Spiritual abuse… it’s real and it is devastating.
I’ve written about the encroachment of the Gnostics into evangelical churches. Also the intrusion of mysticism, ecumenism and seeker friendly liberal theologies. All these attacks on the Bride of Christ, His church, are foretold in many scriptures in the New Testament. (2 Peter 2:1; Matthew 7:15; Gal 2:4; 1 Timothy 4:1 to name a few). Colossians itself was a corrective epistle to the church at Colossae which was falling under the sway of the Gnostics. The Nicolaitans of Revelation 2 are mentioned as a group bringing liberal false teachings, also.
But those are the liberal teachings and heresies. Just as much, we need to be wary of the legalistic, conservative teachings of the end time. These teachings are the ones that the Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees brought in Jesus’s day.
The Pharisees were the original spiritual abusers. As Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun. Their special kind of abuse which brings bondage is coming in again. The legalistic, oppressive teachings are coming into church of today like a tsunami. It has different vocabulary, but the same source. It has a variation of the old methods for oppression, but the same outcome.
The Pharisees were a sect of the Jews who were the strictest of those observing the Mosaic Law, (Acts 26:5). The Pharisees were the most zealous, (Galatians 1:14), the most outwardly moral, (Luke 18:11) but the most inwardly dead (Matthew 23:27). They were oppressive to those who needed grace the most, and bitterly cruel in persecuting those who opposed them. (Matthew 23:4, Acts 9:1-2). They had everything backward- calling Christ’s miracles of the devil (Matthew 12:24) but believing themselves to be of God. (Luke 18:9, Acts 22:3).
How did the Pharisees spiritually abuse their sheep?
“Examples of spiritual abuse are found throughout the Bible. God describes (and condemns) the “shepherds of Israel” who feed themselves rather than the flock, who do not heal those who are hurting, or seek to bring back those who were driven away but rather discard them, ruling with force and cruelty (Ezekiel 34:1-10). Jesus reacted with anger against the thievery of the money changers in the Temple as they misused God’s people for selfish reasons (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-18; Luke 19:45-47; John 2:13-16). He was angry at those more concerned with rules and regulations than with human suffering (Mark 3:1-5). In Matthew 23, Jesus describes the abusive spiritual leader in great detail. In John 9 the Pharisees “cast out” the man born blind simply because the truth he told about his healing exposed their own corruption. In Acts 7:51-56, Stephen called the Jewish leaders to account over their spiritual abuse.” (Source)
Others were afraid they would be cast out: “Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue.” (John 12:42). Threat of dismissal or excommunication is a favorite tactic of abusive leaders. A shepherd’s job is to feed, nurture, care for and keep safe the flock. The abusive leaders of Jesus’s day were more content to simply throw people away.
So authoritarianism, oppression, and legalism was a characteristic of abusive leaders who were more interested in themselves than their flocks.
And so it is today with some.
I am not talking of the difficulty inherent in a proper cycle of church discipline. I am all for that. The bible is followed and Jesus is the invisible but very present overseer of the proceedings. If all is done biblically, prayerfully, and correctly, the best case is to restore a wayward one. For today’s purposes I am not talking of discipline but of abuse that perverts, uses, or simply ignores proper church discipline plan outlined in Matthew 18.
I am also not talking of not behaving well for your pastors, deacons, leaders and teachers. I honor those men highly, and pray for them because they are on the frontlines of satan’s targets for spiritual attack. I esteem them, pray for them, tithe for them, praise them, encourage them, speak well of them, but I do not follow them. I follow Jesus.
Even though we know there is nothing new under the sun, where did this latest iteration of legalistic abuse come from?
Though we can trace it back to the Pharisees, and indeed, all the way back to the Garden, of this generation we can see a heightening of the authoritarian tendencies emerge in the 1970s. Five Florida pastors in the Charismatic denominations (Bob Mumford, Derek Prince, Charles Simpson, and Don Basham) felt that the Charismatic movement was too loose and that there was not enough accountability. The five created an accountability system of hierarchical structure in the shape of a pyramid. The five pastors, of course, were at the top. They all claimed they had submitted to one another, and they made a national network of followers who formed pyramids of sheep and shepherds below them. Down through the pyramid went the orders, while up the same pyramid went the tithes. This was the beginning of the Shepherding Movement.
But between the Shepherding Movement of the 70s and today’s spiritually abusive pharisee, there is the book called Under Cover: The Promise of Protection Under His Authority, by John Bevere. It came out in 2001, and it is the answer to every Pharisee’s prayer. The book itself is widely held to be error-ridden, if not heretical, but that does not stop every would-be Pharisee from making it his manual.
The book brought a new theology, called “Covering Theology.”
“Covering theology is an erroneous doctrine that claims all Christians must be under the authority (covering) of a church leader to be protected from the warfare of the devil. It also claims this same covering is necessary to receive God’s blessings. However, there is no Scripture foundation for this doctrine. Covering theology is a leftover from the debunked Shepherding Movement that appeared about 40 years ago.” (source)
Lies Under Cover is a segment of a blog series exploring today’s apostasy by Blogos/GotQuestions. This part asks the question:
“Should believers allow pastors to rule over them? This posting is part 2 in an 8 part series about deception in the church addressing the Under Cover book by John Bevere, its teaching, its origination, why it is wrong, and its impact on the church.”
It is a very good essay and the series itself is good too. I recommend it. Here are some excerpts from the essay on the Covering Theology. The essay continues:
“Not too long ago I learned about a new question circulating in the evangelical circle asking “Who is your covering?” Soon thereafter the full meaning of that question became apparent. In the church I attended, its leaders announced they were adopting the Under Cover teaching by John Bevere. The central theme for the teaching is God guarantees protection for believers who submit to pastoral authority. On the flipside of the theme, failure to submit to the pastor places believers outside God’s protection, removing the protective hand of God. In other words, a believer who does not submit to and obey the pastor falls out from under the protective covering of God and that of the church. After researching the teaching, I found it to be pure heresy.”
“John Bevere’s heresy teaches that obedience to the pastor is on the same footing as obedience to God. To disobey the pastor, even when the pastor is wrong, is to disobey God because the pastor is always in authority and God the ultimate authority. In other words, the pastor stands in authority between Jesus and the body of believers, becoming the spiritual covering over his or her church.”
- Sin is disobedience to God’s authority
- Grace is the power of God to obey him
- All authority is instituted by God
- God establishes his rule in the church through people he has delegated to be his authority
- The 5-fold ministry (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) represents God’s authority on earth
- Obedience to the Lord requires obedience to God’s delegated authorities (employers, church leaders, civil authorities)
- Rebellion against God’s delegated authority is rebellion against God
- Rebellion to authority opens one up to the demonic realm resulting in deception
- People should live by the principle of obedience rather than reason
- People should always obey authority [usually the pastor] unless they are clearly instructed to violate scripture [but he is the final interpreter of scripture, so…]
- Spiritual authority and blessing flows to those who suffer under authority
- God does not judge people on the fruit of their life but on how faithfully they followed authority
- Those outside the local church and the covering of its leaders are at serious risk of spiritual attack
The key is submission to an authority figure who presumes to be standing in the stead of Jesus. It is similar to the Pharisees’s presumptions, who thought they were the final decision-maker of interpeting what were really their own rules rather than themselves submitting the Word of God and to Jesus the Messiah when He arrived.
If you are in a church where the pastor has set himself up as the sole or final arbiter of spiritual matters, interpretations, or church or financial decisions, you may be in a spiritually abusive church.
If you have a palpable feeling, or have had an overt threat of excommunication, unless you blindly follow the pastor in all he says and does, with no questions asked, you may be in a spiritually abusive church.
If you have been told that performance/work/submission is the indicator of faith, you may be in a spiritually abusive church.
If you have been told to leave a church or fired from a ministry because you were told you were divisive, critical, a hazard to the brethren etc., but have NOT been through the steps for church discipline outlined in Matt. 18:16-18, you may be in a spiritually abusive church.
If you have been threatened with the phrase “You will be out from under my covering” you ARE in a spiritually abusive church.
R.C. Sproul writes, “The church is called not only to a ministry of reconciliation, but a ministry of nurture to those within her gates. Part of that nurture includes church discipline…” but the key words are nurture and reconciliation. The man who was healed by Jesus and went to the Pharisees was not nurtured nor reconciled to leadership. They tossed the man out summarily. Read John 9:13-38 and see if you don’t weep at the terrible grilling the abusive Pharisaical authorities put the man under, and their abuse of him who had the Light come into His life but instead who wanted to put him back in the dark!
Across the country, parishioners are now being challenged to legalistically take oaths, perform vows and sign covenants. People who question the legitimacy of these activities or even ask for a biblical foundation for them are attacked, dismissed from ministries, and/or told to leave the church, all without benefit of biblical standards for reconciliation or even proper discipline. It is bewildering, devastating, and causes much harm to the body of Christ.
It happened to me.
Of all that occurred, what captured my attention the most was threat that “you no longer have our support or covering.” Though I was told I was negative, immature, led by the devil, divisive, critical, and more, I knew I was not those things. I was surprised that the bible was not opened, consulted or interpreted for my wayward behalf in pursuit of reconciliation for whatever wrong I had committed. Nor I was corrected in grace and love. I was confused as to what was happening because it didn’t jibe with the outline in Matthew for church discipline. It was simply an attack and a dismissal.
But what intrigued me was the phrase ‘no longer have the covering.’
It immediately rang bells in my spirit, and seemed ‘off.’ What covering? Where was this covering? Why didn’t I know about it before? What will happen if I don’t have this covering? Where is it in the bible? It all seemed so vague and somehow…wrong. Now that I’ve read the theology behind the Bevere book Under Cover, I know why. Things clicked, finally. It is a false theology used and wielded by hyper-authoritarian pastors and leaders and teachers who seek to control rather than share and worship on the same blood-soaked ground that Jesus died on for us all.
I grieve so deeply for churches that do this to the lambs and the sheep. I mourn for people who are withering under leadership that oppresses rather than shepherd rightly. I lament the loss of time and spiritual growth for people who, when threatened with dire events should they be loosed from some artificial pastor “covering”, stay in a church where the vine is withering.
I’m passionate about the Christian life. I am a sinner and not perfect, to be sure, but I strive so hard to live up to what He wants us to be for the lost world’s behalf. I want to do my part in the Spirit’s work of shining the light in me brighter and the church I’m in to be blessed by me and not embarrassed by me. I know a bit of the bible enough to understand some of the standards of what Jesus wants the church to be, and when it isn’t that, it is a grief. When it is deliberately wrested away from His holy ground for abusive purposes it is a woe that cuts my heart in two.
Far from the dire threats that were leveled against me in having some unbiblical covering removed, coming out from ‘under cover’ is a praise to the Lord, who is the Great Shepherd! Finding a good church with leadership one can trust is a heaven-sent gift! However through the praises, I will not diminish the toll. It is a devastating thing to happen. Ask the Petry family, formerly leaders in Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church. Jonna Petry wrote, “Seeing your loved ones abused, their hearts broken, their emotions heavy and dark, and their faith nearly destroyed, is the greatest pain of all.”
I shudder to think of this happening as frequently as it does – and it does. When it happens to families, or employees, or people who are new in the faith, or tossed from a church where they had been for a long time, I absolutely grieve just thinking about them!
Jonna’s story and mine and I am sure, many others, has a redemptive ending. The Lord Jesus is trustworthy and He knits together broken hearts, opens eyes to see, allows for time to heal, and supplies with deeper faith than ever before. I love the Lord even more now that I did before and I never thought my love for Him would have deepened so beautifully, but it did. He is faithful in trials and all you need to do is trust Him.
I wanted to bring you this information for several reasons:
–The watchful who are on guard against liberalism might miss the legalism creeping in,
–You are not crazy, spiritual abuse is real,
–Watch out for talk of ‘the covering‘ !!!!!!!!! It is a huge red flag!
–JESUS IS LORD and He is love. Rest in Him even through trials. He has a reason for all that He does, even if you can’t see it through the tears.