Apologetics Research Resources on Abusive Churches / Spiritual Abuse
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Abusive Churches / Spiritual Abuse

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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.
Source: Churches That Abuse, by Ronald Enroth.

A cult of Christianity is defined as...

...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.
Source: Alam Gomes, Cult: A Theological Definition, excerpt from "Unmasking The Cults"

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.'
Source: Alan Gomes, ''Unmasking The Cults'' Zondervan, 1995, p. 47

See more at our entry on Cults of Christianity


Christian Abusive Churches by Pat Zukeran of Probe Ministries
Christian Churches That Turn Into Cults by Marlene Jones-Skurtu
Christian Authoritarianism in the International Churches of Christ By Dr. Ronald Enroth
Christian Eight Distinctives of an Aberrational Christian Group On NEIRR's site
Christian Elements Of Spiritual Abuse Overview of the seven characteristics of shame-based relationships as presented in "The Subtle Power Of Spiritual Abuse". A Watchman Fellowship article.
Christian Is Your Church Free From Cultic Tendencies - a Checklist From the October, 1991 Spiritual Counterfeits Project Newsletter
Christian The Power Abusers: When follow-the-leader becomes a dangerous game Dr. Ronald Enroth takes a look at "shepherding" and "discipling."
Christian Recovery from Spiritual Abuse By Sharon Hilderbrant, M.A.
Christian "They Told Me That If I Left..." Article by Ron Henzel
Secular Traumatic Abuse In Cults : An Exploration of an Unfamiliar Social Problem By Daniel Shaw. Uses Siddha Yoga as an example of an abusive cult
Christian Uncovering Churches That Abuse Questions that help determine whether or not a church is abusive. From Ronald Enroth's book Recovering from Churches That Abuse
Christian Voices From The Fringe "Former members report the tragedy of churches that drift
into the distorted behavior more expected of a cult." By Dr. Ron Enroth.
Christian What do (Abusive) Churches and Cults Have in Common? Adapted from The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen


Christian Churches That Abuse, by Ronald Enroth. Published by Zondervan. Info and review [Currently out of print]. Read it online.
Christian Exposing Spiritual Abuse: How to Rediscover God's Love When the Church Has Let You Down by Mike Fehlauer
Christian Grace Plus Nothing by Jeff Harkin. Most Bible-based cults and abusive churches twist the Biblical doctrine of grace. Instead, they preach and teach The Law. This book book is highly recommended to those who have been involved in an abusive church - and to anyone who wants to have a better understanding of what grace is all about.
Christian Healing Spiritual Abuse, by Ken Blue. Subtitled, "How To Break Free From Bad Church Experiences." Excellent resource.
Christian Recovering from Churches That Abuse, by Ronald Enroth. Zondervan, 1994. [Currently out of print]
Christian Toxic Faith: Experiencing Healing From Painful Spiritual Abuse
Christian The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse Excellent book by David Johnson, Jeff Vanvonderen. Summary of this insightful book.
Christian Twisted Scriptures by Mary Alice Chrnalogar.

Books: Online

Christian Churches That Abuse + Recovering From Churches That Abuse, by Dr. Ronald Enroth.
Christian The Discipling Dilemma, online 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.
Christian The Heresy of Mind ControlPDF file 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.


Christian Surviving Spiritual Abuse [Video] (Part 2) Interview with Dr. Stephen Arterburn, author of Toxic Faith: Experiencing Healing From Painful Spiritual Abuse


» Religion News Blog Apologetics Index's Religion News Blog frequently includes news articles about abusive churches.


Battered Sheep A place of encouragement for sheep who have been wounded and victimized by authoritarian and legalistic churches. Spiritual Abuse Lois Gibson's excellent collection of material and links Recovering from Spiritual Abuse Detailed information. Very helpful site.
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About this page:
Abusive Churches : Spiritual Abuse
First posted: Oct. 9, 1996
Last Updated: Feb. 16, 2010
Editor: Anton Hein
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