Cults and Spiritual Abuse
A Biblical Analysis
by True Light Ministries with NCCG Commentary
The following scriptural analysis and testimony was prepared by True Light Ministries and essentially reflects a non-Torah-observant, evangelical Protestant background. New Covenant Ministries is in broad agreement with the thesis presented and where we do differ, commentary has been inserted. The original author may be contacted at: [email protected]
"We know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true... he is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5;20,21)
Characteristics of Spiritual Abuse
Do you constantly feel like a failure as a Christian? Do you come away from Church week after week feeling condemned? Are you worried that you could be losing your salvation? Have you been made to feel guilty for your 'lack of faith' in not receiving healing/spiritual gifts? Are you put under pressure to sacrifice time with family in order to attend church activities, or made to feel 'unspiritual' if other commitments keep you away? Do you feel your performance is being measured against others in the church? Do conversations with your church leader(s) regularly leave you feeling undermined in your ability to hear from God? Do you constantly feel the need to 'check in' with the leadership for confirmation, guidance or approval? Are you afraid to question leaders about their teaching or actions?
If you can honestly answer 'yes' to some or all of these questions - not just because of a temporary 'bad patch', but on an ongoing basis - then the chances are you are experiencing some degree of spiritual abuse.
Recognising Cults and Errors
Cult - a religious worship esp. as expressed in ceremonies; study & pursuit or worship of (often of something elevated into factitious importance) (O.E.D.) Thus, in the context of this article, a group purporting to be Christian, yet giving undue emphasis to elements of teaching or practice for which there is little or no Biblical warrant, typically based upon isolated Scriptures taken out of context and/or some form of prophetic revelation. Such groups generally have a very distinct code of behaviour, often encouraging extreme zeal towards a particular end and are, typically, heavily dependant on the personality of the leader, who is held in extreme respect by cult members, and whose 'word is law'.
Commentary - for a definition of cultism by NCM, please see our pamphlet, Cry Wolf! The Problem of Sects and Cults. It should be pointed out that Christians are expected to have a distinct code of behaviour and to be zealous in righteousness. There is nothing wrong with codes and zeal per se, just their abuse.
Error - mistake; wrong opinion; transgression. (O.E.D.) Thus, any belief, doctrine or practice contrary to sound Biblical understanding. Teaching based upon misinterpretation of scripture, or reinterpretation in the light of some 'higher revelation'.
Deceive - persuade of what is false, mislead, take in, disappoint. (O.E.D.) Most cult members do not consciously set out to go against the Bible, but are mistakenly convinced of the truth of what is being taught, usually by the rhetoric of the leadership, who are said to have superior insight.
In Bible times, cultic religions were rife among the Gentile world, and normally associated with idolatry, such as Baal worship or the cult of Diana in Ephesus (Acts 19), where some man-made idol or demonic representation was elevated to the position of god. Sadly, cultic elements were not uncommonly allowed to pervert the Jewish religion - as with the Golden Calf of Exodus 32, or the various 'High Places' introduced into Samaria and Israel by a succession of kings. This was totally against Mosaic Law, including the First of the Ten Commandments, and brought untold suffering upon the people who were unwittingly drawn in, as well as severe judgement on the cult leaders. Time and again, God raised up prophets and reformers - such as King Josiah in 2 Chronicles 34 &35 - who spoke out against the perversion of true religion and sought to rid the land of the various idols and cultic altars which at times even found their way into the very Temple of God in Jerusalem, displacing Biblical worship to the extent that the very Book of the Law became lost and forgotten.
From the earliest days of the New Testament Church, false teaching threatened to draw people away from pure faith in the One True God, thus occasioning many of the apostolic epistles. Paul and others warned of the dangers of cult-like forces at work within the Church - as in the warning against sectarianism, elevating various 'super-apostles' in 1 Corinthians, or that against the worship of angels in Colossians 2, and the anti-legalistic (circumcision) emphasis of Galatians. Paul warns that such errors will grow more common as time passes, with growing numbers of false teachers seeking to draw the unwary astray (see 2 Timothy 3), culminating in the supreme deception of 'the Man of Lawlessness', backing his claims to deity with an array of counterfeit miracles (2 Thessalonians 2). Thus we are urged to be alert and watchful, holding fast to the Truth of God's Word, and seeking to make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10); for those who are uncertain in what they believe, or slow in bringing their conduct into line with their faith, are easy victims of an enemy set on devouring whom he may (1 Peter 5;8).
Some Characteristics of a typical Cult
Note: not all cults fulfil all these criteria at all times, and not every group displaying some of these characteristics should necessarily be labelled a cult. As Jonathan Edwards, pastor of the Great Awakening, pointed out to his critics in 'Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the True Spirit' (1740):
"There may be elements of the human and even demonic which may creep in. Errors and excesses do not mean that the revival is not of God ... The ultimate sign of genuine revival lies in changed lives." (Summarised in "Joy", the magazine of the Assemblies of God in Great Britain and Ireland, August 2000, by D.Littlewood)
This list is intended to highlight areas which may give cause for concern, given the overall context in which they appear.
Autocratic Leadership - Typically, a cult will be spearheaded by one man, the 'Pastor' or 'Elder' (or possibly 'Bishop' or 'Apostle') - perhaps supported by a small group of highly loyal 'elders' or 'deacons' - who may well have founded the group, and who shows little or no accountability to others within or beyond the immediate group. He will 'rule with a rod of iron', enforcing his opinions emphatically and discouraging any questioning. May encourage members to address and refer to him by his title. Often somewhat distant and aloof from group members.
The authority of the leadership is generally reinforced by the claim of divine inspiration. Pronouncements will rarely be phrased 'I believe...', or 'It seems to me..', but more usually 'God has shown me..' or 'The Lord says...'. This immediately discourages any questioning, for to do so would not just be to question a leader, but to question God Himself, whose mouthpiece the man is.
Phrases such as 'touch not God's anointed' will often be used to discourage challenges to the leader's authority, with those who do so characterised as 'rebels' in the ilk of Jannes and Jambres who opposed Moses; and, obviously, 'rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft'.
"' ...They love ... to have men call them 'Rabbi'. But you are not to be called 'Rabbi', for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth 'father', for you have one Father and He is in heaven..one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant.'" (Matt 23:7-11)
Leadership Teams - Typically those chosen for leadership responsibility within a cult-like organisation are young, not highly educated, and experienced their initial conversion within the group, or shortly before joining it. They will be highly committed to the ideals of the group, willing to make considerable personal sacrifices to show their loyaly, and emphatic in their support for the Pastor and their disciplining of his critics. They probably have little real responsibility, being highly accountable to the main leader, whose approval is their main motivation. Those who challenge the 'party line' are liable to be dealt with severely - often involving public humiliation or ridicule of a more or less overt kind.
'Shepherdship' - Derogatively referred to by those outside as 'heavy shepherding', this refers to the teaching or unspoken assumption that all congregation members should be 'accountable' to the leadership for their behaviour. This is based on a scriptural principle of leaders having charge over the 'sheep', with a responsibility to teach, exhort and, where necessary, rebuke in order to maintain godly conduct. However, in a cult, it is taken to extremes, whereby the congregation member is required to gain approval for every decision taken in life, either through pastoral counselling, or the seeking of prophetic insights into their situation. Typically, the leadership will approve or forbid marriages, veto the sale or purchase of houses, determine the correct schooling for children etc.. This may be explicit, or more subtle, through pointed phrases in sermons or general 'prophecies', or unspoken pressure to conform. In extreme cases, even minor decisions such as which supermarket to shop at may be subject to pastoral approval. Obviously, such dependence on leadership can easily be abused - for example, the handing over of pay cheques to the elders to determine how much should be given to the church before allowing for other expenses.
While it is not wrong, at times, to seek godly counsel before making major decisions in life, the Bible is clear that 'God has no favourites', pouring out His Spirit on 'all flesh', so that all 'those who are sons of God (can be) led by the Spirit of God' (not by the spirit of the Prophet!) So it is wrong for congregation members to be dependent on leaders for guidance - or 'covering' - which they are fully qualified to receive directly from God.
Financial Accountability - It is common for cult-like organisations to put a high emphasis on congregational tithing and giving, often as a pre-condition for receiving God's blessings. However, there is rarely any real accounting for how that money is spent. If the group is a registered charity, properly audited accounts have to be presented each year, however, these are rarely published for circulation to congregation members. Legally, charity accounts have to be available for public scrutiny, but cult leadership will make it clear that requests from members to take advantage of this are not welcome. (Perhaps this is why some such organisations avoid becoming registered as charities). The implication - spoken or implied - is that anyone who needs to ask to see the accounts is guilty of harbouring suspicions against the leadership (who should be trusted implicitly), and therefore 'of a wrong spirit' and liable to God's judgement.
In response, one might say that, by being less than open in this regard, the leadership are guilty of making their weaker brethren stumble, by creating an unnecessary opportunity for the devil to sow doubts in vulnerable minds - unless, indeed, they really do have something to hide!
Discredit the Opposition - As leaders of cults know they are likely to face criticism, both from disenchanted members within and from mainstream church leaders outside, they are usually careful to adopt a 'first strike' policy, which discourages faithful followers from heeding any warnings they may hear about their own leaders' integrity. Thus other churches are frequently criticised as 'compromising' and 'lukewarm', while their leaders are said to be full of 'denominational pride' which prevents them accepting the prophetic voice of the cult leader - or they may be 'jealous' of his success, 'resentful' of a newcomer on 'their' territory, 'fearful' of losing their own flock to the 'competition', or 'too cowardly to stand up for the Truth'.
Those within the group who show signs of becoming disillusioned or critical of leadership decisions may face a systematic 'smear campaign', which discredits their ability to hear and respond to the voice of God. Thus they may be said to be putting their career/family etc. before God if ever they are absent from meetings, any difficulties within their marriage or family will be attributed to their failure to exercise spiritual authority, while any attempts to become more involved/vocal in church affairs will be cynically dismissed as 'prideful ambition' and their motives for every action brought under question. Spouses of dissenting members (or of non-group members) will be encouraged to see them as 'rebellious washouts' to be treated with suspicion, even to the point of being encouraged to separate 'for the Gospel's sake'. Those who have left the group, in particular, will be systematically vilified from the pulpit - perhaps behind a facade of pity and regret - as 'backslidden', 'rebellious' and 'bitter', hitting out at the leadership over some imagined hurt or petty jealousy. Those who remain are discouraged from maintaining any contact with those who, unless they repent, are destined to die in their rebellion, lest they become infected with the same 'wrong spirit' - perhaps even going to the lengths of 'handing the offender over to Satan for the destruction of their flesh' .
Legalism - Some cults develop a very strict code of behaviour, where many aspects of contemporary society on which there is no unequivocal Biblical statement (eg drinking, theatre, popular music, television) are dogmatically labelled sinful, and completely unnaceptable for Christians to be involved with. Membership of the group may be dependant upon renouncing such worldly indulgences. By contrast, rulings on more serious matters (eg sexual purity, sanctity of marriage) frequently appear less rigorous. Those who do indulge in these areas are liable to be publicly condemned as 'backslidden', 'compromising' or 'rebellious'.
Commentary: Every age has its unique problems for which some kind of apostolic instruction is required. The assumption by most evangelicals that all apostolic instruction ended with the death of the first apostles is without biblical warranty. The important thing is that when contemporary apostolic instruction is received that the members have the freedom to query and discuss in a spirit of love until they are satisfied that what has been received is harmonious with the Biblical revelation and is confirmed by the Spirit. All modern revelatation in NCCG/BCAY is placed before the Eldership and Deaconate (which is most of the members) for their discussion and vote before it is accepted as official Church doctrine and practice, and such is placed before those wishing to become full members so that they may determine for themselves whether or not it is their desire to place themselves under such. Every denomination has its "in-house" rules which members are naturally expected to observe.In NCCG/BCAY apostolic instruction has been received and accepted by the membership on alcohol, contemporary music, the sanctity of marriage, and sexual purity, all of which build upon, and in some cases expand and clarify, that which is already extant in the Bible.
'Working out your salvation' - Linked to the above, many cults teach the necessity of fulfilling various requirements (moral and religious) in order to achieve salvation. While we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, it is held that the validity of the conversion experience is dependant upon living a godly lifestyle thereafter. In essence, this is true, based upon Biblical teaching that faith without works is dead (James 2:14f). But, while James implies simply that the genuineness of a person's faith will be seen in the way they act, erroneous teachings suggest that it is the works themselves which earn a person's salvation. There can be no true assurance of salvation, for all will ultimately be judged according to their works. This encourages an atmosphere of fear that any deviation (however minor or temporary) from expected standards of behaviour may lead to the loss of one's salvation.
Commentary: The dividing line between faith and works is a very fine one though the observation here is basically correct. There is also a problem of not distinguishing between jurisdictional and literal salvation, an ommission common in evangelical Protestantism.
See Paul's teaching in his letter to the Galatians; 'A man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ...if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! ...after beginning in the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? .. Do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.' (Gal 2:15,21, 3:3, 5:1)
Commentary: "A person is not declared righteous by God on account of his legalistic observance of Torah commands, but through the Messiah Yeshua's trusting faithfulness ... for if the way in which one attains righteousness is through legalism, then the Messiah's death was pointless ... Having begun with the Spirit's power, do you think you can reach the goal under your own power? ... Don't let yourselves be tied up again to a yoke of slavery" (ibid., JNT). What these passages mean is that we cannot be saved from Torah-observance but what they do not say is that we are absolved from observing them as evidence of salvation, as Protestantism wrongly asserts.
Dual Standards - In many cases, while imposing strict codes of behaviour upon congregation members, the behaviour of leadership is not open to censure ('touch not God's anointed'). Leadership may indulge in various dubious practices, normally in secret, but when their deeds are exposed they are likely to be justified on the grounds of 'special indulgence' from the Lord, or 'spiritual maturity' which enables the leader to walk unharmed where weaker men would be consumed by the devil. At times, this can lead to serious abuses of pastoral authority, most commonly in the areas of financial accountability and sexual indulgence - to the extent of upholding the leaders' right to sleep with the wives of cult members.
'Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly' (Jas 3;1)
'Love-bombing'- Some cults will encourage new members by impressing them with their love and care. This may begin with physical signs of affection (hugging etc.), and continue with the offer of lifts to church, phone calls or visits through the week, help with shopping/childcare/decorating etc.. These things are not wrong in themselves - indeed, in their place, they can be genuine expressions of Christian love, which should be present in all congregations. However, in a cult they are used in a premeditated fashion, as a means of encouraging dependence upon the group. This appeals particularly to vulnerable, underprivileged people from dysfunctional family backgrounds, for whom it meets a very real need. Whereas true Christian love gives without seeking any return, or keeping any account of the cost, within a cult, there is always an element (usually unspoken) of putting the cared for person in debt to the giver. When the occasion arises - eg the person thinks of going to another church - the debt can then be called in ('But we love you so much...', 'Remember how so-and-so visited you in hospital every day!', 'After all we've done for you...'), or their ingratitude held up as a discouragement to others to do likewise (for God will surely judge those who despise His Church). Compare the characteristics of Love described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.
The role of Prophecy - In a cult, there is often an over-emphasis on the role of prophecy and other forms of supernatural revelation in determining what is right and wrong. As already discussed, pastoral pronouncements are frequently presented as prophetic utterances, while hesitant members will be brought into line by a direct 'Word from God' for their situation. This can easily become highly manipulative, particularly if a directive is backed up with a threat (eg 'If you do not heed my voice, I will come against you in judgement, and you will surely die.'- or, even more sinisterly, warnings of dire consequences to the disobedient one's children). The prophetic voice - or rhema Word - may well become more important than that of scripture, the written logos Word, on the pretext of embodying a living faith rather than a dead religion, following the Spirit rather than the letter. However, the two elements should always go hand in hand; God does not contradict Himself, and the spoken Word should always be evaluated in the light of the written witness of Biblical revelation.
The Bible tells us not to despise prophecy, and, as one of the seven-fold gifts of the Spirit, we should welcome God's speaking into our lives in this way. However, the Bible also lays down principles for the weighing and judging of prophecy, to avoid its abuse or the acceptance of false prophecy. Directional prophecy should always be treated with care, and should never be taken in isolation. If it is contrary to scripture, then it should be immediately rejected. If it is not confirming something about which God has already been speaking to the individual themself, then it is more than likely wrong, and should be 'put on the shelf' pending further clarification. If it seeks to pressurise or manipulate someone into acting against their will, then it is little short of witchcraft.
Special Revelation - Changes of course for the church, or disciplining of members are typically justified as the result of divine revelation. Visions of angels, or of Jesus Himself, may well be recounted as the context for new aspects of teaching. This becomes dangerous when it seeks to contradict or add to the Biblical witness. When a group begins to take a different course from other churches in the area, or comes under criticism from other Christians for its particular stance, this will be explained as a result of 'our special revelation'. Members may be urged to 'come out from among' their unenlightened brethren, 'lest they cause you to stumble'. An exclusivist mentality develops, whereby 'we' are closer to God than the rest of the Church and are called to show 'them' the error of their ways. This is akin to the gnostic heresy which plagued the early Church, claiming a 'deeper revelation' of 'hidden wisdom' for an enlightened few.
Commentary: As a general principle, these observations are, of course, quite true. But as we know historically (for this was, in part, the justification of the Reformation) not all the churches "in the area" may necessarily be on the right track themselves. Churches do fossilise into man-made traditions and there are times when these must be challenged.
It is worth noting that even clearly non-Christian religions at times trace their source to angelic revelations (eg the Angel Gabriel appearing to Mohammed), as the Bible warns that the Devil himself may masquerade as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11;14).
Commentary: To which list could be added Mormonism.
Isolation - Typically, cults become increasingly isolated from the rest of society - including the wider church - in an effort to 'keep yourself pure and untainted from the world'. Cult members tend to associate exclusively with one another, often encouraged to set up their own businesses, church schools etc. to reduce the temptation to compromise on moral issues or become 'conformed to this world's thinking', which might be a 'bad witness'. However, as contact with ordinary members of society diminishes, so do the opportunities to make any witness at all, and the desire to win the world for Christ becomes replaced with a paranoia of the corrupting influences at work in society which might cause one to lose one's salvation. Members lose the ability - or the will - to converse with those who do not share their ideals, often developing their own jargonistic language.
Commentary: This is basically correct. Nevertheless there is to be a degree of separation between believers and unbelievers, especially in a neo-pagan culture such as our own where enormous pressure is placed on Christians to conform. Increasing numbers of Christians feel it imperative to homeschool their children to prevent the brainwashing and witchcraft which is now an epidemic in state schools. And as conditions get worse and worse, so the separation will inevitably increase to prevent the total overwhelming of Christians.
Scriptures such as the injunction to 'hate father and mother for my sake' may well be applied literally and ruthlessly to alienate the cult member from family ties which might undermine their commitment to the group.
Music - Many cults make extensive use of music to create an atmosphere of receptiveness to the Spirit, which is a legitimate outcome of praise and worship within mainstream churches also. However, the focus of all true worship should be on exalting the One who is the object of worship, not on promoting good feelings in the worshipper. Excessive use of heavy drum beats and repetitive, rhythmical phrases, in particular, can easily promote an hypnotic trance-like condition in the congregation, typical of many pagan religions (and today's secular club scene!), where they become extremely suggestible. We need to remember that Satan is thought to have started life as worship leader in heaven (Ezek. 28;13), and is expert at using music to his own ends.
'Become as a child' - In some cults, it is commonplace to expect adult members to 'humble themselves' by behaving in childlike, non-adult ways. Most commonly, this consists of pressure to join in action songs (as commonly performed in Sunday school), anyone who holds back being pointed out as 'proud' or of an 'independent spirit'. This apparently harmless practice accustoms the member to obeying instructions to behave in ways not natural to themselves, becoming immune to the feelings of appearing ridiculous or behaving irrationally which this might normally inspire. It enforces the control of the leadership and the atmosphere of conformity to group norms. Some accounts of grown men acting out the role of babies, or imitating farm yard animals 'under the leading of the Spirit' might also fall into this category.
Signs and Wonders - In many potential 'christian cults', at the more extreme ends of the charismatic movement, the presence of miraculous signs and wonders are used as a proof of God's presence with, and approval of the group, its teachings and its leadership. 'God would not continue to use me in healings and other miracles if He disapproved of my conduct,' is an excuse used by many an erring pastor - for example William Branham, founder of the 'Jesus Only' movement, who continued to host many powerful healing crusades long after his teachings had vered into the heretical. Various American Snake-Handling sects are an obvious example of abusing Scripture to demonstrate God's supernatural protection. Other 'supernatural' manifestations, such as the "slain in the Spirit" phenomenon, "Holy Laughter" and groaning, bodily twitchings etc. are currently presented by some as incontrovertible proof of the Holy Spirit's anointing on a meeting, or movement. This unquestioning acceptance of such phenomena overlooks the Bible's warning that the Devil is well able to produce lying signs and wonders in order to deceive the unwary (2 Thess.2:9,10). Indeed, many other religions induce dramatic demonstrations of supernatural activity - eg the ability to walk on hot coals, or lie on beds of nails - as the result of demonic manifestations - not a few manifesting the ability to 'speak in tongues'! However, neither should we necessarily dismiss a group as 'not of God' merely because of phenomena which do not fit our theology.
Controversy over such matters is no new thing. In "Joy", the magazine of the Assemblies of God in Great Britain and Ireland, August 2000, D.Littlewood, summarising Jonathan Edwards' reply to critics of the Great Awakening (in 'Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the True Spirit', 1740) states:
"The work of the Spirit may also give rise to certain physical manifestations, but these alone are not to be used as a sign that God is at work. The ultimate sign of genuine revival lies in changed lives."
Anti-intellectualism - Many 'christian cults' foster a suspicion of 'intellectual religion', emphasising spontaneity and openness to the leading of the Spirit, which over-reliance on mental processes is said to undermine. Members may be exhorted to 'switch off' their brains and follow their hearts. Theology in particular is seen as the enemy of faith, which is, rightly, said to be an inner conviction of truth, not dependant on factual evidence and proofs. However, true Faith must be based on hearing the voice of God and not that of any other influence - human or demonic. So unthinking acceptance of whatever is heard in the course of a meeting, merely on the basis of a gut-reaction, can be very dangerous, particularly in a highly charged emotional atmosphere.
Commentary: Yes, Christianity does require a leap of faith, but it is not a blind faith, God inviting us to reason with Him (Is.1:18) and to prove all things (1 Thes.5:21, KJV). Christians have nothing to fear from true science and logic.
It is true that some branches of theology do appear to set out to undermine evangelical belief, by disproving the scriptural record, or seeking rational/scientific explanations for supernatural phenomena. However, a right and godly use of our God-given intellectual abilities, in submission to the leading of the Holy Spirit, can only serve to strengthen faith, as we 'study to show (ourselves) approved, (workmen) who need not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.' (2 Tim 2:15), having 'an answer for the faith that is within (us)' (1 Pet 3;15). Without such a thorough grounding in and understanding of Biblical teaching, we are liable to be 'blown here and there by every wind of doctrine and by the cunningness and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.' (Eph 4:14). As already discussed, all prophecy needs to be properly weighed in the light of Biblical teaching before being accepted as sound doctrine. The same is true of what is preached from the pulpit. This can only be properly done from a balanced understanding of the overall Biblical witness, which avoids the pitfalls of taking verses out of context and misconstruing their meaning.
Advice on Overcoming Abusive Situations
Recognising the truth about the situation is the first step towards finding a solution. Like any other abusive situation, you need to know that you are not to blame, that it is the abuser who needs to change, and that you have no reason to feel guilty for challenging their right to treat you in this way. You would not accept abuse from your boss at work, neither should you from a pastor. Just because a man claims to have heard from God does not necessarily make him right! Jesus said, 'by their fruit you shall know them' (Matt 7;16). God is above all a God of love, who only ever rebukes in order to help and build up - never to pull down, undermine, humiliate, ridicule or prove his own superiority - and a true servant of God will act likewise. You are precious to Him, as one for whom His Son died, and He has given you an inheritance as a child of God, to hear His voice and know His love, compassion and strengthening day by day. Never let any man (or woman) - however well-qualified, gifted, respected or persuasive - make you think otherwise!
Find out what God says about you for yourself - ask Him to open up His Word to you personally, and show you what the Bible really says about who you are in Christ, and allow it to sink into your heart and become a part of your thinking. Act like it is true.
Forgive the one who has hurt you, and pray for them to see where they have gone wrong and to change. The chances are they did not set out deliberately to hurt you, or others in their care. And even if they did, God commands us to forgive those who persecute us, knowing that failing to do so would ultimately damage us even more. A root of bitterness gives a foothold for the Devil to further interfere in our lives and disrupt our ability to function properly as part of the Body of Christ. If you find it hard to do this - particularly if the offender refuses to acknowledge his sin - ask God to help you to learn to love your abuser, despite all he has done. Remember that, ultimately they will answer to God for all they have done - good and bad - and it is not your place to act as judge and jury, let alone executioner! "'Vengeance is mine,' says the Lord." (Heb. 10;30).
While morbidly dwelling on past hurts will prevent you from moving on to a positive future in the Lord, it is not wrong to seek counsel and advice in dealing with the damage you have suffered as a result of an abusive situation. A mature, sympathetic outsider who can view the situation objectively may well help you to put matters in perspective, and to see positive ways of overcoming the past, particularly if they have some personal experience of the kind of problems you are dealing with. Don't be afraid to ask for help or to be honest about how you are feeling. It is quite normal to feel hurt by a negative Church experience, to find it hard to trust other Church leaders, or to feel relaxed about throwing yourself into the life of a new fellowship. A good Pastor will understand this, and allow you to move at your own speed. If you have difficulty finding someone in your own area who truly understands where you are coming from, then there are ministries, such as this one, which specialise in helping survivors of spiritual abuse, who would be happy to offer prayer and advice, or put you in touch with someone nearer home who can help you. You are not alone, and with the Lord's help you will overcome the past and go on to be the man or woman He designed you to be, enjoying life in His Kingdom and ministering to others along the way.
My own Testimony
Often, when you are in the midst of a church fellowship which is going off track, it is very hard to see clearly the abusive or cult-like aspects. Friends outside the situation may point out things that concern them - but then they are just 'not spiritual enough to understand' and 'the Devil is using them' to 'undermine your stand for the Lord'. Others who have left may try to warn you of the dangers they perceived, but obviously 'they are deceived' and 'need to repent' for 'coming against a man of God'. One characteristic of all cults is the conviction that 'we are right' and everyone else is 'wrong', 'deceived' or just plain 'rebellious' - obviously 'under demonic influence', and possibly even 'possessed'.
It takes something fairly drastic to bring things into focus.
That was certainly my experience. I spent some eight years in a church, led by a man whom I always recognised as being rather too domineering and somewhat arrogant, but whom I believed to be motivated solely by zeal for God and His righteousness. And probably in the beginning that was true. Certainly much good was done within the Church - miracles happened, large numbers of people were saved and many, myself included, grew considerably in our faith and walk with the Lord. Over the years, however, I can now recognise that things deteriorated. Several leaders left the Church without any explanation - obviously not cut out for such a radical style of Christianity, opting out for an easy life elsewhere, or resentful of some rebuke from the pastor! Preaching from the pulpit became more dogmatic, attacks on those who had left, and on compromising churches elsewhere in the city, more frequent, pressure to 'sell out for the Lord' more intense. Some condemned him as dictatorial, indulging in 'heavy shepherding', lacking in love. But we knew that, for all his faults, our pastor was the only real man of God in town - if not in the entire country! - prepared to stand up for what was right, whatever the cost.
Then, out of the blue, it came to light that this mighty preacher of righteousness had been 'over familiar' with a number of women in the fellowship - not just once, but on numerous occasions, mostly in recent months, but some going back to the very early days of the church. Several had been kept quiet by the leadership as 'isolated incidents' of which he had apparently repented. But now the cat was well and truly out of the bag, as more and more ladies came forward with stories of what had been happening.
Obviously, many people left the church immediately. Others of us stayed on, as the pastor had apparently stood down and gone to another respected minister for help to put his life right. We hoped he could be restored, and the church get back on its feet. A short while later, however - against the other minister's advice - the fallen pastor was back in the pulpit, declaring that everyone was guilty of over-reacting. God obviously didn't see it as such a big deal - just look at all the miracles He had done through him while he had been away! And woe betide anyone who continued to criticise. For me that was the final sign that things had gone beyond the pale. I left the church immediately after that meeting. Other whom I know and love well stayed on for several weeks, hoping against hope that things would come right, but finally leaving when it became obvious that it was simply 'business as usual'. Sadly, a number stayed on, and remain there to this day, refusing to admit that anything is wrong, clinging to the belief that they are following God's 'man for the nation', and that everyone who has left is in danger of hell unless they repent - or at least will never achieve anything for the Lord until they return to the fold.
Many of those who left were heartbroken at the betrayal of trust and general shattering of hopes and dreams. We had all put so much of our lives into working for the vision of that church - but on what foundation had we been building? Sadly, a number were so disillusioned that they no longer could face going to Church - many struggled for several months, and still find it hard to really commit to a fellowship or trust a minister, some, sadly, have totally cut off all links with church. But others - and, thanks to the grace of God, more and more as time goes by - have come through - not unscathed, but, hopefully, stronger for the experience - to be fully involved in our new churches, beginning to step out into areas of ministry once more.
I don't think any of us have found it easy. But those who recovered quickest were those who refused to wallow in the past. Who were determined that, whatever men may say and do, God remains faithful and true. Who resisted the temptation to stay away from church, or float from one congregation to the next at the first sign of imperfection, but quickly sought out stable fellowships, with respected ministers - clearly accountable to others, either in the local church or a wider denominational structure - and determined to sit under God's Word and allow Him to correct their thinking, heal their wounds and direct their paths. Who were honest enough to repent of their own contribution to the abusive cycle, and, where necessary, apologise to those they had hurt or condemned. At times it helped to talk over issues with others who had gone through the same thing, or seek counsel from godly pastors - always striving to resist the lure of gossip, becoming bitter towards the past, or falling into self-condemnation for our stupidity in not seeing the warning signs, but looking to the future with hope in the Lord's ability to 'restore the years the locust has eaten'. After a while we found we could even laugh at some of the ways we allowed ourselves to be badgered and hoodwinked into conformity, or buried our heads in the sand! That was perhaps the sign that we really were on the road to recovery!
Looking at others who came out of the same church situation, I can see two extremes of response which have their own dangers. The most obvious is that of totally withdrawing from the things of God, writing off all churches and ministers on the strength of one traumatic experience, becoming totally focussed on the injuries suffered, watching for the abuser to get his come-uppance and gloating over every new revelation of his misconduct. The effects of this are obvious. The other extreme is to quickly bounce back into action, throwing oneself into leadership in a new church - possibly even setting up one's own new fellowship, on the grounds that 'no one else in town has the same degree of revelation we received at ..... church'. The danger of this is that such a person may quickly fall back into the same bad habits they learned from the leadership they have just left behind. Certainly I see some who refuse to see beyond the immediate sin of immorality to recognise the more subtle and sinister failings which contributed to the final downfall. Sins of arrogance - 'we know more than the other churches in town and can show them how things should be done' - judgementalism - 'God isn't pleased with this church or that minister, because they are lukewarm' - 'sheep-bashing' - 'Fred Bloggs is a wash out; he hasn't been at a midweek prayer meeting for weeks' - idolatry - 'touch not God's anointed' - and intimidation - 'anyone who leaves this church is on the road to hell' - among others. While it is wrong and dangerous to become totally focussed on the faults of the past, it is a necessary part of the healing process to look objectively at the various aspects of the abusive situation - not so as to condemn the abuser, but in order to allow God to reveal why certain attitudes or teachings were wrong, and reveal what the correct, Biblical stance should be. Without such openness to God's correction, there is a very real danger of perpetuating the same cycle of error and abuse - either by the abused becoming the abuser, or by becoming ensnared once more as the victim of a similar situation elsewhere.
Choosing a 'Safe' Church
Many people who have been hurt in an abusive church situation are, understandably, reluctant to get involved in a new church for fear of being hurt again, while others, sadly, seem to move from one abusive situation to another, attracted by the positives of a very dynamic, close-knit community which is 'on fire' for God, but failing to recognise the warning signs of what may lay beneath the attractive exterior. The following points are intended to give some guidance in making a wise choice of Church by detecting some of the possible indicators that all is not well.
Beware of 'One Man Bands' - many cults are led by self-appointed 'apostles' or 'prophets', who are accountable only to themselves (and God) and have few real credentials to support their position of responsibility. If a church is not part of some recognised denominational-type structure, then these are some of the questions you need to be asking;
- What is the leadership structure of the church? Are there Elders or co-pastors within the fellowship who exercise some spiritual oversight over its running and the conduct of the main Pastor? What are their credentials? How much actual say do they have in what goes on?
- What external 'supervision' exists for the leadership of the church? If they are not part of some wider organisation, is there some form of "ministers' fraternal" which can offer support and advice in cases of dispute?
- What is the minister's relationship with other church leaders in the area? Is he actively involved in working together with other churches? Is he generally held in good esteem by his fellow pastors? Does he speak of them with respect?
- What is the leader's background? Was he trained at a reputable Bible School or Seminary? Has he pastored other congregations in the past, or been a part of leadership teams in other churches? If so, how is he thought of in that locality?
- Who appointed the Pastor? Was he ordained by some reputable organisation, and do they still exercise some oversight over his ministry? To whom is he answerable for his conduct and teaching?
Commentary: Sound basic principles but very much tailor-made for an evangelical Protestant milieu and therefore most appropriate for them. Sound education of ministers is, of course, essential, but by whom? What is a "reputable" organisation - one recognised by a particular denomination? What if the denomination is itself in error in key areas of the Gospel? Every new move of God always starts from humble beginnings and their early tuition is often not in organised seminaries or equivalent schools. None of the first apostles, with the exception of Paul, had any formal training. Whilst the general rules here are good and approptriate, there are always exceptions.
Leadership Characteristics - the Bible has much to say about the characteristics of those appointed to leadership, which are often overlooked within cult-like organisations. Much emphasis is put on being "full of faith and the Holy Spirit" (Acts 6:5) - as characterised by operation of the more spectacular gifts (prophecy, healing etc.) - but less regard is given to "wisdom" (as opposed to knowledge), "grace" (Acts 6:3,8) and the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Jesus, however, tells us that it is by a person's fruit that we should know them for what they truly are (7:15-20). Key passages include; 1 Timothy 3:1-12,(also 4:12-5;2,21, 6:3-5) and Titus 1:5-9 (also 2:7,8).
- Are the leadership 'above reproach' in all areas of their conduct? Do they set a positive example of purity, self-control, gentleness etc.?
- Do the leadership show humility in their dealings with the congregation - imitating the servanthood of Jesus (Luke 22:25-27)?
- Are the leadership teachable, willing to admit their own shortcomings and need to grow in grace? Will they accept advice and prayer from other men of God? Are they happy to ask the congregation to pray for them? Are they able to admit when they make mistakes, or don't have all the answers?
- Are congregation members happy to associate with those from other churches, join in inter-church activities etc? Do they see themselves as one small part of the local Body of Christ - or the only real church in town?
- Do congregation members view their leaders with a healthy respect, yet see them as human and approachable enough to ask questions, share a joke, or offer constructive criticism? Or are they held in awe as infallible 'demigods', constantly 'six foot above contradiction'?
- Are all congregation members equally valued and respected as individuals, regardless of wealth / intelligence / status / spiritual gifting etc.?
- Are contributions to the life and ministry of the Church recognised and acknowledged with gratitude - or merely taken for granted, or even extorted under pressure?
- Is involvement in church activities something which is encouraged - or expected, even demanded?
- Is financial giving left mainly to the conscience of the individual, supported by occasional, balanced scriptural teaching - or a matter of constant exhortation, backed up by prophetic pronouncements on associated rewards and judgements?
- When it is necessary to discipline church members, is this done with sensitivity and tact so as to correct and encourage while avoiding public humiliation?
- When members move on to another fellowship, are they sent on their way with the prayers and blessing of the church? Is any disagreement handled openly and honestly? Are they welcome to keep in contact with remaining church members?
- Does the chuch publish properly audited accounts of all income and expenditure? Are these accounts freely available for all members to inspect - or is any enquiry into the financial affairs of the church discouraged? The leadership are responsible for the good stewardship of the church's resources, including money donated by the congregation, and need to be clearly accountable for any mismanagement which may arise.
- Who pays the pastor's salary? To avoid any appearance of mismanagement, the salaries of all paid staff should be agreed and administered by a properly appointed Treasurer or financial administrator, preferable answerable to a board of trustees or similar body. Obviously all legal requirements for Income Tax, National Insurance etc. should be fully met, and accounted for in the church's annual accounts.
Commentary: New Covenant Christians are strongly opposed to a fixed salaried ministry and find no biblical evidence for such. Free-will offerings made to ministers under the leading of the Spirit are another matter and quite acceptable.
Three Common Danger Signals
- How is the question of congregational giving handled?. Tithing into the local church is a sound Biblical principle, as is the giving of additional free-will offerings - eg to missionary funds etc. - over and above the basic 10%. Clear and balanced teaching on these issues should be built into the church's teaching programme. Lengthy emotional appeals preceding every offering put undue pressure on members and visitors alike, especially if accompanied by promises of financial blessings for those who dig deep, and curses for those who do not. while members should be clear about their commitment to financially support their church, they should never be bullied or bribed into giving more than the Lord Himself has put on their heart, and their level of giving should remain strictly confidential. The Bilbe encourages a spirit of 'cheerful givint', not extorted, guilt-induced or reward- oriented giving!
- Does the church have a programme of planned giving to others out of its regular income? A healthy church is a giving church, and this should not rely on special appeals to the congregation, but should include ongoing support for missionary organisations, humanitarian aid programmes and the like. God will honour to support a generous attitude in a church organisation just as readily as in an individual believer.
"The Message speaks for itself"
Many who claim a position of ministry within the Body of Christ, particularly those operating under the title of 'Prophet' or 'Apostle', are reluctant to provide any credentials for their ministry. This is a particular concern on the Internet, where some publish Websites under the title of their supposed calling, without any indication of what their background may be, or what church backing they may have to support their claim to that title. When questioned, such men assert that anyone with spiritual discernment will immediately recognise the validity of their message, without any need for testimonials from others. To enquire into their standing within the church, or the grounds for their claim to operate as a minister of God, is to prove oneself unworthy of receiving their message.
The most likely explanation for this failure to 'walk in the light' is that these 'Prophets' and 'Apostles' operate independently of any church (possibly even in defiance of the wisdom of those who have exercised leadership over them in the past), and are not accountable to any pastoral authority - which I would say, at the very least, undermines their credibility, and probably disqualifies them outright from any real right to minister.
Contrast this with the practice of the New Testament Church. Here, the fivefold ministry gifts are seen, not as positions of authority given to individual believers, but as gifts of service to the body of Chirst (Ephesians 4; 11-13), placed "in the church" by the Lord (1 Cor. 12;28). Where prophets are mentioned, it is generally as part of a local congregation (eg Acts13;1, 21;8,9) and when they minister further afield (eg Agabus in Acts 11; 27,28), it is as having come from a particular place (ie the authenticity of their ministry can be checked, and any malpractice reported to the sending congregation). Ministries generally are established and recognised within the local church before being released to bless the wider Body. Those entrusted with any office within the church are expected to be "of good reputation" (Acts 6; 3), "blameless" and having "a good testimony among those who are outside" (1 Tim. 3; 2,7) - simply operating in spiritual gifts is not qualification in and of itself.
The New Testament is not short of examples of men's authority to minister being referred to the testimony of others. The Apostle Paul himself did not set out on his missionary journeys until his call was confirmed by the local church (Acts 13; 1-3). Years later, writing to the Corinthian church, the Paul says he needs no letter of commendation beyond the transformed lives of those to whom he has ministered. However, despite having received direct revelation from the Lord, when faced with criticism in Antioch, he made a point of consulting with Peter and the other church leaders in Jerusalem as to the authenticity of his message, and was given a letter of recommendation to overrule any future challenge to his ministry (Acts 15) - a confirmation of his good standing to which he himself refers in his letter to the Galatians (ch 2; 9). Elsewhere, Apollos was given letters from the Ephesian church leadership to recommend him to the church in Achaia (Acts 18; 27). In his Epistles, Paul is in the habit of commending particular ministers to the churches (eg Phil. 2; 19-22 &25,29: Col 4;7,8 & 10) and, on at least one occasion warns against others (2 Tim. 4; 15). Peter gives his seal of approval to Paul's ministry (2 Peter 3;15f), while the Gospel writers do not disdain to relate even Jesus' ancestry, as a testimony to His claim to messiahship
"Answerable only to the Lord"
There are those who take upon themselves the title of 'Prophet' or 'Apostle' as a justification for pronouncing God's displeasure on the ministry of other Men of God - holding the 'inferior' office of Pastor, Teacher or Evangelist - while absolving themselves from the need to submit to any kind of Church discipline. In my opinion, such an attitude attempts to elevate titles (and the implied 'position' this brings to exercise 'authority' over fellow believers) above ministry (ie 'service' to the Body, with the responsibility that entails) in clear contradiction of the teachings of Christ (Mark 9: 35: Luke 22: 25-27) and the New Testament writers.
Such men claim to hold their commission directly from the Lord Jesus, and therefore to be answerable only to Him for the performance of their ministry. Contrast this with the Apostle Peter's response to criticism in Acts 11 - remembering that Peter was irrefutably called and appointed directly by Jesus himself!. These latter-day apostles etc., however, refute the need to refer their ministry to the judgement of a board of reference, eldership, pastoral team, or denominational structure, because 'Jesus is able to correct me if I go wrong'. This ignores the fact that Jesus has established the full range of giftings and ministries within His Church precisely for the purpose of maintaining pure doctrine (Ephesians 4:11f), specifically instructing that the words of one prophet be judged by others within the assembly (1 Cor. 14:29). In other words, the way Jesus will normally correct us, if we are unable to discern His voice in our own prayer and reading of the scriptures, is through His people on earth, either directly or through the preaching of the Word. Only rarely will He 'supernaturally' intervene in person - how many examples can you find in the New Testament?
Ironically, these independent spirits are quick to assert their own God-given right to rebuke other ministers (whether or not those ministers are in any way connected to their own organisation or sphere of influence!) and to condemn the pride of those who refuse to listen.
Ultimately, it is, indeed, God who will judge such men - with a severity proportionate to the responsibility they have taken upon themselves as leaders and teachers (Jas. 3:1). However, many times the need for divine judgement would be averted (and much damage to others avoided) if only these men would humble themselves in submission to the voice of fellow ministers.
"Touch not God's Anointed"
Whenever any form of criticism is levelled against leaders with a tendency towards abusing their flock, be it questioning their teaching or challenging their conduct in particular areas, the questioner is warned against the dangers of 'coming against' a Minister of God. This is characterised as 'rebellion' in members of the leader's own congregation, and an unjustifiable attack if coming from another minister, or a civil authority. To criticise a leader, particularly one operating in one of the fivefold ministry giftings, is said to be contrary to the scriptural exhortation to "'Touch not my anointed'", and to bring the judgement of God upon the perpetrator. This is a clearly manipulative tactic employed to scare off any form of challenge to the leader's position and authority within the group, and has no real scriptural foundation.
The scripture used is taken from Psalm 105, referring to God's protection of the people of Israel in the days of the Patriarchs, "When they went from one nation to another ..He permitted no one to do them wrong ..saying, 'Do not touch my anointed ones, and do my prophets no harm.'" Let us examine the context and application of these verses in some detail. The term, 'anointed ones' (note; plural), here refers not just to individual leaders, but includes the whole of Israel, God's covenant people. In the New Testament, God's 'Anointed One' (singular) always refers to Jesus, the Christ or Messiah, but God's 'anointing' (or outpouring of the Holy Spirit) is for the whole of His people (See Acts 2:14ff, quoting Joel 2:28-32). Thus God's protection clearly extends to all believers, not just to particular privileged ones - indeed God does not have favourites (Gal. 2:6)! To 'touch' - "lay the hand upon ..by impl. violently" (Strong's Concordance) - in this context clearly means a physical attack or other attempt to do serious damage to the well-being of God's people. This can hardly be applied to genuine questioning of a minister's teaching or conduct - or even to seeking to point out wrongdoing as a means of bringing a person to repentance, which is our scriptural duty (Galatians 6:1: Jude 23).
The abusive leader will similarly hold up David's anger with the man who claimed to have acted to 'destroy God's anointed', King Saul, (2 Samuel 1:1-15) as an example of the need to respect God-appointed authorities even when they go wrong. However, David himself did not remain at court to support Saul's ungodly ways and suffer at his hands. Neither did he send those discontented folk who flocked to him in his exile back home to submit to the King's rule. Instead, he formed them into an army committed to championing the cause of the beleaguered people of Israel and defending themselves against the King's attacks (1 Sam. 22:2). His army went so far as to fight against the anointed King's forces, yet, out of respect for who Saul was (or could have been), David stopped short of killing his enemy, while making it clear that he could easily have done so (1 Sam. 24), and mourned for him when he finally destroyed himself. We too must never strike at abusive leaders in anger, actively seeking to destroy them or their ministry. But neither can we remain silent and inactive when they threaten the well-being of God's people, but speak out to hold them accountable for their actions and seek to bring about a genuine repentance and restoration.
Of course such things are to be done discretely and responsibly, and charges against leaders in particular must never be brought lightly and are always to be scrutinised carefully in the light of actual evidence (1 Tim. 5:19). But no one - least of all a church leader - is above criticism or being brought to book for misconduct. In the early Church, the Apostle Peter was criticised by ordinary Jewish believers for eating with Gentiles, and was quite happy to explain his actions calmly and rationally, without any suggestion that they were not entitled to question him, even though he knew he was being obedient to God (Acts 11 1-18). Later he is publicly rebuked by Paul for his hypocrisy regarding Jewish rituals (Galatians 2:11f). Here, the man entrusted by Jesus himself with leading the early church is under criticism from his 'subordinates', yet there is no suggestion that those who questioned him were in any way wrong to do so. The whole spirit of church government at this time seems to be one of openness and mutual accountability and respect.
If a leader is in the wrong, surely he should be grateful to anyone who can convict him of his sin so that he can put things right, not see them as a threat? Conversely, when we have a clear conscience before God, Peter urges us to consider unjustified accusations as a blessing, enabling us to share in the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4; 13,14). Even where such criticism is malicious, there is no scriptural warrant for threatening the culprit with dire consequences. Jesus on the cross prayed for the forgiveness of his persecutors, and we are instructed to do likewise, "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse ..overcome evil with good" (Romans 12 14,21). Those 'prophets' who claim God's sanction to pronounce dire judgements upon their critics should heed this advice, and also the testimony of Balaam in Numbers 22 to 24, that no true prophet of God can speak evil against His people for, "'There is no´.. divination against Israel'" (ibid 23; 23). Indeed, those who insist that others "touch not the Lord's anointed" may very well be found guilty of that very offense themselves!
To those who have come under this kind of threat simply for pursuing righteousness and truth out of a clear conscience, let Balaam's words be a reassurance that no curse will have any hold over you, for, like Israel of old, God will "permit no one to do (you) wrong". Let there be no doubt that when any church leader begins to abuse and harm those in his care, God's judgement sits heavily on the abuser while his compassion is on those they have injured; "'Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves ..you have ruled (the flock) harshly and brutally .. I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. ..I myself will search for my sheep and look after them... I will save my flock and they will no,longer be plundered.'"(Ezekiel 34:1-31 See also Jer 22:1-5). In the light of this, can there be any justification for sitting by and allowing such attitudes to go unchallenged?
Sadly, these kinds of attitude are all too common, not only in the cults, but also in some mainstream sections of today's church, where those in ministry positions claim for themselves something akin to the 'divine right of Kings' to exercise absolute power over their 'subjects', without any kind of accountability for their actions. For such teaching to go unchallenged is potentially dangerous, and I would advise anyone to avoid getting involved with any church which holds strongly to such a position, however zealous and effective for God it may otherwise appear.
I myself was under the ministry of such a man for several years, before a serious misdemeanour on his part brought to light the fact that, not only had he never been formally ordained (having refused to accept the discipline of the organisation which trained him), but also that that organisation had later disowned him following serious misconduct in his first pastorate. Shortly after this, he travelled halfway across the globe to minister as 'God's chosen man for Britain' - leaving considerable chaos in his wake. Which would explain his refusal to 'justify' his ministry to others! This refusal was always couched in such convincingly spiritual terms as to immediately place the questioner in the wrong, meanwhile serving as a smoke screen for a trail of destruction in the lives of many trusting congregation members over several years.
Commentary: Again, very sound principles. However, we must not fall into the trap of Catholic or Mormon legalism which requires a continuous "line of succession" from the first apostles to the present. Ordination is right within a denomination, but not every new work of God requires a formal ordination to authenticate it.
I would urge you to take heed to the warning signs above, and save yourself the kind of heartache I and many like me have foolishly subjected ourselves to.
 The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse (Johnson and VanVonderen, Bethany House Publishers 1991)
 The Truth that sets you Free (Colin Urquhart, Hodder and Stoughton 1993)
This page was created on 18 August 2009
Last updated on 18 August 2009
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