Spiritual Abuse Inside the Church

Spiritual abuse is a sensitive but important topic that must be discussed, especially since churches are notorious for spiritual abuse. We can delve into biblical topics to encourage Christians. However, if we pretend that spiritual abuse is not happening around us, we might allow this poison to spread among churches.

The church is essential to us. It feeds us the Word of God, allows us to serve and worship God, and encourages us during tough times. For this reason, it hurts to see other people’s lives destroyed because of spiritual abuse inside the church. But if there’s a person who loves the church more than us, it’s the Lord Jesus Christ. He established and sacrificed himself for the church.

Spiritual abuse does not only happen in the modern time, but it has happened in the Bible and history. So, for the sake of generations to come, let’s figure out what spiritual abuse is and work to eliminate spiritual abuse inside the church.

The definition of spiritual abuse

The word “abuse” means to use ill; to maltreat; to misuse; to use with bad motives or for wrong purposes; as to abuse rights or privileges. For instance, medicine is made for the purpose of healing, but if used with wrong motives, it results in harm, hence, drug abuse.

Spiritual abuse is using your authority (pastor, preacher, teacher, or spiritual maturity) to exploit a person’s trust or weaknesses to get what you want.

But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.

2 Corinthians 4:2

Spiritual abuse is a complicated topic. However, it would be unfair to call any and every form of hurt from a church “spiritual abuse.” Not because you got hurt from the preaching or a church member does not mean it’s spiritual abuse. Plenty of Scriptures can be painful when we consider their implications, such as verses that condemn sin and describe punishment. But God put them in the Bible for our benefit.

A mark of progressive Christianity is to intentionally reinterpret passages that “hurt” people, whether because people misunderstood the Scripture or because they simply believed and taught what it meant. (Homosexuality, tithing, and submitting to authority)

It is not spiritual abuse when we preach what the Bible says against sin and false doctrine.

What enables spiritual abuse?

It is not acceptable to shield pastors who commit acts of abuse against their congregations. It is not fair to tolerate pastors who intimidate and exploit the congregation. It’s wrong to silence, excommunicate abuse victims, and disregard suspicious patterns.

We know these are wrong, but spiritual abuse is possible because the church allows it. Most church members notice spiritual abuse happening inside the church. However, they choose to ignore it out of fear and probably the hope that it will soon pass away.

As a result, the church enables spiritual abuse because of wrong value systems that must be addressed. Because when a church is watchful and stands upon biblical principles, there would be no place for spiritual abuse even before it begins. What’s terrible is that the church not only enables spiritual abuse to happen but also to continue.

Thus creating an abusive environment for vulnerable Christians. And allowing this attitude and culture to translate to future preachers, church leaders, and churches.

In many cases, the church had strayed from the Word of God in doctrine and morality. Thus, instead of the church becoming a sanctuary for believers, it became a source of pain and hurt.

Spiritual abuse happens when the church falls under the spell of charisma.

Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.

1 Timothy 4:12

Charisma refers to a captivating allure or charm that has the power to inspire strong admiration and loyalty from others. For example, there are people you meet whom you immediately like, trust, and even consider as a leader. Probably because of the way they talk or the way they treat you despite not knowing a lot about them.

Charisma is a wonderful thing. Some people are born with it, while others develop it. Paul even teaches Christians to speak gracefully. (Charisma means with grace. In Latin.)

Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.

Colossians 4:6

The issue lies not with having charismatic leaders but rather with placing more importance on charisma than character. Therefore, Paul teaches Timothy, a young pastor of the church of Ephesus, that he must develop his character, not charisma.

Christians focus too much on charisma, whether a person is a gifted speaker or leader, instead of on the character traits in the scriptures.

When a charismatic individual with leadership qualities can charm and persuade people, it can be challenging to hold them accountable if they turn out to be manipulative and abusive.

There are even instances where the church leader is obviously guilty of spiritual abuse. Still, the church allows him to continue leading because they already accept the leader for who he is.

Spiritual abuse happens when the church values its reputation more than the well-being of individual members.

25Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

Ephesians 5:25-27

Why do some churches and pastors fight hard to cover up abuse scandals and silence the victims? It’s because they value the church’s reputation over the well-being of individuals.

Some would even use manipulative questions such as, “What would happen to the work of the Lord if this is exposed?” This question is manipulative because it makes it seem that you’re responsible for hurting the church, not the abuser or person in question.

They must have forgotten that the church should be holy without blemish. Christ wants His church to be pure and not tolerate sin. He wants His church to value the truth and not compromise with sin. How can the church edify other believers and exalt the Lord Jesus Christ if it allows spiritual abuse among its leadership?

Christians worry about what the world thinks about the church rather than what Christ thinks about His church.

edifying the saints

The real question should be, “What will happen to the church if we allow this sin to continue? What kind of message are we sending to new believers and young people? What kind of church are we leaving behind for our kids?”

We’re not saying that when we see some mistakes in the church, they should be dealt with immediately in public. If we see some mistakes in the church, it must be dealt with biblically. Therefore, Christ gave us the biblical method of church discipline. All church members, including the pastor, must be subject to church discipline. (Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Timothy 5:17-20)

Spiritual abuse happens when church leaders are no longer accountable for their actions.

6For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me. 7And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

2 Corinthians 12:6-7

Pastor fanaticism is a big problem in churches nowadays. And there’s a cultic celebrity-centeredness that is evident in the congregation. Just as cults lift their church leaders into thinking that they are sinless, many Christians seem to believe that the bigger the ministry, the less likely it is for a pastor to sin. They even come to a point when they think the pastor or church leader is indispensable.

The churches that Paul and the Lord Jesus Christ often rebuked are the big churches. Paul called the Corinthian church inferior, and Christ rebuked the Ephesian, Sardis, and Laodicean churches.

They were not rebuked because they’re big churches but because they have forgotten about Christ-centeredness inside the church and are praising themselves for their accomplishments. It’s not wrong to have a big church as long as the church continues to stand with biblical doctrines and morality. However, we see the pattern that the bigger the ministry is, the more likely it is to move away from Christ-centeredness because there’s the temptation of pride.

Therefore, Paul warned the Corinthians not to put him on a pedestal because he knows that there’s a tendency for him to be proud. Pride is evident in a pastor when he thinks he is no longer accountable for his actions towards God and the church. It is important that you pray for your pastor instead of putting him on a pedestal.

Spiritual abuse happens when the church wants to have a boss instead of a shepherd.

1The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: 2Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 3Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. 4And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.

1 Peter 5:1-4

Some Christians want someone to lord over them because they don’t want to be accountable for their decisions. They want someone to blame for their indecision. For this reason, this attitude is a fault that the devil exploits to bring in the idea of spiritual abuse inside the church.

The pastor is the God-given authority of the church for leadership. Logically speaking, the shepherd leads the sheep, not vice versa. However, the pastor must also recognize and respect the church’s authority. In fact, God has warned shepherds not to lord over His people. In other words, the pastor must also recognize the boundaries of his leadership among the congregation.

And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

Matthew 18:17

Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.

Acts 6:3

Notice that in the teachings of Christ and the example of the apostles, the church must be consulted in matters of excommunication and appointing deacons. Therefore, the pastor must also recognize the authority given to the church.

Both of those authorities came from the Bible. The pastor is the executive branch of the church, the church is the judiciary, and the Bible is the legislative branch. This is Christ’s design for the church. Therefore, the pastor must lead the church according to Christ’s plan.

Spiritual abuse happens, but the church can avoid it by standing on biblical doctrine and principles of morality. The church must be a sanctuary for every individual member. Not a source of pain and hurt that pushes people away from God.

If we allow spiritual abuse to continue, we’re no different from cults continually exploiting people for their gain.

Christ loves the church and sacrificed Himself for it. Thus, every believer must also love the church by protecting it from values that enable spiritual abuse inside the church.

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