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But this book by Johnson and Vanvonderen is different. Drawing upon years of ministry experience as pastor and counselor (respectively), they examine the fine line between Biblical leadership and abuse. Without mentioning groups or demonizing those involved, they discuss how well-intentioned leadership can have abusive effects. This "high road" approach is highly helpful in identifying some of the critical factors that have led to harsh and harmful leadership in churches. -- Marks of a Spiritually Unhealthy Environment: For example, the authors identify the marks of a spiritually unhealthy system. I'd like to include these here as a sample of how the authors address these issues. (The following consists of verbatim citations of copyrighted material from Chapter 5,6 of "The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse.") -- 1. Power-Posturing: Power-posturing simply means leaders spend a lot of time focused on their own authority and reminding others of it, as well. They spend a lot of energy posturing about how much authority they have and how much everyone else is supposed to submit to it. The fact that they are eager to place people under them-- under their word, under their "authority"-- is one easy-to-spot clue that they are operating in their own authority. -- 2. Performance Preoccupation: In abusive spiritual systems, power is postured and authority is legislated. Therefore, these systems are preoccupied with the performance of their members. Obedience and submission are two important words often used. The way to tell if someone is doing the right thing for the wrong reason is if they are keeping track of it. Let's say that another way. If obedience and service is flowing out of you as a result of your own dependence on God alone, you won't keep track of it with an eye toward reward, you'll just do it. But if you're preoccupied with whether you've done enough to please God, then you're not looking at Him, you're looking at your own works. And you're also concerned about who else might be looking at you, evaluating you. What would anyone keep track of their godly behavior unless they were trying to earn spiritual points because of it? For many reasons, followers sometimes obey or follow orders to avoid being shamed, to gain someone's approval, or to keep their spiritual status or position intact. This is not true obedience or submission, it is compliant self-seeking. When behavior is simply legislated from the outside, instead of coming from a heart that loves God, it cannot be called obedience. It is merely weak compliance to some form of external pressure. -- 3. Unspoken Rules: In abusive spiritual systems, people's lives are controlled from the outside in by rules, spoken and unspoken. Unspoken rules are those that govern unhealthy churches or families but are not said out loud. Because they are not said out loud, you don't find out that they're there until you break them. The most powerful of all unspoken rules in the abusive system is what we have already termed the "can't talk" rule. The "can't talk" [rule] has this thinking behind it: "The real problem cannot be exposed because then it would have to be dealt with and things would have to change; so it must be protected behind walls of silence (neglect) or by assault (legalistic attack). If you speak about the problem, you are the problem. -- 4. Lack of Balance: The fourth characteristic of a spiritual abusive system is an unbalanced approach to living out the truth of the Christian life. This shows itself in two extremes: Extreme Objectivism - The first extreme is an empirical approach to life, which elevates objective truth to the exclusion of valid subjective experience. This approach to spirituality creates a system in which authority is based upon the level of education and intellectual capacity alone, rather than on intimacy with God, obedience and sensitivity to His Spirit. Extreme Subjectivism - The other manifestation of lack of balance is seen in an extremely subjective approach to the Christian life. What is true is decided on the basis of feelings and experiences, giving more weight to them than what the Bible declares. In this system, people can't know or understand truths (even if they really do understand or know them) until the leaders "receive them by spiritual revelation from the Lord" and "impart" them to the people. In such systems, it is more important to act according to the word of a leader who has "a word" for you than to act according to what you know to be true from Scripture, or simply from your spiritual growth-history. As with the extreme objective approach, Christians who are highly subjective also have a view of education-- most often, that education is bad or unnecessary. There is almost a pride in not being educated, and a disdain for those who are. Everything that is needed is taught through the Holy Spirit. ("After all, Peter and Timothy didn't go to college or seminary...") -- 5. Paranoia: In the church that is spiritually abusive, there is a sense, spoken or unspoken, that "others will not understand what we're all about, so let's not let them know-- that way they won't be able to ridicule or persecute us." There is an assumption that (1) what we say, know, or do is a result of our being more enlightened that others; (2) others will not understand unless they become one of us; and (3) others will respond negatively. In a place where authority is grasped and legislated, not simply demonstrated, persecution sensitivity builds a case for keeping everything within the system. Why? Because of the evil, dangerous, or unspiritual people outside of the system who are trying to weaken or destroy "us." This mentality builds a strong wall or bunker around the abusive system, isolates the abusers from scrutiny and accountability, and makes it more difficult for people to leave-- because they will then be outsiders too. While it is true that there is a world of evil outside of the system, there is also good out there. But people are misled into thinking that the only safety is in the system. Ironically, Jesus and Paul both warned that one of the worst dangers to the flock was from wolves in the house (Matthew 10:16, Acts 20:29-30). -- 6. Misplaced Loyalty: The next characteristic of spiritually abusive systems is that a misplaced sense of loyalty is fostered and even demanded. We're not talking about loyalty to Christ, but about loyalty to a given organization, church, or leader. Once again, because authority is assumed or legislated (and therefore not real), following must be legislated as well. A common way this is accomplished is by setting up a system where disloyalty to or disagreement with the leadership is construed as the same thing as disobeying God. Questioning leaders is equal to questioning God. "We Alone Are Right" There are three factors that come into place here, adding up to a misplaced loyalty. First, leadership projects a "we alone are right" mentality, which permeates the system. Members must remain in the system if they want to be "safe," or to stay "on good terms" with God, or not be viewed as wrong or "backslidden." - Scare Tactics - The second factor that brings about misplaced loyalty is the use of "scare tactics." We're already seen this in some of the paranoia described in the last section. Scare tactics are more serious. This is more than just the risk of being polluted by the world. We have counseled many Christians who, after deciding to leave their church, were told horrifying things. "God is going to withdraw His Spirit from you and your family." "God will destroy your business." "Without our protection, Satan will get your children." "You and your family will come under a curse." This is spiritual blackmail and it's abuse. And it does cause people to stay in abusive places. - Humiliation - The third method of calling forth misplaced loyalty is the threat of humiliation. This is done by publicly shaming, exposing, or threatening to remove people from the group. Unquestionably, there is a place for appropriate church discipline. In the abusive system, it is the fear of being exposed, humiliated or removed that insures your proper allegiance, and insulates those in authority. You can be "exposed" for asking too many questions, for disobeying the unspoken rules, or for disagreeing with authority. People are made public examples in order to send a message to those who remain. Others have phone campaigns launched against them, to warn their friends and others in the group about how "dangerous" they are. -- 7. Secretive: When you see people in a religious system being secretive-- watch out. People don't hide what is appropriate; they hide what is inappropriate. One reason spiritual abusive families and churches are secretive is because they are so image conscious. People in these systems can't even live up to their own performance standards, so they have to hide what is real. Some believe they must do this to protect God's good name. So how things look and what others think becomes more important than what's real. They become God's "public relations agents." The truth is, He's not hiring anyone for this position. Another reason for secrecy in a church is that the leadership has a condescending, negative view of the laity. This results in conspiracies on the leadership level. They tell themselves, "People are not mature enough to handle truth." This is patronizing at best. Conspiracies also develop among the lay people. Since it is not all right [sic] to notice or talk about problems, people form conspiracies behind closed doors and over the telephone as they try to solve things informally. But since they have no authority, they solve, and solve, and solve-- but nothing really gets solved. And all the while, building God's true kingdom is put on hold. -- Conclusion: I hope that what I have cited gets your attention and motivates you to read this book. The subtle patterns of unhealthy characteristics are discussed in a way that actually helps people identify them, resist them, and recover from them. Copyright © 2000 John Engler. All rights reserved. The Barnabas Ministry [article link]

Pagan Christianity (by Frank Viola and George Barna) Reviewed - Like most reformers, Viola manages to express some valid issues that need attention - He well states the clergy-laity distinction - He is clear about the disastrous domination of clergymen, the official function of "pastors" who enforce denominational creed and tradition, and even speaks with validity against the Charismatic movement and its' impact in modern worship "styles" - I believe there is veneration of religious architecture that can cripple us both spiritually and financially, though Viola goes way beyond questioning an expediency


I understand the "excessive and pathological dependence on the clergy," but I'm not willing to classify all preaching within that condemnation. (This is the same old stuff - human abuse is cited as the reason to cast out something legitimate when used properly.) When we tell people what the Word of God says and challenge the right response, there is no excess or pathology in that! Let's expose and condemn the real problem, without throwing out the legitimate. -- And I'm wondering about something. Frank Viola has written a book. What is it that lifts his book out of the condemned category? What if someone read his book to a group of people (he does affirm his book to be needed truth)? Would the reading of his book stifle spiritual health and create a pathological dependence on his writings or books in general? Nonsense. -- Don't overlook, Viola is a high school teacher. When he speaks to a class in a building with attention focused on him, does he consider that to be an exercise that is passive, tradition bound and pagan? Likewise, he "speaks at church-life conferences!" Apparently the kind of speaking he does he values in some way. Yet he reacts with outrage when someone stands before an audience and directs their attention to the text of Scripture in an orderly form without interruption. This is the excess and decoration of a militant reformer, who is in bondage to his system while attacking another. It is gimmickry and passion born in the contention of a reformers narrow mentality, not based on the content of Scripture. -- Behind the charm and sophistry of these reformers there is an arrogant spirit. Mr. Viola wants us to know that "the NT is not a manual for church practice." Yet, he wants us to be led by "the light that is within you!" When all of that has been said, the footnote on the last page of the book is truly the bottom line. He says in this small print entry: "If you plan to leave the institutional church, I strongly recommend that you read the next volume in this series: So You Want To Start A House Church? First-Century Styled Church Planting For Today. It will give you the next step." -- Unbelievable! He steers us away from the New Testament, then recommends his next book as our next step. Now here is my recommendation. Don't let any man dictate "the next step." Not Viola, Berkley or any man. Open the Bible. Read what it says, and let God direct your steps (Psa. 37:23; 119:133). --- Good Recently Published Resources To Study The House Church Movement: "The House Church Movement," Harry Osborne; in The Renewing Of Your Mind, 2004 Truth Magazine Lectures, GOT Foundation, 2004. "The House Church Movement," Jim Deason; True Worship, 2205 FC Lectures. By Warren E. Berkley The Front Page From Expository Files 13.1 January 2006. [article link]

What is a Protestant [Pro-Witness Christianity] and why the protest - The English word 'Protestant' comes from the Latin and is made up from two words, pro-for, and testari-witness - And it has come to mean to write or speak strongly against - The three fundamental [Pro-Witness] doctrines are: The Protestant goes directly to the word of God for instructions, and to the throne of grace in his/her devotion; while the pious Roman Catholic consults the teachings of his/her church, and prefers to offer prayers through the mediums of the virgin Mary and Saints, (note here that the bible teaches that the dead know not anything and Necromancy, the talking or praying to the dead, is an abomination Ps.106:28; Col.2:8) --- ***From this general principle of evangelical [Biblical Truth] freedom, and direct individual relationship [Believers' Priesthood] of the believer to (Jesus) Christ, comes the three fundamental [Pro-Witness] doctrines of Protestantism: 1.) The Bible only 2.) by Grace only 3.) the general Priesthood of believers -- {Note: Jesus told both the Pharisees and His Disciples (Luke 16:26) that there is a divided dimension "a great gulf" between the living and the dead and that the two groups cannot communicate or interact in any way with each other, because God has a division between the living and the dead. Any interaction with the living that feints interaction as from the dead should be highly suspect as being deceptive in nature and possibly even of demonic origin.}


By the Bible only, is meant that we do not need extra revelations nor dogmas that contradict the 'Holy Word of God'. When the Bishop of Rome was elevated to the throne of Caesar in 538 A.D. as head of the Empire, he continued the same persecution against the Christian Church that Caesar began. See Revelation 17:6 "I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints." (Note here that a woman symbolizes a church and every bible believer is called a saint by virtue of Christ's righteousness being credited to them). Sainthood is not conferred onto the persecutors. [article link]

WHY BAPTISTS ARE NOT PROTESTANTS by Dr. Vernon C. Lyons - The 'Protestant' Reformation is usually dated from October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany - However, this was only one of a series of acts that led to the open rupture with Rome - Protestants date from the sixteenth century (1517) - They are the Lutherans, the Reformed, and others who were once Roman Catholics and left the Roman Catholic faith to start denominations of their own - The Baptists never left the Roman Catholic church as did Luther, Calvin and Zwingli -- **They (Baptists) never left because they were never in -- They did not begin their existence at the time of the Reformation, but hundreds of years prior to the Reformation


Baptists make no effort to trace a historical succession back to the age of the Apesties. Their only claim is that at every age in church history there have been groups that have held to the same doctrines that Baptists hold today. These groups may or may not have been connected and they have been known by various names. There were the Montanists (150 A.D.), the Novatians (240 A.D.), Donatists (305 A.D.), Albigenses (1022 A.D.), Waldensians (1170 A.D.), and the name Anabaptists came into prominence just before the time of the Protestant Reformation. Full historical data immediately refutes the view that there was only one religious group -- the Roman Catholic church -until the time of Martin Luther. Anyone who claims this simply has not done his homework. ... It is also evident that the Baptists were not Protestants because they were fiercely persecuted by the Protestant Reformers and their followers. Uncounted thousands of them lost their goods, their lands, and their lives in these persecutions. Konred Grebel died in prison in 1526. Felix Manz was drowned by the authorities at Zurich in 1527. Noted Baptist leader Baithauser Hubmaier was burned alive at the stake in Vienna March 10, 1528. Three days later his wife was drowned by being thrown over the Danube bridge with a stone tied to her neck. The facts abundantly attest that historically Baptists are not Protestants. [article link]

Methodist [Method Christianity] Beginnings - John Wesley was a priest in the Church of England, but did not have a personally moving experience of the forgiveness of his own sins until May 24, 1738 - He then embarked on a career of bringing others to this experience through preaching, and the organization of small groups for spiritual encouragement - After his death, his followers formed a new Protestant denomination, known as the Methodists [Method Christianity] - Wesley began sending preachers to the American colonies in 1771.As in England, he had a team of lay preachers who rode from society to society, monitoring the beliefs and efforts at holiness of each society member - Because of the hostility of many Americans toward the Church of England following the Revolutionary War, and because of the great distance from England, Wesley allowed Methodists in America to form a separate denomination - At the "Christmas Conference" in Baltimore in 1784-85 Dr. Thomas Coke (who had been ordained as a superintendent or bishop by Wesley) and Francis Asbury formed the Methodist Episcopal Church and began to ordain ministers who could offer the sacraments [Communion] as well as preach


Wesley agreed with the great Protestant Reformers Martin Luther (1483-1546), Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531), and John Calvin (1509-1564) that people were saved by the free grace of God's forgiveness of sin, and that there was nothing one could do to merit such forgiveness-it was simply a gift.This is the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone. -- Wesley's theology was distinctive in that he argued that this justifying grace was preceded by a grace that prepared individuals and allowed them to accept or reject justifying grace freely ("prevenient grace"), and that, in addition to justifying grace, they are given additional grace that leads them on toward a life of sinless perfection ("sustaining grace").Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin had argued that individuals are not free to accept or reject God's grace-if offered, it is an offer that cannot be refused.Further, they argued that though one could not lose this grace, sinless perfection was not possible-though their sins are forgiven Christians always remain sinners. -- Wesley saw his movement as an effort to revitalize the Church of England.He required his followers to attend church services at their local parishes, and he did not allow his lay preachers to administer sacraments.While his use of lay preachers, his willingness to preach not just from pulpits but on street corners and in fields, and his eventual willingness to allow women leadership roles in his movement caused tension with some in the Church of England, Methodism remained part of the Church of England in England for as long as Wesley was alive. [article link]

Primitive Methodist Church - Primitive Methodism began in England, in the early 1800's, as an attempt to restore the Methodist Revival begun under the ministry of John Wesley - In America, Methodist preachers invented a new form of Evangelism, **the Camp Meeting [aka Revival Meetings, Tent Meetings, Evangelism Outreach, Crusades] - On May 31, 1807, these two leaders called for and aggressively promoted [in England] an American style Camp Meeting, an all day prayer, song, and preaching event - Many people were converted to Christ at that meeting, now called: "Mow Cop" - John Wesley [had] won many to Christ preaching outdoors, but the leaders of the [English] Wesleyan church of that day found this [American] innovation unbearable - They firmly refused to allow any of the Mow Cop converts to join their churches - They dismissed Hugh Bourne and William Clowes for their innovation without permission - For two years, these enthusiastic converts waited in vain for acceptance by the established Church - Finally, they decided to form their own society - They named it "The Society of Primitive Methodists" because they desired to return to the Roots of the Methodist movement


OUR BEGINNINGS: Primitive Methodism began in England, in the early 1800's, as an attempt to restore the Methodist Revival begun under the ministry of John Wesley. In America, Methodist preachers invented a new form of Evangelism, the Camp Meeting. Such a preacher, Lorenzo Dow, visited England. He told of many converts being won to the Lord in these outdoor meetings. He spoke of John Wesley, and his Field preaching. Hugh Bourne and William Clowes listened. On May 31, 1807, these two leaders called for and aggressively promoted an American style Camp Meeting, an all day prayer, song, and preaching event. Many people were converted to Christ at that meeting, now called: "Mow Cop". -- At the left is an artist rendition of a rock outcropping of the remains of a castle that is located on the top of a hill that is known as Mow Cop. The artist is Carol Kropp. Her husband is Rev. George Kropp and he is the pastor of the Laurel Run Primitive Methodist Church. You may click on the following link to go to a web site with much information about the hill and castle known as “Mow Cop”, as well as information pertaining to early Primitive Methodism. -- John Wesley won many to Christ preaching outdoors, but the leaders of the Wesleyan church of that day found this innovation unbearable. They firmly refused to allow any of the Mow Cop converts to join their churches. They dismissed Hugh Bourne and William Clowes for their innovation without permission. For two years, these enthusiastic converts waited in vain for acceptance by the established Church. Finally, they decided to form their own society. They named it “The Society of Primitive Methodists” because they desired to return to the Roots of the Methodist movement. In 1829, a group of missionaries arrived in America to minister to English and Welsh Immigrants living in the industrial and mining areas. Their ministries thrived and their Churches grew. On September 16, 1840, the “American Primitive Methodist Church” was established. [article link]

George Whitefield (1714-1770) -- George Whitefield was a renowned English preacher, considered to be much more eloquent that John Wesley - He persuaded John Wesley to preach in the fields - George Whitefield [Calvinism] and John Wesley [Arminianism] did not see eye-to-eye on a theology of grace however - They parted ways but managed, in the end, to maintain a respect for each other in that their hearts were the same in terms of unity in Jesus Christ


George Whitefield and John Wesley did not see eye-to-eye on a theology of grace however. In 1740 Wesley published "Free Grace," saying that God’s grace was extended to all. Wesley rejected the concept of divine election. Whitefield was a Calvinist. He once wrote, "God, himself, I find, teaches my friends the doctrine of election. If I mistake not, my dear and honored Mr. Wesley will hereafter be convinced of it also." -- The two men were never to agree on divine election. Whitefield thought Wesley's was preaching universal redemption whereas Wesley thought Whitefield's preaching implied Christians need not take moral responsibility. They parted ways but managed, in the end, to maintain a respect for each other in that their hearts were the same in terms of unity in Jesus Christ. After Whitefield's death, John Wesley preached a memorial sermon. -- Wesley said: "Let my last end be like his!" How many of you join in this wish? Perhaps there are few of you who do not, even in this numerous congregation! And O that this wish may rest upon your minds! - that it may not die away till your souls also are lodged "where the wicked cease from troubling, and where the weary are at rest!" [article link]

John Wesley (1707-1788) -- English preacher, Theologian and Founder of the Methodist Church

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