“Spiritual Abuse” – New Term for an Old Dynamic?

Says The Watchman Fellowship, an independent, nondenominational Christian research and apologetics ministry:

“It seems that newspaper headlines these days are full of examples of spiritual abuse, describing situations of people being victimized in both cults and Christian churches.”

We’ll get to that, but first a bit of background and context.

Nothing New

As a religious dynamic, spiritual abuse isn’t new.  Both Old and New Testaments warn of false prophets and spiritual systems that add the performance of religious behaviors to the finished/future work of Christ on the cross as a means of gaining God’s approval.  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, for example, 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?”

These verses indicate that God is bringing an indictment against the religious leaders of the Old Testament (also see Isa. 56:10, 11; Eze. 34 et.al.). He’s angry with those who selfishly operate in their own authority. Consumed with their own ambition or image, these “spiritual 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… and God is ticked!

Jeremiah 6:13-14 tells us about 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).  (Many other instances, but you get the picture.)

What Did Jesus Say?

This continues in the New Testament – remember what Jesus said about “tying up heavy loads,”  “brood of vipers,” “blind guides,” “white-washed tombs” (Matthew 23), and “ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7)?  To whom were His comments directed?  The Lord Jesus reserved His harshest rebukes for the religious leaders of His day – those who overweighted the people with unwarranted guilt, condemnation, manipulation and shame based on their version of “spirituality.”

A Common Characteristic

Writes pastor and author Mike Fehlauer:

“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.”

In The Bible and Spiritual Abuse, Ron Henzel notes:

“The Bible itself is very clear on the existence of what the Spiritual Abuse literature has defined as the hallmarks of Spiritual Abuse: legalism, authoritarianism, spiritual intimidation, manipulation, excessive discipline, to name a few — in short: the abuse of power in the context of Christian fellowship. The Bible does not mince words when it informs us that these signs are clear and identifiable. In addition: both church history and the history of Israel testify abundantly that all of these issues have been perennial problems ever since God began calling people to walk with Him.”


The topic is becoming more and more prevalent among everyday Christians.  Henzel continues:

Some of those who believe that they have been unfairly accused on this issue have publicly chosen to respond by making a very provocative statement: “Nobody has objectively defined what ‘Spiritual Abuse’ is,” they say, “therefore no one can be guilty of something so ambiguous.”

I am not seeking to determine the guilt or innocence of anyone. I am simply seeking to answer the question, “What is Spiritual Abuse?” Is it a sham label designed to be slapped on any Christian brother or sister with whom we have an axe to grind? Or is it a real danger to the Christian church?”

What do you think?

Join us next time for “Spiritual Abuse: What It’s Not.”


2 Responses

  1. Verry good article. God bless you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: