The Signs Of Spiritual Abuse

by Steven Lambert, ThD

Are you one of the many loyal and sincere church members who faithfully and cheerfully attend, support and participate in a local church, but have a nagging, persistent inward "thought" that "something is just not right here?" Each time it rises within you, you peer around the room at the faces of fellow-worshipers caught up in seemingly heart-felt worship, you tune your ear to the soothing, melodious music crescendoing upward, and listen intently to the inspiring exhortations flowing from the lips of the various leaders on the platform...then...once again ...you begin to chastise yourself...and "take authority" over those terrible carnal, negative thoughts, and command them to leave your mind. Now! there! no more of that! Right? Right!

That is, until the next time...and it happens all over again! You are enthralled in blissful worship and praise, focusing entirely on the Lord and His Magnificence. You begin to feel that familiar, but awesome sensation of His Presence filling the room and settling gently upon you. And then...BOOM!...there it is AGAIN!! —that still, small inner voice, telling you He is pleased by your expression of love, adoration, and praise; it is a sweet savor which He has received from your heart to His. But, still, He wants you to be aware there is something wrong here...with the leadership...their teaching, their "leadership" attitudes and methods, their motives and ambitions, their personal life-styles, their earnestness regarding ministering on His behalf to the needs of the hurting, needy multitudes for whom He died.

Is it possible this really IS the Lord speaking to you? Is that possible? And, then you go through the drill once again, looking, listening, analyzing. "But," you reply inwardly to the voice, "look at all these people here, the volunteer workers, the ministers, the musicians and choir! they can't all be wrong! and there wouldn't be this many people here if it wasn't of God! Look at this wonderful building, its furnishings and decor, the instruments, all the regalia, all the money it cost? God has to be endorsing this, otherwise the money for all this would not have come in! Listen to the inspiring music and messages by the leaders! And, look at all the people who've been blessed! This CAN'T possibly not be of God! God! what's wrong with me? why do I think such horrible thoughts?" you cry silently within.

Then, you begin realizing, somehow, somewhere along the line you began losing your joy, your zeal for the Lord. It used to be you could hardly wait for the services and to be involved; now it is drudgery to go at all. You used to have such a light and blissful feeling as you worshiped the Lord in the services; now you just go through the motions, feeling heavy, staring placidly toward the platform, sometimes wishing you were somewhere else. You used to be able to "look past" the leaders, and focus only on the Lord; now, all you see during the service is people, people behind the pulpit, people on the platform, and people in the pews. You used to feel God's love and pleasure with you; now it seems all you feel is unworthiness, guilt, and that nothing you do is ever enough or pleasing to Him.

"What on earth has happened to me? What's wrong with me?" you ask yourself. "Is it just me?" Then, you begin to look around the room and study other long-time members. You compare how they are now to how they were when they first came. Is their life, as it should be, appreciably better, or have they and their family experienced an inordinate share of tragedies, seemingly inexplicable difficulties, and reversals? By and by, you begin to realize that many of the other members have lost their "first love" too, their zeal, their enthusiasm, their joy in serving the Lord, and that, though Christians, like everyone else, certainly experience adversity, many of these members' lives have been on a gradual, downward spiral, instead of advancement and blessing.

Does this scenario sound familiar to you? If so, don't think you're alone—it's repeated several times every week by multitudes of sincere, faithful, and trusting believers. They've had this inward intuition for quite some time that something was just not right at their church or in their group, but just couldn't put their finger on precisely what it was. The teaching "sounded" right, all the right things were being said, good things were happening, many members were being "used" in various "ministries" of the church. Still, this nagging sense something is awry persists.

Often, these are the symptoms of a church or group laboring under the heavy-hand of hyper-authoritarianism. That is to say, the leadership is dominating, controlling, and manipulating their followers, and exploiting them for their own personal gain and private kingdom-building. The proper role of human under-shepherds is to lead people to the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ, and teach them how to be His followers, in submission to Him and His authority. Hyper-authoritarian leaders, instead, lead people to themselves, and indoctrinate them to be their followers, in total submission to them and their authority. In essence, these dominating shepherds teach they are the church-members' Lord, Master, and Savior. They indoctrinate members to believe the spiritual leaders of the church themselves are the members' "spiritual covering," and any member who ever leaves the church will be "out from under" their "covering," be without any covering, and experience terrible curses and consequences as a result.

Would you be able to recognize the signs of hyper-authoritarianism, control, and domination in a group or church? Do you know what the signs are and what to look for? Are they simple, overt, and obvious, or are they sophisticated, covert, and hidden? Could you be objective enough about your church or group and leaders to analyze if it is going on there? Do you know how to explain what the signs are to suspected victims in order to convince them they are under it? Do you know how to rescue them? Do you know what steps are necessary for victims to recover from the psychologically traumatizing and spiritually damaging effects of years of subjection to it? Do you know why hyperauthoritarian doctrines and practices are unScriptural, and proof-texts in which God condemns it, in order to convince victims and others ignorant concerning it of its illegitimacy?

These are just some of the matters that must be answered with regard to this prevalent problem plaguing the church today. And, they are just a few of the many issues addressed in a newly-released book, Charismatic Captivation, written by Steven Lambert, ThD, a Charismatic minister for twenty years. The book "in response to a Divine Call" to expose widespread authoritarian abuse and psychological enslavement occurring in many Neo-Pentecostal church-groups who are espousing and employing hyper-authoritarian doctrines and practices. Released in 1996, the book has aleady been publicized and disseminated internationally through television appearances, radio interviews, and print reviews.

The back-cover proclaims the work is "a medium of advocacy on behalf of untold multitudes of innocent sheep of God's Flock who, unknowingly, are being subjected to exploitive enslavement by self-aggrandizing and unscrupulous religious leaders for their own personal advancement and expansion of their private kingdoms." Identifying authoritarian abuse and psychological enslavement, and informing readers how to recognize and be set free from it, is the volume's main objective.

According to the book, the abuse and exploitation occurring in groups where these hyper-authoritarian systems of governance are instituted come in various shapes and shades, ranging from members having to receive the approval (usually referred to as "witness") of their spiritual leaders to date and/or marry, to virtual sole dependence upon the supposed superior spirituality of group-gurus regarding every detail of their personal financial matters and requiring their leaders' approval for virtually every significant expenditure. In a nutshell, the "dumb sheep" are taught they cannot trust their own judgment or ability to receive direction from the Lord for the important decisions of their lives, but must rely instead upon the transcendent wisdom and spiritual acumen of their "personal pastors."

In these groups, the "authority" of the "shepherds" is absolute, sacrosanct, and inviolable, that is, without reprisal. Any semblance of anything other than total and unquestioning obeisance to the desires and counsel of the chain of leaders is considered rebellion and insubordination, and simply is not tolerated. Members live under the constant threat of being branded with the Scarlet Letter "R" for "rebel," openly denounced and shamed from the (bully-)pulpit, and consequently shunned by the "covenant-community." Moreover, members are indoctrinated to accept the leadership-set agenda and mission of the group, regarding which they have little real say, as their personal burden and responsibility, and to commit their time, talent, and tithe to its successful completion.

Dr. Lambert proffers a thorough analysis of the hyper-authoritarian doctrines and practices being implemented by many Neo-Pentecostal churches and groups, citing and elaborating on five erroneous concepts they are based upon and which render them undeniably heretical. An entire chapter is devoted to an extensive exposition of the nature, illegitimacy, and Scriptural condemnation of ecclesiastical enslavement and exploitation. The author also delineates fifteen control mechanisms common to classic cultic/occultic groups as well as hyper-authoritarian Neo-Pentecostal cults. The capstone of the easy-to-read volume is Dr. Lambert's "15 R's of Recovery from Authoritarian Abuse," which he extrapolated from his extensive experience in ministering to spiritual abuse victims, steps Dr. Lambert says victims of spiritual abuse must implement to regain their psychological equilibrium and be restored to spiritual wellness.

You can read more about Charismatic Captivation, by Dr. Steven Lambert on the SLM Internet Site at: <http://www.slm.org/pubs/ccbook.html>. The book (ISBN 1-887915-00-1; 382 pp; $22, plus $3 s/h) can be ordered by calling (561) 575-5584, or by writing SLM Publications, P.O. Box 744, Jupiter, FL 33468-0744. Or, if you have a computer and an Internet Server, you may order the book online at: <http://www.slm.org/pubs/orderfrm.html>. Call for quantity discounts.


All SLM Publications are copyrighted, all rights reserved and may not be republished in any form, including electronic, without the permission of SLM, Inc. Direct all inquiries to the SLM Publications at: SLM, Inc, P.O. Box 744, Jupiter, FL 33468-0744, or E-mail: <slm@bellsouth.net>. This is one of many articles posted on the SLM Publications Internet site at: <http://www.slm.org>.

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