Biblical Definition of Spiritual Abuse
Summary: This post defines what is improper religious treatment by a group’s spiritual leaders towards its members. Here we examine false prophets and their methods, as well as Christian liberty.
What is Spiritual Abuse?
By David Cox
Very simply put, it is what the other guy does that I don’t like. This is the bottom line definition in all of the Spiritual Abuse literature I have seen. Very little of this literature really addresses the correct definition of what “Spiritual Abuse” is.
There are some who say anybody who mentions or threats another person with the concept of eternal punishment is using psychological torture techniques to scare people into their religious groups, and this is invalid.
So a biblical Christian who refuses other “authorities” and only looks to the Holy Scripture as his spiritual authority will have a different view on spiritual abuse.
False prophets use illegitimate techniques to control people
At this point, the biblical Christian wants Scripture, not psychology to define and explore this spiritual abuse. Without bringing the entire topic under the teachings of a specific Bible doctrine, we would just be “chasing our tail”. There is no bearings without bringing Scripture, and what Scripture has to say into the matter.
It is my contention that Scripture addresses spiritual abuse in the person of the false prophet. We can biblically outline and define what is legitimate and what is illegitimate based on Scripture. There are define descriptions and prohibitions given in Scripture that set the limits, approve certain things, and disapprove other things.
Christian liberty and spiritual control.
Gal 2:4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:
Gal 5:1 ,13 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only [use] not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.
The first thing we need to define is Christian Liberty (or soul liberty). God has designed a system where we do have a religious organization, the Church, and that church has local assemblies spread throughout the world.
Error #1 – No organized local church is God’s church, only the church universal and unorganized.
No. God speaks of “the church” (all inclusive), and God speaks of local churches. We would not have every thought up the concept of local churches if it had not been for the New Testament believers organizing and founding these local churches all across the ancient world. Most of the New Testament was written to Christians in local churches, and the Bible gives no allowance for any believer except those in local churches. In other words, the only established “norm” we see in the NT is Christians in local assemblies.
This is like a marriage. We can speak of marriage (singular), for example, everybody should be fully committed in their marriage. But marriage does not exist outside of local instances of it. For example, two women are not a marriage, nor two men, nor a woman and her son, nor a woman and her baby even. These are people, but they are not marriages. I cannot be part of a marriage without being legally married to somebody of the opposite sex. The same is with churches. There is a general concept of “the church” (which some refer to as the universal church), but nobody is part of “the church” without being a part of a local instance of that church.
Being a member of a local church
Heb 13:7 Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of [their] conversation.
Heb 13:17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that [is] unprofitable for you.
Every believer is to be a member of a local church, and submissive to the leadership of that local church. The Bible comments in passing of “those who have the rule over you” in Hebrews 13:7, and in verse 17, it directly commands us to obey these rulers over us, and to submit ourselves to them. Their job is to “watch” or oversee (the word for bishop, or the verb to bishop others).
So spiritual authority in the form of a person or persons who “rule over us” is not against Scripture. This is a very necessary foundational belief and concept where we begin to understand and relate all the factors together.
Error #2: Any spiritual authority over the believer is a sin, and antibiblical.
If you read the literature, many people and groups have concluded that (1) all pastors are unbiblical, (2) the entire concept of pastor is unbiblical, (3) any kind of person in authority over other Christians is unbiblical, (4) all NT Christians are returned to the book of Judges where every man did what was right in his own eyes, and the conclusion of the above false assumptions is that (5) the NT system God gave us is “broke,” and we have to create a new system not defined and used principally in the NT.
God’s system works, and is not broke. God’s system is the church with spiritual oversight (the correct word is a supervisor, or in the Bible, a “bishop”). This is one term for the person in the office. The verb form is not “bishoping” but pastoring. A pastor is a person doing spiritual oversight.
The Danger is in being under the control of a false prophet.
The horror stories of spiritual abuse by somebody in a position of spiritual authority abound. There is no doubt about this. But the error is not in the system God gave us, but the error and danger enters in two points: (1) our perversion and faulty complice with God’s instruction and system, (2) individuals (wolves or false prophets) who enter into this system to take advantage of God’s flock by abusing the people of God and the system God has set up.
Well, couldn’t God have foreseen this and made some safe-guards? Yes, and he did. All the spiritually gifted people mentioned in the Bible minister, and they have very few or no requirements. Those in a position of oversight, control, administering discipline, and involved in spiritual feeding (preaching and teaching the Word) have specific requirements that MUST be observed. Also the deacons who serve in an official capacity in the church have basically the same requirements (some differences though).
The error and danger that enter into our lives is not because we submit to a spiritual authority that is a man who is a pastor of a local church, but because we allow this man to occupy this position without demanding exact and full compliance with God’s points, one for one, all of them.