Sociologists looks for patterns in human behavior and in social institutions. As you read the following pages, a profile of pastoral and spiritual abuse will emerge. Abusive churches, past and present, are first and foremost characterized by strong, control-oriented leadership. These leaders use guilt, fear, and intimidation to manipulate members and keep them in line. Followers are led to think that there is no other church quite like theirs and that God has singled them out for special purposes. Other, more traditional evangelical churches are put down. Subjective experience is emphasized and dissent is discouraged. Many areas of member's lives are subject to scrutiny. Rules and legalism abound. People who don't follow rules or who threaten exposure are often dealt with harshly. Excommunication is common. For those who leave, the road back to normalcy is difficult.
...a group of people, which claiming to be Christian, embraces a particular doctrinal system taught by an individual leader, group of leaders, or organization, which (system) denies (either explicitly or implicitly) one or more of the central doctrines of the Christian faith as taught in the sixty-six books of the Bible.
A wider definition takes actions and practices
into account as well. A movement that appears theologically sound with regard to the central doctrines of Christianity, but whose actions and practices are cultic in nature, can still be considered a cult of Christianity (e.g. International Churches of Christ
Bad doctrine produces bad fruit behaviorally (e.g., Mark 7:7-13; Col. 2:20-23; 1 Tim. 4:1-5; 2 Pet. 2:1; Rev. 2:14-15, 20, 24), which is as true for Christians as it is for cultists. As Van Baalen stated, 'If practice follows from theory, if life is based upon teaching, it follows that the wrong doctrine will issue in the wrong attitude toward God and Christ, and consequently in warped and twisted Christian life.'
See more at our entry on Cults of Christianity
Churches That Abuse
+ Recovering From Churches That Abuse
, by Dr. Ronald Enroth.
The Discipling Dilemma
book on abusive discipling
. Specific focus is the International Churches of Christ, but this book provides lots of general insight into the practice and history of discipling.
The Heresy of Mind Control
By Steve Martin. "Recognizing Con Artists, Tyrants, and Spiritual Abusers in Leadership." This book is no longer in print, but is available in both PDF and as a second-hand published hardcopy
See Counseling Resources
- Includes information on how to select a counselor and/or cult expert. Beware! There are many wolves ready to take advantage of those in need.
» Religion News Blog
Apologetics Index's Religion News Blog frequently includes news articles about abusive churches.