“Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour” (Ecclesiastes 10:1).
I have witnessed the devastating impact of spiritual abuse to such a degree that I, as a preacher, can no longer remain silent. It is my duty before the Lord to sound the alarm regarding the characteristics, as well as the hazardous effects, of spiritual abuse. Spiritual abuse is committed when a spiritual advisor utilizes his position to work an ulterior agenda that deviates from the scriptures. Spiritual abuse is often perpetrated under the guise of a good cause. That is exactly what is so heart-wrenching and even confusing to people. The pure gospel of Christ may even be presented to people. What’s more, God may actually have done a wonderful work in the lives of people through a certain ministry. However, the good work of God is in spite of the bad work of man—and the undercurrent of hypocrisy. (Actually, the good work of God is usually carried out by the good saints of God that sincerely serve under an abusive leader.) Spiritual abusers like to point their people to the success of their ministry and how God has used them. Nevertheless, if a good work was truly accomplished, it is not a testimony to that man of God. Rather, it is a testimony to the grace of God and just how badly he wants people saved! But when a ministry keeps on functioning this way, with the good work of God being accomplished against the bad work of man, it is not without dreadful consequences. Many Christians are immensely wounded. Others never truly recover from the kick in the teeth given to them by the abusive treatment of a leader they completely trusted and had given their heart to. And so the image of God that they now see in their minds is nothing more than a distorted caricature of Christ. Consequently, many end up abandoning the local church altogether, having a difficult time trusting another man. Or trusting God for that matter!
The application of the introductory verse is plain: A man who has been elevated to a position of spiritual leadership is particularly admonished to maintain integrity in his Christian calling. A shopkeeper knows that if flies get stuck in the salve, the decomposition of the flies will taint the product, thus creating a stench of decay rather than a pleasant fragrance. The scenario perfectly illustrates the case of a distinguished minister who is looked up to for guidance and counsel, and yet is implicated in something indiscreet. Even the little foolishness of a prominent preacher gives off a strong odor to be detected in the spiritual noses of the saints. How much more when “a man of God” utterly reeks of gross hypocrisy and scandalous behavior!
The following points of this article depict some of the characteristics of a spiritual abuser. The Popular Encyclopedia of Christian Counseling virtually contains the following details under the topic of Spiritual Abuse (p. 177), and could be consulted by the reader.
1. A spiritual abuser will twist the scriptures, or focus only on certain portions of scripture without teaching the whole counsel of God, in order to pursue his own agenda.
I know a pastor (that is the title he goes by) who willfully pursued a relationship with another woman other than the woman he vowed “for better or for worse.” He then defended his actions by asserting that he had divorced his wife already in his heart. “Even the world understands,” he reasoned to me in his office. Of course the world understands: it doesn’t have the mind of Christ. Apparently being a man of great stature gives you license to get a jump start on a new relationship when you are pursuing a divorce—again. (I understand that the phrase “the husband of one wife” is disputable. But come on: When is enough enough!) In his desperate effort to supply some sort of biblical backing for his wrongdoing, the pastor then alleged his wife’s unfaithfulness. It was a desperate attempt to keep up his public credit in view of the adulterous charge that Jesus places upon the divorcer. The man refused to properly deal with his transgression, only pulling out the forgiveness card and the bitterness card time and time again. Other Christians’ responsibility to forgive him evidently superseded his responsibility to get right with God! He equated forgiveness with the unbiblical concept of sweeping everything under the rug; or turning the other cheek so that he could have his cake and eat it too. And if any Christian “mourned”—as Paul puts it—over “he that hath done this deed” (1 Corinthians 5:2), the pastor equated it to bitterness. Truthfully, the case had nothing to do with forgiveness or bitterness, but everything to do with the consequences of a leader’s actions. After all, this was not the church custodian. This was the pastor.—The very pastor who berated and belittled anyone who sincerely confronted him with scripture. When I personally asked this man to define some of the qualifications of a bishop presented in 1 Timothy 3, the only response I received was that I was “high and mighty” and “judgmental” and “bitter” for confronting him. He played the perfect part of a politician, who when confronted with the facts, only resorted to attacking the individual. William MacDonald expounds upon the qualifications of a pastor quite clearly:
“A bishop then must be blameless. This means that no charge of serious wrong can be sustained against him. It does not mean that he is sinless, but rather that if he does commit some fault, he makes it right with both God and man. He must be irreproachable, not only having an untarnished reputation, but deserving it…A bishop is a man who must have a good reputation in the community. Those who are outside refers to the unsaved neighbors. Without this good testimony, he becomes subject to the accusations of men and the snare of the devil. The accusations may come from believers and unbelievers alike. The snare of the devil is the trap which Satan lays for those whose lives are not consistent with their profession. Once he has caught men in this trap, he holds them up to ridicule, scorn, and contempt.”
I know a pastor (that is the title he goes by) who insisted that his reputation was tarnished in the community because of everyone else’s blabbering of his affair. I guess the fact that he publicized his affair by rendezvousing with a certain woman in the community had nothing to do with his tarnished reputation. The funny thing is, if I were to go to anyone else about his misconduct, the man would cry gossip. Yet in going to him personally, it was deemed arrogance. In reality, his policy was nothing less than spiritual abuse. In which case it is a lose-lose situation for the spiritually abused. I listened to this preacher’s tirade about gossip and sowing discord. Spiritual abusers do that, you know. It’s their desperate measure to protect themselves from their disreputable past and the skeletons in their own closet. Of course, almost anything and everything that challenged this man biblically was cleverly presented as gossip and sowing discord.—Even though he was guilty himself of character assassination and defamation of those who had served in his ministry. Conveniently forgetting that “A false witness that speaketh lies” (Pro. 6:19) is just as abominable as one who sows discord. In fact, they’re in the same verse! The honest truth is, his own falsifications and ministerial mismanagement ignited all sorts of discord amongst the brethren.
It was all spiritual sleight of hand. On more than one occasion, he declaimed on how the Bible did not list adultery as being an abomination, but that it did list sowing discord as being abomination. (Do you think he had adultery on the brain?) I suppose he had never considered that Leviticus 18:20, 27 does in fact list adultery as one of the abominations for which the land of Canaan spewed out its inhabitants! Adultery is in fact an abomination to God, for which people were put to death in the Old Testament. I suppose Paul’s counsel in the New Testament to “Abstain from all appearance of evil” doesn’t apply to a man of his capacity and ability. And sneakiness. This was nothing but an illusionist’s artful trickery to make an object disappear—I mean the spectacle of his newfound relationship with his lady friend. The man would constantly shift the blame upon those who had left his ministry—a telltale sign of one who never truly repented! Just like Adam when he ate the forbidden fruit. “God, the people whom thou gavest to serve under me, look at what they did.” These people became convenient pawns in his expert game of Blame-Shifting in order to keep himself out of Check.
I know a pastor (that is the title he goes by) who disregarded plain scriptural truth, and, instead, highlighted issues in his staff meetings that God doesn’t even highlight. The issues sounded noble and helped polish his spiritual image. I mean, God’s power must still be on this man even though he made a ‘mistake.’ Look at how noble he is. After all, shame on those churches that don’t have mid-week services like he does; and shame on Christians that think Jesus died on Friday; and shame on those Christians that find it inconvenient to attend a Christmas Eve service Saturday night when they would be attending the Christmas service Sunday morning. Because, you know, Jesus is worth it. I mean not worth enough to avoid any appearance of evil, or to maintain marital fidelity and pastoral integrity. I think I recall an obscure passage somewhere in the Bible that says “A bishop then must be blameless *and+ of good behavior.” But forget that: let’s major on the minor while we minor on the major.
Some of the things he majored on weren’t even endorsed by the Bible at all. He had some kind of superstitious belief concerning rebuking the devil. Time and time again I had to endure prayers where the preacher tagged on a certain phrase at the end: “…and Satan I rebuke you in Jesus name. Amen.” It had a sort of cultish tone to it that made me cringe every time I heard it spoken. Sadly, the invocation was echoed by sincere people throughout his ministry who wanted victory over the devil. Their pastor would routinely say, “Satan, I rebuke you. You have no power or authority here.” Ironically, this very preacher had granted Satan absolute power and authority to ravage his ministry and bring reproach upon the cause of Christ. Did he really think his house of sticks would keep the big, bad wolf from huffing and puffing and blowing his house down! The truth is, Satan is not at all frightened by cheap words, but by a genuine worshipful spirit sustained by an obedient life. Even Michael the archangel, when harassed by the devil, would not rebuke Satan, but simply replied, “The Lord rebuke thee” (Jude 9). Paul had his chance to inform us of any special charm against spiritual warfare when he penned Ephesians 6. Yet he says nothing about rebuking Satan. What we are admonished to do is to put on the whole armor of God. Which is an illustrative way of saying, “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof,” (Romans 13:14). This self-proclaimed pastor would have us to believe that when his truck was parked at his girlfriend’s house—while still married to his wife—he wasn’t making any provision for his flesh to fulfill his own lusts. I always wanted to ask the preacher: How many times do you have to rebuke Satan in order to be committed to a marriage and to have proper dealings with people! I mean, we can boast of success until we are blue in the face; but in the end, it all boils down to our relationship with God and man. It seemed to me that the preacher had opened the spiritual door for the devil, while saying, “I rebuke you, Satan”; after which the devil walked through the open door, nodded his head, and replied, “If you’ll excuse me, I have business to take care of in your ministry thank you very much. In fact, here, take this sledge hammer, and hurt as many people with it as you can!”
2. A spiritual abuser will accuse those who disagree with him of being rebellious against God, and will pronounce the judgment of God upon the disagreeing soul.
I know a pastor (that is the title he goes by) who portrayed everyone who had left his ministry as having turned their back on God. In fact, his men were told that if they ever left the ministry to drive a bread truck in order to support their family, they had better understand that they had just turned their back on God. Where was the trash can when I desperately needed to vomit! This was his flagrant misinterpretation of Jesus’ statement about putting one’s hands to the plow while looking back. No matter how noble it may sound to serve in some form of ministry, a man’s family is his first and foremost ministry before the Lord. Period. The “calling of God” cannot be mistaken to mean only the ministry in which some pastor oversees. Just because someone leaves that ministry to serve the Lord elsewhere does not mean that person is no longer fit for the kingdom of God. This is nothing but a bullying tactic by a spiritual oppressor to confine people to his own ministry, and instill fear and trepidation into those he is starting to lose sway over. Putting your hands to the plow has to do with any believer’s everyday service to God, regardless of the capacity. Those who look back are the ones who are unwilling to deny themselves that they may become Christ’s spiritual followers. Serving God is not confined to some full-time position. It means living a holy life. After all, God is the one “who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling” (2 Timothy 1:9). If a Christian is doing this, then they are never out of God’s will. I think it would be best to just let God judge what is involved in his calling, and let him decide the location, timing, and manner of that calling. Ironically, this pastor clung to his ministry in order to give the impression that his hands were still to the plow. I guess you could say he wasn’t looking back, but really looking forward—to having yet another woman in his life! If the truth be told, “God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness,” (1 Thessalonians 4:7). How about that for the calling of God on our lives!
On more than one occasion, I had to stomach this same preacher’s unbiblical view of God’s chastening hand upon some of the people who had left his ministry. These were people who had done nothing but confront his misconduct or pursue money that they had hard earned and were never paid. And yet they had some of the most repulsive forms of judgment from God pronounced against them. From getting into car wrecks to parent’s children being found dead! And if anybody who had left his ministry encountered any of the ordinary difficulties relating to life, he automatically attributed it to God’s judgment on their life. People who were fed up with his gross misconduct and then left his ministry were accused of being unhappy and miserable. On the contrary, many of these dear people felt exhilarated about their newborn liberation from spiritual domination. Spiritual tyrants present a real twisted perspective of God’s chastening hand. They portray his chastening in the context of hatred, rather than love for his erring child. They even pray for God to kill so and so! I think I can hear the Lord’s answer to such despicable prayer: “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Luke 9:55-56). This spirit of hostility actually infected other spiritual advisors in his ministry to the point where hatred and venom was spewed at their fellow brethren that they once worked with. (Of course, many of these brethren are probably reprobates going to hell, according to the critical judgment of the pastor.) Some of the people who had put their notice of resignation in were subjected to the kind of shunning that is linked to cultish factions. Regrettable instances of the rippling effect of spiritual abuse!
3. A spiritual abuser will demand absolute, unquestioned obedience regardless of whether it is reasonable or biblical.
I know a pastor (that is the title he goes by) who turned his eyes away from the shattered relationships in his life with such apparent ease. People who had faithfully poured years of service into his ministry! Relationships that were years in the making! I personally witnessed the vitriolic and retaliatory spirit of a man against those who had left his ministry. Paul’s admonition to “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21) would perhaps be more appropriate than grinding peoples’ butts to powder—to borrow the pastor’s phrase. It seems like a pretty good policy for a man of God to live by, thus demonstrating a Christ like spirit to his people. Evidently, he had forgotten that the word pastor means shepherd, and that he is to emulate the Good Shepherd himself! “But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is…without hypocrisy” (James 3:14-17).
Oddly enough, I caught this man in deliberate and scandalous lies about some of the so-called evil people who were attacking his ministry. He fabricated whoppers about their incompetence as an employee as being the reason why they were no longer a part of his ministry. And then he mandated his people to break fellowship with certain individuals if they wanted to keep their hired positions. Wow! I didn’t know that a pastor had the right to legislate laws from the pulpit. The last I checked, the man of the house was the one ordained by God to guide the affairs of his household—not the man in the pulpit. Sadly, I know women who have pledged their allegiance to their pastor, unwilling to submit to the God-ordained leadership of their own husband. What’s more, I know a woman who has pledged her allegiance to her pastor while neglecting her own children in the name of God’s will!
Husbands, wives, children—victims of spiritual abuse!
4. A spiritual abuser will use guilt along with high pressure tactics to get people to give more money, or take advantage of them behind the cloak of a truly good cause.
I know a pastor (that is the title he goes by) who fed his starving laypeople with the stale bread of prophetic doom and gloom over and over and over and over. This was a maneuver to instill fear into the hearts of those contemplating leaving his ministry, assuring them that they would never be able to make it in the world. How the people longed for a fresh meal to sustain them in their everyday practical Christian life! There was no discipleship. There was no teaching on childrearing. There was no instruction on how to be a good husband or a good wife. There was virtually no counseling for his workers. Rather than using his work to build his people, he used his people to build his work.
I know a pastor (that is the title he goes by) who preached on the blessings of God usually in the context of money, suggesting that those struggling saints who had left his ministry were evidently not so blessed by God like he was. I always wanted to ask the man: How can you tout God’s hand of blessing on your life when the only things that will matter on your death bed—your relationship with God and your dealings with people—are shattered to pieces! This same man had made every effort to bring in bands and singing groups and concerts and speakers and movies—to give the appearance of a healthy, functioning, vibrant ministry, all the while it was sick and suffering. It seemed to me that this doctor was spending people’s hard earned cash on make-up and concealer in order to patch up the face of his ministry—all the while disregarding the cancer that was slowly spreading within the body of Christ. When God removes his mantle from a man, the man is left with nothing but his own human effort to manufacture God’s moving.—He pounds his fist harder and raises his voice louder to help God get his point across. He preaches on other men’s sins, and masterfully juggles the ones that come close to dropping on his own toes. In such a case, people are driven by a man, rather than led by the Spirit. He confuses leadership with dictatorship, and inspires by fear rather than by love. People are compelled to keep serving and working their tails off while they are spiritually and physically exhausted.
I heard this preacher tell his staff that their full-time Christian service during the weekdays did not really count as ministry; that what they did during the week was merely their job, and that they should do more. It sounded plausible…until I considered that most of the people on his staff hardly ever received wages for their work. In reality, these Christians had demonstrated a tremendous level of service and sacrifice! Families had to apply for food stamps to put food on the table while they rode around in vehicles that were uninsured or unfit for driving. (Of course, it was probably because these people didn’t have God’s blessing on their lives.) Many of these very people were promised a certain amount of income. Or should I say that they were lied to: I mean lied to their very face just like it was business as usual! Donated and allotted funds specified for certain individuals were absorbed by the ministry and never seen again. Person after person after person came to me, informing me that they had money missing from their accounts. (Of course, they were all mistaken.) People were promised this, that, or the other—only to be strung along or led down a dark, dead end street with only unpaid bills, unfulfilled obligations, crippling debt, ruined credit, ruptured dreams, and fractured relationships at the end! Why!!! Spiritual abuse.
“A bishop then must be blameless…of good behavior…he must have a good report of them which are without” (1 Timothy 3:2, 7).
“The elders which are among you I exhort„Feed the flock„Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:1-3).
“Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:1-2).
“Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works: of whom be thou ware also; for he hath greatly withstood our words” (2 Timothy 4:14-15).
“Avoiding this, that no man should blame [you] in this abundance [money] which is administered by [you]: providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men” (2 Corinthians 8:20-21).
“[We] have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:2).
“Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed” (2 Corinthians 6:3).