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Churches and Cults

I was shown this list a little while back and I kept reading it. It made me think a lot. Many of us call other churches a cult, or we may even hear others call our church a cult. What is a cult? That is something we really need to check with because those who are in a cult don't even know they are in a cult. This does not apply to all who read this, but it is something we need to know to protect ourselves.

Growing in Grace Magazine also listed a wonderful article about the "Culture of Cults." CLICK HERE to read their article!

What do Churches and Cults Have in Common?

Adapted from The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen

[There are] seven characteristics which can be found in most spiritually abusive systems.

Power Posturing
The leaders spend a lot of time focusing on their own authority and reminding others of it as well. This is a necessary trait in such a system because their spiritual authority isn't real or genuine so it has to be postured if there is to be any. The leader subtly replaces Christ or God over one's conscience. A church leader or pastor might say: "In this flock, I'm the chief shepherd!" Such an attitude really assumes the place reserved only for the King of Kings. Christ is the Chief Shepherd and the head of the church. Unhealthy, authoritative leadership encourages people to put their leaders on a pedestal. This type of leader is eager to place people under them and under their word, under their authority.

Performance Preoccupation
In an abusive spiritual system, those running such a system will be preoccupied with the performance of their members: worthiness = performance (often perfectionism).This system doesn't really foster holiness or obedience to God, it merely accommodates the leaders' interpretation of spirituality and his/her need for control. "Out of context, obedience to leaders looks like good theology. Add the larger context and you will see that it is only appropriate to obey and submit to leadership when their authority is from God and their stance is consistent with His" (The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, p. 66). It is not to be lorded over them.

Unspoken Rules
These are rules which govern unhealthy churches or families but are not formally stated or written. Since they are not spoken verbally, you do not find out that the rule(s) exist until you have broken one.The unspoken rule may come across like this: Do not disagree with the church authorities, especially the pastor, or your loyalty will be suspect. Silence becomes the fortress wall of protection, shielding the pastor's power position from scrutiny or challenge. Of the unspoken rules, the “can't talk” rule is probably the most powerful. The thinking of this rule is: The real problem can not be exposed because then it would have to be dealt with and things would have to change, so it must be protected behind walls or silence (neglect or by assault, legalistic attack). If you speak about the problem out loud, YOU ARE THE PROBLEM. In some way you must be silenced or eliminated. A good example of this “can't talk” rule would be the phrase, “touch not the Lord's anointed.” According to John Avanzini, Dr. Walter Martin (a cult apologetic expert) died because he spoke out against some of the Word-Faith teachers and their messages (John Avanzini with Paul Crouch, Spring 1990 Praise-a-thon, broadcast on Trinity Broadcast Network).Speaking up or against spiritual abuse is not the problem. The real problem is if a Christian who feels violated stops talking, then the perpetrator will never be held accountable for his behavior.

Lack of Balance
Many times this characteristic shows up in one extreme or another in trying to live out the truth of Christian life. The first extreme is that of extreme objectivism, which elevates objective truth to the exclusion of valid subjective experience. This can be seen in those whose religious systems theologically acknowledge the Holy Spirit's work but on a practical level appears to ignore Him. All too often this type of extreme limits God to act only those ways we can explain or understand. The second extreme is that of extreme subjectivism, which is deciding what is true based upon feelings and experiences rather than what the Bible teaches. In such a system, people are led to believe that they cannot understand Scriptural truths until the leaders receive them by spiritual revelation from the Lord and impart them to the people.

When the church or family is spiritually abusive, there will be a sense (spoken or unspoken) that "others will not understand what we're about so let's not let them know, that way they won't be able to ridicule or persecute us."In such a system persecution-sensitivity builds a case for keeping everything within the system. The reason is that the evil, dangerous or unspiritual people outside the system are trying to weaken or destroy "us." They go on to say, "This mentality builds a strong wall or bunker around the abusive system, isolates the abusers from scrutiny and accountability, making it more difficult for people to leave because they will then be outside too."

Misplaced Loyalty
In a spiritually abusive system, a misplaced sense of loyalty is fostered and even demanded, loyalty, not to Christ but to an organization, church or leader. Because authority is assumed or legislated, and therefore not real, following must be legislated as well. Included in this is the attitude that "we alone are right,” something the leadership projects. So many groups have this in common. When Hobart Freeman began Faith Assembly (not associated with the Assemblies of God) loyalty to him and his teachings were to be accepted without question.
In such a spiritually abusive system, manipulation certainly takes place, especially in the area of dating and marriage. [Some] leaders of groups keep members in check by forbidding them to date [or controlling whom they may date and when and for how long, and whom they may marry].

There is no reason to hide what is appropriate, only what is inappropriate. When you see people in a religious system being secretive, WATCH OUT!Perhaps one reason spiritually abusive families and churches are secretive is because they are so image conscious. People in these systems cannot even live up to their own performance standards so they have to hide what is real.

Taken from Clete Hux’s adaptation, Posted on: 05/01/2003
Category: Cults / Sects / Non Christian Religions and Topics
Source: CCN


  1. Anonymous said...
    I have personally witnessed cult-like behaviors in churches, as well in families and friendships. Since we're born into a sinful world, we're prone to falling prey to these sins (I know I have) in every type of setting. I think we need to humble ourselves, develop an accountability factor, and have the desire to overcome these sins when they are exposed instead of hiding it behind layers of secrets. Unfortunately, I've seen pride destroy beautiful churches (and relationships) because they won't admit that they've made a mistake, which hinders a closer relationship with the Lord :\
    Sisterlisa said...
    Yes very true. And if someone realizes they are in a 'church' that is predominantly cult-like they need help getting out. They should find someone else who left and get help and support. Most likely they have family who knows but never said anything out of fear of losing their loved one. That would be the first choice to get help from.
    Beth in NC said...
    Very interesting Charlene. Thanks so much for sharing with us!
    Andrea said...
    Very informative post.
    Hope you dont mind. I posted a link to your blog on both of my blogs in friendly links. GOD BLESS, andrea
    Jenn @ A Country Girl's Ramblings said...
    Great informative post!
    Sisterlisa said...
    Yes Martha pride does do that. Why can't people just admit they've done wrong and fix it? especially leadership?
    christy rose said...
    This was very informative. We have just recently been a part of a new church plant. We have founded our church on the message of the Gospel of Jesus and that is all.
    We desire to be real and simple and open and honest to allow people the opportunity to be themselves and learn about Jesus, encouraging them to listen to the Spirit of God inside of them for their direction for their life. The purpose of our life here on this earth is to know Jesus and Him crucified and reveal His glory to the world. Not in any way is it to make a name for ourselves.

    Thanks for sharing this
    Judy said...
    Charlene, thanks for sharing. It is sad when leaders try to make people feel as if they can't read the Bible for themselves and understand it. Also,they have to follow their rules and do so many deeds for salvation.
    Provender said...
    I had never heard of spiritual abuse and certainly didn't think my church was any kind of cult - until families began quietly, and then not so quietly, to leave. I denied all the things you mentioned above until I couldn't deny it any more. The title is right. Spiritual abuse can be subtle. The sheep are conscientiouslly trying to apply each step of Matthew 18 while the wolf is tying his bib and licking his chops. Sometimes you just have to get out fast to keep your family safe.
    Anonymous said...
    There are some very horrible cults out there. I have a friend who told me of a group where the church building is behind barbed wire fences and the people must give a password to gain entry!! It is horrible, and those who see that it is wrong and get out often have mental issues for the rest of their lives :(
    Cassie or Cassandra said...
    thank you for putting this up. it is so accurate that most people don't even realize it is happening to them.
    LisaShaw said...
    Hello Charlene,

    So glad you're back online. Thank you for your comments over at my blog. I pray that you and your boys are doing well in the Lord.

    Keep growing in the faith and God bless you as you draw closer to HIM.

    I love you.
    Today's Christian Mom~ said...
    Hey there! Veru curious as to the comment you left for me. I would love to talk about and learn what you have studied about the rapture. If you get a chance my email is v1122w@yahoo I will check out Matthew 24!
    Sisterlisa said...
    Also, when a believer feels it's time to move on in a different direction in ministry or attend a different group of Believers in fellowship, it's TOTALLY NOT okay for the preacher to tell you that you're WRONG, that you can't contact ANY of your friends in HIS church, and tell you who you can and can't have in your new fellowship (if they are HIS church members).
    Warren Baldwin said...
    Very informative post. The way of cults has no place in the church today but, sadly, b/c of hunger for power and a following, it often does. Good warning here.

    Notice how much freedom Jesus gives his followers. "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." Free from what? Sin, yes. But in the context of John, free from oppressive human systems.

    Good post.

    Note: I linked here from Robins's blog and then Joye's.

    Anonymous said...
    Wow, that's really bad, Sisterlisa - did that happen to you?? What kind of church does that??

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