Sunday, 21 July 2013

What Is Spiritual Abuse?

The following article is taken from the popular blog 'The Wartberg Watch' which specialises in exposing church groups, fellowships and ministries which tend towards being spiritually abusive. In their quest to expose such abuse they have nothing less than a 'pit bull' demeanour when they get hold of an issue that they believe is unjust, bullying or downright abusive, especially when done under the name of 'Christian'. I like their spirit because it seeks to defend those that are the weak and those whom the Lord would describe as His 'little ones'. AK

  Spiritual abuse occurs when someone in a position of spiritual authority, the purpose of which is to 'come underneath' and serve, build, equip and make God's people MORE free, misuses that authority placing themselves over God's people to control, coerce or manipulate them for seemingly Godly purposes which are really their own."      
Jeff VanVonderen
When Dee and I launched The Wartburg Watch, our goal was to discuss "faith issues".  As we began to investigate trends within Christendom, two problems came to the fore — spiritual abuse and hyper-authoritarianism.  We have discussed these problems before; however, since our readership has grown quite a bit, we feel obligated to cover these issues again, this time in greater depth.  PATRIARCHS BEWARE!  You will be learning from women.  Read at your own risk . . 
According to the Wikipedia article on Spiritual abuse, the term was not coined until the latter part of the twentieth century.  It certainly appears that this form of abuse in on the rise and is causing great harm to the body of Christ.      
Ronald Enroth in Churches That Abuse identifies five categories of characteristics that describe Spiritual Abuse (listed in the Wiki article):
1. Authority and Power – abusive groups misuse and distort the concept of spiritual authority. Abuse arises when leaders of a group arrogate to themselves power and authority that lacks the dynamics of open accountability and the capacity to question or challenge decisions made by leaders. The shift entails moving from general respect for an office bearer to one where members loyally submit without any right to dissent.
2. Manipulation and Control – abusive groups are characterized by social dynamics where fear, guilt, and threats are routinely used to produce unquestioning obedience, group conformity, and stringent tests of loyalty to the leaders are demonstrated before the group. Biblical concepts of the leader-disciple relationship tend to develop into a hierarchy where the leader's decisions control and usurp the disciple's right or capacity to make choices on spiritual matters or even in daily routines of what form of employment, form of diet and clothing are permitted.
3. Elitism and Persecution – abusive groups depict themselves as unique and have a strong organizational tendency to be separate from other bodies and institutions. The social dynamism of the group involves being independent or separate, with diminishing possibilities for internal correction and reflection. Outside criticism and evaluation is dismissed as the disruptive efforts of evil people seeking to hinder or thwart.
4. Lifestyle and Experience – abusive groups foster rigidity in behavior and in belief that requires unswerving conformity to the group's ideals and social mores.
5. Dissent and Discipline – abusive groups tend to suppress any kind of internal challenges and dissent concerning decisions made by leaders. Acts of discipline may involve emotional and physical humiliation, physical violence or deprivation, acute and intense acts of punishment for dissent and disobedience.
In the Wiki article on Spiritual Abuse, Agnes and John Lawless argue in The Drift into Deception that there are EIGHT characteristics of spiritual abuse, and some of these clearly overlap with Enroth's criteria listed above.
They list the eight marks of spiritual abuse as comprising:
1. charisma and pride,
2. anger and intimidation,
3. greed and fraud,
4. immorality,
5. Enslaving authoritarian structure,
6. Exclusivity,
7. Demanding loyalty and honor,
8. New revelation.
According to the above article, "The basis of spiritual abuse is when these characteristics are overstretched to achieve a desired goal that is neither supported by spiritual reality nor by the human conscience."
One of the signs of spiritual abuse is FEAR, and intimidation is often the tactic used by spiritual leaders who try to control, manipulate, or dominate their followers.
There is so much more information to share on Spiritual Abuse, and we will pick up with this topic tomorrow.

Spiritual Abuse – Common Characteristics (link)
"Spiritual abuse is as old as false religion itself.  While the practice is old, the term "spiritual abuse" may have been coined first by Jeff VanVonderen."   David Henke 
My heart breaks for those who have been spiritually abused.  I praise God that there are excellent resources on the internet that can help victims of spiritual abuse become survivors
One such resource is provided by Watchman Fellowship, which we highly recommend.  David Henke has written an excellent article that will help Christians identify spiritually abusive organizations.  Henke makes an extremely important point regarding their organizational structure.  He explains that often spiritually abusive ministries will have "top down" hierarchical structures.   This cannot be over-emphasized!  It's the primary reason why spiritual abuse persists.
Henke has compiled a list of common characteristics of spiritual abusive ministries, which we believe are excellent!  Although we shared similar characteristics in yesterday's post, we believe they bear repeating.  
#1) Authoritarian
The most distinctive characteristic of a spiritually abusive religious system, or leader, is the over-emphasis on authority. Because a group claims to have been established by God Himself the leaders in this system claim the right to command their followers.
This authority supposedly comes from the position they occupy. In Matthew 23:1-2 Jesus said the Scribes and Pharisees "sit in Moses' seat," a position of spiritual authority. Many names are used but in the abusive system this is a position of power, not moral authority. The assumption is that God operates among His people through a hierarchy, or "chain of command." In this abusive system unconditional submission is often called a "covering," or "umbrella of protection" which will provide some spiritual blessing to those who fully submit. Followers may be told that God will bless their submission even if the leadship is wrong. It is not their place to judge or correct the leadership – God will see to that.
#2) Image Conscious
The abusive religious system is scrupulous to maintain an image of righteousness. The organization's history is often misrepresented in the effort to demonstrate the organization's special relationship to God. The mistaken judgements and character flaws of its leaders are denied or covered up in order to validate their authority. Impossibly high legalistic standards of thought and behavior may be imposed on the members. Their failure to live up to these standards is a constant reminder of the follower's inferiority to his leaders, and the necessity of submission to them. Abusive religion is, at heart, legalism.
Abusive religion is also paranoid. Because the truth about the abusive religious system would be quickly rejected if recognized, outsiders are shown only a positive image of the group. This is rationalized by assuming that the religion would not be understood by "worldly" people; therefore they have no right to know. This attitude leads to members being secretive about some doctrines and the inner policies and proceedures of the group. Leaders, especially, will keep secrets from their members. This secrecy is rooted in a basic distrust of others because the belief system is false and can not stand scrutiny.
#3) Suppresses Criticism
Because the religious system is not based on the truth it cannot allow questions, dissent, or open discussions about issues. The person who dissents becomes the problem rather than the issue he raised. The truth about any issue is settled and handed down from the top of the hierarchy. Questioning anything is considered a challenge to authority. Thinking for oneself is suppressed by pointing out that it leads to doubts. This is portrayed as unbelief in God and His anointed leaders. Thus the follower controls his own thoughts by fear of doubting God.
#4) Perfectionistic
A most natural assumption is that a person does not get something for nothing. Apart from the express declarations of salvation by grace through faith God has given in the scriptures, it would be natural to think that one must earn salvation, or at least work to keep it. Thus, in abusive religions all blessings come through performance of spiritual requirements. Failure is strongly condemned so there is only one alternative, perfection. So long as he thinks he is succeeding in his observation of the rules, the follower typically exhibits pride, elitism, and arrogance. However, when reality and failure eventually set in, the result is the person experiences spiritual burnout, or even shipwreck of his faith. Those who fail in their efforts are labeled as apostates, weak, or some other such term so that they can be discarded by the system.
#5) Unbalanced
Abusive religions must distinguish themselves from all other religions so they can claim to be distinctive and therefore special to God. This is usually done by majoring on minor issues such as prophecy, carrying biblical law to extremes, or using strange methods of biblical interpretation. The imbalanced spiritual hobby-horse thus produced represents unique knowledge or practices which seem to validate the group's claim to special status with God.
Thank you, David Henke, for explaining these characteristics in such an understandable way!  
Our purpose in focusing on spiritual abuse is first to help those who have been hurt to recognize that they have been abused and second to help them heal from these devastating experiences.  

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Peter the Apostle: The evangelist who learned to listen before he spoke,

The martyrdom of St Peter took place in Rome under the emperor Nero around A.D.62-64. As far as we know from tradition, he showed no fear at his execution, in fact it is recorded that he told the guards that he wanted to be crucified upside down as he was not worthy to be killed the same way as his Master.He was originally brought to Jesus by his brother Andrew (John 1.41-43)and later Jesus then called both Andrew and Peter at the Sea of Galilee saying to them :‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’(Mk1.14).

At another time when the two brothers were out in their boat and had failed to catch any fish Jesus told them to cast their nets into the deeper waters to which Peter replied: ‘we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets."(Lk. 5.5) As a result of their action they caught so many that Peter fell down at Jesus’ knee and cried out:”Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord". Jesus then responded to him and said; "Don't be afraid; from now on you will be catching men." Peter therefore knew at an early stage the ministry that he would one day have.

It should be noted that in any list of the disciples recorded in the gospels Peter is always mentioned first and among the inner three along with John and James. Peter was truly devoted to his Master, however sometimes he was too quick to show it,which resulted in failure.It would seem that when he had first of all listened to Jesus then obeyed him, things went well; however when he took the initiative in order to help Jesus out, he ended up letting himself down.

For instance in Matthew 16.13-23 we see these both happening. First of all Jesus asked the question: ‘but who do you say that I am?’to which Peter repliesd: ‘you are the Christ the Son of the living God’. This was good and Peter was commended by Jesus, who then told him that it was the Father who had revealed this to him...
However shortly after when Jesus was describing what would happen to him in Jerusalem with regard to his suffering, death and resurrection, Peter starts to rebuke Him. This Jesus did not commend, rather strongly rebuking with the words: ‘get thee behind me Satan you are a hindrance to me, you are not setting your mind on the things of God but of man.’ Poor Peter!

In the story of Jesus walking on the water, again Peter wants to get involved. This time he asks Jesus: ‘Lord if it is you will command me to come to you on the water.’ This Jesus did and Peter succeeded in walking on the water, at least until he started to doubt.

Some time afterwards, Peter, despite Jesus stating the opposite, boasted that though all would leave Jesus during his time of trial, he would not. Jesus then predicted that he would deny him three times! After Peter denied his Master he was probably very much a broken man,but it is recorded that the Lord had prayed for him and prepared the way for him to be fully restored.

In John 21 which records the events after the death and resurrection of Jesus we read the story of the disciples being unable to catch any fish, even though they had been fishing all night. The next morning on discovering that they hadn’t caught any, Jesus teld them to cast out on the right side and immediately they caught a full load. John then realised it was the Lord and told the rest. At this, Peter, fully clothed jumped in the sea and made for the shore. Remember that the last time a similar event took place Jesus had promised Peter that he would from then on catch men. Perhaps he thought, despite his failure, that Jesus still had a work for him to do!

When the rest of the disciples arrived on the shore Jesus had already prepared a fire to cook the fish. Remember again that when Peter denied the Lord it was beside a fire. I’m sure when Peter saw any type of fire it brought him pangs of guilt and shame as it remind him how he denied his Master. But here we see how the Lord in his mercy brought him back to the fire, but instead of denial Peter was able to affirm three times his love, and three times the Lord commissioned him to feed his sheep and tend his lambs.

Gone was Peter’s boasting, instead a great sense of humility when he stated in his third reply: ‘Lord you know all things you know that I love you.’
Peter was no longer the self confident apostle but one who had been chastened by the Lord and had learned to listen before he spoke out of turn.

In Acts 2 it is recorded that on the day of Pentecost when the disciples started to speak in tongues Peter responded to the people’s comments : ‘they have had too much wine’ with an explanation, then a sermon which ultimately saw three thousand come to the Lord.

Peter’s next opportunity came after he healed the cripple at the gate called Beautiful (Acts3). After the healing had caused such a stir Peter again gave the people an first an explanation, then a sermon, and even though he and John were both arrested, five thousand believed through their message!

Note that these were not evangelistic crusades as such with lots of organization with lots of money spent on publicity. On the morning of these events Peter did not even intend to preach a sermon, though I'm sure he was always open to the Spirit's leading. He just responded to the commotion of the speaking in tongues and the healing in a dignified way, through explanation, then a sermon.

The gospel reaching the Gentiles was in the first place due to a God given vision, and obedience to the Spirit (Acts 10). It was not Peter’s own idea for sure- in fact he was, if anything a little hesitant. Peter’s letters also do not portray the brash evangelist. He seems concerned with Christians being a good witness in the world and staying steadfast in the midst of suffering and trial. He does however have a few things to say about speaking the words of Christ or words for Christ.

In 1 Peter 3 he tells wives not to preach at their non-Christian husbands, rather that they might be won without a word if their behaviour is right.In verse 15 of the same chapter Peter also writes: ‘But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect’.

Always be prepared like the scouts. Like Jesus with the woman at the well he was prepared for what the Father opened up for him. If we do not expect to see doors open we more than likely will miss them. We must learn to see and seize them! We must still be gentle and respectful as Jesus was with the woman at the well, and as Paul was with the woman who were praying along with Lydia by the river.

We don’t need to be brash , we don’t need to bully people. We just need to be willing and prepared to speak when He does open up the door. We must also be willing to persevere and not give up at the first sign of inconvenience or trouble.

I used to think that Jesus and the apostles just preached and always got great results in terms of people becoming followers of Christ. Then one day I read again one of my favourite verses: ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock, if any man opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me’. It made me think of Him knocking and waiting at the doors of the hearts of men and women.How long did he have to wait for us. Think of how many times we ignored his knocking before we responded. Are we sometimes too ready to give up on people too soon?He waited for us can we not wait in his name for others.We like instant coffee but we will never get instant saints.

Peter learned to listen to the Spirit within as well as listening to the people. Despite that he still needed boldness to take the opportunities when God had opened them up to him.

It did not have to be an organised evangelistic event (was there any in the New Testament or were they all spontaneous?, but it could be just going about doing everyday things: that is what makes the Christian life exciting.

Peter was no longer self reliant but God reliant and seeking always to please the Master, practising the presence of God.