Philip P. Eapen
Does your leader ill-treat Church members in the guise of promoting spirituality? If you find any of the signs of abusive churches mentioned here in your church, it’s time you rescued yourself from such an atmosphere! A Summary of Enroth’s book, Churches That Abuse.
I just read Ronald Enroth’s “Churches that Abuse.” For those who may not be able to get hold of Enroth’s book, I have summarized the message of the book. My prayer is that pastors who inadvertently or intentionally lead their churches in abusive ways will repent and adopt a more biblical and Christlike leadership. I hope Christians who find their churches abusive will opt out of such churches without any delay or hesitation.
The author says that he found it very difficult to write this book because it’s all about the negative traits of some abusive churches. If writing negative things is not an easy task, reading such a book is equally difficult. The stories of people who were trapped in abusive churches are so heart-wrenching. The author warns us that the tendency to become abusive is very much real and ever present in the Christian world.
The abusive churches mentioned in the book are in the US. If Enroth had made a trip to India, I am sure he’d have discovered that most congregational churches in India are abusive at least to a certain extent.
How can educated enlightened people get attracted to such abusive churches? How can one continue in an abusive church once they realize that something is amiss there? The answers don’t come easily. One thing to note is, it’s easy for anyone to get caught up in an abusive church. Chances are that people who get sucked in sink deeper in because they tend to ignore the warning signs or ‘lights’ that go off in their minds.
If anyone or more of these signs are seen in a church, you can be sure that it is an abusive church.
Members are encouraged to cut off ties with spouses, relatives and other churches;
In abusive-church situations, the “spiritual family” often displaces the biological family, and church leaders assume the role of surrogate parents;
Some churches keep their members in special homes, cut off from the rest of the world.
ASCETICISM and Rigidity in lifestyle:
In the light of these signs, I would like to point out common abusive practices in many of India’s congregational (Pentecostal, Brethren, Charismatic or non-denominational) churches. My association has largely been with congregational churches of Kerala or Kerala origin. I have seen these signs of abuse in many churches.
Abuse of the Pulpit: Pastors and preachers take pleasure in attacking individuals through sermons, derogatory remarks, twisting of scriptures, etc. to target a person or group;
Anti-intellectualism: Commonplace rejection of logical thinking, higher education; disparaging remarks about those who secure degrees and higher education;
Exclusiveness: Pastors teach members that their local church is superior to all other churches—including those in their denomination! People are encouraged to travel long distances to attend one particular church even though they have churches of the same denomination in their towns/cities.
Autocratic Pastors force congregation to submit to whatever they teach or command. Examples from rebellion are commonly quoted from the Bible (Korah, Miriam) to win unquestioning obedience.
Gag Order: No amount of criticism is tolerated. Members are not expected to question the character, doctrine or judgment of their leaders or founders. People who think differently often keep quiet because they know that it is impossible to force their church to rethink on important matters.
Strict control over matters of personal discretion: Conformity to “acceptable standards” are achieved through pastoral directives and peer pressure.
I know a church where visitors from other churches are not allowed to pray for fear that they might carry “infestation of demonic forces.” Worse still, people are not allowed to pray or sing in a voice that is louder than the pastor’s voice! No one is allowed to question the pastor or his ways.
The list could go on and on!
“Church leaders must be accountable both to God and to the congregations that they lead,” notes Enroth.
“It is important to recognize that leadership depends on followership, and from a truly Christian perspective, that means cooperation with the leader rather than domination and control by the leader. The source of legitimate Christian leadership therefore lies in entrusted authority. The spiritual autocrat, the religious dictator, attempts to compel subordination; the true Christian leader can legitimately only elicit followership.”
“They must strive to exemplify the qualities of our Lord Jesus Christ, ‘that great Shepherd of the sheep.’ Leaders are meant to be facilitators not despots. Their role is essential. But they must use their authority in the way Jesus did.”
Enroth thus makes a distinction between leaders who force themselves on the people whom they lead and leaders who elicit a warm response through good influence.
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Philip Eapen, an environmental scientist by training, devoted his life to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ ever since he realized that the world needs Jesus Christ more than anyone or anything else. Apart from sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, Philip teaches Christians in order to equip them for service. He is supported by donations from readers; he also runs a small ‘tent-making’ business. Philip is married to Dr. Jessimol and they are blessed with three sons and a daughter.
Date: April 1, 2020