Leading or Lording?
Multitudes of sincere and trusting believers are caught in the virtually invisible web of religious captivation in Charismatic and other Neo-Pentecostal churches, and don’t know it. They are unaware victims of spiritual abuse and exploitation under the heavy-hand of hyper-authoritarianism. That is to say, the leadership of the church-group of which they are a part is dominating, controlling, and manipulating their followers, and exploiting them for their own personal gain and private kingdom-building.
Horror stories of authoritarian abuse and exploitation and psychological enslavement in certified Christian churches abound. From time to time, particular isolated incidents have erupted in highly publicized news stories. However, those high-profile cases really are only the tip of the iceberg. The truth of the matter is, I know from my twenty years of ministry, ecclesiastical enslavement and exploitation is widespread in certain sectors of Christendom in this country. And, it is vital to understand, I am not talking about radical, fringe religious sects and cults, but well-respected church-groups espousing orthodox Christian beliefs, whose membership is comprised of a cross section of average Americans, individuals and families, of every race, education level, station, and walk of life.
Though religious predominance is certainly nothing new, and hyper-authoritarianism is by no means limited to the Neo-Pentecostal branch of the Church, it has, however, especially flourished in the Charismatic and so-called “second, third, and fourth wave” (i.e., Neo-Pentecostal) groups since it was infused into the very fabric, foundation, and functions of that branch of the Church in the early- to mid-seventies. Moreover, it is the Charismatic branch of which this ministry has been a part since its inception, which gives me not only the “right” but also the duty to bring reproof of error and errancy in that realm (2 Tim. 4:1-5, et al.).
This kind of “Charismatic captivation” is prevalent among Charismatic and other Neo-Pentecostal churches and groups primarily as a result of widely-taught and -accepted hyper-authoritarian doctrines and practices first introduced in the 1970s by an alliance of five ministers who rose to prominence, and spawned what became known as the “Discipleship/Shepherding Movement.” Those doctrines and practices remain an integral part of the governmental foundation of many churches and groups yet today.
This elite ministerial Quintumverate had somehow concluded that the newly-created and burgeoning branch of the Church generated by the Divinely-orchestrated Charismatic Movement birthed in 1960, was in disarray and needed to be “organized.” Somehow they also determined it was they God had appointed to accomplish the task of “organizing” the Charismatic church. The purportedly inspired and Bible-based organizational structure they advocated and eventually instituted was virtually identical to the modern pyramid marketing structure so popular and prevalent today. The “Fab Five” placed themselves at the top of the pyramid of interrelated Charismatic leaders, which quickly expanded into a “down-line” of thousands of “submitted” ministers.
In the mid-seventies the entire matter of this “movement” erupted into a highly-publicized international controversy. The result of the maelstrom was that the relevant doctrines and practices were repudiated and denounced by many well-known church-leaders, and the ministers who invented and promulgated them fell into disrepute.
However, despite the controversy and the public chastisement, those ministers and their followers initially remained unbowed and undeterred. They defended themselves, as well as the hyper-authoritarian teachings and practices and philosophies of church-government they advocated. For many years afterward, they continued to teach those patently false and unScriptural doctrines, and to develop what came to be an expansive multi-level “network” of ministers and churches. Though, it was now done less overtly, and there was a concerted and deliberate effort to take the whole matter underground to lessen as much as possible the negative effects of the controversy and to give the appearance of repentance.
The unfortunate consequence of that move toward covertness and esotericism was that instead of being eradicated, those patently false doctrines and Scripturally-prohibited practices were infused into the very fabric, foundation, and functions of the Charismatic/Neo-Pentecostal Church at-large, and are still espoused and practiced by many churches and groups in today. This stems partly from the fact that many of those ministries are headed by leaders who either were a part of those Shepherding networks or who were themselves mentored by leaders who were, and consequently adopted or adapted many of the doctrines and governmental philosophies advocated by the principals of those networks.
Many present-day church-leaders do not realize their leadership methodology is actually a hybrid form of hyper-authoritarianism, and amounts to or engenders domination and control. The proper role of human under-shepherds is to lead people to the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ, and teach them how to be His followers, in submission to Him and His authority. Hyper-authoritarian leaders, instead, wittingly or unwittingly, lead people to themselves, and indoctrinate them to be their followers, in total submission to them and their authority.
In essence, these dominating shepherds teach they are the church members’ Lord, Master, and Savior. They indoctrinate congregants to believe the spiritual leaders of the church themselves are the members’ “spiritual covering,” and any member who ever leaves the church will be “out from under” their “covering,” be without any covering, and experience terrible curses and consequences as a result.
This false hypothesis of “absolute submission,” with which subjects are incessantly indoctrinated, is the bedrock of such authoritarian doctrines. That, coupled with the enslaving organizational authority structure in place in the groups where these unbiblical doctrines are espoused, is primarily what makes these techniques and mechanisms of control effectual and effective. And, it is chiefly the spiritual and psychological needs and problems of attendees of these groups that makes them vulnerable to such unauthorized domination and control as well as the various sorts of exploitation entailed.
The mechanisms of psychological manipulation, domination, and control employed in these groups are virtually identical, to those employed by certified cults. Indeed, the stark truth is that many of the groups and churches who employ these techniques and mechanisms are themselves at the very minimum quasi-cults, and in some cases, bona fide cults.
The abuse and exploitation occurring in groups where these hyper-authoritarian systems of governance are instituted come in various shapes and shades. In a nutshell, the “dumb sheep” are taught they cannot trust their own judgment or ability to receive direction from the Lord for even the most mundane decisions of their lives, but must rely instead upon the supposed transcendent wisdom and superior spirituality of their human “Shepherds.” Typically, submitants must obtain the approval of their group-gurus regarding virtually all personal matters and domestic decisions—matters of romance, such as who members date and marry; health and insurance matters, employment and career matters, and most of all, regarding every detail of members’ personal finances, which requires their leaders’ approval for practically every significant expenditure.
Relentless programming with this premise along with constant bombardment with belittling derision leads to spiritual and psychological paralysis for submissive adherents. Gradually, as the hidden web of religious witchcraft is woven, and their natural resistance to such domination and control is dissipated, docile submitants eventually become the unwitting and helpless psychological slaves of self-aggrandizing church-leaders and their grandiose plans for the building of their private, personal, earthly kingdoms.
In these groups, the “authority” of the “shepherds” is absolute, sacrosanct, and inviolable—that is, without reprisal. Any semblance of anything other than total and unquestioning obeisance and obedience to the desires and counsel of the chain of leaders is considered rebellion and insubordination, and simply is not tolerated. Members live under the constant threat of being branded with the Scarlet Letter “R” for “rebel,” openly denounced and shamed from the (bully-)pulpit, and consequently shunned by their “covenant-community” as well as the threat of excommunication (which is rarely exercised except in the case of the most outspoken dissidents, because they don’t want to lose the members and their financial support). Moreover, members are indoctrinated to accept the leadership-set agenda and mission of the group, regarding which they have little real say, as their personal burden and responsibility, and to commit their time, talent, and, most importantly, their tithe to its successful completion. The oppressive maltreatment and mistreatment to which members of these cult-like groups are subjected seems to me to be the spiritual equivalent of the hard task-mastery of the Israelites during their nearly five centuries of captivity under the Egyptian Pharaohs.
So what are the consequences and effects we are talking about here, a scant few slightly disillusioned people with their feelings a little hurt? FAR FROM IT! We are talking about an immense number of broken and destroyed families, marriages, and friendships, multitudes of unpretentious, formerly trusting people who are now psychologically traumatized and marred, and spiritually shipwrecked, potentially for life. Added to that are substantial numbers of failed businesses, bankruptcies, lost fortunes, nervous breakdowns, contracted health maladies, suicides, and premature deaths by various related causes, and the like, just to name some of the consequences experienced by victims. Indeed, the details of the havoc and decimation wreaked upon victims’ lives is far too extensive and, frankly, morose to possibly be able to relate here, but suffice it to say it is sweeping, mind-boggling, and, sadly, in some cases, barring the miraculous, irreversible.
The two greatest problems with deception is that the deceived are deceived about being deceived, and their ego and pride make it difficult for them to accept the fact they are in deception. In the case of many of those who do finally accept the fact they have been duped, for years afterward they reel in varied degrees of anger, embarrassment, resentment, disillusionment, and distrust.
No one wants to be a “sucker.” Indeed, the sad and unfortunate experience of this ministry in attempting to rescue victims of authoritarian abuse and exploitation is that most simply don’t want to hear about anything suggesting they may be deceived, or that their “beloved” church and its leaders to which they have become so codependent could possibly be involved in any kind of deception or error. Even when confronted with proof-positive that these unscriptural and cult-like teachings and practices are an integral, albeit covert, part of their own church’s operations and culture, many indoctrinated adherents react with angry and vehement denial, staunchly refusing to accept even the remotest possibility such a thing could be so.
Moreover, astoundingly, instead of desiring liberation, such “deniers” opt to remain captive in what has become to them the familiar and “friendly confines” of the institution of which they are a member. This sad scenario is strikingly similar to that of many “career criminals” who prefer and choose institutional incarceration over the liberties and latitudes of a normal life of freedom. The constant and abiding prayer of all believers should be that God may grant the captives of all these groups the “repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:26).
Fortunately, though, there are those who despite their considerable chagrin and pain, do want to be liberated from the witchcraft of domination and control, regardless of the cost. Somewhere in the psyche of most sound-thinking humans is an intense desire to be free, along with an utter disdain for any form or degree of illegitimate predominance and exploitation. For those people, there are signs of hyper-authoritarianism that are readily detectable when you know what they are. That is to say, there are a number of common psychological control mechanisms employed within groups in which hyper-authoritarian doctrines and practices are espoused and implemented. Unfortunately, they aren’t always simple, overt, and obvious, but are often sophisticated, covert, and hidden. They are, however, identifiable by those who are informed about them and know what to look for. In my book, Charismatic Captivation, I delineated the common control mechanisms employed by hyper-authoritarian groups, and how to recognize them. The one thing that book simply cannot supply, though, is the objectivity required to analyze the church or group of which one is a part to determine if these mechanisms are being employed there.