Why We Speak Out
Against Spiritual Abuse
Clarifying the Ethics
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
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
ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience
3:15), then how could we not have roughly the same ethical standards?
What was wrong then, with proceeding according to this
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
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
because it serves to protect all involved from easy misunderstandings
A Missing Essential
It is common for many modern Christians to emphasize some parts of
the Scripture while ignoring other parts.
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).
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
is good to remember that we are
first and teachers, pastors, evangelists, prophets, or apostles second,
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
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.
people are finding out, a focus on appearances, or the "outside of the
(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
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
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
"So in everything, do to
others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and
(Matthew 7:12 NIV)
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
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
many Christians today have been trained to disregard how their leaders act. Because of this, they make a
excuses for those who engage in a wide variety of unChristlike
behavior, and they follow their leaders no matter where or how they
The average Christian has had a lot of help getting to that point. For one thing, it is
nature to listen closely to those who say they are our leaders. This is especially true if we depend on them for our
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
is very odd, because Jesus Himself warned against error in many ways.
For instance, He warned the disciples to be
careful of the
(teachings) of the Pharisees (Matt. 16:5-12). He also openly
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
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:
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)
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."
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
and grow in Christ, how can anyone, in good conscience, be silent over
"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.
Of course, most
Christians today do not fully realize the harm
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.
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).
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
(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
in others too (Matt. 23:13-15). After that, an Ezekiel
type situation typically evolves. This has been proven by hard experience time and time
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
believe that anyone who is aware of the dangers of
abuse and who is willing to speak out on them is
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).
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
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
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
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
of "Churchianity"; He is only restricted by His love, concern, and
holy call to righteousness and truth.
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.
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:
links to an off-shoot
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
inter-relations with people. In addition to the way they have treated
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
us). They are often hypocritical to the very things
they teach. They are sometimes liars. They may suddenly or
reverse their commitments, even when it clearly harms other people.
is manifested by shielding themselves in a variety of ways from simple
or questions or confrontation. We don't agree with irresponsibility,
unaccountability, doublemindedness, or hypocrisy. 'Gifting' does
not make up for lack of
Page author: Teri Lee Earl
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