The Danger of Spiritual Abuse in the Church
"I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me. How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?"
The question is when does spiritual abuse occur in the Church? Spiritual abuse occurs when a person in religious authority or a person with a unique spiritual practice misleads and maltreats another person in the name of God or the Church. It is the misuse of a position of power, leadership, or influence to further the selfish interests and ambition of a so-called leader at the expense of someone else who has otherwise entrusted themselves to this particular leader. He or she places an overemphasis on their authority and position in the Church.
In our society today it is normally a pastor of particular Church, who operates and behaves much like the Scribes and Pharisees during the time Jesus was physically on earth. In fact, In Matthew 23:1-2 Jesus said that the Scribes and Pharisees "sit in Moses' seat," a position of spiritual authority. Spiritual abuse is a very serious matter because in an unhealthy church, the pastor actually begins to take the place of Jesus in the lives of the people and knowingly or unknowingly idol worship becomes a part of the churches makeup.
In the world today there is a kind of pastor who demands that his thoughts, actions, and decisions should go unquestioned. To question him would be tantamount to treason; disloyalty to him will be met with public humiliation before the congregation he pastors. He has what can only be called a “pharisaic pomposity” in that he requires complete submission from his followers. He is possessed with a pharisaic spirit and an “I am better than you” attitude; they in effect have become wounding agents.
A pastor may not plan to be a wounding agent. A called, competent, and qualified pastor, however, can become a wounding agent — sometimes without realizing it. Pastors who wound others are not born; they are made. The more power and accolades they receive the more invincible they start to feel, and if they are not fully anchored in the Lord they can easily start to abuse the power they have been given.
The Pharisees’ Abuse of Power
When it came to the Pharisees of the New Testament. Both Jesus and John called the Pharisee “vipers” on several occasions, basically labeling them and their law interpretations as dangerous, poisonous. The Pharisees handled their biting legalisms glibly–not respecting the spiritual danger they posed to all the innocent Jewish people of their day. If there ever were a group of men who loved to display their perceived power over the common man it was the Pharisee.
Everyone around them had to take a sip or rather a great big gulp of their spiritual Kool-Aid™; Jesus came along, however, and refused to drink their Kool-Aid™ so to speak. In fact, Jesus came along and challenged them and He held up a bigger picture for the entire world to see. They hated Jesus because He called them out for their hypocrisy and exposed them for what they really were…just a bunch of venomous snakes. Yes, Jesus did publicly call them ‘vipers’, however, they did not hate Him because in effect called them names. They actually hated Him because He threatened their security, position, prestige, power and income. The people who once followed them are now following in their eyes a lowly Carpenter from Nazareth and this had to stop. Did you know that this very thing is taking place in churches around the world today?
Pharisees In The Pulpit
Let me say that I fully understand that what I am saying will not set well with a few people in today’s Church. Let me say also that I am not attempting to bash and belittle the office of a pastor, because there are very many good, humble, and God-fearing preacher pastors in the world today. There are many men standing the pulpits across the nation who are in fact strong men of God and are men (and women) after God’s own heart. But there are a select few who fit the definition of a Pharisee. And if we are to preach the whole counsel of God then this fact should not go unnoticed. I know that very few would even dare say anything about this for fear of being isolated and even worse attacked by the powers that be but it has to exposed.
The question for any preacher/pastor today is if you were to look at yourself in the mirror, would you perhaps see a Pharisee looking back at you? And if so, I would suggest that you call upon the name of the Lord and ask His forgiveness, because He loves you and is willing to forgive you of all your sins. The Pharisaic pastor is one who attempts to dominate the church with his belief systems and therefore, exercise control and authority. He has to be surrounded by ‘yes people’ in order accomplish this and so he is very shrewd in determining who can be accepted or unaccepted as a member of his inner circle, and who will receive this or that position within the Church he pastors.
The words of Jesus are just as applicable today as they were when He walked this earth. Such as the Words found in Matthew 23: 13 – 15; 23 – 28: “13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because ye shut the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye enter not in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering in to enter. 14(Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, even while for a pretence ye make long prayers: therefore ye shall receive greater condemnation.) 15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he is become so, ye make him twofold more a son of hell than yourselves. 23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye tithe mint and anise and cummin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law, justice, and mercy, and faith: but these ye ought to have done, and not to have left the other undone.”
The Pharisees of that time were primarily interested in position, power and authority. They were not concerned with their relationship with God. They had a “form of godliness but denied the power thereof” they had an elitist mentality, they thought of themselves as being theologically superior, they had an exclusionary attitude; they were extremely narcissistic, and overly competitive. But their worst characteristic (in my humble opinion at least) was their blatant propensity to exercise spiritual abuse upon and against the Jewish people. They were mean spirited, no leader in the Church or anywhere else should be mean spirited and uncaring but they were.
In short, they just had to be in control. Fast-forward to today and we find a few pastors who operate under a spirit of control and they are fully convinced that they are the only ones who can accurately hear from God. Under the constant exposure to this spirit, members often become convinced that they indeed need their pastor to think for them. In essence, their personal fellowship with the Lord has been abdicated for a relationship with a man. As a result, they lose their confidence in being able to discern the will of God for their lives, and eventually their worship service becomes infected with a form of pastoral worship rather than to seek the worship and “…honor that comes from the only God"
Why Do Men Love To Honor Men?
Allow me to say before we attempt to answer the question of men loving to honor each other that there is absolutely nothing wrong with honoring each other. For example, the Word of God does say, "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain," and "The worker deserves his wages" (1 Timothy 5: 18). This means again for example that the Church is to honor their pastor with esteem and respect. It means that they are to acknowledge and recognize him; each member ought to hold their pastor ever so closely within their heart. Paul in writing to Timothy even goes, as far as to say that a pastor is “worthy of double honor” and there is one type of pastor who is singled out: he is the one who “labors in the “word and doctrine” which means that if a man labors in the Word and doctrine he really does not have any time to lift up his own self because his mind is stayed of Jesus and not himself.
He actually fears others who attempt to lift him up on a pedestal, because he is fully aware of what is written in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy 4: 24, “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” In other words, we are to honor pastors and other Christian saints for the work they do on behalf of the kingdom of God, and not because they are so special or because they have some sort of superiority and power over others, the God we serve is All-Powerful, there is no other power greater than He and it is He alone who deserves every praise, honor, and glory! Now let me see if I can place this where the rubber actually meets the road. Isaiah 64: 6 says, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” Who are we to place ourselves over and above others in a spiritual setting? What gives us the right and authority to spiritually abuse someone else by virtue of our name, credentials, status, prestige, or position in the Church? God certainly does not sanction this sort of thing. As we look further into the text, Jesus makes this known in no uncertain terms to the Scribes and Pharisees of His day.
It is dangerous and spiritually abusive when men seek the approval and honor of mere men. Why? It forces them to seek the right position to be seen in, they often seek the right place to live and work. The right car to drive, the right clothes to wear, the right look that will attract, the right gifts to give in order to secure honor for themselves, it causes them to constantly seek praise and power from others. It causes them to become narcissistic and arrogant to the extent they will deplore anyone who refuses to praise and honor them. What is even more appalling is they end up not seeking the acceptance and approval, nor the recognition and honor of God, they become men pleasers.
They measure themselves against other men, and not against God and when you do this it is much easier to be seen as being good and acceptable. It helps to project to others that eventhough you do come short every once and a while, you do not come short as often as others do simply because of who you are. When a person (pastor or otherwise) is being praised and honored continuously by others there is the danger that he will feel acceptable, complete, and fulfilled. And although he stands behind the pulpit each Sunday to preach the Word of God he senses that any word of correction from the Word of God does not and will not apply to him, he preaches that ya’ll have sinned and not all have sinned.
But if only a man would measure himself against God he would surely see himself for what he truly is, a man who is has come short of God’s glory. Once he sees this, then and only then he would be better able to humble himself and not spiritually abuse others within the congregation he was called to pastor. Jesus told the Pharisee, “…You like to have praise from each other. But you never try to get the praise that comes from the only God.” And then He asked them, “How can you believe?”
How can you believe (and practice) what you preach every Sunday when your mind is on lifting up your own self? In order to lift up your own self, someone else in your midst has to be brought down in order to make you shine even brighter, and to bring someone else down requires that you spiritually abuse him or her in the process. This is one reason the Pharisee continuously tried to discredit Jesus even to the point of death on the Cross. They wanted to prove once and for all that Jesus was the phony they thought He was, but oh what a surprise they received in the end. If you are a Pharisaic pastor and If they don’t honor you in the way you feel they should, your answer is to dishonor and discredit them before the members of your congregation. This is dangerous! It is dangerous first and foremost because it is satanic.
And if you don’t believe me let’s take a look at what is written in Isaiah 14: 13 -14, "But you said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” These are the words of the most spiritually abusive creature known to man—the devil himself! Why on earth would anyone who calls himself a Christian want to take on the characteristics of the devil is far beyond my comprehension. Yet, when we spiritually abuse our brothers and our sisters this is exactly what we are doing.
It almost makes one think that those of us who are caught up in the praise and worship ourselves from and by others really don’t believe that Jesus is who He says He is. How can you possibly believe if you are seeking your own praise and honor from others? I would that every one of us be more like the Apostle Paul in this matter, it was Paul who said, "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know-God knows. And I know that this man-whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows- was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.
I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:2-10
In short, our sinful pride is more absolutely evil and more separating from God than we realize. The spiritual abuser becomes blinded by the spirit of pride, and this is extremely dangerous because it will destroy relationships, homes, and churches. God’s Word says, “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before the fall…” it is repulsive and spiritually abusive to other believers, but it is especially repulsive to the very God we serve and for sure He will not tolerate it. The Words that Jesus spoke to the Pharisees that day is the same Word He says to those us who have decided to walk in the way of the Pharisee and not in the way of God. Amen.