“Healing Spiritual Abuse” (quotes)

— Dana

I just finished reading the book “Healing Spiritual Abuse”. I don’t usually do this, but I thought it might encourage someone else if I put a few quotes that made me consider life in the church.”Spiritual abuse occurs when someone in a position of spiritual authority, the purpose of which is to ‘come underneath’ and serve, build, equip and make God’s people MORE free, misuses that authority placing themselves over God’s people to control, coerce or manipulate them for seemingly Godly purposes which are really their own.” – Jeff Van Vonderen

**Jesus was so focused on the problem of spiritual abuse that it was the only social evil against which he ever developed a platform. It was the only cultural problem that he repeatedly exposed and opposed. This is amazing when we recall that his culture was plagued by a host of serious social ills. Jesus took no public stand against slavery, racism, class warfare, state-sponsored terrorism, military occupation or corruption in government. He spoke not a word against abortion or infanticide, homosexuality or the exploitation of women and children. All of theses and more were pressing problems in Jesus’ day, but we have no record of his directly addressing them. (pg 18)

**Abuse requires power… (pg 26)

**We only get angry about the issues we care about. (pg 26)

**Out of the twisted image of the body of Christ comes the supporting idea of a “spiritual covering,” which functions as yet another tool of control. (pg 30)

**Jesus leads through friendship rather than fear…Every day of our lives he invites us to voluntarily follow him. At no point does he employ his all-emcompassing authority to compel us to follow. (pg 33)

**By reading the New Testament, followers should understand that they cannot be coerced or shamed into submitting to any leader. They are free to cooperate or not…Let me make some basic observations about why otherwise sensible and intelligent people submit to spiritual abuse. (pg 35)

**It should be comforting to realize that the hurt you may have suffered from church leaders in the past could be due not to something wrong about you by something right: your longing to get close to God and to please him. (pg 36)

**Followers cooperate with this abusive regime because they are told that it is the way to please God and gain his favor. Tragically, this kind of conscientious rule-keeping actually takes us away from God. Any religious activity that implies that Jesus’ cross is not enough for our acceptance with God leads us away from him, not to him. (pg 44)

**Martin Luther, in his commentary on Galatians, says that to add any religious work to the gospel of grace seems to be a trivial matter, but “it does more damage than human reason can imagine. Not only does it mar and obscure the knowledge of grace but it also removes Christ and all of his blessings and it completely overthrows the gospel.”…remain faithful to the gospel of grace. (pg 46 & 47)

**Guilt is an extremely powerful force; when we feel it, we become distracted, confused and incompetent…We become overly dependent on others to make decisions for us, and we begin to avoid necessary confrontations and independent actions. We become slaves. (pg 53)

**Every Sunday, thousands of well-exhorted saints march out of church with a renewed determination to the false teaching to “die to self” and “live for God” as they should. A week later they return, disappointed in themselves and ashamed. A few who are less honest or aware may feel pride in the previous week’s spiritual accomplishments…the problem of presenting Christian discipleship as discovering God’s demands and working hard to fulfill them is that our churches will eventually resemble first-century synagogues run by Pharisees…filled with either weary folks who know that their best efforts fall short, but who are willing to try harder next week, or proud people who, like their teachers, so badly miss the point of God’s law that they think they are keeping it…This establishes permanent guilt feelings and exchanges salvation by God’s grace for salvation through my surrender, in which I can never rest…because we can never surrender enough to earn our salvation. (pg 56 & 57)

**Jesus promises rest for all who are weary of trying to please religious leaders. He offers an easy yoke to all those laboring under a load of spiritual performance. If your religion is wearisome and burdensome, God’s answer is not longer quiet time, a firmer commitment, attendance at one more conference or church gathering, or one more trip to the altar. God’s solution for spiritual tiredness is rest — rest in the loving acceptance of Jesus and his perfect load-carrying work for you. (pg 59)

**The heart of the good news is that God declares us righteous the moment we give up our own claims of righteousness and accept Christ’s righteousness as our own. False shepherds will always give lip service to this mercy and grace, but will then undermine it in the body of their teachings and in their actions. (pg 60)

**God helps those who confess they cannot help themselves…Jesus constantly pressed for a radical definition of sin that denied any cure through self-effort…If you are worn out trying to keep your fears, compulsions and sins under control, Jesus’ first answer to you is not more discipline or Scripture memorization, it is rest. Rest in his loving acceptance and rest in his power. (pg 63)

**Abusive shepherds tie up various heavy loads and lay them on people’s shoulders. Good shepherds take off those loads. (pg 65)

**In a spiritually abusive system, the mundane become essential, the vital trivial and the real needs of people are neglected for the sake of agendas. (pg 88)

**The Pharisees thought that they were serving God and doing it better than anyone else. Yet Jesus accused them of actually working for the enemy. (pg 92)

**I suspect that all churches (and for that matter, all people) are abusive to some degree. All of our institutions are made up of fallen and sinful people. Abuse may come by passive neglect of by active manipulation, but we all treat each other with less than perfect love. (pg 95)

**However, the mistake most people make regarding ecclesiastical abuse is not leaving prematurely but staying too long…we must be clear that leader’s good motives should not permit them to continue hurting people. (pg 97)

**Such well-meaning abusers much be confronted, and if possible, stopped. We should expect, however, that they will probably not see or admit to the harm they are doing. There is a curious innocence in these leaders. They act with cruelty without having any conscious aim of doing so. They usually don’t want to hurt people. Ironically, what they do want is, on the surface, good — evangelism, commitment to the mission of the church, respect for authority, church growth, mature discipleship, a balanced church checkbook. They can’t see that they become abusers in the pursuit of these good aims. If they give any acknowledgement at all of the abuse, it’s often minimized. “After all”, they say, “I am seeking first the kingdom of God.” They fail to realize that they are actually closing the door to it. (pg 98 & 99)

**…there is one essential thing we must do: we must forgive the abuser…Jesus forgave everyone, especially those who abused him. In several places in the New Testament Jesus insists that we follow him in forgiving those who do evil against us…The significant abuse we suffer in the family or the church may be extremely difficult to forgive because the perpetrator is someone in authority, someone who should have protected us. Betrayal augments abuse when a person in high position violates our trust. The deep pain and damage suffered are unlike any other. (pg 100)

**Before his conversion to Christ, Paul thought he had gained righteousness and deliverance from guilt and shame through his own keeping of the law. His encounter with the resurrected Christ included the blinding insight that his right standing before God had nothing whatever to do with his own efforts. His real righteousness and freedom from guilt (what we do)  and shame (who we are) came as gifts of God’s grace…Paul and those like him, who discount the law as a way of acceptance with God, are sooner or later accused of “antinomianism” — that is, being “soft on sin.” The truth is exactly the opposite. Paul took sin too seriously to ever think it could be dealt with through human effort, no matter how heroic the effort. Sin renders us totally incapable of please God through our own efforts. The law by itself can never save; it can only condemn. (pg 122)

**The gospel of Jesus Christ, properly preached and understood, is the only cure for the misuse of the law. The Good News is the only means of neutralizing legalism, the primary tool of spiritual abuse. (pg 123)

**Many Christians say they have heard, understood and believed the gospel. But when they continue to subject themselves to the legalistic manipulation of spiritual abusers, we must assume that the Good News has not yet sunk in fully. For some this takes time. So we must continually reinforce the truth that we have in fact died to the law and are no longer obligated to it. (pg 127)

**Much of the law’s abusive power is due to the nature of our conscience. Conscience is the internal voice that pronounces judgment on our motives and actions. It commends us for doing what we think is right and condemns us for doing what we think is wrong. Notice my wording: “what we think is right” and “what we think is wrong.” The conscience functions much like a computer programmed by cultural values. If we program our conscience with the truth, it will judge us according to that truth. In this case, our conscience is of immense value to us. It is a kind of moral homing device. If, on the other hand, we program it with a lie, it will judge us according to that lie. As computer experts say, “Garbage in, garbage out.” That is why we cannot always let our conscience be our guide. For the person who is fundamentally shame-based, the conscience is an open wound that does not heal. People who believe they are essentially defective find their conscience punishing them for almost everything they think, say and do. A skilled spiritual abuser armed with a code of religious oughts and should can exercise great power over such a person. One who is already vulnerable to manipulation through shame is made more so as heavy religious burdens pile up. (pg 128)

**Yes, we sin, and yes, we must live in daily repentance. But we repent not only for our sin and failure but also for our righteousness and success. It is not just our vices that need forgiveness but also our virtues, because all we do falls short of perfection. Our performance, good or bad, has nothing to do with God’s acceptance of us. We are either equally saved in Christ or equally lost outside of Christ. Grasping this good news frees us from debilitating shame. (pg 130)

**The tragedy, then, is that church leaders who preach the law as a means of manipulation and control actually rearm the devil in his work of accusation. What Jesus accomplished on the cross is effectively reversed by religious legalism. Or, as Paul explains in Galatians 4, when we come back under religious law, we actually come back under the demonic influences we were once rescued from. (pg 132)

**No amount of submitting to authority, dying to self, praying to God or giving to an organization will clear a guilty or shamed conscience. All these works are vain attempts to get even with our conscience and are what the writer of Hebrews appropriately terms “dead works.”…Religious performance cannot assuage guilt, because no amount of self-effort can ever atone for sin…The writer to the Hebrews insists the only cure for guilt (real and imagined) and the shame that makes us vulnerable to spiritual abuse is the blood of Christ. (pg 132 & 133)

**One of the major indicators of an abusive church is the difficulty people face in leaving it. Jesus made it easy for people to leave him. The back door was always open. Leaders who truly follow Jesus also allow people to go when they choose to. Abusive leaders, on the other hand, erect significant obstacles to deserters…Sometimes the most loving thing we can do for abusive leaders is to leave them. Sometimes the most humane act is to let an abusive church die. If you must leave an abusive church, you may go through a painful period of anger, depression, even despair. These are normal responses. Take time to take care of yourself. Resist the well-meaning exhortations of friends who tell you to “snap out of ti” in Jesus’ name. If you were hit by a bus, you would need time to recover. Something almost as serious as that has happened to you. Take time. Let yourself heal. Finally, resist the temptation to stay away from church just because of a bad church experience. There actually are more good churches out there than bad ones. Find a church were you can safely tell your story and find healing. Never give up on the church. God doesn’t. (pg 135 & 136)

**Fire cannot pass where fire has already passed. The fire of God’s judgement, the terrible punishment for sin, has already passed through Christ. Now those who are standing in Christ have no judgement or condemnation to fear: because fire cannot pass where fire has already passed. As we arm ourselves with this gospel and hold firm to this faith, we can delight in a clear conscience. (pg 136)

**Abusive leaders oppress and manipulate men and women by tying up heavy loads and laying them on their shoulders (Mt 23:4). They multiply rules and regulations to induce guilt and shame in their followers in order to control them. Non-abusive leaders lift those burdens off, directing their followers to Jesus Christ for rest and for “yokes” that are light and fit well (Mt 11:28-30). (pg 140)