The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, Chapter 7: Abuse and Scripture
We continue our Thursday series blogging through “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse.” The first post in the series is here.
The focus of chapter 7 is on how Scripture can be misused to contribute to spiritual abuse. It is a little lengthier and goes deeper into some Scriptural and theological subjects the the preceding chapters have done.
Paul warned the younger pastor Titus about teachers (“especially those of the circumcision,” which we would refer to as legalists) who are “rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers.” Paul said these teachers ought to be silenced. “Instead of using the Word as a sword to pierce through to the thoughts and motives of their own hearts, many spiritual leaders have used it as a stick to drive others, for a variety of reasons: to keep others from holding them accountable; to protect their image; to uphold a doctrine they have based a whole ministry upon; to keep funds coming; to build religious kingdoms in order to bolster their own spiritual self-esteem.” (p.82, emphasis added)
Setting the Stage
You might say the stage is set for a spiritually abusive environment by mindset, motives, and method. The mindset is an approach to Scripture as a book of techniques. The focus is on earning, achieving, and doing rather than inner transformation. The focus on behavior leads to rewarding those who do more of it and ignoring those who are hurting. The motive of the leaders is not to feed the flock of God but rather to pressure people to live up to an image of God as he is re-created in the image of the leaders. Finally, the method is to use “proof-texting”. Proof-texting is when you start with a point you want to prove and then cherry-pick verses to support the point, regardless of the context and original meaning of those verses.
A mindset that shows up in many forms of spiritual abuse is a view of God’s Law that it is 1) a way to attain a right relationship with God, or 2) a way to live victoriously or to receive blessing. But we are not justified by works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus (Gal 2:16). “Right relationship with God is a settled gift because of what God did through Christ. You can’t earn it. You can only have it for free” (p. 84).
If the Law neither saves us nor gives an extra blessing, what is its purpose? Books are written about this subject, indeed careers are defined by it. If you have read or thought about this issue and wish to agree, disagree, or clarify, feel free to engage in the comment section below! The authors offer three reasons: 1) to reveal that we have sinned, 2) to convince us that our own efforts will never solve the problem, and 3) to bring us into a grace-full relationship with God based on God’s work of grace through Christ. Paul compared the Law to the tutors of his day who would drive kids to school with a stick. When the faith relationship with Christ begins, the stick-wielding tutor is out of a job.
It is a mistake when spiritual leaders try to drive people to try harder to produce fruit. Trying harder is not what Christ died for. He died to give us rest. Trying harder may be evidence of a leader trying to bring you back under the Law, the very thing from which Christ died to set you free.
Learning to “Do” Christianity
This section implicates “Christian Formula Seminars” as events where people often receive lists of activities to perform, backed up by out-of-context proof-texts, and are sent home with a focus on self and the many ways they do not measure up. However, a clean conscience is not the result of religious behavior. It is Jesus who washes our hearts and consciences clean (Heb 10:19-22).
In a funny-if-it-weren’t-so-sad comment, it is suggested that perhaps Paul had “Christian formula seminars” in mind when he wrote to Timothy, “Certain persons, by swerving from these [love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith], have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” (1 Timothy 1:6-7, ESV)
In the interest of brevity, we will note the remaining four topics in passing. The discussion is good and worth the minutes it takes to read. Consideration is given to common verses that are used for each subject.
Self-Denial: the cross at which we die is the cross of Christ, not some leader’s agenda. It is a misuse of “I die daily” to pressure people to constantly try not to feel, to notice, or to want.
Giving: God loves a cheerful giver, and it is right to be generous, but abusive systems apply the pressure of giving to get on God’s good side and giving to stay on God’s good side. This is giving in order to get.
By the way, did you know that the Old Testament tithe would actually be closer to 27% than to 10%? There were actually three successive tithes (this is described on page 89).
Unity and Peace in the Church: There are numerous verses to speak to preserving and maintaining peace but it is a false peace that is maintained by keeping a “can’t-talk” rule and sweeping all the problems under the rug. A true peace-maker is one who is able to help make peace where there is no peace, not one who helps cover up problems and keep them out of view. Furthermore, peace is an issue of the heart, not an issue of smoothing things over.
Church Discipline is a subject that can be misunderstood and misused. The goals that Scripture shows for church discipline are reconciliation and protecting other believers from danger.
Comment:I would like to add my hearty “amen!” to the description on page 83 about asking questions of any particular text, such as: To whom was this text written? What was the original issue being addressed? What result was the original author hoping to achieve? When you have a suggested interpretation for a passage, would this interpretation have made sense to the original audience? These questions would prevent a host of mistaken and unique interpretations (in my mind, “One Accord Power Teams” and “rhemas” are two teachings that would not make it past these questions; there are some other examples here: http://www.recoveringgrace.org/category/twistedscriptures/ ).
If you are interested in reading more about how the correctly read and interpret God’s Word, I highly recommend “How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth” ( http://amzn.to/NAgGbX )
Questions for discussion:
Note: please feel free to comment about these questions or anything else that stands out to you about this chapter.
The discussion of the purpose of God’s Law can be lively. Do you agree with the three reasons given in this chapter?
Do you agree / disagree with the proposition that “Christian formula seminars” can tend to result in self-occupied or self-righteous people who attempt to clean up a dirty conscience with religious behavior? (In contrast to Hebrews 10:19-22, a clean conscience and pure heart are already ours in Christ)
Do you have any thoughts about appropriate versus inappropriate uses of self-denial?
Have you seen true unity brought about in good ways? Have you ever seen unity or peace-making used as a tool for sweeping problems under the rug?
In addition to burning people out, pressuring people to “live up to” Scripture leads to a distorted perception of God. He becomes one who is created in the image of the leaders. This is not about helping people gain a deeper understanding of God through the Word, in all its multi-faceted beauty. In fact, a deeper understanding of Scripture on the part of the people would probably expose the whole abusive situation. (p. 83)
In order to minimize the possibility of misusing Scripture, it is helpful to ask several questions about any particular text. To whom was it written? What kinds of problems or issues were facing the people being addressed? What did it mean to the original hearers? Is this a timeless truth, or a specific instruction for a specific situation? Sometimes, even a brief look at the context of the passage being studied would reveal that he point someone is trying to “prove” by the text is completely different than the original intention of the writer. (p. 83)
A true peacemaker, as noted in Matthew 5, is someone who goes where there is no peace and makes peace. It is not someone who covers over disagreement with a cloak of false peace. It is not someone who gets people who are in total disagreement to act as if there were on the same side. For real peace to happen, not just a cease-fire, there has to be a change of heart. (p. 91)
(Click here to go on to Chapter 8)