Warning Signs of an Unsafe Church

Posted: January 30, 2012 in Christian Living
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Some of the most well-known and widely accepted religious cults have been accused of using mind control to bring their followers into mental and emotional bondage. It sometimes becomes so powerful that the followers seem to lose the ability to think for themselves. Many mainstream denominations warn its members to be wary of groups that they consider to be religious cults.

Below are some warning signs of a religious cult that are posted on several “Christian” websites:

PRIVATE REVELATIONS AND INTERPRETATIONS WITH GOD’S WORD: Private revelation and interpretations are added to the Word, and sometimes substitute it. Passages contradictory to the orthodox beliefs are twisted and taken out of their context. Strong emphasis is placed upon certain passages making them their thrust in ministry. While other pertinent scriptures on essentials and practice is completely ignored. Bible scholars who give a different interpretation from them are ignored or ridiculed.

MISPLACED LOYALTY: Loyalty is nurtured and even demanded. Loyalty for Christ is replaced by an organization, church or leader. Because authority is usually from an individual or a group, one is asked if they will be loyal to God confusing the member that to be loyal to a person or group means the same.

ISOLATION:Members are discouraged to have contact with other ministries or Christians that could influence them. And are discouraged to read other books if they oppose their views. Members are kept so busy that they don’t have time for life outside of the cult. A cult leader will try to persuade you to reduce or eliminate altogether outside friendships and even family. Many times the leader or cult group will drive a wedge between the family unit by coercing them into separating them from family activities.

MOTIVATIONAL TEACHING: Techniques designed to stimulate emotions, usually employing loud speaking or music with group participation, group dynamics are used to influence responses. You become overwhelmed with smiling faces and handshakes and hugs with unconditional friendship. Those who were newly invited will be asked how they liked it and told how much fun they have and what they have to offer. They will immediately become your best friend and want to know when you’re coming back.

A DOUBLE STANDARD: There is one standard for the followers and another for the leaders. The leaders are allowed to do almost anything wrong while others will be rebuked and made examples of if they do the same things. Cult leaders exalt themselves, requiring the followers to serve them or the church’s program.

RULES OF SILENCE: They do not allow members to disagree with the church authorities — especially the pastor or your spirituality and loyalty will be questioned. Silence becomes a fortress wall of protection; many will shield the pastor’s position of power from any scrutiny or challenge. If one questions what is said or the rules they are seen as being against them and God.

PRIDE OF THEIR CHURCH: We are the only ones who are right. If you are not one of us, then you are destined for hell. Correct doctrine is used by them alone to the exclusion of any others; they alone have the truth so one must join them to be saved.

DISTORTED RULES ON TITHING: Members are asked make a commitment to give and keep their obligation. More and more money is needed to attain higher degrees of spirituality and submission to God. Give to get back from God, the more you give the more God will give back.

INTIMIDATION:  Intimidation and accusation are the most often used. For example, any questioning of authority is treated as rebellion, and not trusting. They suppress questions and encourage members to conform to the group’s behavior. Critical thinking is discouraged being called prideful, sinful or rebellious. No independent thinking is encouraged and they may reply with comments like, “Satan is the cause of all doubt; he is keeping you from the Truth.”

Controlling Leadership: For abusive cults, the key word is control, control, control. By submitting to the leadership – leaders tend to be the absolute end. It can take time for them to gain power over the new convert, but it will eventually be there. Control is usually overwhelming and can cover most aspects of the followers’ lives: Dress codes, activities, finances, time, possessions and relationships. They can dictate to the member who to see, what to do, what the right thing to say is, and how to say it. Various degrees of control can be experienced, from subtle manipulation to blatant ordering.

These “cults” will expect rigid obedience of the members’ time and activities – involving their followers in physically and emotionally draining activities leaving little time for privacy and reflection, or questioning their authority. They expect, (and at times demand) that members show up when everyone else does, and everything is usually done in groups. The methods of control which are used are usually fear of displeasing God, the leader, or both. Fear of rejection, punishment, losing one’s salvation, missing the rapture, going to hell. Guilt, fear, and intimidation are weapons used to maintain their loyalty and devotion to the group.

Members may experience:

  • A marked mental or emotional weakness, compliance, and a sense of servitude.
  • Flattery that is used to puff up in order to make them feel accepted and valued.
  • Being asked to spy on other members and report on their lives.
  • Manipulation of their emotions and downplaying their feelings as unimportant or in error.
  • Being unable to visualize a positive, fulfilled future without being in the group for fear of punishment or consequences.
  • Being reprimanded for not participating in every meeting or activity for fear that their loyalty will be questioned.

You may have noticed a lot of similarities between the tactics mentioned above and the church where you worship at. Unfortunately, these tactics of spiritual abuse are not limited to only religious cults but are also used in many churches that are considered by most to be mainline denominations.

Spiritual abuse is a growing trend in many religious organizations across the country. There are many reasons that religious leaders would stoop to these tactics: Lust for power; spiritual delusions; or fear of losing their congregation are only a few. But whatever the reason, we must be on guard so as not to fall into the spiritual abuse trap.

The Lord Jesus does not want you to participate in a church where fear and intimidation is used. From scripture we know that his desire is for us to freely choose him as Savior. What kind of relationship would the Lord have with you if you felt forced or coerced to love him?

The Lord wants us to live in freedom.

“I will say to the prisoners, ‘Come out in freedom,’ and to those in darkness, ‘Come into the light.’ They will be my sheep, grazing in green pastures and on hills that were previously bare.”   – Isa 49:9

“I will walk in freedom, for I have devoted myself to your commandments.” -Ps. 119:45

 “For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” – 2 Corinthians 3:17

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” – Galatians 5:1

“He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.” – 1 Tim. 2:6

So how can you protect yourself from becoming involved in spiritual abuse?

  • Study to know the Bible.
  • Question and compare all teachings to the Scriptures.
  • Be sure all the teaching and practices are in agreement with the Scriptures.
  • If you find yourself in a place where spiritual leadership is abusive, then walk away and find a place where the true Gospel is taught.

In Galatians 1:6-9 we read, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”

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