Spiritual Abuse Part 24__What it Isn’t

For all the pain caused by Spiritual Abuse, not everything that hurts us in church life can be tossed in that pot of stew, stirred a bit and accepted as part of the dish. In this post I want to look at a few things that Spiritual Abuse is not.

While not all memories and experiences are pleasant, there are advantages to having had an eventful life, touched by various church denominations and religious cultures. And, from a learning perspective, there are even advantages to seeing some things done right and other things done wrong in each one. Things begin to fit together like a giant ‘church life’ puzzle. Making sense of some of those things helps us understand, though not accept, the negative behaviours.


Spiritual Abuse is not addressing sin. It is how it is addressed that makes all the difference. If it is done biblically, according to Matthew 18, then it is not abuse.  To understand what it should be, we also need to understand what it should not be.

I have already shared how in the Mennonite church of my youth there was this perverse need to broadcast people’s sins, far and wide, from church pulpit to church pulpit. The bigger the sin, the broader the news travelled as bishops and lead pastors announced to their congregations the sins of their people. Sexual sin seemed to receive most attention, with the wording being such that, even as a child I wondered what on earth these people had done. It changed how I felt around those people. What if they were evil and would harm me?

Seems to me that these ‘most vulnerable’ of sinners, should receive the most heart, care and compassion so they are not completely destroyed. Somehow that is not the way its done. I am convinced that Jesus would love and protect them. So why, if we are Christians, do we do it any other way, and make a public spectacle of them? (And especially when they repent!)

But that was only half the tragedy. Seldom was the ‘sinner’ approached in the biblical ‘one-on-one’ method, with grace and forgiveness extended if they showed repentance.  Typically members went to a preacher or several, to ‘tattle’. (We used to refer to this as ‘shooting from behind the preacher’.) A caravan of church leaders set out to confront the sinner, seldom disclosing the source of their information, saying the needed to respect confidentiality. Regardless whether the ‘sinner’ repented or not, if the sin was big enough to warrant it, there would be probation or excommunication as a consequence.

In some cases, because the leaders got their information from ‘a reliable source’, members were left to either publicly confess a sin they did not commit, or be subjected to excommunication or ‘probation’.  This method of exposing sin is not biblical and it is spiritual abuse.

Matthew 18:15-17 instructs us to go directly to the person caught in sin, and speak to them one-on-one. If they repent, we leave it there. If not, we go to leaders. There is no room for ‘shooting from behind leadership’. If the individual does not repent, then leaders are to expose the sin and we are to see them as we would anyone else who does not know Christ—as someone who needs Christ . We do not ‘shun’ an unbeliever, and those who are unrepentant should also be loved and not shunned.

When a biblical stand is taken against sin, and done so in a loving appeal to repentance, there is no Spiritual Abuse involved. The person in sin may well walk away and declare the church or organization to be ‘intolerant’ and abusive, because they don’t want to deal with their own hearts. That goes home with them. We are required to walk in love and obedience, even if we are hated for it.

We have to be careful, however, that we don’t start labelling things as sin that are not, and judging people who see things differently. For example, just because something offends me, say a glass of wine or strong drink, it is not sin. Jesus was called a winebibber and a glutton. And it wasn’t because He drank water and ate forbidden foods. He drank wine and ate ‘normal’ food. (Matthew 11:18-19)

There are many examples where personal conviction does not have anything to do with sin, and in these cases we need to be mature and extend grace. I could write a month of examples but will leave it at that.

Most importantly, we need to seek God and allow Him to search our heart and our motives. We will be judged and possibly accused of Spiritual Abuse, if we dare to take a stand against sin in an ‘anything goes’ culture and society.

Jesus said we would be hated if we follow Him and walk in obedience. Are you willing to pay the price? He is worth it.

© Trudy Metzger 2012

Go to first post in this series: http://trudymetzger.com/2012/05/22/spiritual-abuse-introduction/