The Misuse of Scripture- A Key Sign of a Spiritually Abusive System

“Americans, indeed all freemen, remember that in the final choice, a soldier's pack is not so heavy a burden as a prisoner's chains.”  Dwight D. Eisenhower



The Word of God should be used as a sword, exposing motives of the heart, and a lamp, lighting the way for those who follow God.  However, in a spiritually abusive system, Scripture is often misused.  It can become nothing more than a club in the hands of those who equate pretending with obedience and silence with peace. (The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, p. 80)


Paul explained in Titus 1 that leaders in the church must be diligent in the sound teaching of God's Word by writing:  "Hold fast the faithful word . . . for there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach, for the sake of sordid gain."  (vv. 9-11)


Isn't it interesting that Paul went after rebellious men (and not women) and that the motivation for misusing Scripture was primarily for "sordid gain"?  Human nature hasn't changed at all since Paul's day.  We have seen too many so-called pastors who teach God's Word primarily for personal gain.


In order for a spiritually abusive system to flourish, there are three factors that must be present.  They are:  mindset, motive, and method.  Sadly, in a spiritually abusive system, people have the mindset that they have little or no capacity to discern God's Word themselves.  In some cases they are "trained" to believe this way.  Unfortunately, when this is the case spirituality often is replaced by manipulation. (p. 82)


In a spiritually abusive system, leaders "power posture" through the use of Scripture.  The motive is to cause religious performance on the part of the people in order to meet the needs of the leaders in order to "prove" that they and their theology is right.  What happens when this occurs is that people get burned out because they are pressured to "live up" to a misinterpretation of Scripture which results in a distorted perception of God. (p. 83)


The third factor is the method used to study and apply the truth of Scripture.  In a spiritually abusive system, Scripture is used to prove or advance the agenda of the person using it.  This is called proof-texting.  "Proof-texting occurs when someone (usually a leader) has a point he wants to prove.  The way this is done is he finds a verse that supports his position, even if it means stretching or ignoring the original issue about which the verse was written or ignoring the context in which the verse is found.  When this happens, leaders ARE NOT "rightly dividing the word of truth".  (p. 83)


In order to minimize the possibility of misusing Scripture, it is helpful to ask several questions about any particular text.  To whom was it written?  What kinds of problems or issues were facing the people being addressed?  What did the text mean to the original hearers?  Is this a timeless truth or a specific instruction for a specific situation?  Unfortunately, in a spiritually abusive system, Scripture is used in the teaching that is taken totally out of context. (p. 83)


Let's look at some passages of Scripture which can be misused to manipulate the flock.

Ephesians 4:3 — ". . . being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."   


Peace and unity are important in the body of Christ; however, experiencing true peace and unity does not mean "acting" like you get along with everyone.  Verses like this are used to manipulate.  The result is the "can't talk" system we discussed previously.  In these kinds of spiritually abusive systems, leaders are not held accountable for their actions.  In many cases people are not really unified at all, and dissension and strive grow primarily through gossip and backstabbing. (p. 84)


Notice that this verse from Ephesians uses the word "preserve".  In order to protect peace and unity, they have to already exist.  One cannot preserve something that is not there.   In a spiritually abusive system, people are taught how to counterfeit peace and unity. (p. 90)


Paul said in Ephesians 5, "And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them . . . But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light". (vv. 11, 13).  Accountability, change of heart, and even peace are possible in the light of God's truth.  Darkness is where wrongdoing and confusion operate.  James calls false peace and hypocrisy demonic.


Matthew 18:15-17 — "And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.   And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile or a tax-gatherer."  


1 Corinthians 5:5 — "I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus."


The two verses above are the "church discipline" verses.  Church discipline is a very crucial, often misunderstood and sometimes abusive issue among Christians.  It is crucial in two aspects:  reconciliation among fellow Christians, and protecting people from danger in the body of Christ.  Unfortunately, in a spiritually abusive system, these verses become weapons in the hands of performance-based people to either get people to act differently or to get rid of them if they do not. (p. 92)


Again, context is key in understanding these verses of Scripture, and they must be applied properly.  The Word of God in the right hands can be a powerful sword which can bring order to our lives.  In the wrong hands, or wrongfully used, God's Word can be used to put weights on people and shame then into performing someone's selfish agenda in the name of God.  (pp. 92-93)  

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