1. Idolatry – Create excessive, and sometimes blind, admiration and devotion to a person or group, and their beliefs.
I think that the point here is that abusive, wicked, or false leaders want others to adore them. This comes from walking with Satan, which wanted even Christ to adore him. The key element that a good leader always remembers is that he is a sinful man like all other men, and he is not so great or better than other people. A good leader looks at leadership as service, and as Christ came to service, so a good leader enters a church to serve God by serving the people. This concept totally controls him.
A bad leader sees himself as being great, and his church has the great advantage of being in his presence and serving him, his desires, and his goals. He uses the church and its members as stepping stones to his own greatness. The difference in attitude is tremendous, and is like night and day.
2. There is a well developed, and often unstated system of rules and codes for behavior. Teaching God will approve of the members who follow the leader and are loyal to him is of utmost importance. God is not acting out of grace or mercy. God is a strict judge of justice who is working directly with and through the leaders who alone know what God really wants. The Mind Controller becomes their parent, and his followers are treated like children. They do not need to know everything, but just what the leaders think they need to know.
I think the key element here is that an abusive leader makes rules and a “system” for his followers to be “in” or “out” of his graces, and he works that system extensively. Our obedience is not to men, but to God. As a man of God dedicates himself to God and obeys God, God blesses that man, and others should follow him. As a minister strays from that commitment to God and his standards and work, others should leave him to himself.
The system is a very definite mark that something is wrong. A good leader of a church is pastor-like, and that means that he relates to all the members of his church. He has a personal relationship with each and everyone, no matter if they participate in his “system” of favorites or not.
3. Almost total dependence on a leader, leaders, and the group, combined with cutting off most of the outside world; especially close friends and relatives.
Here I think we see the great difference between a true church with good leaders and a cult. A cult wants to drag people into the group and then cut them off from interaction with others, especially family and other Christians in other churches that can/could give them feedback as far as what is happening in their church.
When a group considers itself the only true church, they are wrong. They are a cult. “Yes, there are others that are kind of like us, but really we are the only ones that are 100% right.” The cult thinking is to cut off rational thinking and reasonableness. They are pushing their members towards being extremists, while a good church is pushing their members towards being a balanced, reasonable Christian.
4. Systematically using subtle techniques for changing the way people think, what they think, and keep existing member’s thoughts and hearts loyal to the Mind Controller and his cause. The goal is to have the Mind Controller as the parent, and the adult subjects functioning as his children.
Actually, to be truthful, probably the best expositor and thinker in any church is the pastor. Some exceptions might exist, but basically, that is the way things work. If there is somebody who is a better student of Scripture, they have to be very humble to work with the pastor (and the pastor has to be humble also to take advantage of his knowledge and wisdom).
Usually, our egos overtake us, and leaders rarely can handle rebuke from subordinates, and to be corrected on Scripture is deadly. If a major issue comes up and somebody else corrects the pastor, either the pastor leaves or that person is runoff. This is because of egos.
If you examine Acts 15, the early church functioned with many godly endowed men of God (the twelve apostles, the 120 disciples, Paul and Barnabas, etc.). But they were able to challenge each other and correct incorrect understanding and practice, dealing with doctrine in the process. Few church leaders today can pass through such an experience, and rarely any would actually desire that kind of multiple inputs of voices in major issues. That just shows us how far we have gotten from biblical New Testament churches.
5. Teaching that the group has all the answers; it has everything good in life and there is nothing else.
I think I touched on this above, but the idea that each church is an island, and the only island out there of true, biblical doctrine and practice is very common among churches, and much more so among abusive churches. The dependence of one church on others is rarely worked out correctly.
Note that the idea is that the views and ideas of other Christians (leaders and laymen) is important and balancing to our view and ideas doesn’t happen often. Either things go the way of a convention or denomination, and in that case, a few decide the doctrine and practice and the rest receive it, or nobody listens to anybody else. Either way it is wrong and not New Testament Christianity.
6. Creating an environment of fear in leaving. Any deserters are punished by shunning, and are vilified and marginalized by ridicule before and/or after they leave. This creates a profoundly deep subconscious fear in the existing members to never leave, so this won’t happen to them. Anything outside of the group is inferior and of Satan. It is evil. There is no rule or doctrine more pure, or better, than the group’s. Outside is failure and disaster.
Here we see the conclusion of this island thinking. To leave the group is the same as to abandon Christ and declare one’s self a Satan worshipper. That is even if you go to another church of the same doctrine and practice as your church.
That is the problem, churches don’t work in the context of world Christianity, but just their own corner of it, and they blow that up to be the last bastion of the faith on earth, that kind of thinking.
This commentary is taken from the article, Mind Control: Six tell-tale signs of abusive church leaders at http://www.wickedshepherds.com/MindControl.html
T.R. Simmons A Systematic Study of Bible Doctrine is a Bible Doctrines book of 43 chapters. The author is (according to the Introduction) "systematic, Calvinistic, Baptist, and premillennial". I am offering this work in various formats:
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