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Marks of Abusive Religious Groups
By Rev. Keith Gibson

Often in cult ministry we focus on groups that deny central aspects of the Christian faith such as the Trinity, deity of Christ, salvation by grace etc. Many Christians believe that if they simply look at a doctrinal statement, they will be able to spot potentially harmful organizations. Such may not be the case. There are many groups, such as University Bible Fellowship and International Church of Christ which look very good on paper but are involved in practices that can prove spiritually damaging. Our Kansas City office has recently become involved with one such group. It is important that believers are able to move beyond the doctrinal statements to recognize other telltale signs of danger.

Elitism. Abusive religious groups see themselves as a cut above all others. Whether this manifests in a belief that they are the only true church or merely that they are the most dynamic and committed, other churches are viewed with suspicion and disdain.

Manipulation. Following closely on the heels of the elitism are subtle practices of manipulation. Most of the time, this is accomplished by limiting options. An easy way to understand this concept is to picture a rat in a maze. Though no one physically touches the rat to move it in a particular direction, the choices the rat is given are so limited that its course is essentially predetermined. Similarly, alternatives are presented to the member in such a way that only one choice is really possible. For instance, “Do you want to be wholehearted for Jesus or continue to love the world and run track?”. Obviously no one wants to be thought of as loving the world. But the thought is never allowed that the member might be able to glorify God by using God-given athletic abilities. By presenting the alternatives in this way, the leader of the group is able to conform the behavior of the members into his/her ideal. At the same time, the member feels like he/she is the one who made the decision. Thus it is not uncommon for members to protest that they are not being coerced. “I chose to quit track. No one made me do it.” Technically, they are right. However, the pressure applied made conformity inevitable, especially if one has already bought the message that this is the only true church.

Commitment to God = Commitment to Group. In abusive groups a subtle switch is made that causes commitment to the activities and beliefs of the group to equal commitment to God. This may be extremely difficult to spot at first because most of us express our commitment to God through faithfulness and ministry in our local church. The difference is one of degree. Imagine a student in college. Abusive groups may ask the student to lead small-group studies on multiple nights of the week. Other nights may be consumed with gatherings of the entire group and leadership training. On weekends the group has evangelistic outreach activities and of course there are regular special emphasis weeks. The student may find that their class work or family life is suffering under the burden. However, if he questions the amount the group is requiring he will be told he needs to stop loving the world and go wholeheartedly after God. Never is the thought allowed that God may actually want him to study or spend time with his family.

Rigidity. In abusive groups everything is black and white. There are few areas of conscience in which Christians can legitimately disagree. Related to this is a heavy emphasis on works. These groups rob members of intimacy with God for one can never do enough, sacrifice enough, follow the rules close enough to be sure that God has been satisfied. Many of the members of these groups live in a morbid self-reflection, consumed with worry over whether or not God can accept them today. Some members of the group, especially those who are new or close to the leadership, may actually feel that they ARE keeping all the rules. These members tend to become very judgmental of others in the group they perceive to be weaker. One young man, when I questioned why he had pressured another member to cut his hair a particular way, responded coldly, “Well I was worried about _____ because it didn’t look like he had left enough behind to me.”

Much more could be said including the use of guilt, milieu control and a host of other characteristics but the sample above should give the discerning Christian a foundation for recognizing the practices of spiritually abusive groups. Paul Martin has called these signs, “the footprints of the wolf”. In order for us to protect ourselves and our families one thing is certain, we must look deeper than the doctrinal statement.

Rev. Keith Gibson

http://www.arcapologetics.org/articles/article12.htm

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Familiar Spirits

I was trying to figure out how many times that I had preached at my former church and I think that I have over 1,000 times not counting revivals and mission trips plus the Monday nights in Tuscaloosa. In addition to that, I also have attended hundreds of charismatic church services and sat in class every day for two years in a Charismatic seminary.

I have a tremendous amount of experience in the Charismatic Movement which is based on the Gifts of the Holy Ghost. In the Charismatic church you have the running, dancing, falling out, tongues messages, mail readings, supposed faith healings, words from God, personal prophecies, words of wisdom and on and on. It is a common experience in the Charismatic church to have someone come up to you and speak into your life. I have had this happen to me so many times that I cannot remember. I have had dozens of church members and ministers come up to me and say, “God told me to tell you…………….” or “Thus saith the Lord………..”.

Think about it. Joe the plumber comes up to you at church and tells you that Almighty God Lord Jehovah has personally spoken to him about your personal life. Or you walk into a meeting and the prophet calls you to the front and starts telling you, in front of everyone, your junk. I have had more than one prophet “read my mail”. It use to fascinate me how these people were able to hear from God.

Trouble is that I became close and intimate friends with several people that moved in the gifts. One person told me that they could “read people’s mail” even before they were saved. My wife Coni can do it. That’s one reason why I could never cheat on her. She would know. She knows everything it seems.

But is she hearing from the Holy Spirit or a familiar spirit? I had another popular minister tell me that his ministry was partly “Mental” which was his way of saying he manipulated people. Often in the prayer line he would grab people by their head and scream JESUS. It would scare the crap out of them. The adrenalin rush would over ride the symptom, and he knew it. He had a routine, of putting pressure on people by standing them up and asking if they had been healed. Of course, peer pressure and manipulation would influence them to testify that they had been healed. I have been to this ministers meetings many, many times and have never seen a single real healing outside of a stomach ache.

I have had other minister friends look me right in the eye and tell me exactly what was going on in my life. In each case, I can debunk what happened. My personal life is all over the Internet. I have been on TV and in the papers. I always shared my heart from the pulpit, and my Cd’s are all over the world. It would be very easy to read my mail.

I firmly believe that much of what happens in the Charismatic church is emotion, learned behavior, peer pressure, mass hysteria and fearfully, Familiar Spirits.

I did a word study on Familiar Spirits. You can Google it and read many articles. Familiar comes from a Latin word that means family. It was thought that certain sorcerers, witches and wizards could have a household spirit to help them with charms, healings and knowing mysteries. This is in the Bible too. Familiar comes from the Hebrew word “OB” which means: a leather vessel, like a wine pouch. They believed that people could be vessels to spirits.

I believe that many people in the Charismatic Church have opened themselves up unto demonic deception and activity by seeking words from Prophets and such. I believe that it is a dangerous thing, to have a mere man tell you that he is speaking on the behalf of God with personal information about your life. These situations are almost always in a public setting.

I wonder, if I have the Written Word of God and the Holy Spirit living inside of me, why should I listen to what some yahoo has to say to me? I will not receive any “word” from anyone. I will receive biblical preaching, biblical counseling, biblical teaching, but I will never ever again subject myself to the mutterings of so called and self anointed prophets.

I know many people who are wasting their time holding on to some word some preacher gave them about something. I met one minister that pastors 30 people in a country church. He has had 30 people for like 30 years.

Nothing wrong with that, but he got up in front of us and said that God told him he would have a thousand people in his church. Well, he is getting on up there in years, so I hope it happens in a hurry. I have seen so much abuse and manipulation in this movement. Oh I wish I had a dollar for everyone that has told me that God has spoken out loud to them. I would build a mega church in Sudan! I could write about this subject all night long. more later.

http://faithpreacher.blogspot.com/2008/10/familiar-spirits.html

 

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