Multitudes of sincere and trusting believers are caught in the virtually invisible web of religious captivation in Charismatic and other Neo-Pentecostal churches, and don’t know it. They are unaware victims of spiritual abuse and exploitation under the heavy-hand of hyper-authoritarianism. That is to say, the leadership of the church-group of which they are a part is dominating, controlling, and manipulating their followers, and exploiting them for their own personal gain and private kingdom-building.
Horror stories of authoritarian abuse and exploitation and psychological enslavement in certified Christian churches abound. From time to time, particular isolated incidents have erupted in highly publicized news stories. However, those high-profile cases really are only the tip of the iceberg. The truth of the matter is, I know from my more than thirty years of ministry, ecclesiastical enslavement and exploitation is widespread in certain sectors of Christendom in this country. And, it is vital to understand, I am not talking about radical, fringe religious sects and cults, but well-respected church-groups espousing orthodox Christian beliefs, whose membership is comprised of a cross section of average Americans, individuals and families, of every race, education level, station, and walk of life.
Though religious predomination is certainly nothing new, and hyper-authoritarianism is by no means limited to the Neo-Pentecostal branch of the Church, it has, however, especially flourished in the Charismatic and so-called “second, third, and fourth wave” (i.e., Neo-Pentecostal) groups since it was infused into the very fabric, foundation, and functions of that branch of the Church in the early- to mid-seventies. Moreover, it is the Charismatic branch of which this ministry has been a part since its inception, which gives me not only the “right” but also the duty to bring reproof of error and errancy in that realm (2 Tim. 4:1-5, et al.).
This kind of “Charismatic captivation” is prevalent among Charismatic and other Neo-Pentecostal churches and groups primarily as a result of widely-taught and -accepted hyper-authoritarian doctrines and practices first introduced in the 1970s by an alliance of five ministers who rose to prominence, and spawned what became known as the “Discipleship/Shepherdship Movement.” Those doctrines and practices remain an integral part of the governmental foundation of many churches and groups yet today.
This elite ministerial Quintumverate had somehow concluded that the newly-created and burgeoning branch of the Church generated by the Divinely-orchestrated Charismatic Movement birthed in 1960, was in disarray and needed to be “organized.” Somehow they also determined it was they God had appointed to accomplish the task of “organizing” the Charismatic church. The purportedly inspired and Bible-based organizational structure they advocated and eventually instituted was virtually identical to the modern pyramid marketing structure so popular and prevalent today. The “Fab Five” placed themselves at the top of the pyramid of interrelated Charismatic leaders, which quickly expanded into a “down-line” of thousands of “submitted” ministers.
In the mid-seventies the entire matter of this “movement” erupted into a highly-publicized international controversy. The result of the maelstrom was that the relevant doctrines and practices were repudiated and denounced by many well-known church-leaders, and the ministers who invented and promulgated them fell into disrepute.
However, despite the controversy and the public chastisement, those ministers and their followers initially remained unbowed and undeterred. They defended themselves, as well as the hyper-authoritarian teachings and practices and philosophies of church-government they advocated. For many years afterward, they continued to teach those patently false and unScriptural doctrines, and to develop what came to be an expansive multi-level “network” of ministers and churches. Though, it was now done less overtly, and there was a concerted and deliberate effort to take the whole matter underground to lessen as much as possible the negative effects of the controversy and to give the appearance of repentance.
The unfortunate consequence of that move toward covertness and esotericism was that instead of being eradicated, those patently false doctrines and Scripturally-prohibited practices were infused into the very fabric and foundation of the Charismatic/Neo-Pentecostal Church at-large, and are still espoused and practiced by many churches and groups in operation today. This stems partly from the fact that many of those ministries are headed by leaders who were a part of that network, and adopted or adapted many of the doctrines and governmental philosophies advocated by its principals.
Many church-leaders themselves do not realize their leadership methodology is actually a hybrid form of hyper-authoritarianism, and amounts to domination and control. The proper role of human under-shepherds is to lead people to the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ, and teach them how to be His followers, in submission to Him and His authority. Hyper-authoritarian leaders, instead, lead people to themselves, and indoctrinate them to be their followers, in total submission to them and their authority.
In essence, these dominating shepherds teach they are the church members’ Lord, Master, and Savior. They indoctrinate congregants to believe the spiritual leaders of the church themselves are the members’ “spiritual covering,” and any member who ever leaves the church will be “out from under” their “covering,” be without any covering, and experience terrible curses and consequences as a result.
This false hypothesis of “absolute submission,” with which subjugatees are incessantly indoctrinated, is the bedrock of such authoritarian doctrines. That, coupled with the enslaving organizational authority structure in place in the groups where these unBiblical doctrines are espoused, is primarily what makes these techniques and mechanisms effectual and effective. And, it is chiefly the spiritual and psychological needs and problems of attendees of these groups that makes them vulnerable to such unauthorized domination and control as well as exploitation.
The mechanisms of psychological manipulation, domination, and control employed in these groups are virtually identical, to those employed by certified cults. Indeed, the stark truth is that many of the groups and churches who employ these techniques and mechanisms are themselves at the very minimum quasi-cults, and in some cases, bona fide cults.
The abuse and exploitation occurring in groups where these hyper-authoritarian systems of governance are instituted come in various shapes and shades. In a nutshell, the “dumb sheep” are taught they cannot trust their own judgment or ability to receive direction from the Lord for even the most mundane decisions of their lives, but must rely instead upon the supposed transcendent wisdom and superior spirituality of their human “Shepherds.”
Typically, submitants must obtain the approval of their group-gurus regarding virtually all domestic matters and decisions; matters of romance, such as who members date and marry; health and insurance matters, employment and career matters, and most of all, regarding every detail of members’ personal finances, which requires their leaders’ approval for practically every significant expenditure.
Relentless programming with this premise along with constant bombardment with belittling derision leads to spiritual and psychological paralysis for submissive adherents. Gradually, as the hidden web of religious witchcraft is woven, and their natural resistance to such domination and control is dissipated, docile submitants eventually become the unwitting and helpless psychological slaves of self-aggrandizing church-leaders and their grandiose plans for the building of their private, personal, earthly kingdoms.
In these groups, the “authority” of the “shepherds” is absolute, sacrosanct, and inviolable, that is, without reprisal. Any semblance of anything other than total and unquestioning obeisance to the desires and counsel of the chain of leaders is considered rebellion and insubordination, and simply is not tolerated. Members live under the constant threat of being branded with the Scarlet Letter “R” for “rebel,” openly denounced and shamed from the (bully-)pulpit, and consequently shunned by their “covenant-community” as well as the threat of excommunication (which is rarely exercised except in the case of the most outspoken dissidents, because they don’t want to lose the members and their financial support).
Moreover, members are indoctrinated to accept the leadership-set agenda and mission of the group, regarding which they have little real say, as their personal burden and responsibility, and to commit their time, talent, and, most importantly, their tithe to its successful completion.
The oppressive maltreatment and mistreatment to which members of these cult-like groups are subjected seems to me to be the spiritual equivalent of the hard-taskmastery of the Israelites during their centuries of captivity under the Egyptian Pharaohs.
Remember the call of Christ Himself, “If therefore the Son shall make you FREE, you shall be FREE indeed!” (Jn. 8:36); as well as Paul’s echo of Christ’s call, “It was for FREEDOM that Christ set us FREE; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).
It is my deepest desire and heartfelt prayer that all those who name themselves among the Brotherhood of Christ will give heed to the reproof and admonitions presented herein, and take the actions necessary to liberate the Children of God from the oppressive captivation of men, for all believers are called to be SONS of God, not SLAVES of men (1 Cor. 7:23).
[This article is adapted from the book, CHARISMATIC CAPTIVATION, by Dr. Steven Lambert. The book exposes the widespread problem of authoritarian abuse in Neo-Pentecostal church-groups, and explains how it became infused into the very fabric, foundation, and functions of the Neo-Pentecostal church arising out of a false movement known as the Discipleship/Shepherding Movement.]