Authority Abuse

 I was able to find a cached copy and save here this excellent article on abuse of authority in the church. I had thought that the Battered Sheep site was down, but fortunately it is up again.

Abuse of Authority in the Church

A Biblical Perspective of Leadership
by Jason Young
A sad and unfortunate fact in many Christian churches and organizations today is that pastors, teachers and other elders exert or attempt to exert a heavy-handed, authoritarian type of control over their membership. While many of these leaders are well meaning, frequently authoritarianism is rooted in a hunger for power and control. These leaders rationalize and defend such behavior under the guise of love and shepherding. The Bible indeed gives a certain level of spiritual authority to church leadership, but all too often such authority is abused and misused, going well beyond what the scriptures allow.
As a result, many sincere and well-intentioned believers are led astray into extra and unbiblical teachings. The ultimate outcome is a distorted view of Christ and the gospel, which causes many to ultimately walk away from God altogether. For those that manage to function within an authoritarian church, commonly feelings of guilt, condemnation, and worthlessness hang like a dark cloud over their Christian walk. Obviously, this is not what God intended for his children. Jesus said, "For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matt. 11:31)
In this article, we will examine what the Bible says about authority and the role that spiritual leaders are to play in the lives of believers.
Clearly, God calls many of His children to offices for the purposes of leading and shepherding the flock. Bishops (pastors), teachers, administrators, etc. are all biblically ordained roles (cf. Eph. 4:11, 1 Tim 3:1), but just how much authority are these offices given?
Paul, the most prolific New Testament writer and one of the greatest apostles, never once claimed control over the personal lives of his followers. He could have easily elevated himself to a self-important and tyrannical position over the church as many pastors do today. Yet he knew that he was to be a servant-leader, not a dictator. In 2 Corinthians 1:24, Paul wrote,
"Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy..."
Of all people, Paul could have claimed dominion over another's faith but instead considered himself a "member of the team," charged with helping people mature in their faith. Paul led by example not by militant rule.
In the same letter to the Corinthians, Paul addressed those that did wish to control the church by militant rule. In 2 Corinthians 11:19-20 Paul says,
"For you put up with fools gladly, since you yourselves are wise! For you put up with it if one brings you into bondage, if one devours you, if one takes from you, if one exalts himself, if one strikes you on the face."
It seems that in Corinth there were those in the church that wished to bring the church into bondage by exalting themselves above others. In other words, these self-important leaders were enslaving the congregation with their authority, and the Corinthians foolishly tolerated it.
Peter also understood what God's expectations were for leaders. He wrote in 1 Peter 5:1-3,
"The elders who are among you I exhort... Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion... nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock."
Peter could not have been clearer. He explicitly states to lead by example, not as a lord. He says to serve as an overseer and not to force people into submission. In other words, lead, but "not by compulsion."
John spoke of dictators in the church as well. John wrote about Diotrephes who loved to control members of the church. Like many pastors today, Diotrephes spoke poorly of other churches and other Christians and forbade members from fellowshipping with them. 3 John 1:9-10 says,
"I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds, which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church."
Jesus taught plainly in regard to the proper role of leadership, speaking against those that "lord" over others. He even taught that He did not come to be served, but to serve others. In Mark 10:42-45, Jesus said,
"You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you... For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve..."
He stated that we as Christians are not to lord over others, abusing our authority as the Gentile leaders did. Jesus says, "...it shall not be so among you."
A scripture commonly used to justify abusive control and authoritarianism by the leaders of some churches is Hebrews 13:17 that instructs believers to, "Obey those who rule over you..." These leaders think that this means they have blanket authority over the flock entrusted to them and that they can proceed to take control over the personal lives and personal faith of believers. The word obey in this passage literally means "to be persuaded by" (1) in the original text. Nothing in this verse gives church leadership unrestrained control over the lives of others. Instead it teaches believers to consider the example set by truly loving, God-fearing, servant-leaders that lead us to Christ.
In short, those that wish to act as dictators are not fulfilling a calling of God but are instead elevating themselves into a position to serve their own self-interests and ambitions. They step outside of biblical teachings for the purpose of fulfilling their desires to control the lives of others. Some of the greatest leaders in the Bible--Paul, Peter, John and even Jesus Himself--explicitly taught against those that wish to "lord" over believers. Ironically, those that claim "authority" themselves reject genuine authority--that of the scriptures and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Bibliography:
All Bible quotes are from the Authorized King James Version Bible.

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What is Spiritual Abuse?

Spiritual abuse. It can happen in big churches and small. It can happen in churches that at first seem sound, biblical or healthy. Certain signatures define spiritual abuse: authoritarian leadership, claims that the group or leaders have a special calling or gifts, inability of leaders to handle criticism, harsh treatment of those who question or try to leave. These are just a few. Though the manifestation of abuse differs in externals, underneath are similar traits, repeated in abusive groups. Become familiar with spiritual abuse in a variety of churches and you will soon see how these leaders manipulate and control.

Are you covering for a spiritually abusive pastor?

What's happening to my church?

A message to culty group defenders

Cult Next Door posted this excellent response to those culty-group defenders -- who lambaste victims on blogs exposing spiritual abuse. These folks see nothing wrong with the abusive leader, defend the hurtful practices and blame the one exposing the tactics. They needle victims, and pile on blame. They excuse the harm of abusers, and belittle the pain of victims. Provender wishes every blog on spiritual abuse would have a little message like this for these folks.

Sometimes, they apologize

Every once in a while, church leaders in these situations apologize. A Florida blogger, FBCWatchdog, was kicked out of church and given trespass warning documents after being outed as a church blogger critic, and later was branded a "sociopath" by the pastor of his large, Florida church, in the local paper. The blogger eventually brought suit. After the ruling (and likely as part of the settlement), the pastor publicly apologized. There is much more to the story, but these are the highlights.

Using words to manipulate

It can be subtle, or it can hit you head on. When spiritual abusers are cornered, certain techniques crop up again and again. Here are some samples.

What does elitism have to do with spiritual abuse?

Does your church think it's special? What does it think of other churches? Elitism is a big sign your church or group could be spiritually dangerous. CLICK HERE for more

Misusing Scripture to Abuse

Check out The Cult Next Door's interview with Provender on twisting scriptures.

Stories of abuse and survival

Links to stories of spiritual abuse:

She had to choose between church or daughter

When he wanted to move out of state, the pastor of this Kansas UPC church said he'd be going "down, down, down."

This cult church made a virtual slave of one blogger -- 15 years of misery

What is it like to lose your son to a spiritually abusive church? One mother's story.

Her husband gave up law practice to give his all to church, and the whole family ended up shunned by order of the leadership.

Cruel stepfather is also pastor of a California "Bible-based" church (a Calvary Chapel). His children suffered beatings meted out by this pastor/stepdad. Church leaders would not disassociate themselves, only minimize and cover up the pastor/dad's violence.


This pastor said God gave instructions on how to roll and fold toilet paper properly. Soon the TP police were on the job Also, edicts on not smashing pennies!

They told her terrible things would happen if she left, and no other church would help her.


The man behind the curtain

Church blogger critic experiences wrath of abusers (including fake letter-of-resignation sent to employer) and major harassment with few attempts by church leaders to stop the abuse.

Caught in a Bible-based cult for 13 years

Holey coverups

Abusive voices remained in her head after she left the cultish group

A good blog on spiritual abuse, and some great links in the sidebar also.

This sad story includes 15 signs of abuse

This woman left the frying pan of one cult for the fire of another

Parents of woman who cut off baby's arms blame pastor 's influence for taking her to the edge

College senior trapped in abusive group for years finally escapes

Many, many stories mostly from UPC members

An SGM pastoral intern finds leaving isn't all that easy

When husband beat her after worship service, this mom sought help from church only to be abused further

Hedged in at her Canadian Baptist college, this young women had few places to turn, but managed to survive.

When humility is not humility

After divorcing for verbal abuse, this woman was disfellowshiped from a Baptist church with a message on a large screen in front of the church that read: CONDUCT UNBECOMING A CHILD OF GOD

His family chose the elders and shunned him

"Untouchable, unaccountable, unknowable, and alone"

Abusive pastor destroys congregation he was "called" to serve

Check main site

Make sure to check out the main Provender site

Contact Provender

If you have found an especially helpful site on spiritual abuse, please email Provender and we'll see about adding it. If you need to tell your story, you can also email Provender. We'll always keep your story confidential unless you wish to post it in the case studies section.

Also, if you notice broken links on this site, please contact Provender: Click Here

Featured link: The Web of Narcissism

Provender's guest posts

A Sense of Futility on Quivering Daughters blog

Spiritual Abuse is Hidden Trauma on The Cult Next Door blog


Are you covering your pastor's nakedness?

In Predators in the Pulpit, Chris Efinda discusses the covering nakedness doctrine. Enablers of spiritual abuse justify cover-ups of abusive pastors using this pseudo-scriptural approach. Efinda says that the spiritual "sons" of abusive leaders feel that hiding the wrongdoing of abusive pastors becomes a divine test of their own faithfulness. If you are acting as a go-between, or "filtering" what comes from your pastor and to make it seem more acceptable to others, are you trying to cover your pastor's nakedness? It's very likely.

Also see, Are You Covering for a Spiritually Abusive Pastor

A word from Ezekiel

The word of the Lord came to me: "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them."

Ezekiel 34:1-6

A message to abusive pastors from Jeremiah 23

Woe to the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD.

Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; You have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, says the LORD.

And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase.

And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, says the LORD. ...

For both prophet and priest are profane; yea, in my house have I found their wickedness, says the LORD.

... for from the prophets of Jerusalem is profaneness gone forth into all the land.

Thus says the LORD of hosts, Do not listen to the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the LORD.

They say still to those who despise me, The LORD has said, You shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you.

...I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.

But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.

...I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed.

How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart;

Which think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbour, as their fathers have forgotten my name for Baal.

The prophet that has a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that has my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? says the LORD.

Is not my word like as a fire? says the LORD; and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?

Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, says the LORD, that steal my words every one from his neighbour.

Jeremiah 23

Tell your story

The Cult Next Door blog invites those who have been spiritually abused to tell their stories. This can be a healthy exercise for victims of abuse, especially those living under a "can't talk" rule.

Follow the leader, but with care

An editorial on how easy it is to fall into the trap of following dangerous leaders.

Search Here

To search Provender (or to see the latest additions to Provender), CLICK HERE

Order of Posts

I like to keep the list of helpful sites on Spiritual Abuse at or near the top because providing links to the best resources on this topic is the main purpose of this blog. If a post seems to disappear, you can usually find it below the first post.

Psalms for the Oppressed

A glimpse into life under the thumb of controlling church

Breaking the Chains: Overcoming the Spiritual Abuse of a False Gospel by Shari Howerton details life under the thumb of an oppressive church.

Spiritually abused woman needs prayer, help

How they use words to manipulate and abuse

Spiritual Abuse Quote of the Month

Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments, and experiences in order to promote learning the group's ideology or belief system and group-approved behaviors. Good behavior, demonstrating an understanding and acceptance of the group's beliefs, and compliance are rewarded while questioning, expressing doubts or criticizing are met with disapproval, redress and possible rejection. If one expresses a question, he or she is made to feel that there is something inherently wrong with them to be questioning...Approval comes from having the new member's behaviors and thought patterns conform to the models (members). Members' relationship with peers is threatened whenever they fail to learn or display new behaviors. Over time, the easy solution to the insecurity generated by the difficulties of learning the new system is to inhibit any display of doubts -- new recruits simply acquiesce, affirm and act as if they do understand and accept the new ideology. -- Step 5 of MargaretSinger's Six Conditions for Thought Reform, found on ICSA

Covering and Manipulation

Two sites I want to emphasize:
The site Covering and Authority ends up buried and hard to find because it was a late discovery, so I thought I'd make a handy sidebar link to this page on the concept of covering or theology of covering. This site includes many scriptural references refuting the idea of human responsibility for the sins and behavior of others.

Also, a Rest Ministries page on manipulation and spiritual abuse disappeared when Geocities closed its sites in October. Before it disappeared, I preserved part of it and now have it linked HERE. This site exposed, in vivid detail, techniques abusers use to get followers to do their bidding. Very insightful
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Additional resources

Dr. Barb Orlowski has provided these additional resources she came across in the course of her research. Thanks, Dr. Orlowski.

 

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