Abusive fellowships are often the most exciting Christian gatherings around — filled with dedicated, committed, enthusiastic leaders and members. Do not let enthusiasm and sincerity be the basis for approval. More often than not, abusive fellowships cannot be recognized by mere outward appearance. By discrediting facts, the leaders of such gatherings control information. Leaders may deny these practices — or marginalize them in some way. It is important to investigate any fellowship thoroughly.
Abusive fellowships often change the meaning of words. In these fellowships, “unity” commonly means agreement with the leaders opinions. Members are often told that they are “out of unity” when they disagree with the leaders’ opinions. Healthy fellowships understand that true unity means that
There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope when you were called — one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4)
Every healthy fellowship will have disagreements, and yet be in unity in the Biblical sense as brothers and sisters in Christ.
In healthy fellowships members commonly maintain friendships when friends leave the group. Abusive fellowships tend to view almost everyone who leaves as a backslider and they view most other Christians as not committed or saved. Healthy fellowships do not consistently tell derogatory stories about those who leave.
In healthy fellowships the leaders prove themselves to be trustworthy in order to be trusted. In abusive fellowships the leaders must be trusted because they are the leaders. To not trust them is to sin.
In healthy fellowships we are admonished to imitate the Christ-like virtues seen in others. In abusive fellowships the leaders are imitated in many more ways than just their virtues. In fact, members take on many of the personal characteristics (personality) of the leaders in a manner that appears unseemly. This is particularly true of those being groomed for “ministry.”
In healthy fellowships commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ, and to Apostolic teaching, is absolutely necessary. In abusive fellowships members must be equally committed to the group and to its practices and peculiar beliefs. Some even have members sign “covenant” documents, much like marriage vows.
In healthy fellowships we are exhorted to obey clear Biblical mandates. In abusive fellowships we are exhorted (or pressured) to obey the leaders’ opinions –even when our conscience says “no.”
In healthy fellowships the confession of sins and “bearing of one another’s burdens” is a personal matter that takes place in the context of a larger “family” relationship with other Christians. In abusive fellowships sins are exposed by (or to) leaders and pressure is often applied to confess to the group.
In healthy fellowships secrecy and independence in personal matters — before God — are acceptable as long as sins are confessed in private. In abusive fellowships secrecy or independence in personal affairs are scorned, and all areas of life are to be exposed — even those that do not touch moral issues.
In healthy fellowships we are encouraged to love and bless our enemies. In abusive fellowships showing hatred for our enemies and speaking defamatory of them is acceptable. And often the occasion for “rallying the troops.”
Abusive leaders seldom practice this scripture:
“…when ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered we respond gently…” (1 Cor 4:12, 13)
If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.
1 Timothy 5:19, 20
Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.
In healthy fellowships Matthew 18:15 applies to every member without distinction — you are to go to your brother or sister alone — while 1st Timothy 5:19-20 (a stricter standard) applies to leaders. In abusive fellowships Matthew 18:15 applies to leaders — you are to deal with them alone — instead of 1st Timothy 5:19-20. These latter verses are often ignored, thus preventing two or three from EVER bringing an accusation against a leader in error.
Non-abusive leaders rebuke members only for grave public sins, as a last resort (Matthew 18:17). Abusive leaders often publicly rebuke or ostracize members who simply disagree with leaders’ opinions. Usually vis-à-vis sermon illustrations or applications, etc.
Non-abusive leaders do not encourage people to leave the fellowships because of differences of opinion. Abusive leaders often assume the right — unilaterally — to tell or encourage members who do not agree with leaders’ opinions to leave the fellowship.
Non-abusive leaders do not view members as “lacking spiritually” simply because they do not participate in numerous fellowship activities. Abusive leaders view as “spiritually lacking” those who fail to attend most all their fellowship activities. Some even mandate the number of meetings members MUST attend.
Non-abusive leaders do not discourage members from reading information critical about the group. Abusive leaders often control negative information about the group by either discrediting it or by dissuading members not to read it.
Non-abusive leaders do not judge your hearts, but they leave that to God. Abusive leaders constantly judge hearts, motives, and intents. They basically assume — rather, usurp — the place of God.
Note: This has been adapted from the pamphlet Discerning A Healthy Church, ©1998 Control Techniques, Inc. For more information, or to obtain a copy of the original, unedited version, they can be reached at:
Control Techniques, Inc.
P. O. Box 8021
Chattanooga, TN 37141-8021
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