By Rick Becker 28 April 2021
When God delivers people from various forms of deception and apostate movements such as the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) or any other spiritually abusive group, a painful process begins. The transition from living in the clutches of deception, into truth and freedom is a journey fraught with pitfalls. Make no mistake, what people have been through in these movements or by submitting to false teachers is spiritual abuse. Exiting a spiritually abusive church can have severe effects such as PTSD symptoms. Furthermore, although abusive leaders are a false spiritual authority, they represent God to the deceived. Recovering from any spiritually abusive system will be exacerbated unless this distorted image of God is rectified. This article explores three factors that impact those who leave the system:
1. Characteristics – the cultish characteristics of the NAR or any spiritually abusive system.
2. Consequences – the consequences of leaving the NAR or spiritually abusive churches.
3. Cure – the path to wholeness.
Identifying and describing the characteristics will help those who are wondering whether they’re in a “church” that is deceiving or manipulating them. Secondly, they’ll help us understand why the consequences of leaving a manipulative and controlling environment can be severe. Finally, the characteristics and consequences give us an indication of what is needed on the path to recovery.
Any form of authority has the potential to abuse those under its influence and control. Spiritual leaders are in a position to commit spiritual abuse – a form of abuse that’s as damaging as any other. Under the guise of godliness, they manipulate and control their followers in order to fulfill their carnal own appetites – greed, power, lust, etc. Deception and manipulation are a characteristic of cults, but the visible church is as big a platform for predators and narcissists to gratify their sinful desires. “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” Acts 20:28-30.
The characteristics of spiritually abusive churches are similar to the characteristics found in cults – employed to manipulate and control gullible and ignorant followers:
• Teaching that contradicts scripture
The obvious one of course, but sadly not that obvious in the visible church. Careful exegesis of God’s word has been replaced with motivational talks, topical sermons with a few verses quoted out of context, and stories or testimonies. A leader approved by God must be able to rightly divide the word of God (2 Tim 2:15). Failure to do so has dire consequences: “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” 2 Peter 3:16.
• Love Bombing
Cults employ this feigned love to seduce converts. It’s a ploy to gain trust, and once trust is gained manipulation begins in earnest. The goal is never the welfare of the individual, but the welfare of the leaders – their “vision” their narcissistic needs, and of course their greed. In some cases, this love bombing may result in genuine friendships within the group – one of the reasons people are hesitant to leave.
• Blind allegiance to the vision
Cults are built around a personality and their specific teachings or “revelations.” In the contemporary visible church, it’s popular for a ministry to have a “vision” or goals. Members are expected to contribute and be committed to the vision – conveniently given to the leaders by God himself. What fools many, is that the vision will include a form of godliness – to reach the lost, stop human trafficking, influence the nations, transform society, etc. The “vision” is simply a veneer to exploit followers, build the brand, and advance the goals of the leaders.
• Conditional Acceptance
Once love bombing has ensnared someone, the herd mentality sets in. Nonconformity is viewed as rebellion against God or evidence of an inferior faith. This is why some folk will feign various manifestations such as being “slain in the spirit,” or begin to dress, speak and behave like the rest of the herd. It’s very subtle, but the desire for love and acceptance from others causes followers to conform to the group culture.
• Experientialism and deeper spiritual experiences
Every cult claims to have the truth, as well as a closer connection to the divine. The NAR rely heavily on “encounters” with God to prove their spirituality or intimacy with God and justify new revelations. The emphasis is on experiences, feelings, and “hearing from God.” In other words a pragmatic approach to religion – which is why there’s a barrage of new methodologies and an emphasis on tangibly experiencing God.
• The power of suggestion
By creating expectations and then suggesting that something is taking place in the spirit realm (often accompanied by physical manifestations) cults and NAR leaders create the impression that God is in their midst. In NAR and certain Charismatic circles, you will often hear phrases like “the tangible presence of God is in this place” or while laying hands on a person they’ll ask the recipient of prayer “can you feel the heat or tingling sensation?” In the NAR “revival” meetings are advertised months in advance with the assurance that there will be miracles. We’re at the point now where claims of revival or a “new move of God” are made daily. These are all subtle measures to attract followers by suggesting that God’s favour is on the group, and you shouldn’t miss out on what “God is doing.”
• Authoritarian leadership
This is the big one! Many cults begin with an individual who received a revelation or experienced some form of an encounter with “God.” This establishes them as the ones with authority. The NAR is no different – their self appointed “apostles” establish themselves as the ultimate authority by claiming to have a divine mandate to govern the church. Their self appointed “prophets” receive “words from God” – new revelations and ear tickling personal prophecies for the “church” as a whole or as individual members. Through twisting the scriptures and establishing themselves as rulers in the church, they can manipulate and control their followers.
Jesus gave a fitting description of authoritarian leadership, which could be summed up as lordship instead of servanthood:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28
It didn’t take long for this kind of leader to emerge in the early church. John mentions a leader named Diotrephes, the brief text identifies a few characteristics of an authoritarian leader:
“I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.” 3 John 9-10.
Authoritarian leaders love themselves, are unaccountable, slander true leaders in the body, use their position to exclude others, and eventually push them out – excommunicate them. There’s a semblance of accountability in “apostolic” councils and organizations, but they’re nothing less than a pack of wolves licking each other’s coats.
Some Corinthians were deceived by false apostles, and once again a few brief words from Paul describe the characteristics of authoritarian leaders: “For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face.” 2 Corinthians 11:19-20.
Authoritarian leaders are like lords who rule over slaves; exploit and deceive followers; exalt themselves; treat their followers with contempt.
Are you scared of your pastor? Is he full of grace, humble, compassionate, accessible, and willing to answer your questions? If not, you are probably under authoritarian rule.
• Lack of transparency
Despite the appearance of godliness, some issues need to be covered up by abusive leaders and false teachers. Whether it’s the way they deal with valid accusations, the way they handle their finances, or the way they deal with “problem” individuals, information is withheld from ordinary members and followers. This is why it can take years before incidents such as sexual abuse or financial fraud can come to light. Even when they do come to light, and are true, you’ll find that the level of brainwashing has been so successful that some followers cling to their belief that their leader who has fallen into sin is blameless.
• Critical thinking is prohibited
Information control among cults is a common practice, it’s no different in the NAR. NARites are discouraged from reading or listening to any material not sanctioned by their leadership. Closed mindedness ensures that adherents are isolated from the truth. Anything or anyone with the potential to expose the teachings or leaders is censured. Those who dare question the motives or teachings of leadership are accused of having a “critical” or “religious” spirit. To entertain any critique is viewed as treason. Any critique or opposition is incorrectly viewed as persecution.
• Emphasis on giving
Members are coerced into giving their time by “serving” in various capacities. Worship band, hospitality, and other voluntary positions ensure the operation is attractive and runs smoothly. The bonus for the man or woman in charge is that they can cut operational expenses – which means more money for them. This is one of the primary motivating factors that drive false teachers – greed: “And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” 2 Peter 2:3.
“For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.” Titus 1:10-11.
Some “churches” dedicate a mini-sermon during each service to tithing. Malachi 3 is twisted out of context in order to justify “giving your tenth to the church.” Negative and positive means are employed to manipulate people into giving. If you don’t tithe, you supposedly open up the door for demonic attack, sickness, and poverty – but if you do tithe, God is going to bless you financially.
Quite a broad topic with implications that present themselves in different forms. The most dangerous of which is any methodology that nullifies the work on the cross and conflates the law and gospel. When it comes to group dynamics – adherence to the rules, spoken or unspoken, is non-negotiable.
• Unhealthy dependency
By establishing themselves as mediators between God and their followers, abusive leaders cultivate an environment where followers are dependent on them. Followers trust their leaders to: interpret scripture; give direct words from God; provide some form of spiritual protection; and give guidance in personal matters.
• Manipulation and Control
While promising freedom and solutions to every imaginable problem, cults, and false teachers lead adherents into greater bondage and deception. Once they have established their authority and instilled a toxic dependency, they’re able to get what they want from followers through manipulation. They employ negative and positive means – punishment from leadership who may also insinuate that God is equally displeased and may take action if you refuse to submit, or recognition from leaders and blessing from God if you submit and obey their teachings.
• Unhealthy accountability
A form of unhealthy accountability known as the Heavy Shepherding Movement emerged in the seventies. This intense discipleship movement caused untold damage in the lives of thousands. Leaders had the power to determine where you could work, stay, and even who you could marry. It’s naive to think that manipulative and controlling measures began or died with that movement. Under the guise of “discipleship,” controlling leaders are able to mould their followers into subservient vessels. Naturally, there’s a form of discipline meted out to those who have broken the rules or threatened the leadership in some way. What masquerades as biblical discipline is actually abuse that’s solely punitive, with the goal of getting the individual to conform to the group’s rules. Biblical church discipline is restorative, with the goal of getting the individual to conform to scripture.
Abusive leaders never take accountability….for anything. When issues arise, the problem is always with the individual – not the teachings or leaders of the group/church. When an individual fails to get healed from sickness, the lack lies at their end of the equation – unconfessed sin, lack of faith, etc. When tithing faithfully does not bring financial increase – the problem is a lack of faith, sin, or not giving enough. When the individual does not experience the supernatural or speak in tongues – they are told to hunger more, have more faith, deal with sin in their lives, etc. If an individual questions certain incidents, teachings, the way finances are managed, or the motives of leaders – they’ll find themselves being accused of ignorance, bad motives, or operating out of “hurt.”
• Untouchable leaders
The “apostles” who govern the church, and the “prophets” who receive “revelation” are the untouchables on top of the NAR food chain. To question them is to question God. After all, they are the ones with intimacy with God and receive direct revelation. Followers are threatened – “Touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm!” This verse is taken out of context, but effective in subduing those who dare to test all things. Leaders are shielded from those deemed to be “problematic” by sub-leaders who have been trained to deal with dissenters.
• Charismatic personality
Apart from commitment to an ideology, followers are equally committed to a personality. The cult of personality has replaced the biblical qualifications for church leaders. People are drawn to eloquent speakers, vibrant leaders with a positive attitude, and people who tell them what they want to hear: “For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.” Romans 16:18.
• Spiritual elitism
Their group is the only group that has the whole truth and correct methodology which produces an us-versus-them mentality. “Churches” in the NAR believe they are on the “cutting edge” of what God is doing in the earth. They are the ones with power, they are the new breed of “revivalists” that will usher in the kingdom of God. They are the ones receiving direct revelation from God. They are the ones experiencing revival. They are the ones experiencing signs and wonders – as opposed to the “dead” people with a “spirit of religion.”
The “us versus them” mentality permeates various relationships. Unhealthy accountability, unhealthy dependency, and spiritual elitism are a toxic trio that causes followers to resist any outside voices. Genuine concern and any attempts at intervention from family members, friends, or colleagues are dismissed as “persecution” by ignorant people who don’t have spiritual truth. Followers are seduced into believing that the group is the only “safe place” for them, alternatively, they are fearful of retribution from God or their leaders if they get too close to outsiders or people with opposing beliefs.
• Shaming and Shunning
Individuals who question leaders or teachings are marked as insubordinate troublemakers. Dissenting or questioning voices are shut down as quickly as possible. Initially, subtle measures are employed to bring the individual back in line. “Counselling” will start in a caring spirit, but without the desired compliance it will soon spiral into accusations, and any personal information the individual may have shared with leaders will be used against them. This information is easily shared with a wider audience in the form of “prayer” for the individual – a form of public humiliation. They may be hinted at, or even named and humiliated from the pulpit. The individual’s experience at “church” will become intolerable. They will be asked to step down from any position they may have and will be ignored after services. They won’t be invited to social events outside of church meetings, and will probably hear of the gossip that’s being spread as a result of the agenda to malign their character.
• Difficult exit
Members who leave are viewed as a potential threat because they may spill the beans. Ex-members can for the first time speak freely about what they experienced, and expose the false teachings of the group. Some of the reasons why people leave: They have seen contradictions in the lives of their leaders, identified false teaching, and realized that what was promised has never materialized. This is not the kind of information the group or leader would like to be made public. Besides that, it’s money walking out the door, and those driven by shameful gain don’t like to lose faithful tithers. The individual who leaves often does so under a cloud of false accusations, and veiled or blatant threats.
The aftermath of leaving a spiritually abusive “church” can be traumatic. There can be mental, emotional, and physical consequences. Many folks will experience symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Anxiety attacks, palpitations, emotional detachment, nightmares, and self-destructive behaviour to name a few. Triggers include – seeing someone from the church you’ve left, a familiar worship song, a certain place, and even a bible. In some cases, these may linger for months, even years after leaving. This can be a severely difficult time for many who feel trapped in a state of hopelessness and confusion. The range of negative emotions can be debilitating – shame, hopelessness, anger, unworthiness, etc. Some of the consequences include the following:
• Grief & loss
It’s difficult to walk away from a movement that you’ve invested in. Years of your life, perhaps all the money you had, and probably the most difficult of all – the friendships, are lost. In addition, what was perceived to be a “spiritual home” is gone.
• Disillusionment, despair & hopeless
This is the initial response when you realize that what you’ve been chasing after, or dedicated yourself to is empty and false. False teachers are like waterless springs, clouds without water (2 Peter 2:17).
In the NAR, the overall climate of positivity and expectation fuels deluded followers, who believe the world is getting better and that they’re going to reap the benefits. “Papa God,” your new friend Jesus and Holy Spirit have great things in store for you. You’re going to leave a legacy! You’ve been taught that you can operate in the supernatural like Jesus. You believe that you can operate in any supernatural gift you desire. You hope to be an influencer in one of the seven mountains of society. You’ve been taught that God guarantees wealth and health etc. In addition, anyone coming out of the NAR will know the emphasis on prophetic words in the movement. Some will have received “amazing” ear tickling prophecies regarding their future. Leaving this environment makes you wonder what’s left. Your dreams are shattered, and you don’t know what God requires from you or what his plan for your life is. And possibly the worst blow is the fact that you believe you don’t know how to hear from God. You’ve relied on your leaders to interpret scripture, to give you direction, to give you direct “words from God.” You don’t know where to start looking for answers.
• Identity crisis
Self worth and acceptance in a spiritually abusive environment is based on performance. Without knowledge of what scripture teaches regarding your identity in Christ, you’ll continue to search for purpose and worth in the wrong places.
Various degrees of guilt, and different for everyone. Guilt for thinking it’s all your fault. Guilt for falling into deception. Guilt for isolating friends and family. Guilt for contributing to a “church” that’s deceiving people. Guilt for leading family or friends into the church – some of whom are still involved.
• Fear of divine punishment
Most people will spend some time without any fellowship once they leave an abusive church – it often takes time to find a solid church. One of the fears that torments some during this phase is the consequences of being without a “covering.” They have been taught that submission to their leaders is crucial in that it provides spiritual protection. Now that they’ve “broken covenant” with the “church,” a “hedge of protection” has been removed. They believe they have opened themselves up to demonic attacks or some form of judgement from God.
Still hovering under a cloud of guilt, doubt, and confusion, an individual who blames themselves may feel that they do not deserve healing. This is aggravated by the works based system they’ve escaped from. They feel as if they have to earn God’s forgiveness.
People you loved, trusted, and confided in, suddenly turn their backs on you and despise you. You may feel as if God has betrayed you. You believed you were genuinely seeking him, pursuing a deeper relationship with him, and yet he allowed you to be deceived.
• Confusion & doubt
Reasons for leaving vary, it may be related to an incident where ulterior motives or hypocrisy was exposed. It may be a general sense of something wrong. It may be a specific teaching that you found out was false. Confusion arises when we begin to ask ourselves certain questions. What about the “good” that you experienced? Was God involved during those times you “felt his touch” during meetings? What about the good teachings you received? What if you’re wrong? What makes you think you’re right and hundreds or even thousands of “nice” people are wrong? Maybe you’re the problem? Everyone else in the church seems to be carrying on as usual. They seem happy, they’re prospering, they’re vibrant, they’re experiencing the supernatural, and you’re alone, sad, and feel a million miles from God.
Many will struggle during this time to open a bible, pray, and speak with other believers. Some will reject anything to do with Christianity.
Now that the trust has been broken, you’re never going to put yourself in that position again. You’re done with “church.” You’re not going to “submit” to anyone ever again or share your burdens with someone. You’re done with God.
Naturally, you’re going to feel like a pariah. Rejected by the group, friends you trusted, and without the knowledge of your identity in Christ, this is another painful issue to deal with. The dangerous assumption of course, is that God has in some way rejected you as well.
• Self pity
Betrayal, rejection, loss – these emotions can lead to self pity. Shortly after leaving, you begin processing events in your mind. You try to make sense of it all, and the tendency is to focus on what you have lost, and how you’ve been harmed.
• Bitterness, anger, resentment
Towards yourself, towards the people who have deceived you, and in many cases towards God for “allowing you to be deceived.”
You’ve been shamed and shunned, you feel as if you’re alone in this. Shunning does not only take place within the group but very often continues outside. Ex-members are often penalized for leaving. This is especially difficult for those living in a small community who cannot simply avoid members. In some instances, the church or spiritual “family” are the only friends an individual has. In some cases, people are employed by the church, which means they’ve lost their employment as well. Many burn their bridges when they join the group and feel humiliated when they come out. They’re too embarrassed to reach out to those they distanced themselves from, and restore the relationship. Many will feel alienated from God, yet it’s God they desperately need!
I wish I could give a quick fix to the trauma associated with leaving an abusive church environment, but the reality is that it does take time and it’s going to take a proactive approach to recover. The good news is that God has provided all the spiritual resources you need to recover. As you grow in your knowledge and understanding of scripture, you’ll discover that what you were searching for and never found, was never what you needed in the first place. You’ll discover that in one sense what you were trying to get, has already been given.
For further insight, read Post New Apostolic Reformation Reflections.
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:29-32.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:15-16.
Listed below, are a few of the most important steps we’ll need to take to recover from spiritual abuse. Many of the steps listed here under “cure” are intertwined. You’ll discover that as you grow in one area, another simply falls into place.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2.
There’s usually some truth in NAR “churches,” it’s these snippets of truth and the odd scripture verse thrown in that deceives the biblically illiterate and naive. But the whole lens through which the NAR views scripture is tainted with self. Unsound doctrine needs to be replaced with sound doctrine. You’re going to have to untwist the scriptures and find out what the bible teaches.
Context matters – instead of verses being plucked out of context to suit a narrative, you’ll learn to apply the principles of exegesis to find the real meaning of a verse. Instead of asking – what does this verse mean to me? You ask – what did the author mean, and what is the application? You learn to make the distinction between law and gospel, a prescriptive or descriptive text. False teachings distort our view of God, self, and the devil. The only way to correct them is to turn to the infallible source God has given us:
• THE WORD OF GOD
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” John 17:17.
A main reason why people are deceived is that they don’t know what scripture teaches. By studying the word of God, we can identify errors, which will protect us from being deceived in the future by those who twist the scriptures. Paul warned the Ephesian elders about wolves in the church: “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.” Acts 20:29-31.
Paul does not leave the elders without the means to protect themselves from deception: “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” Acts 20:32.
Are you broken after leaving the NAR or a spiritually abusive church? The word of God is able to build you up!
The word of God is powerful: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” Hebrews 4:12.
Judging from the letter to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2, the elders at Ephesus seem to have taken Paul’s admonition to heart concerning “men speaking twisted things.” The seven churches of Revelation 2 & 3 were actual churches in that day, but the messages to those churches are still applicable to churches and all believers today. This was not a congregation that fell for the various winds of doctrine that swept the early church, and the fruits of Paul’s warnings are clearly stated in Revelation 2: “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.“ Rev 2:2-3.
I cannot emphasize how important studying the word of God becomes on the road to recovery. There is no shortcut to bypassing a diligent study of God’s word. As the Holy Spirit illuminates the word of God, and as we learn to study the word in context, the lies that occupy our minds are replaced with truth. It’s the truth that’s going to help renew our minds, and enable us to deal with the host of negative thoughts and emotions listed under “consequences.” Our distorted views are corrected by studying the various systems of theology. The attributes of God, the nature of man, the covenants, and our identity in Christ – are all essential studies that we should undertake. As we immerse ourselves in the scriptures, with the aid of the Holy Spirit they perform a work in us. We are given instructions, strengthened, healed, and equipped. Nothing is missing from scripture, it contains all the information we need to be complete: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”2 Timothy 3:16-17.
• THE COMFORTER
“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever“ John 14:16.
If we have come out of a church environment that’s made us dependent on others in the wrong sense, we may struggle to go directly to God in times of need. We’re used to a mediator – a “prophet” or “apostle” or someone whose “intimate” with God. They have become our “helpers,” our connection to God. But God has given us a helper that never fails, never disappoints, and who sustains and supports us in our broken state – the Holy Spirit: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27.
We can take comfort in the fact that the one who opened our eyes to deception, will not abandon us and leave us floundering.
Every believer has the Holy Spirit dwelling in them (1 Cor 6:19; Rom 5:5; 8:9) and he can open our eyes to the spiritual inheritance we’ve received in and through Christ: “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” 1 Cor 2:12-13.
Every believer is anointed. That will sound strange to those who have come out of the NAR. Anointing in NAR circles is associated with select people – “apostles and prophets,” or those who operate in the “supernatural.” It’s also tied to a specific moment – where God’s power is present to heal, an anointed time during worship, etc. But the truth is that we are all anointed, and the irony is that the anointing protects us from the deceiving apostles and prophets in the NAR: “I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.” 1 John 2:26-27.
This is not some mystical concept that causes us to “take risks,” come up with new revelations, or abandon shepherds and teachers in the church. In fact, John was doing exactly that by writing his letter – teaching believers. What it does mean is that all believers have the Holy Spirit working in them, illuminating the truth contained in scripture.
We can take comfort in the fact that God, in three persons, is for us, and with us:
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” 2 Cor 13:14.
• SPIRITUAL WARFARE
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” Ephesians 6:10-11.
The believer lives on a permanent battlefield. Escaping the NAR or any other abusive church is a skirmish in a lifelong battle against the schemes of our enemy. A massive part of the NAR is “putting out” the devil – binding, rebuking, and commanding Satan or demons. But true spiritual warfare is really about “putting on” in order to resist. The armour that God has provided for this spiritual battle must be appropriated in order to stand.
“The schemes of the devil” – Take your eyes off the men and women who have hurt you, and consider the unseen forces driving the schemes that destroy. People are not the real enemy:
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12-13.
The weapon of offense is the word of God, not the spiritual warfare methodologies of the NAR. This is why we must know the scriptures, and have a correct understanding of their application! Once you have a biblical understanding of spiritual warfare, you’ll be able to “stand against the schemes of the devil.”
Previously, you were probably taught to rebuke various spirits – depression, poverty, cancer, sneaky squid spirit…virtually anything qualifies as a spirit in the NAR. But girded with the truth, you resist:
“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:7.
“The schemes of the devil” – that is our combat, not the devil or demons:
“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,” 2 Corinthians 10:3-5.
In addition to the six pieces of armour, we are instructed to pray in the Spirit. That does not mean praying in tongues as some assume, but praying with the help of the Holy Spirit, and in line with the word of God (Rom 8:15, 26; Gal 4:6; Jude 20). In the NAR, this prayer will include unbiblical “spiritual warfare” – binding, rebuking, and commanding evil spirits. But the purpose of the prayer is revealed in Paul’s request for prayer to the Ephesian church – “and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.” – vs 19.
When temptations or accusations come from any source, we pray, stand firm, resist and respond with “it is written…”
“and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Matthew 6:12.
When we understand the spiritual aspect, the battle in the unseen realm, that people are not the real enemy, forgiveness falls into perspective. It’s always going to be difficult to forgive those who have betrayed us, but recognizing that our real enemy is not flesh and blood is liberating.
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32.
Forgiveness is not optional, and any unforgiveness is always detrimental. Forgiving those who hurt us is not a denial of what took place – it’s a recognition of what took place 2000 years ago: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8.
A practical way to deal with any bitterness and unforgiveness we have towards those who have hurt us is to pray for them. Pray for their eyes to be open to deception – just as yours were. God may very well provide you the opportunity in the future to be a vessel that plucks them from the web of deceit.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24.
A principle that runs throughout scripture, is that of self examination (Gal 6:3-4; Romans 12:3; 1 Cor 11:28; 2 Cor 13:5). Once we’ve recognized the deception others have fallen into, we need to examine ourselves. What were the lies we believed? Were we seduced by teachings that offered us health, wealth, and supernatural powers? What was the itch in our ears that caused us to fall into deception? Were we just too lazy to compare what was being taught with scripture? God who is faithful to open our eyes to deception without, continues the work and exposes the deception within. The reason is not to condemn us, but to set us free. If we fail to deal with our own hearts and identify the sin or area of ignorance that led us into deception, we may find ourselves in another deceptive movement or group after leaving the NAR.
If we are convicted of any sin then we need to repent and ask God for forgiveness.
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:7-9.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28.
Examining ourselves will help us gain perspective. We realize that not only has God saved us from others who deceived us, but from ourselves. In the NAR a “good God” always heals diseases, prospers you financially, lets you perform greater miracles than Jesus, and elevates your status in this world. It’s all about YOU – “papa” God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit will partner with you to make your dreams come true. Once you exit, you’ll learn it’s all about Christ. One of the means God employs to accomplish this, is through our afflictions. God uses them to expose our own sin, expose the error and deception that captivated us. A good God uses afflictions as a means to conform us into the image of his son. A good God draws us to himself. A good God allows earthly losses to ensure spiritual and eternal gain. A good God can work all things “together for good.”
God comforts us in our afflictions, and in turn, we become a vessel of comfort for those enduring afflictions: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.
The right perspective enables us to focus on the gains instead of the losses. The right perspective allows us to stop mourning what we’ve “lost,” and celebrate what we’ve gained. The earthly losses from walking away from an abusive “church” cannot be compared to the spiritual gains. Bitterness turns to gratitude when we realize that God plucked us out of a path that leads to destruction. The wasted years can become valuable lessons. The deceit in our own hearts is revealed. We may have lost time, money, and friendships, but we have gained the truth, and in some cases actually been saved.
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Philippians 3:7-9.
“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,” Philippians 3:13.
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25.
Wolves are masquerading as shepherds in the visible church, but don’t let wolves rob you of true shepherds. There are also ignorant, unqualified, and immature believers – ordinary members or in leadership positions that can cause great damage. But, there are wise, qualified leaders and mature believers in the body of Christ that will equip you, build you up in the faith, and help you in the process of restoration and healing. When it comes to church leadership, there are specific checks and balances in scripture that enable us to determine whether they are trustworthy. The qualifications for a pastor are not limited to rightly dividing the word of truth. In some cases, people who have fled from the NAR find themselves in a church where the doctrine is sound, but the pastor is not. It’s not just the message that counts, it’s the man who delivers the message – life and doctrine (1 Timothy 3:1–7 & Titus 1:5–9).
Wolves are like lords who rule over slaves; exploit and deceive followers; exalt themselves; and treat their followers with contempt (2 Cor 11:19-20). But God has given gifts to members of his body who are able to teach and disciple others. They are there to serve the body, point to Christ, and rightly divide his word. Compare Paul’s description of wolves, to true shepherds in the body – they are servants, not Lords, they build up, they don’t destroy:
“Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.” 2 Corinthians 1:24.
“Look at what is before your eyes. If anyone is confident that he is Christ’s, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we. For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed.” 2 Corinthians 10:7-8.
Peter provides a contrast between good and bad leaders: “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” 1 Peter 5:2-3.
Paul is an example of the kind of leader we should be searching for:
“For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” 1 Thessalonians 2: 5-12.
What If you find yourself in the position where you’ve left, and are still in the process of finding a church that teaches sound doctrine? Thankfully there are many free online resources that you can utilize. Commentaries, articles, support groups, and recorded and live teachings are available. There are instances (which will probably become more prevalent) where individuals have no alternative. Some live in isolated places or small communities with no other option available. Apart from online resources, an option is to find like minded believers in the community and meet together in homes for bible studies, prayer, watching online messages together, and fellowship.
• TRUST GOD
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6.
The big danger of the consequences of spiritual abuse is that false teachers and abusive leaders become a representative of God to their followers. They have become the model of spiritual authority, and if the model is corrupt, the impression is that the ultimate authority – God, is just as corrupt. As a result, their victims project their feelings onto God. In short, they blame God. But it’s not God who has disappointed them or abused them, it’s corrupt leaders. Making this distinction is crucial in order to trust God – because only God can bring restoration.
If abusive leaders portray a false representation of God, the obvious solution is to correct the distorted image of God. As previously stated, many of these steps are intertwined. As we grow in our knowledge of God through the scriptures, we’ll learn that he is faithful, trustworthy, loving, and has provided all we need for our recovery. When you were unfaithful towards God, he remained faithful towards you, he delivered you from deception.
While the consequences of leaving a spiritually abusive environment can be traumatic, there is hope! God has rescued you from deception! God has provided all you need to recover – his word, his Spirit, his body of believers.
If you have any questions, or need support regarding this matter, please contact me via email – [email protected]