7 For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction insound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
In reference to the above scripture, authors David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen in their book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, have this to say:
10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, sincethey are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. (Titus 1:7-11)
This passage opens to us the additional problem of placing heavy performance weights upon struggling people by means of misusing or abusing Scripture.
Instead of using the Word as a sword to pierce through the thoughts and motives of their own hearts, many spiritual leaders have used it as a stick to drive others, for a variety of reasons: to keep others from holding them accountable; to protect their image; to uphold a doctrine they have based a whole ministry upon; to keep funds coming in; to build religious kingdoms in order to bolster their own spiritual self-esteem. In other words, it's possible that some leaders teach the Word for personal gain, not to heal and to free.
One of the primary purposes of this blog is to identify spiritual abuse. Just as I used Google search engine to educate myself years ago, others are also searching and stumble across my blog looking for answers. I want them to be able to quickly find answers to their questions and also provide resources: Spiritual Abuse Help.
I would like to solicit your help. If you know of any verses that pastors misuse in order to control or abuse, please pass them my way. I'd like to compile a list of these verses and add them to the resource page. I think it will be very eye-opening for those who are struggling with spiritual abuse to see this list and discover that their pastor has used verses inappropriately. Hebrews 13:17 is a biggie used by many controlling pastors. If there was a way to track this information, I have a hunch that this verse would be the most popular misused scripture.
I have often said that spiritual abusers must go to the same school to learn this stuff because they use the same verses to abuse, same control tactics. I feel a little guilty putting this list together publicly, because leaders from CSAS (Creepy Spiritual Abuse School), might steal it and use it as their core curriculum, but I'll have to take that risk. Many spiritual abusers are narcissists who do not believe they are abusing to begin with, so they probably wouldn't look up spiritual abuse, or if they do, they are projecting and accusing others of spiritual abuse.
My objective here is to note the verses and then maybe in another post we can look at the patterns we see in the verses: the patterns to obtain control, the patterns of shaming, elevating a position of status, etc.
I haven't mentioned it in a while, but want to throw this out there again. When pastors use the Bible to abuse, the Bible itself can become an emotional trigger. I no longer personally use NKJV translation. If I read that translation, I can hear the voice of my former pastor on specific verses. The way he used the verses sometimes was not how they were intended and I need to exchange that with truth so I can really hear from God. If you are having difficulty reading the Bible you used at a spiritually abusive church, see what happens if you try a different Bible or translation. If one of God's primary ways of speaking to us is through His Word, find something that works for you.
Here are some posts I have done and comments by readers on scripture used to misuse or exert control over someone:
Verses Misused to Label People Who Question Authority as Divisive
Romans 16:17: Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. NKJV
Pastors use this verse to "mark and avoid" (shun) members they deem are divisive. This is not the correct interpretation. This is really about marking and avoiding false teachers, not congregants. False Teachers Who Mark and Avoid Church Members
Titus 3:10-11: Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.
Verses Pastor Use to Puff up Their Position as Authority
This is one of those verses used to cut off and shun those who are stirring up problems. And by problems, I mean for instance those who are
attempting to challenge church doctrines that are biblically unsound.(monax)
The Titus passage is about false and divisive people teaching or preaching, not about pew-sitters. Context is important. Check out the verses before and after. (Arce)
The following is from Biblegateway.com in connection with Titus 3:10 verse: 8750 false teaching = Scripture repeatedly warns against false teachings, which deny or distort some aspect of the gospel. The origin of such teachings is attributed either to human error or to demonic inspiration. (ja)
Psalm 105:15 - "Do not touch My anointed ones, And do My prophets no harm."
This verse is in a Psalm that recounts the marvelous protection that God showed to the Patriarchs, the Hebrews, Moses, etc. in the context of the patriarchal narratives of the first five books of the Bible. Verse 5 recounts the protection that these people receive from kings and other rulers who might try to harm them. False teachers use this to suggest that they are such “patriarchal” and leadership types, and should thus be especially, divinely protected from EVERYONE. When they cite this verse, they also present themselves as being very, very threatening to other leaders, such as government authorities, other church leaders, etc., and are in need of divine protection as they conduct their “prophetic” ministries, etc. (Ken Garrett)
1 Timothy 3:1 ESV - "The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.”
Setting aside the question whether pastors are always overseers, the use of the word office in this verse gives rise to a strong inference of overseers being vested with authority. Trouble is, the word office in this passage does not translate any Greek word. The word office was simply inserted into the English translations. More specifically, the Greek word episkopes, meaning something along the lines of overseerage or overseership, is translated “office of overseer.” I believe that the passage, if translated literally, should read something like “If anyone aspires to overseerage (or overseership), he desires a noble task.” Young’s Literal Translation reads, “If any one the oversight doth long for . . .”
If all this sounds too awkward for English language ears, I suggest something like, “If anyone aspires to the MINISTRY of overseer, he desires a noble task.” The use of the word ministry in place of office makes the passage compatible with Jesus' own teaching and injunction: “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 20:25b-28 ESV). A similar analysis would apply to every appearance I have found of the word office in the ESV New Testament, at least insofar as there is no standalone Greek word for any appearance of the English word office. (Gary)
Obey Pastors, Elders, Church Leaders
Hebrews 13:17 - below are posts I did early in the blog, in March, right after being sued:
Obey Those Who Rule Over You, and Be Submissive, Part 1
Obey Those Who Rule Over You and Be Submissive, Part 2
Malachi 3:8-10: This verse can be used "to attempt to compel giving as a legalistic requirement (to the preacher and his ministry kingdom, of course) rather than as a matter of heartfelt determination: “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” (ESV). (Gary)
Arce notes: "Some of the tithing passages, and this is one, apply to the priests who were supposed to bring the tithes and not keep all of them for themselves. As in preachers taking whopping salaries and benefits, instead of feeding the poor, clothing those in need, and housing the homeless."
Verses Used to Enforce Mandatory Church Attendance
Hebrews 10:24-25: 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. (ESV).
In my experience, even pastors I would not consider abusive tend to use the “not neglecting to meet together” phrase in this verse to encourage attendance at church functions, especially services. I would be in agreement if the verse were to be used to promote the kind of face-to-face, participatory, fellowship in which all present could actually stir up one another to love and good works and encourage one another. However, I submit that the verse is being used manipulatively, or at least inappropriately, when the intention is to promote attendance at events where the laity, having little if any opportunity to interact with one another, have no choice but to be passive observers—excepting only when doing what they are told to do (stand, sing, sit, give, etc.). (Gary)
Verses Pastors Use to Control How to Dress/Wear their Hair, etc.
1 Peter 3:3-4 Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.
Deuteronomy 22:5 The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.
1 Corinthians 11:6 For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. (Shannon H)
The following notes are from Pastor Ken Garrett. Thank you, Ken!!!
Blessing/Cursing the false teacher: Genesis 12:3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed. = false teachers have used this verse to suggest that they, as men who are favored by God (as Abraham was) are sources of either blessing, or cursing, depending on their followers’ treatment of them. To be generally well-disposed towards the false teacher will bring blessing, as will any gift or support given to him. To act/think/speak against the false teacher, well…you get the idea.
Treating the false teacher as responsible for the success of his followers in their spiritual battles: Exodus 17:11 So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed.
The suggestion of the false teacher here is that his/her spiritual life (or disciplines, study time, prayer, etc.) is more important than that of their followers, and that their time and freedom should be protected and facilitated. In this sense, the false teacher presents himself In a more sinister light. There is also the implicit suggestion that the false teacher plays a sort of mediatorial role between their followers and God (cf. Jude 12b, where Korah is cited for his attempts to usurp the mediatorial role of Moses. (Also, Numbers 16, esp. v3)
Cursing the false teacher: Exodus 22:28 "You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people. = false teachers often view criticism and challenge from their followers as a type of cursing.
Of course, in applying this verse to themselves, they are implicitly claiming to be “rulers,” a very powerful, unbiblical assertion! In reality most of the “cursing” done against false teachers is in private, in the innermost chambers of the wounded hearts of their followers.
Taking the Consecrated Bread: 1 Sam 21 6 So the priest gave him consecrated bread; for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence which was removed from before the LORD, in order to put hot bread in its place when it was taken away. And, (Mat 12:2-4) 2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, "Behold, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath." 3 But He said to them, "Have you not read what David did, when he became hungry, he and his companions; 4 how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those with him, but for the priests alone?
This account from the life of David, commended by the Lord Himself in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, has been cited by false teacher’s to explain why it is acceptable for them to discount or flaunt traditions and policies in their churches that they have found to be restrictive to the goals of their ministries. For example, the false teacher who is challenged for his use of very secularized music or presentation in the worship service might counter, “Just like David took the consecrated bread to feed his men, so I’m not bowing to tradition when there are bigger issues at stake, like reaching the lost,” etc. When David took the bread it was with the self-knowledge that he truly was the Lord’s anointed, was innocent—and had to meet the physical needs of his men more than the ceremonial needs of the tabernacle. Also, he took the bread in full acknowledgment that, as the Lord’s Anointed, he had an implicit right to do so. (By the way, his decision contributed to the slaughter of many innocent priests!) In the same way, Jesus made the point to the Pharisees that as the Messiah, He possessed the sole right to subjugate the ceremonial rules of the tabernacle, because “something greater than then temple” stood before them (Matt 12: 6). That “something greater” was HIMSELF, not a particular flouting or dismissal of rules.
“Stretching out (one’s) hand” against the false teacher: 1 Samuel 24:6 So he said to his men, "Far be it from me because of the LORD that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD'S anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, since he is the LORD'S anointed."
A classic false teacher favorite. This verse, taken from the account of David’s refusal to murder King Saul as he, uh…was having some private time in a cave…, is cited as a warning and example to the false teacher’s followers—they must never address the shortcomings and failures of their leader, and must certainly NEVER presume to take a corrective or disciplinary role towards them, as they (the false teachers) are to be considered “anointed of God.” Both Saul and David were certainly anointed by God—through His appointed prophet/priest Samuel, and at the explicit command of God. (1 Sam 15:1, 16:1, 13) While pastors are, hopefully, full of the Holy Spirit as all believers are to be, and they (hopefully) routinely receive the anointing-empowering of the Spirit for preaching, they are certainly NOT anointed to regal positions over God’s people as were David and Saul. Also, the “stretch out” of the hand that David spoke of was in violence—so as to execute Saul and take over the kingdom, NOT to simply confront him for sin or clarification, etc.
The false teacher’s “Mighty Men”: 2 Sam 23:8ff These are the names of the mighty men whom David had… = The “mighty men” of David, who comprised a group of super-loyal, super-soldier, Band of Brothers all rolled into one, were a select group of warriors and friends (many if not most of them non-Jews, I believe) who pledged themselves to David for life, to obey his commands, defend his honor, fight for him, kill for him, etc. They were a type of royal bodyguard, only much more. They were also key leaders in David’s government. The fact that they are primarily not identified by tribal membership suggests that their loyalty to David was very, very personal—and that they had, for all purposes, given their loyalty to him over their own homes and national identities. Stunning, dramatic accounts are recorded of their feats, strength, and courage. False teacher’s (who often identify themselves as Davidic-type personages) have been known to gather their own little band of “might men” from the church. These men are chosen primarily for their personal loyalty to the pastor, and inevitably view themselves as distinct from the rest of the congregation. They are the inner-circle, and are often made privy to the secrets, plots, and general political-moral intrigues of the false teacher, and are rewarded for their “loyalty” by public acclaim and personal flattery and promotion in the church. They act as buffers against the regular congregation-member’s criticism or personal challenge to the pastor. Often they are put on elder-boards, and expected to demonstrate personal loyalty to the pastor, even over loyalty to the members of the church, let alone to the Chief Shepherd! (see also, 2 Sam 10:7, 17:8ff)
Not heeding the words of the false teacher: These verses, and many like them in Proverbs, are used by false teacher’s to claim a type of “wisdom” that any reasonable, godly person would obey and seek out. To not apply the counsel of the false teacher is seen, in this sense, as an act of the foolish, and an invitation to great ruin.
Proverbs 13:1 A wise son accepts his father's discipline, But a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.
Proverbs 27:5 Better is open rebuke Than love that is concealed. (Ken Garrett)
Please feel free to leave any verses that pastors use to abuse, control, coerce, manipulate, threaten, etc, in the comments. Even if you are reading this post months later, go ahead and comment. This post will be linked in the Spiritual Abuse Resource area and will be the master list. Thank you in advance for your contributions. I think this is going to be very beneficial to have a comprehensive list.
I am very grateful for the contributors to this article. The names of contributors are listed at the end of each item they contributed in parentheses.
photo credit: Ryk Neethling via photopin cc