Dictators, Cult leaders, and Abusers all use fear to control their victims. Fear of retribution, fear of being alone, or losing self without their presence, fear of the ‘outside’, fear that they are right and all else is wrong. Fear that without them, you are nothing. Fear is the most powerful driving force known to man, right next to love. It is no surprise then, that it’s the best tool of the enemy of your soul.
Knowing it has this power, men, and women who use it are then evil and workers of iniquity either by purpose, or ignorance.
I remember watching the movie First Knight (1995) with Richard Gere playing Lancelot, another take on the Arthurian legend. When he (Lancelot) comes to Camelot, there is an obstacle course that has never been defeated, but King Arthur, played by Sean Connery, who has betrothed princess Guinevere has offered a kiss with her as the prize for beating the course if any man can.
Lancelot of course does, and when asked how he did it, he said, “Perhaps fear caused other men to go back when they should have gone forward.”
This stuck in my mind all these years, and yet it was after that that I was myself sucked into a fearmongering structure of religion. That is not to say all religions are like this, but I have been hearing from hundreds of people who have like stories.
Someone told me once, ‘You don’t know what will happen to me if I stop going to XYZ church’. That person is completely abused and being controlled by a fearmongering preacher. They have come to believe that they will become wicked without the building, the man and the system. How?
I suggested to this person, ‘Go and try another church’, and the response was, ‘I can’t, none of them are good enough, or teach the same thing.’ My response was, Praise God! That’s a good thing they teach something different. Without seeing it, you’ve been completely duped.
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. – 2 Timothy 1:7
There are many words in the Bible used for spirit, and the common definition of it is a gust of air, a breeze, or a blast, a force. This can be in conjunction with the Holy Spirit, but there is something interesting to note when reading 2 Timothy 1:7, and it is found in the commentary of another verse using the word.
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. – 1 John 4:1
In John Wesley’s commentary of 1 John 4:1, he notates one of the meanings to the spirit which proves very insightful here.
“Believe not every spirit – Whereby any teacher is actuated. But try the spirits”
The actuator is the force that causes something to happen, and in the sense of these two scriptures, it can be thought of as motivation, or purpose. Thus, we could say;
“For God hath not given us the actuator, or motivation of fear;”
“Beloved, believe not every motivation, but test their purpose [teachers, preachers] whether they are of God…”
How do we Test the Actuator?
This is going to take some discernment, knowing your Bible, prayer, and seeking counsel from many. For instance, I probably couldn’t count the times I heard the preacher say, ‘As long as I’m in the Book, you listen to what I have to say. If I get out of the book, then you find yourself another preacher…’ And then that preacher would go on to teach things, not in the Book, and then claim license to expound on the Word…and don’t you dare question him!
Likewise, preachers who don’t like ‘questioning’ don’t have an answer for their false teachings and thus don’t want to be exposed, which causes them to use fear, and the threat of God’s retribution for your questioning spirit. They will use stories such as the men who challenged Moses that God destroyed. This is a tragic use of God’s Word.
But here are some ways to try the spirit of what is being taught in your church or group.
- Ask (If you can)
“Pastor, you’ve been teaching XYZ, and there is no Biblical reference, principle or standard for that, that I can find. Can you explain to me how we’ve come to that conclusion without Bible Support?”The response here is crucial. If you ever hear things like, “I don’t like someone with a questioning spirit”, or, “You have a rebellious spirit“, then you just got your answer. That man/woman is out of the Book, for 1 John 4:1 told you to ask. Their actuator, motivation, spirit is wrong if they don’t welcome questions. Questions provide a cause for an answer, and their answer could strengthen your faith. So why wouldn’t they like that?
- Seek Counsel
Take what you have been taught to men or women outside of your local congregation and ask them for an honest, Scripturally based understanding. People that use the terms “I don’t think”, or “I don’t feel” are not standing on Scripture. If you are going to stand on God’s Word, you have to do just that in these cases.Some may criticize this and say it’s unethical, you should only talk to the pastor who is preaching. That is cover talk for abusive systems.
In my old church, our pastor(s) routinely admonished the church not to listen to other preachers (be fed by other shepherds) or follower other ministers on social media, or visit other churches. They would even say things such as, ‘You may see some people from XYZ church, and they do things a little different. Don’t pay attention to that…just try to get what good you can from them.’
P.s. To the Pentecostals, the phrase ‘and they do things a little different’ was all about dress standards. That XYZ church might allow short sleeve shirts, or facial hair, or wedding rings, etc.
If you are under a system that strongly discourages you from talking to people outside of their ‘circle’, or tells you to ‘be careful what books you read…’ this is a Spiritual trap and it’s abusive. Read my article on Exposing the Spiritually Abusive Trap System
- Study to show thyself approved unto God
It is a sad day when a human being, trying to walk in the Faith of an almighty God, a faith that was delivered by the almighty God, is crushed under the weight of needing man’s approval.
This concept is never taught in Scripture and only false teachers will use fear to force you into believing you need them. For instance, any preacher that uses this line to make you believe you have to submit to them without question is a Pharisee: For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: I Corinthians 4:15a
This is a man trying to claim Spiritual Authority over you by taking the role of a father. Yet Jesus said to call NO man Father on this earth. If you understand the Word, you will understand both the role of a shepherd, and honor the shepherd, and you will know when that shepherd is out of bounds.
#3 is the most important step here, but #2 should come first. In a controlling religious structure, #1 isn’t really feasible. Pastors that use fear to control you will only counsel you with the intent to either change your way of thinking to align with theirs or to boot you from their circle. Your questions are threats and it marks you as a rebel and they won’t want you spreading that in their flock.
Intelligence is often shunned in these types of system. For instance, my old church nearly forbade members from going to College and only on rare occasions did they allow it. As if they had any authority over that area of your life…But intellect and knowledge of anything but what they teach is a direct threat to their control.
Thus, any time you feel fear in church, you need to stop, pray, and ask God, “Is this fear because what man is causing me to believe, or is there something in my life contrary to God’s Word that is giving me fear, or convicting me?” This is a very fair and right question to ask. If the fear caused by a man can’t be completely illustrated in God’s Word, it is fearmongering and should cause you to find another place of refuge for your faith.
As always, thank you for reading, and God bless your walk with Christ. Feel free to submit questions of circumstances you may be facing, but please know that God, His Spirit, and His Word is the ultimate authority and guide. We can only lean to his Word in our response.