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Why We Speak Out Against Spiritual Abuse

Clarifying the Ethics

Over the course of many years, Bob and I have devoted our time and resources to a wide variety of ministry work, both inside and outside the internet. Eventually, we authored the Principles and Standards page and others, in order to help others discern where we stood on some things, and why.

In the beginning we never imagined ourselves having to be so 'formal' with other Christians. After all, Christians are supposed to be "fellow citizens" with one another as members of God's own household (Eph. 2:19).  If we are called to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Col. 3:15), then how could we not have roughly the same ethical standards? What was wrong then, with proceeding according to this understanding?   

Nothing at all, except that experience proves that all of us need to proceed with wisdom in these perilous times (2 Tim. 3:1):

"Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." (Mark 10:16 KJV)

Quite simply, we have found that some people either do not practice what they preach, or do not truly understand what we think they understand. This makes public clarification useful, because it serves to protect all involved from easy misunderstandings or cross purposes.

A Missing Essential

It is common for many modern Christians to emphasize some parts of the Scripture while ignoring other parts. For instance, most people are very familiar with Ephesians 4:11. This scripture lists what is commonly known as the "five fold" ministries. However, while some Christians endlessly debate or teach about the particulars of those ministries, there is often very little discussion over the scriptures preceding Ephesians 4:11. 

In Eph. 4:1, the apostle Paul starts out with the following words: I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received...  This means that Paul is about to describe some key 'attributes' a person needs in order to function in their calling in a worthy manner (Eph. 4:1-7). Few people, however,focus on this important fact. Instead, they have been taught to focus on the power, revelation, or knowledge inherent in a particular role of the "five fold" listed in Ephesians 4:11, rather than the humility and rough ego debasement that follow the calling (1 Cor. 4:9-15).     

This is not purposeful, of course. It is simply human nature to skip to the end of the story, rather than start at the beginning. Even so, it is good to remember that we are Christians first and teachers, pastors, evangelists, prophets, or apostles second, regardless of whatever we believe about such roles. So, being a Christian is supposed to be the primary purpose of our walk, and not just an afterthought. It is the most important 'role' we could ever fill for others or for ourselves. 

Modern Christian culture of today tends to forget this. Instead, as happens too often when it comes to Westerners especially, many people excuse unChristlike behavior from either themselves or their 'leaders'. We disagree with this. Instead, we hope to encourage people to remember that it is important for us to abide in Christ and remain in Christ (John 15:4) This means that our focus is on Christ and being Christlike, instead of the spiritual gifts He may give. This simple fact is an essential one. After all, no one really "bears fruit" without being in Him, anyhow.

Led by the Spirit, and not by the flesh

Instead of focusing on the character and integrity, many Christians have developed an unhealthy emphasis on displays of gifts and power. This had led to a number of problems. One of those problems includes the definition of what a "successful" minister is.  People have been taught to believe that numbers, power (spiritual or otherwise), popularity, or monetary wealth are all signs of favor from God.  This is not necessarily true at all. 

As many people are finding out, a focus on appearances, or the "outside of the cup" (Matt. 23:25), is a naïve spirituality that leads people to many disillusionments.  People can be robbed or tricked, or they can even be led into grave spiritual danger (Matt. 24:24). It is better to test all things as the Lord commanded us (1 Thess. 5:21), then to wake up one day wishing we had! 

Considering Western Christianity's current obsession with authority and prestige, it has become unusual for people to consider any other way. Nevertheless, those who have the courage to step outside the "normal" expectations for "ministry" in order to follow God are the ones who are truly favored by God. Their devotion to God does not go unnoticed by Him.

For instance, anyone who refuses to believe the "five-fold" ministers are in a contest of superiority between themselves have successfully navigated through one of the ego obsessions of today's Churchianity. They are led by the Spirit and not by appeals to the flesh (Romans 8:12-14); this makes them blessed by God in the ways that count the most (Col. 2:2-3; Matt. 6:20).

Running past the old to get to the new

Words such as "revelation," "institutional church," and "home church movement" are meaningless if we do not know how to treat one another. One of the simplest ways Jesus said this was in The Golden Rule:

"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."  (Matthew 7:12 NIV)

Although this fundamental moral 'rule' is understood by nearly all major religions and cultures, too many contemporary Christians do not even think twice about it, nor do they really practice it!  

Treating others as we would treat ourselves is simply a matter of empathy. Most people can instinctively recognize true empathy, even if they cannot put it into words. Therefore, saying that we understand the "law of reciprocity" means little to neighbors, co-workers, bosses, and employees, when they see us acting otherwise. We don't fool anyone but ourselves.

Indeed, how we treat one another reveals just how much we have grown to know and love the Lord Jesus Christ, who demonstrated that Rule Himself (1 John 2:4). The good news is that all of us are certainly able to follow Christ's example of love, thanks to the power and grace of God's Spirit (Romans 5:5). This is a reassurance we can all live by as we forge ahead toward whatever God calls us to.

Followers of Christ, not of people

Too many Christians today have been trained to disregard how their leaders act. Because of this, they make a multitude of excuses for those who engage in a wide variety of unChristlike behavior, and they follow their leaders no matter where or how they lead.

The average Christian has had a lot of help getting to that point. For one thing, it is simply human nature to listen closely to those who say they are our leaders. This is especially true if we depend on them for our spiritual heritage and discipleship, or if we believe that they are more spiritual than we are. Indeed, it is very hard for most people to believe that someone they trust would ever lead them astray.

For another thing, too many modern Christian leaders expect to "lord it over" other Christians, even though that is expressly forbidden in the scriptures  (Mark 10:42-45; 1 Peter 5:3). Christ Himself demonstrated humility (John 13:12-17), and yet this is also routinely ignored. If Christ expected his apostles to follow His example, how is it then that so few modern Westerners expect the 'apostles' (leaders) of today to follow Christ's example?

Certainly no one expects a Christian leader to be as Perfect as God Himself (1 Cor. 13:9-10). This is not the point. The point is to care about what He cares about. For instance, Jesus said the hired hand will run away when the sheep are threatened (John 10:12-13). So then, is it better to care about the sheep, or not to care about them at all? Jesus also said we will know them by their fruit (Matt. 7:15-16) Does this mean we are never to notice the bad fruit? Paul said to test ourselves (1 Cor. 11:28; 2 Cor. 13:4-6) Would it be wise to ignore those words too?  I think not! 

We can only conclude that no one should ignore unChristlike behavior-- either in themselves or others (Titus 1:16). After all, if we are all truly followers of God, we want to follow Christ, who is our Sure Foundation (Matt. 7:21-27; 1 Cor. 3:11). This means that we want to follow other people's good example only as much as they follow Christ's good example, and no more (1 Cor. 3:4-7; 1 Cor. 11:1). After all, we are only to listen to His voice, and not that of a stranger (John 10:5).

The silence of the lambs 

Many people enjoy the singing of spiritual songs and hymns, but they have little use for Christians warning one another.  That is, they might not ever question someone's motives if they sing a good Christian song, but if they were to admonish a fellow Christian, then woe is to them! It has become very common to assume bad motives in certain circumstances, even with absolutely no evidence of those motives.  Few examine whether an admonishment or warning contained any wisdom. Instead, the "messenger" is often harshly cross-examined and put on trial (at least mentally), and the "message" is often lost, even though it may be rich with wisdom or care.

This is very odd, because Jesus Himself warned against error in many ways. For instance, He warned the disciples to be careful of the leaven/yeast (teachings) of the Pharisees (Matt. 16:5-12). He also openly rebuked hypocrites and false teachers (Matt. 23). Numerous other scriptures show the apostles openly warning believers about various distractions, errors, and sinful behavior. Many times, they warned of people who led astray, whether directly or indirectly
(1 John 2:26).

Instead of knowing what the Bible teaches about these things, contemporary Western Christians often assume terrible things about those who question the teachings or practices of other Christians-- especially popular ministers.  They believe that only some people are given the right to warn or teach against error, while others are not given that right. This opposes believer to believer ministry: 

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
(Col. 3:16 NIV) 

Being mute before every charlatan who deceives only gives free reign to foolish talk and deception (Titus 1:10-14; Titus 3:9-11). This encourages a dangerous policy of passivity in the face of danger or error. As Edmund Burke said, "The only think necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." 

If anyone who speaks up is automatically assumed to be a bad Christian, then an atmosphere of intimidation prevails. What does this lead to, except that no one speaks up at all? Either that, or those who are called by God to warn as "watchmen" end up being judged, shunned, and rejected. They might suffer a barrage of unfair accusations against their spiritual motives or character, and therefore be reviled against, just as prophets are (Matt. 5:11-12). Is sinning against prophets a good thing to encourage in a Christian community?

Certainly, it is difficult to speak openly as a "watchman" when it is constantly disallowed. It is also difficult to hear what the watchmen have to say if people are trained not to listen to them.  Many have been taught to do exactly that. The combination of not allowing the warnings of those who discern, and teaching people not to listen makes a silent Christianity seem almost normal. Anyone who sees that this "normalcy" is not good, is wise enough not to be fooled by these things.

When vulnerable people are looking for a safe place to be and grow in Christ, how can anyone, in good conscience, be silent over what is "unsafe"? Likewise, how can anyone ever grow in wisdom if they are encouraged to make themselves victims of the trickery of men (Eph. 4:14)? It stands to reason then that a Christianity without any free speech cannot correct itself from error or dangers, and eventually loses its salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16). A "silence of the lambs" is not real Christianity at all.

Passionate concern!

Of course, most Christians today do not fully realize the harm that comes from the "silence of the lambs." They forget that the apostles -- sinners too like all of us (1 Timothy 1:15) -- were not silent at all, nor did they encourage a peace at all costs. They even dealt with secondary reports or 'rumors' quite seriously, whether good or bad (1 Cor. 5:1; Titus 1:12-13; 3 John 1:3) These "Church Fathers" did not simply brush aside the concerns of their brothers and sisters in Christ. Instead, they took action when warranted. This shows how actively involved the apostles really were.

Many Christians desire the healings, miracles, and teachings that were part of the ministry of Jesus. They would like nothing better than to experience a revival or a community that is reminiscent of the New Testament church. However, they do not want to see anyone 'rudely' warned or admonished. They see no need for the impolite Christianity of Paul, whose sarcasm and cutting remarks against false apostles and their followers are almost legendary (2 Cor. chapters 11 and 12). They would rather not suffer the likes of Peter, who called greedy teachers "brute beasts" (2 Peter 2:12).

These remarks by the apostles, and others like them, were written in open letters. They were not secretly kept from the eyes of the believers of the time.
Passionate concern over sin and error, including false teachings, is part of an active, vibrant Christianity. It is not all of Christianity by any means, but it is definitely a part. 

So, why is it that the activities of Jesus and the apostles are desired by many modern Christians today, except for instances of public warnings or admonishments?
We believe that it is in part because of the modern teachings and practices of today that oppose or disallow all open rebuke (Prov. 27:5). Some go so far as to believe or teach that open discussion about the public error of public teachers should never happen under any circumstance at all.   

Trusting God above all

It takes childlike trust to enter the Kingdom of God (Mark 10:14-15), but this childlike trust is reserved for God alone, and not for man. People are fallible, and some can even be wicked. The apostle Paul wrote that even if everyone is a liar, God would still be true (Romans 3:4). Only the Perfect can be perfect, and so we must rely on God first, above all others.  

However, making Christians completely unaccountable to unChristlike behavior simply because they say that they are Christians, is not wise. This is not a policy that is supported by the scriptural record. Therefore, keeping completely quiet about error only gives silent consent to more error, and can encourage more of the same in others too (Matt. 23:13-15). After that, an Ezekiel 34 type situation typically evolves. This has been proven by hard experience time and time again.

No one has the chance to know the truth or repent if truth is never spoken. For instance, the people of Nineveh--including the king-- would not have had a chance to repent if Jonah had never spoken God's Word to them (Jonah 3:6-10). God knew the ignorance of the people and it was His good choice to be concerned for them (Jonah 4:11).

We believe that anyone who is aware of the dangers of spiritual abuse and who is willing to speak out on them is showing brotherly concern for others (1 Cor. 10:4; Matt. 12:11; Ezek 3:18-21). Yes, sometimes people are wrong in their zeal, or perhaps they do not really know what they are talking about, but we all need to learn and grow and cut our teeth on solid food anyhow (Hebrews 5:12-14). This means that we must practice discernment amongst ourselves as mature people, and not as immature people, and become more mature in the process (1 Thess. 5:21-22; 1 Cor. 2:12-16).

When believers are sacrificing on behalf of fellow believers, even for people they do not know (Col. 2:1) their focus is often a worthy one (1 Cor.3:5-9). If their goal is a worthy one, then their zealousness is for good cause too (Gal. 4:18). Therefore, even though they are often not 'politically correct' for their time, they are often spiritually correct.  If so, who can condemn them? 

When it comes to those who go against the prevailing Western culture of apathy and greed, it is good to remember that these are the ones who are often sacrificing their own comfort and time in the face of enormous peer pressure. Outright hostility against them is not uncommon. This is in spite of the fact that what they are doing is often a labor of love for the sake of people who misunderstand them or even hate them for it (Gal. 4:16). If they are doing things according to God's call and ways, then they are often the unsung heroes. They are showing that God is not restricted by unBiblical rules of "Churchianity"; He is only restricted by His love, concern, and holy call to righteousness and truth.

That is why we speak out against spiritual abuse and the errors that often accompany it.

- Bob and Teri Earl
author: Teri Lee Earl
Copyright © 2007 HarvestNETwork

1 John 3:
7  Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. 
8  He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work. 

9  No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.
10  This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.
11  This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another (NIV)


Additional articles of interest:

The Unfolding War Against Spiritual Abuse


Additional webpages of interest:

Spiritual Authority

Spiritual Abuse
links to an off-shoot page: cults 

General Abuse
Links for those who are suffering from abuse

Epilogue:  We have encountered people who say that they agree with many of our writings and vision, and yet violate what most people would consider to be 'basic' Christian behavior in their inter-relations with people. In addition to the way they have treated us personally, we have often observed these same people treat other people that way too (For instance, people we do not know have shown us a private e-mails that are similar to the nasty e-mails sent to us).  They are often hypocritical to the very things they teach. They are sometimes liars. They may suddenly or inexplicitely reverse their commitments, even when it clearly harms other people. Unaccountability is manifested by shielding themselves in a variety of ways from simple inquiry or questions or confrontation. We don't agree with irresponsibility, unaccountability, doublemindedness, or hypocrisy.  'Gifting' does not make up for lack of character.

Page author: Teri Lee Earl

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