CBN.com -- Crosswalk.com -- The idea of spiritual abuse is not a new phenomenon. In the Old Testament, God
spoke against those who operated in their own authority while abusing the very
people they were to bless. In Jeremiah 5:30-31 we read, "An astonishing and
horrible thing has been committed in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely,
and the priests rule by their own power; and My people love to have it so. But
what will you do in the end?"
In these verses God
is bringing an indictment against the religious leaders of the Old Testament.
We see the Lord's anger expressed against those who operate in their own authority.
Consumed with their own ambition, these leaders have convinced the people that
their power is divine. Yet in reality, these false prophets are merely wielding
their self-imposed influence for personal gain, claiming they speak for God.
Jeremiah 6:13-14 we read again of self-absorbed prophets and priests who are so
preoccupied with their own needs being met that the needs of the people are being
ignored. We read: "From the least of them even to the greatest of them, everyone
is greedy for gain, and from the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely.
And they have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying, 'Peace,
peace,' but there is no peace" (NAS).
A common characteristic of an abusive
religious system is that the real needs of the people are lost in the never-ending
quest by the leaders for personal fulfillment and happiness.
The tragic story
of Diane, a young woman in her late teens who had recently given her life to Christ,
illustrates this point. Diane went on a missions trip with a group from the church
she had been attending. One day the missions team was enjoying some recreation
time when Diane suffered a tragic accident that caused her leg to be so severely
injured that it was necessary to amputate it.
Diane's parents were not Christians,
and in the past they had somewhat resented the amount of time Diane had been spending
at the church. When the accident occurred, their response was to blame the church
for Diane's injury. They also felt the church should do something financially
to help Diane.
During the time Diane was recovering in the hospital, her mother
happened to hear the senior pastor of Diane's church describing the new, sporty
car he intended to purchase. She began to tell people in the community about this
preacher who is living high on the church's money. Word got back to the pastor,
and needless to say, he was not happy.
After several weeks in the hospital,
Diane was transferred to a rehab facility. While she was in rehab the pastor came
to see Diane. Diane was still wheelchair bound because she had not yet been fitted
with a prosthesis. After the initial greetings and some brief small talk, the
pastor bought up to Diane what her mom was saying around town. The pastor advised
Diane that her 'assignment' was to talk to her mother and get her to stop gossiping
about the pastor. Although Diane was still trying to process the idea of facing
the rest of her life without a leg, by the time the pastor left, it was clear
to her that her pastor had nothing to say to her to help her face the horrible
physical and emotional issues brought on by her accident.
One of the church's
staff members made a suggestion that the church buy Diane a prosthesis for her
leg. Initially, the pastor vehemently opposed the idea. However, after some time,
just to help smooth things over with Diane's mom, the pastor reluctantly consented
to the purchase.
Diane's pastor failed to respond to Diane in a way that honored
God. In fact, his response was more like that of the Pharisees of the New Testament,
whom Jesus openly confronted concerning the way they treated others. As you read
the New Testament, it doesn't take a tremendous amount of insight to see that
the confrontations Jesus had were not with tax collectors, adulteresses, prostitutes
or other 'sinners.' His confrontations were with the religious leaders and the
religious system of His day.
In speaking of the Pharisees, Jesus said, "For
they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they
themselves will not move them with one of their fingers" (Matt. 23:4). The
Amplified Bible paints an even clearer picture. It says, "They tie up heavy
loads, hard to bear, and place them on men's shoulders, but they themselves will
not lift a finger to help bear them." Jesus is referring to the people's
being weighted down by rules and regulations that needed to be performed in order
to gain the acceptance of the Pharisees. In the same way, many believers today
have found themselves crushed beneath the religious baggage of an abusive system.
Each day thousands of church members find themselves struggling to earn the favor
and approval of a modern-day Pharisee.
Jesus cared deeply about His people
and how they were treated. When He saw the multitudes, "He was moved with
compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having
no shepherd" (Matt. 9:36). The Amplified Version expands on the word weary
by saying, "They were bewildered (harassed and distressed and dejected and
helpless), like sheep without a shepherd."
Notice that Jesus saw them
as harassed. This word conveys the idea of some outside force pressing upon the
people, causing them to feel weary, distressed and downcast. This outside force
was the religious system that placed its emphasis on outward appearances. It was
a system that promised peace based on one's ability to follow the prescribed rules
and regulations. If one failed, then there was judgment.
Not having a shepherd
didn't mean that the people lacked for those who told them what to do. There were
plenty of Pharisees willing to do that. It meant they had no one to lead them
to spiritual green pastures. A shepherd doesn't drive his sheep as cattlemen drive
their cattle. A shepherd leads his sheep to a safe place where food is plentiful
and where they can find rests.
Is it any wonder Jesus said:
to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My
yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will
find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew
A healthy church should produce peace and rest for your soul. Establishing
healthy spiritual relationships will always be a challenge, but the process will
prevent you from becoming weary and worn, trying to jump through religious hoops
that promise God's acceptance and love. If, in order to gain the acceptance of
its leaders, your church constantly requires more and more of your life with no
end in sight -- and little encouragement along the way -- then you may want to
re-examine the church you are attending.
God's intention all along has been
for the local church to be healthy, life giving, and Christ centered. But because
He has chosen to use frail, sin-prone individuals to lead His church, there is
always the possibility that a local congregation can fall into deception or unhealthy
Signs of Spiritual Abuse, Part Two
Signs of Spiritual Abuse, Part Three
your copy of Exposing Spiritual Abuse by Mike Fehlauer
More from Spiritual Life
© 2001 Mike Fehlauer. All rights reserved. Excerpted from Mike Fehlauer's book, Exposing
Spiritual Abuse. Mike Fehlauer is pastor of Tree of
Life Church in New Braunfels, Texas. He is also the founder and director of Foundation
Ministries. He travels extensively throughout the United States and the world,
sharing God's message of love, hope and restoration. More from Crosswalk.com.
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