Charismatic Captivation
By Dr. Steven Lambert

the black & white

Real Truth
authoritarian abuse
in many churches!

Chapter One ©
Introduction: The Problem, Prediction, & Premise

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Are you one of the many loyal and sincere church members who faithfully and cheerfully attend, support and participate in a local church, but have a nagging, persistent inward "thought" that "something is just not right here?"

Each time it rises within you, you peer around the room at the faces of fellow-worshipers caught up in seemingly heart-felt worship, you tune your ear to the soothing, melodious music crescendoing upward, and listen intently to the inspiring exhortations flowing from the lips of the various leaders on the platform...then...once begin to chastise yourself...and "take authority" over those terrible carnal, negative thoughts, and command them to leave your mind. Now! There! No more of that! Right? Right!

That is, until the next time...and it happens all over again! You are enthralled in blissful worship and praise, focusing entirely on the Lord and His Magnificence. You begin to feel that familiar, but awesome sensation of His Presence filling the room and settling gently upon you. And then...BOOM!...there it is AGAIN!—that still, small inner voice, telling you He is pleased by your expression of love, adoration, and praise; it is a sweet savor which He has received from your heart to His, but, still, He wants you to be aware that there is something wrong here...with the leadership...their teaching, their "leadership" attitudes and methods, their motives and ambitions, their personal life-styles, their earnestness regarding ministering on His behalf to the needs of the hurting, needy multitudes for whom He died.

Is it possible this really IS the Lord speaking to you? Is that possible? And, then you go through the drill once again, looking, listening, analyzing. "But," you reply inwardly to the voice, "look at all these people here, the volunteer workers, the ministers, the musicians and choir! They can’t all be wrong! And, there wouldn’t be this many people here if it were not of God! Look at this wonderful building, its furnishings and decor, the instruments, all the regalia, all the money it cost? God has to be endorsing this, otherwise the money for all this would not have come in! Listen to the inspiring music and messages by the leaders! Look at all the people who’ve been blessed by this church! This can’t possibly not be of God! God, what’s wrong with me? Why do I think such horrible thoughts?" you cry silently within.

Then, you begin realizing that somehow, somewhere along the line you began losing your joy, your zeal for the Lord. It used to be you could hardly wait for the services and to be involved; now it is drudgery to go at all. You used to have such a light and blissful feeling as you worshiped the Lord in the services; now you just go through the motions, feeling heavy, staring placidly toward the platform, sometimes wishing you were somewhere else. You used to be able to "look past" the leaders, and focus only on the Lord; now, all you see during the service is people, people behind the pulpit, people on the platform, and people in the pews. You used to feel God’s love and pleasure with you; now it seems all you feel is unworthiness, guilt, and that nothing you do is ever enough or pleasing to Him.

"What on earth has happened to me? What’s wrong with me?" you ask yourself. "Is it just me?" Then, you begin to look around the room and study other long-time members. You compare how they are now to how they were when they first came. Is their life, as it should be, appreciably better, or have they and their family experienced an inordinate share of tragedies, seemingly inexplicable difficulties, and reversals? By and by, you begin to realize that many of the other members have lost their "first love" too, their zeal, their enthusiasm, their joy in serving the Lord, and that, though Christians, like everyone else, certainly experience adversity, many of these members’ lives have been on a gradual, downward spiral, instead of advancement and blessing.

Does this scenario sound familiar to you? If so, don’t think you’re alone—it’s repeated several times every week by multitudes of sincere, faithful, and trusting believers. They’ve had this inward intuition for quite some time that something was just not right at their church or in their group, but just couldn’t put their finger on precisely what it was. The teaching "sounded" right, all the right things were being said, good things were happening, many members were being "used" in various "ministries" of the church. Still, this nagging sense something is awry persists.

Often, these are the symptoms of a church or group laboring under the heavy-hand of hyper-authoritarianism. That is to say, the leadership is dominating, controlling, and manipulating their followers, and exploiting them for their own personal gain and private kingdom building.

Multitudes of sincere and trusting believers are caught in the virtually invisible web of religious predomination, or "Charismatic Captivation," in Charismatic and other Neo-Pentecostal, as well as some 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.

From time to time, isolated incidents of authoritarian abuse have erupted in news stories parochially publicized within Christendom, with only a scant few of them reaching the level of secular publication, rendering the false impression that such psychological predomination and exploitation is rare or rarified. But, the real truth of the matter is that those publicized cases really are only the tip of the iceberg and ecclesiastical enslavement and exploitation is widespread to the extent of becoming prevalent within a large and ever-expanding segment of the Christian Church, nationally as well as internationally. Moreover, it is vital to understand that it is not merely in fringe, radical religious sects and cults where this hyper-authoritarianism is taking place, but rather in well-regarded certified Christian churches and para-church entities espousing otherwise orthodox Christian beliefs, with memberships comprised of a cross section of mainstream Americans—individuals and families—of every race, education level, economic status, and walk of life.

Though it is by no means limited to the modern Pentecostal and Neo-Pentecostal segments of the Church, authoritarian predomination has especially flourished in the Charismatic and so-called "third and fourth wave" groups since it was originally introduced by a five-member alliance of ministers who rose to prominence in the early- to mid-1970s and spawned what became known as the "Discipleship/Shepherding Movement." Through the persuasive influence of those highly regarded teachers, the fallacious hyper-authoritarian doctrines and practices they promoted were widely accepted and systematically infused into the very fabric, foundation, and functions of the Pentecostal/Neo-Pentecostal Church, where they remain 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 "downline" of thousands of "submitted" ministers.

In the mid-1970s the entire matter of this "Movement" erupted into a highly-publicized international controversy. The public maelstrom that ensued culminated in the debunking and repudiation of the relevant doctrines and practices as well as the ignominy and denouncement of their originators and promoters by numerous prominent Christian personalities and ministers.

However, initially, despite the controversy and the public chastisement, those ministers and their followers remained unbowed and undeterred. They defended themselves, as well as the hyper-authoritarian teachings and practices and philosophies of spiritual leadership they advocated. For many years afterward, they continued to teach those patently false and unscriptural doctrines, though increasingly covertly, and to develop what came to be an expansive multi-level "network" of ministers and churches, one segment of which is still spearheaded by the only remaining unrepentant originator.

Many church-leaders today, ostensibly, do not realize their leadership methodology is actually a hybrid form of the hyper-authoritarian Discipleship model, 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, "draw away…disciples after them(selves)," (Acts 20:30) and dupe them into surrendering their personal autonomy and submitting to them and their absolute authority. Predominating pastors teach adherents that they themselves are their followers’ de facto Lord, Master, and Savior. They indoctrinate congregants to believe the church leaders are the members’ "spiritual covering," and any member who departs the church will be "out from under" that covering, be without any spiritual covering, and experience terrible curses and consequences as a result. From the pulpit often come "horror stories" about what happened to such-and-so person or family, who were so spiritually bereft or rebellious as to leave the group without the blessings and approval of their "spiritual authority."

These false hypotheses of "spiritual covering" and "absolute submission" are the bedrock of hyper-authoritarian doctrines, and coupled with the enslaving organizational authority structure in place in groups espousing these unbiblical doctrines, is the chief source of the effectuality and effectiveness of the mechanisms of manipulation associated with them. Moreover, the unfortunate fact is that the psychological problems and spiritual needs of adherents is the primary point of vulnerability to the exploitation of which they are victims.

These practices of psychological predomination are virtually identical to those employed by certified cults, and indeed the stark truth is that many of the entities employing these methods are themselves at the very minimum quasi-cults, and in some cases, bona fide cults. They come in various shapes and shades, but overall 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, submitted members 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 submitted members 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 obedience to the desires and counsel of the church’s leadership chain 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 the "covenant-community" for failure to comply with the unwritten, unspoken rules and expectations established by the leadership. An oppressive performance-based approval and promotion system keeps members in constant internal turmoil and fear as they jump through all the hoops the spiritual taskmasters put before them, in an attempt to seek their leaders’ approval and favor. Moreover, members are indoctrinated and compelled to accept the leadership-set agenda of the group, regarding which they have next to no real say, as their personal burden and responsibility, and thus to commit their time, talent, and, most importantly, their tithe, to its successful completion. Sadly, most never see past the spiritual smoke and mirrors to realize that the so-called "church" to which they have sworn allegiance and promised their wholehearted and unflagging support, is nothing more than the personal "business" of its leaders, and not only are they free labor, but they actually pay out of their own resources for the privilege of being a participant, i.e., member.

The oppressive maltreatment and mistreatment to which members of these cult-like groups are subjected is the spiritual equivalent of the "hard-taskmastery" of the Israelites during their centuries-long captivity under the Egyptian Pharaohs.

So what are the consequences and effects we are talking about here—a scant few slightly disillusioned people with their feelings a little hurt, as the scoffers would allege? Far from it! We are talking about an immense number of broken and destroyed families, marriages, and friendships, multitudes of unpretentious, formerly trusting people who are now psychologically traumatized and marred, and spiritually shipwrecked, potentially for life. Added to that are substantial numbers of failed businesses, bankruptcies, lost fortunes, nervous breakdowns, contracted health maladies, suicides, and premature deaths by various related causes, and the like, just to name some of the consequences experienced by victims. Indeed, the details of the havoc and decimation wreaked upon victims’ lives is far too extensive and, frankly, morose to possibly be able to relate here, but suffice it to say it is sweeping, mind-boggling, and, sadly, in some cases, barring the miraculous, irreversible.

The two greatest problems with deception is that the deceived are deceived about being deceived, and their ego and pride make it difficult for them to accept the fact they are in deception. In the case of many of those who do finally accept the fact they have been duped, for years afterward they reel in varied degrees of anger, embarrassment, resentment, disillusionment, and distrust.

No one wants to be a "sucker," which is one of the primary reasons that most victims of authoritarian abuse and exploitation simply don’t want to hear anything suggesting they may have been duped and deceived, or that their "beloved" church and its leaders to which they have become so dependent could possibly be involved in any kind of deception or error. Even when confronted with proof-positive these unscriptural and cult-like teachings and practices are an integral, albeit covert, part of their own church’s operations, many indoctrinated adherents react with angry and vehement denial, staunchly refusing to accept even the remotest possibility that such could be the case.

Moreover, astoundingly, instead of desiring liberation, such "deniers" opt to remain captive in what has become to them the familiar and "friendly confines" of the institution of which they are a member. This sad scenario is strikingly similar to that of many "career criminals" who prefer and choose institutional incarceration over the liberties and latitudes of a normal life of freedom. The constant and abiding prayer of all believers should be that God may grant the captives of all these groups the "repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will" (2 Tim. 2:26).

Fortunately, though, there are those who, despite their considerable chagrin and pain, do want to be liberated from the witchcraft of domination and control, regardless of the cost. Somewhere in the psyche of most sound-thinking humans is an intense desire to be free, along with an utter disdain for any form or degree of illegitimate predomination and exploitation. For those people, there are signs of hyper-authoritarianism that are readily detectable when you know what they are. That is to say, there are a number of common control mechanisms employed within groups in which hyper-authoritarian doctrines and practices are espoused and implemented that are identifiable by those who are informed about them and know what to look for. Unfortunately, they aren’t always simple, overt, and obvious, but are often sophisticated, covert, and hidden. The purpose of this book is to identify the signs of authoritarian abuse and the common control mechanisms employed to implement it, to explain why they are wrong and unscriptural, to offer some tools to minister to victims, and to present to victims some steps of recovery from the psychologically traumatizing and spiritually damaging effects of years of subjection to it.

Chapter in PDF

By Steven Lambert, ThD
Publisher: Real Truth Publications
ISBN 1-887915-00-1 / 308pp
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