abuse on the mission field. I was on staff with a well-known, well-respected evangelical para-church organization in Japan. My team and I had a lot of conflict, which wasn’t handled well. I have had a couple of people since I’ve been back label my team dynamics as abusive. I’m still not sure, partly because I don’t really spend a lot of time dwelling on it, and partly because the characteristics used to diagnose these dynamics just seem to not apply if you’re on a team of four or five people. Missionaries in spiritually abusive environments are dealing with different dynamics, and some of the things that making leaving abusive churches in the states hard–like having to leave community, ‘buying in’ in a sense–are doubly difficult for missionaries whose livelihoods, community, and often life’s work can all be wrapped up in the team. It’s not as simple as ‘just leaving.’ Compounding this are cultural differences and the desire to be culturally sensitive, which may make it even harder to know when leadership is abusive and when it’s just different. Additionally, missionaries who have *good* field experiences face challenges in reintegrating into the American church. Missionaries who have bad ones? It’s even harder because the church, and even good ones, is often, fairly or unfairly, saddled with baggage. And no one wants to hear about a bad missions experience.

    Like I said, I’m not trying to downplay the importance of spiritual abuse in the church. I’m just trying to bring up a facet that is either hidden, ignored, or not talked about.

  18. Anon 1 wrote:

    The useful idiots provide the money and the audience.

    No, I mean the leaders are useful idiots by being sort of accidentally abusive not because they want to control anybody but because they think the way they do things really is right, and because they draw from the abusive big dogs who are as you say in the mega world with the one thing on stage and another back stage. Or, in the case of how they influence this church, one thing in their books and another in real life. What they see from these big dogs is the polish you are talking about and so they eat readily enough what is put on their plate and find it tastes good to them. That is (I hope) because they are not aware of what goes on in the kitchen, as it were, nor would they believe it if they were told. They are true believers who go out and do all sorts of damage because they really believe the cause is just. They are not the evil guys in the dark corners plotting the take over.

    As far as money goes, they do hold to full disclosure (though that is fairly recentish). In any case, money and how it’s spent is not the problem area.

    The main problem area is more on the order of authoritarianesqueishness. (How’s that for a word? :) ) There is what I consider to be an element of top down and almost a secretiveness sometimes that disturbs me. I’m not sure that isn’t sort of by accident, though it might not be. It is real and has done harm, but I don’t know whether or not it’s intentional. If it is intentional it’s because they think that’s what’s wise.

    If I compile everything I know about how the place has been run that bugs me the most I’d have to say I get the feeling sometimes adult people and their issues get handled like they’re the family pet or very small children even over matters that concern them personally. I have found this to be profoundly offensive as well as harmful. And these guys, IMO, overextend the bounds of their authority, of which they have too much (IMO), and they do not necessarily handle it right. And I do feel there is a divide between leadership and the congregation, whether or not the leadership — or the congregation for that matter — wants it that way. I also don’t see how it’s possible for it to be otherwise they way they have things set up.

    Interestingly, I’m fairly confident if this was brought to their attention it would disturb them and they would want to correct it. However, I think the problem stems from the philosophy that underwrites their structure (I’m not quite clear exactly what that philosophy is but the priesthood of the believer and soul competency doesn’t seem to be part of it to any relevant degree) and they are not going to ever change that so anything they tried to do to effect a different outcome wouldn’t work. They seem to want different fruit from the seeds they sow but they won’t ever get it.

    When I say they are generally good guys, they really are, in private as well as in public. I mean, what you see is pretty much what you get. It’s not like there’s a stage person who’s all sweetness and light and a guy behind stage who’s all darkness and evil. They really don’t mean to be harmful. They just are anyway. They don’t have a choice because of the philosophy that drives them.

    At least, I think that’s what it is. :???:

  19. Janey wrote:

    I meant to say:
    “Some of these churches have authoritarians running the show.”

    That’s why I coined the term “Pastor/Dictator”.

  20. Anon 1 wrote:

    Can I see a detailed budget quarterly

    Yes.

    Anon 1 wrote:

    does the congregation have business meetings

    Yes. And the budget is carefully explained and questions from the floor are answered with as much accuracy and transparency as possible, (and I do know for a fact this is the case).

    Anon 1 wrote:

    and vote

    No.

    Anon 1 wrote:

    Does a lay person run the business meetings?

    See previous answer.

    Actually, I don’t know what their attitude is about a lay person running the meeting but it doesn’t happen, so…see previous answer. I am assuming by lay person you mean neither a pastor nor an elder.

  21. Megan wrote:

    I don’t want to minimize the trauma or the importance of discussing spiritual abuse in the American church, because I think this is an important topic.

    I’ve got a missions agency executive staying with me this weekend. Her focus is to help those who have had to return from the field due to some problem. I suspect she would agree with you.

  22. @ formerly anonymous:

    Everyone’s experiences are different but one thing I have noticed over the years in the SBC is a change in the attitude of pastors whether young or middle aged. And that is they tend to view the pew sitter as somewhat ignorant. That is a big change from my childhood where there was more of an inherent respect for people when a new pastor came in. He did not view it as “his” church. In my neck of the woods, I happen to know this arrogant attitude comes from seminary. However, the mega’s I was in not attached to seminaries really bred this sort of thinking because the goal of leadership WAS secrecy in most things operational. The pew sitters job was to come and listen, volunteer where needed (mostly large staff did the important stuff) and give money. That was it. Instead of the attitude of micromanaging people, it was more of putting on a great show for them each week. To give you an example of the thinking, one mega church had a “guest services” department. The “guests” were members coming to church. They also had a “visitors” department. When you think of the Body of Christ as “guests”, there is a big problem right there.

    Soul competency or the priesthood of believer is not much evident out there anymore. I am in a church now that values both greatly but I can see some changes coming because the pool to choose from when any staffer leaves or retires these days are mainly Piper, Mohler-loving type of pastors. No thanks.

    John Zens is an excellent resource for what is wrong with the typical institutional/authoritarian pastor church model. Check out his “the Pastor has no clothes” book.

    I predict preaching as we know it today will become somewhat obsolete as it is not how we learn anymore.

  23. @ Anon 1:

    “However, the mega’s I was in not attached to seminaries really bred this sort of thinking because the goal of leadership WAS secrecy in most things operational.”

    Sort of like the leaked emails/documents with Rick Warren’s (I think) 9-step plan to become a “purpose-driven church” where the plan to become “purpose-driven” was only revealed to the congregation at step, like, 6? Followed by statements like, you might just have to either drive out the people who disagree with you, or wait for them to die? (Because clearly the only people who wouldn’t like the plan are old fogeys.)

  24. @ Janey:

    I’ve been out of missions circles for three years now, but it used to be an open secret in them that “bad experiences” are common. It’s often said that the number one reason missionaries leave the field is conflict with teammates, with the implication being that we should all just get along. But often, at least in my experience, bringing up negative things like abuse is seen to cause conflict and detract from the all-important task of sharing the gospel, so wounds and hurts fester, and the real issues are never dealt with. Abusers can thrive in this kind of situation, almost with impunity. I’m glad that at least one person on one missions board is concerned and aware of the problem.

  25. @ Hester:

    Hester, You have no idea how much of that sort of thing I was involved in for many years to my utter dismay. In fact, after I left that world, I was devastated to learn a family member of mine was advising a large SBC church here on how to go “elder led” without the congregation figuring it out until they had agreed. (historically it was congregational polity all the way)

    It was a long arduous strategy that started with what they were taught over time. These guys have the patience of the Japanese in business. The process was a 6-10 year strategy,

    If people only knew……

    BTW: Years back Warren’s minions had the “transitioning the church” forum pass protected on pastors.com. It was too embarrassing to read pastors sharing about their “wolves” in the pews who were working against their transition strategies.

  26. Anon 1 wrote:

    Soul competency or the priesthood of believer is not much evident out there anymore. I am in a church now that values both greatly but I can see some changes coming because the pool to choose from when any staffer leaves or retires these days are mainly Piper, Mohler-loving type of pastors. No thanks.

    I remember when it was taken for granted around here that a church would be congregational. I mean, you could find other types of polity and that was fine because ecclesiastical authoritarianism was a thing not done. (There was a problem with Gothard on the personal level, though.) Not anymore. There are a couple, maybe 3 or so I can think of. One has a pastor would like to take it elder ruled, another just hired some young guy and who knows what will happen there, the third is quite small for no good reason. There is another one that says it’s congregational but you have to sign something to become a member and their membership agreement is similar to the ones Dee and Deb wrote about. Not good. There is one other one now that I think about it but I know them pretty well and I can say while their old timers have been vigilant to keep their congregational rule, they have NOT been vigilant to teach their polity so the next generation does not know why they need to be congregational. They also have not been the greatest examples of how it should work, doing some very unwise things (kids voting and so forth) and have reaped what they’ve sown. They also have a new young pastor who I hear is not awesome with some important populations in the assembly. I don’t know what his polity plans are but I think if he wants to change things all he’s got to do is wait a few more years for the older generation that might oppose him to die off. Not kidding, from what I’ve heard. But I don’t know either.

    It’s just so sad. Between the New Calvinism and the Transitioning/Purpose Driven fads, churches around here don’t even know who they are anymore. They certainly don’t know who they were and are losing continuity with their history and heritage. It’s painful to watch and even more painful to endure. People are just being led by the nose and they like it that way. :(

  27. formerly anonymous wrote:

    There is one other one now that I think about it but I know them pretty well and I can say while their old timers have been vigilant to keep their congregational rule

    Actually, no. I have to take that back. They were NOT vigilant to keep it. Not really. They made some soft noises against what was happening but that was all.

  28. formerly anonymous wrote:

    I can say while their old timers have been vigilant to keep their congregational rule, they have NOT been vigilant to teach their polity so the next generation does not know why they need to be congregational

    Oh my word, is this ever true! But then the old timers at my church who are die hard congregational polity types understand totalitarianism from coming of age during WW2. I have had a few 20-somethings tell me that not submitting to the leaders in the church is rebellion. They view it as a sort of piety. A Christian trait to check off the growing list. I fear for not only our churches but our country.

  29. formerly anonymous, I know an old timer who attended a meeting at our state association and came away from it furious because top down church governance is the goal of guys like Mohler’s proteges’ in the SBC who are running our state entities. He told me our church would go elder led over his dead body because he would die trying to convince everyone it would be a huge mistake. :o)

  30. Anon 1 wrote:

    He told me our church would go elder led over his dead body

    Yep. Something like that was said by a stalwart at the congregational church over an attempt to take it over at one point. But they never did go beyond that. That was the “soft noises” I was referring to. I imagine that church is still congregational in name only, if you can do that. :???:

    Nevertheless, good for your guy there!

  31. Anon 1 wrote:

    I have had a few 20-somethings tell me that not submitting to the leaders in the church is rebellion.

    This is why I am asking questions now about this authoritarianism as “gospel” business. It seems very much like they are teaching this authoritarianism is the gospel, perhaps not so much instead of but in addition to Christ crucified. I’m not sure on that. But if I am right and they can win that hand, what will come of it? You will have people like Driscoll and MacDonald saying congregationalism is from hell, just as indeed they do. Because it is not the gospel or is opposed to the gospel? Then people like us will be regarded as unbelievers, which from their perspective would be true. We do not believe that “gospel.” We believe Christ crucified, dead, buried, and risen is the gospel and polity is secondary. Now what? Who ever heard of declaring someone an unbeliever over polity? Well…what’s to keep that from happening, logically? But that would explain their fervor. To us it is secondary. To them it is necessarily primary because it IS the gospel. If I’m right about it, anyway.

    I mean really. Why in the world should they care that another church from theirs has different polity? What makes them think they have any kind of right let alone mandate to deliberately infiltrate — by deception no less! someone else’s church and take it over? What would be the motive for this?

  32. formerly anonymous wrote:

    They also have not been the greatest examples of how it should work, doing some very unwise things (kids voting and so forth)

    Ha, I wouldn’t be surprised if the kids actually knew better than leadership. I say let’em vote! :)

  33. After all – Didn’t Jesus say if you want to be great in His kingdom – you have to be like the kid sitting on his lap? (It’s not complicated…just watch the kids sitting around AT&T’s table.)

  34. @ Anon 1:

    “Years back Warren’s minions had the ‘transitioning the church’ forum pass protected on pastors.com. It was too embarrassing to read pastors sharing about their ‘wolves’ in the pews who were working against their transition strategies.”

    I’d believe it. This is a little close to home for me because my family was one of those less gung-ho about PDL in our former ELCA church. This also happened to roughly coincide with the ELCA’s move toward affirming gay marriage/clergy, which we also disagreed with so…on the outs.

    In other words, dumb stuff can happen in both conservative and liberal churches. Which everyone here likely already knew.

  35. I can understand why “elder rule” can be so appealing. The first church I joined when I was a young 20 year old believer was congregational. Attending my first ever annual business meeting I was bored stiff with the line-by-line discussion of the budget, and more than just a little bothered by how “mature” Christians could get so hot and bothered over small differences in amounts allocated to budget items. The next church I went to, also congregational, was even worse. This last straw was a church where a “church boss” threw his weight around to get a recent seminary grad appointed as pastor and rammed through a building program, among other accomplishments. When the boss found out he could not control the sharp young pastor he spent a year whipping up opposition to the poor guy, eventually driving him out of the church and into a decade-long depression. (He has since emerged and is doing well,) His shenanigans split the church, and that church subsequently chewed up several subsequent pastors.

    After all of this it was almost a relief to be in an elder rule church where the congregation simply ratified the elder board’s decisions without wrangling. As long as we attended services, did our parts in the worship ministry and busied ourselves with work and raising our kids we didn’t much care. We never saw the gradual creep into authoritarianism until we had a family crisis, and then decided to pursue a ministry that didn’t fit with the “vision.” We were like the proverbial frog in the pot.

  36. Lee wrote:

    This last straw was a church where a “church boss” threw his weight around to get a recent seminary grad appointed as pastor and rammed through a building program, among other accomplishments

    Yep, with elder rule they just do it. No ramming necessary. :o) It is not unlike congress. Not good to watch but I prefer it to totalitarianism where only a few have the power and the others no say but have to pay for it.

  37. Anon 1 wrote:

    I have had a few 20-somethings tell me that not submitting to the leaders in the church is rebellion. They view it as a sort of piety.

    Leader’s Youth Brigade types?

  38. formerly anonymous wrote:

    Anon 1 wrote:
    I have had a few 20-somethings tell me that not submitting to the leaders in the church is rebellion.
    This is why I am asking questions now about this authoritarianism as “gospel” business. It seems very much like they are teaching this authoritarianism is the gospel, perhaps not so much instead of but in addition to Christ crucified. I’m not sure on that. But if I am right and they can win that hand, what will come of it? You will have people like Driscoll and MacDonald saying congregationalism is from hell, just as indeed they do. Because it is not the gospel or is opposed to the gospel? Then people like us will be regarded as unbelievers, which from their perspective would be true. We do not believe that “gospel.” We believe Christ crucified, dead, buried, and risen is the gospel and polity is secondary. Now what? Who ever heard of declaring someone an unbeliever over polity? Well…what’s to keep that from happening, logically? But that would explain their fervor. To us it is secondary. To them it is necessarily primary because it IS the gospel. If I’m right about it, anyway.
    I mean really. Why in the world should they care that another church from theirs has different polity? What makes them think they have any kind of right let alone mandate to deliberately infiltrate — by deception no less! someone else’s church and take it over? What would be the motive for this?

    Think your observation is correct. THE gospel to them encompasses ALL…..doctrine = polity = behavior……proving one is in correct before man, whoops God, ahem. And since elder rule is alone responsible for all ecclesiastical decisions, the sheep have nothing to do but obey.

    Our former church was taken over (by stealth) and it’s 165 year history of congregational polity, succumbed to pastor/elder rule. Has also become grossly complimentarian. This change succeeded because 75 % of the church is under 40. Most of them were educated in Christian Colleges. We oldsters even helped some of them out financially when they were in need of tuition money. And their thanks were to tell us we weren’t “biblical ” enough. Oh, the music is awful now too, soooo loud and obnoxiously pandering to the so called, worship team.

    Ugh, it’s ugly out there in Churchville.

  39. Lin wrote:

    Oh, the music is awful now too, soooo loud and obnoxiously pandering to the so called, worship team.

    Lin — Slightly off topic, but we had a young worship leader at my old megachurch who—after the band led a rousing praise song —said, “I just want you to know this is not about me. It’s about Jesus.”

    Good, I thought.

    But then he said it again the next week …and then the next.

    Finally I realized: He *does* think it’s all about him.

  40. Lin wrote:

    Oh, the music is awful now too, soooo loud and obnoxiously pandering to the so called, worship team.

    Don’t even get me started….

  41. Lin wrote:

    Our former church was taken over (by stealth)

    This should settle everything right here. Irrespective of whether there is biblical grounds for elder rule, the way it is being done should be all anyone needs to know to discern whether this thing is from God. If what they are after was legitimate, there would be no need for stealth, which is deception.

    But of course, in order for me to say that I have to start with the understanding that churches that did/do not conform to this standard are still legitimate churches with God’s blessing. They don’t have to start there. They can just as easily start with the premise that these churches have been taken over by Satan or humanism or whatever and they are taking God’s ground back for Him, or however it comes out in their heads. They can frame it as “infiltrating enemy territory” to take it for God, or whatever, and so make it sound legitimate in their own ears.

    I don’t know what they’re saying to legitimize this to themselves (and everyone else), but where they end up is hijacking by deception.

  42. @ formerly anonymous:

    Exactly. It is being deceitful.
    I have asked a few of them why they joined the church in the first place knowing they did not agree with the polity. The bogus answers I received was they “came ” to a better understanding of scripture. So instead of accepting the church polity or going to another church they could agree with more, they set out to change ours.
    I might add, the church building was in good shape and owned several acres of undeveloped land, was debt free and had a couple of fairly ample rainy day accounts.
    Why start up a new church or go to a church in debt when free pickings could be had?

  43. Lin wrote:

    I have asked a few of them why they joined the church in the first place knowing they did not agree with the polity. The bogus answers I received was they “came ” to a better understanding of scripture.

    That’s right out of the Harold Camping end-times playbook. He predicts the end of the world and convinces people to contribute to him. He apologizes. Says he’ll never do it again, then comes to a better understand of Scripture and does it again. He’s remorseful every time. “Once fooled shame on you…”

  44. @ Lin:

    Right. Because God did not really mean commandment 8: You shall not steal; or 10: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

  45. Over the course of working toward my degree with Psychology as major and Religious Studies as minor, this was one of the areas toughed upon in more than one subject course, from Abnormal Psych, Child Abuse and Maltreatment, Abuse recovery, to cross-over courses under Psych/Rel studies departments. But it is not simply any churches that might be involved in such abuse, but individuals, and of most interest in our studies on this, families in which abuse is a significant issue. It might be difficult to distinguish between just how much it is that abusive people from the start, as well as victims of abusive seek out churches and other social environments where abusive attitudes and behaviors are present, verses how many become abusive through contact within those environments. But in the course of studying issues related to this, there can be no denying the preponderance of evidence of correlation between domestic violence and child abuse and maltreatment within families, and exposure to and participation in certain types of churches, religious environments, even particular recognized denominations, notably where patriarchal authoritarianism, doctrines of inherent human worthlessness and depravity, shaming and degradation, an unquestioning acceptance of beliefs, submission and obedience, are evident.

  46. Lin wrote:

    Why in the world should they care that another church from theirs has different polity?

    They fear their people will start noticing those other churches have freedom in Christ. It is a threat. That is why so many are being forced elder rule…err led in the SBC as “biblical”….by stealth, too. Most Baptists of the SBC stripe have some crude understanding at least of congregational polity. This will not do for the Mohler types.

    Many people are buying the argument…especially the young. There used to be a link to a talk Frank Viola did on this subject in written format but now he is putting it in book form and making a buck off it. That is too bad but typical.

    But that talk he gave years ago before he became a celeb was a concise resource for much of what I had picked up on from just trying to figure out why they made such a big deal out of elder rule. Why is it people fall for the elder led model when you see that mentioned in the NT how many times? Very few. And for whom? How come we do not see the Epistles addressed to the elders each time if they are really in charge? Why are they mostly addressed to the entire church? (Even Timothy was transient) How long had some churches been around with no apparent official leadership? Why would Paul have to explain qualifications of elders/deacons to someone who had been traveling around with him planting/visiting churches for so long? Why did Paul plant some churches and leave after a few months with no elders in charge? The questions are endless. And the point is these authoritarians have taken a few passages and built an entire official structure around them. After church/state collapsed, it was a way to obtain power calling it biblical. Truth is, there is no official polity structure commanded for the NT church at all. For me, it is just authoritarians seeking to ‘Gospelize” their quest for power over people.

  47. @ Lin:

    That is happening here in my neck of the woods with quite a few older churches who start a pastor search. The YRR guy is sent from seminary to “interim” and begins a process of taking over with the help of the seminary.

    Free building. No cost start up for the YRR to Calvinize another church take it elder led. And the poor church just thought the seminary was coming to help them.

  48. Jenell Brinson wrote:

    there can be no denying the preponderance of evidence of correlation between domestic violence and child abuse and maltreatment within families, and exposure to and participation in certain types of churches, religious environments, even particular recognized denominations, notably where patriarchal authoritarianism, doctrines of inherent human worthlessness and depravity, shaming and degradation, an unquestioning acceptance of beliefs, submission and obedience, are evident.

    Thank you for your comment and welcome to TWW. Can you cite some studies that we might be able to use in future posts?

  49. Anon 1 wrote:

    They fear their people will start noticing those other churches have freedom in Christ. It is a threat.

    Do you think the smaller building blocks would be husbands and wives that are trying to control/manipulate each other, and parents who try to control/manipulate their kids – especially when they are young adults and are looking to get married? Bad bible seems to be the norm for justifying this mindset. Freedom is a slave to ‘protection’. Do away with this mentality and the churches that operate on the same principles would start to die, imo.

    I know my wife and I could no longer be part of a body that operates like this. We know there is no perfect group and are not looking for one, but this is one area that we aren’t willing to give on.

  50. formerly anonymous wrote:

    This is a great post but you know what? It doesn’t help. :(

    I just can’t seem to get a bead on what the deal is with this church I’m in. I can’t quite call it abusive but I know some of the leadership have drawn deeply from sources who have been named unfavorably on this blog in comments if not in articles. They seem to be off only just enough so that they fly under the abusive radar, and they have good hearts so no one would ever think such a thing of them.

    I wonder if there is such a thing as a useful idiot church? Because that’s the kind of harm they do when they are doing harm. And that they are generally pretty good guys generally doing good things kinda covers that up. :???:

    It’s like one of those medical situations when a diagnosis isn’t perfectly clear but something is not right.

    Very good point, my friend. My wife and I were part of a Neo-Reformed church for 3 years and had the same basic sentiments about that church that you express above for your current church. Like your church’s leadership, ours weren’t overtly wacky but had been trained/mentored by some wacky folks in the Seattle area, and cited other wacky folks in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area as huge influences.

    Long story short, we had a generally good time in this church for 3 years, experiencing only occasional hiccups. Eventually, however, the crap hit the fan during one specific incident, and exposed a lot of junk under the surface. This specific incident was catalyzed by a rather innocuous and relatively normal exchange between my wife and the elders of the church, and if things wouldn’t have fallen just right, she and I might still be at this church, still wondering about these occasional “hiccups.”

    Instead, my wife and I saw some really crazy behavior and some very serious underlying issues exposed amongst the leaders of the church.

    We were, on the one hand, completely blown away that our friends could do/say such things, but on the other hand, it helped to make sense of all of the little “hiccups” over the 3 years – like that scene at the end of the movie Signs where all the clues come together and you have that “Ah ha!” moment.

    I can’t say what the deal is with your current church, but I would encourage you to trust your instincts and probe a little bit. Certainly don’t just begin to distrust everyone at your church, but if someone says or does something that triggers a little warning alarm in your head, ask questions and probe in a respectful way. If everything is OK, they will respond appropriately. If everything is not OK, you will find out very quickly.

  51. Anon 1 wrote:

    I have had a few 20-somethings tell me that not submitting to the leaders in the church is rebellion.

    So typical of the Neo-Reformed movement: “elders” who are 22-25 years old! I went to a Neo-Reformed church where the lead pastor was 33 with only a high school GED, and the elders who all under the age of 26, with only one having a degree in Bible. And these were the guys “leading” the church with their supposed wisdom and experience?

    Of course age limits aren’t specifically addressed in Scripture, and of course Timothy seems to have been “young” (although he was probably “young” in comparison to the normal age of an elder, which would probably have been 50-70). But the word “elder” literally means “an older person” and it is used for a reason! Older folks tend to have more wisdom, experience, and training in leadership.

  52. @ Anon 1:

    That’s what happened at my former church. Pastor of 20+ years retired. Interim pastor came in and we began the descent into authoritarianism. Took about three years for it to be fully implimented. Very artfully disguised.

  53. ken wrote:

    Do you think the smaller building blocks would be husbands and wives that are trying to control/manipulate each other, and parents who try to control/manipulate their kids – especially when they are young adults and are looking to get married? Bad bible seems to be the norm for justifying this mindset. Freedom is a slave to ‘protection’. Do away with this mentality and the churches that operate on the same principles would start to die, imo.

    Yes! And it works. We then spend all our time looking to humans instead of Christ and where on earth is the Holy Spirit? I grew up on teaching concerning the Holy Spirit and how He functions in our lives but rarely hear it all these days. Humans are taking over that function in people’s lives.

    I love this: “Freedom is a slave to protection”.

  54. Dee, I’d be glad to, but….hate those ‘buts’, lol! I completed my degree in 2007, did keep most of the texts from those courses, but most have been packed away awhile and would have to dig a bit for them, most likely in the attic…and given weather here in SE Texas at this time of hear, that would be difficult until the weather cools. My library over the years has become way too much to keep it all out and handy. But, that information, as well as references, should be pretty easy to locate at local libraries in sections on Psychology and even more likely, Abuse recovery counseling. Child sex abuse has an especially high correlation to certain types of religion, churches, generally marked by strong patriarchal authoritarianism. I will go through some of my book storage areas more accessable in the next few days, and if I can locate something relevant, will return with references to post.
    @ dee:

  55. @ dee:
    @ Jenell Brinson:

    Here are some of the studies you might have been recalling:

    See the chapter “Corporal punishment of children and adult depression and suicidal ideation” (Murray A. Straus, p. 59) in Coercion and punishment in long-term perspectives, ed. Joan McCord (1998). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    It’s worth reading, but of particular interest is the section starting on page 60 about why our society has not studied corporal punishment and the later harmful effects such as physical aggression and depression.

    Researcher P. Greven holds the theory that “depression often is a delayed response to the suppression of childhood anger…from being physically hit and hurt…by adults…whom the child loves and on whom he or she depends for nurturance and life itself.”

    “Greven’s theory, and his most compelling evidence, involve the religious tradition of CALVINISM and EVANGELICAL Protestantism [emphasis mine]. He provides abundant evidence that ‘melancholy and depression have been persistent themes in the family history, religious experience, and emotional lives of Puritans, evangelicals, fundamentalists, and Pentecostals for centuries’. Greven also provides extensive historical evidence on the frequency and severity of corporal punishment amount these devout Protestants.”

    Quoting P. Greven (1991) Spare the Child: The religious roots of physical punishment and the psychological impact of physical abuse. New York: Knopf.—

    “The long-sustained persistence of melancholy and depression among twice-born Protestants is clearly no accident, since it has consistently been paralleled by the tradition of assault, coercion, and violence against children committed with the rod, the belt, the hand, and other such instruments of parental discipline…”

    ——

    Later this chapter goes into child abuse and suicidal thoughts. There’s too much to type right now. But I would also refer you to these authors as studying the correlations:

    Straus, Murray A. (1994)
    Wauchope B. & Straus, Murray A. (1991)

    Also, I don’t have my scanner at this moment. But I took a photo of the bibliography for Straus’s chapter in the book. See link.

    https://www.evernote.com/shard/s302/sh/262563b2-c1f3-4d0d-a1e4-08f40b934feb/54a3c86909ccf74a1fd4c8ecfcd143d1

  56. @ Janey:
    The RCC church has a long history of strong corporal punishment in many areas of the world and throughout history.

    Just because there’s a “study” doesn’t mean the authors didn’t have a strong desire to sharpen wood cutting implements and tend to find what they were looking for while ignoring things they didn’t think mattered.

  57. NC Now,

    I know what you mean, but these are peer-reviewed studies published in academic journals, not some person with an axe to grind (although that may indeed have been part of the motivation to study the topic). So presumably there are data and stats to back it up that have withstood the scrutiny of statisticians and Ph.D.-level social scientists.

    Our society IS very interesting in the correlation of child abuse and criminal behavior. And there are compelling studies that say that those who’ve been physically abused are at greater risk of engaging in crime.

    What hasn’t been studied as much (according to this textbook) is the effect that child abuse has on the person’s own life: his/her marriage, depression, suicidal tenancies.

    “That should not be surprising because spanking and other forms of corporal punishment of children are routine events that are legal and for the most part expected of parents.”

    As a result of the combination of legal and moral legitimacy and psychological commitment, the general public and social scientists assume that corporal punishment is not an important socieal or psychological problem. The underlying assumption of this chapter is the opposite.

    This chapter goes on to show data on child abuse, depressive symptoms, and suicidal thoughts.

    Regarding teens: “…the more corporal punishment they experienced as a teen, the higher Depressive Symptoms Index and the greater the occurrence of thoughts about committing suicide.”

  58. Lin wrote:

    That’s what happened at my former church. Pastor of 20+ years retired. Interim pastor came in and we began the descent into authoritarianism. Took about three years for it to be fully implimented. Very artfully disguised.

    Stealth takeover using Salami Tactics and Spin.
    Straight out of Comrade Stalin’s playbook.

  59. Anon 1 wrote:

    That is happening here in my neck of the woods with quite a few older churches who start a pastor search. The YRR guy is sent from seminary to “interim” and begins a process of taking over with the help of the seminary.

    Again, Stealth Takeover.
    In the name of Calvin instead of Marx/Lenin.
    Justified by Predestination instead of the Inevitable Dialectic of History.

    Using imported outside talent as Secret Police/Enforcers, as they will have NO connection or sympathy to those population/tithing units they are “Cleansing(TM)” and keeping in line.

    Again, straight out of Comrade Stalin’s playbook.

  60. formerly anonymous wrote:

    Lin wrote:
    Oh, the music is awful now too, soooo loud and obnoxiously pandering to the so called, worship team.
    Don’t even get me started….

    And in 20 years another Young Restless and whatever-has-replaced-Reformed coup puts an end to such “old-fashioned” music and worship. Nothing gets old-fashioned faster than over-Relevance.

  61. Re: Anon @ July19th 2:58pm

    Thank you so much for that informative link on Narcissism!

    I just kept reading and saying, “Exactly!”