Have you ever asked yourself ‘How did I end up here? What choices did I make that brought me to this moment?’ You might have asked this about your marriage, your job, some circumstance in your life that when you got there – it left you bewildered and confused. It felt like it was out of your control – like you were a puppet and the one pulling the strings was a hijacker – it doesn’t feel like it was you.
This is something I’ve heard many times about faith and spiritually abusive church structures – that it (faith) was taken over by controlling spiritual leaders who directly manipulated the steps taken by an individual, who then face a moment in time when their faith is in crisis. I’ve even asked the question, “Am I really a Christian (follower of Christ) if everything I do is the dictates of another flawed human being?”
One pastor told a young man, “Until I feel your unwavering loyalty, I will not give you one of my girls.”
To put this into context – the young man had asked the pastor of the church he attended for permission to marry another young lady in the church. The first and immediate response is that it isn’t the pastors choice – but in a system that hijacks your faith, they teach that it is the pastors choice.
In this scenario, the pastor simultaneously claimed ownership of a young lady, who was not his daughter and claimed control over the actions and future of a young man in the church. The Bible says that we are to be led by the Spirit (Romans 8:14) and that when we need wisdom we are to ask God for it. (James 1:5)
More importantly, a Biblical command is to honor your father and mother (Exodus 20:12) and that in Bible terms, headship looks like this:
In the scenario of the young man and women, the young man never spoke to his parents to seek permission to marry this young lady – and truthfully he didn’t need their permission, but following Biblical patterns would have given them much more authority in the matter. Instead, that process was hijacked by a controlling pastor.
How can your Faith be Hijacked?
I have now spoken with hundreds of people who have come out of or are coming out of spiritually abusive and controlling churches via this blog, our YouTube channel and social media groups, and the answers have been the same across the board – Fear.
Question: “What made you stay in that abusive relationship for so long?”
Everyone has identified with one or more of the following reasons.
- Fear of being disfellowshipped
- Fear of losing positions of ministry
- Fear of losing rewards (such as permission to marry)
- Fear of punishment
- Fear of losing friends and family member relationships (yes this happens)
- Fear of Salvation (You are told disobedience to the pastor is disobedience to God and is the sin of rebellion/witchcraft)
The list can actually continue on for quite a ways but fear is always the preeminent cause for an individual to stay in a controlling/abusive relationship. This is equally true for most physical, sexual, verbal and emotional abuse victims.
Over time, the control and abuse are normalized in the mind of the victim, even craved. Someone who lacks self-discipline may feel they need someone controlling their actions for them. That person is a prime target to be taken advantage.
For instance, the young man in our story had to choose between being controlled by a manipulator and agree to his terms in order to retain the love he felt for a young lady and marry, or reject being controlled and thereby lose the love of the young lady. (This is a true story in case you were wondering) The choice was clear – obey my wishes or I take away something from you as punishment.
This is hijacked faith. Two young people should seek counsel in their choices, although they have no obligation to do so. Their parents and friends should be step #1 – and certainly seeking spiritual counsel is also wise – but none of those people have the right to say other individuals can or cannot get married.
The Tragedy of 9/11
In thinking back to the hijacking of four American plans on September 11th, 2001, where thousands of people had their lives hijacked by the evil will of others, I considered the connection between those events and hijacked faith.
When the passengers of those planes realized what was happening, they were left completely choiceless and powerless over their future. What was going to happen was out of their control – and while the initial thought is that someone in a spiritually abusive and hijacked situation has a choice those people did not – you may be shocked to realize that that choice was mentally robbed from them (the young couple) every bit as much as the passengers on those planes.
When someone is convinced that Heaven and Hell are real and that their admission to one or the other is entirely defined by their obedience to the pastor, they are intellectually and emotionally robbed of free will and choice.
This takes time to be brainwashed into believing this – but just like our scenario with the young couple – she was so convinced of this she told the boy she would not marry him if he disobeyed the pastor. A husband told his wife, “Either we leave this church or there is a real possibility we won’t make it.”. The wife responded, “Sorry, I’m not leaving the church.”
These people’s faith and future have been hijacked by terrorists, terrorist men or women who wear the clothes of a shepherd, which turns out to be a much better disguise than sheep’s clothing for the wolf.
Just like real life hijacking events – the only way to recover is to overcome the force of the enemy – to bring to bear enough power and effort as to overwhelm those who would hijack your faith and future.
What does this mean for the Christan who is involved in an abusive church or religion organization? It means getting a firm understanding of you YOU really answer to!
Matthew 23 is one of the most powerful indicators of what our Lord Jesus Christ thought about men who would place themselves upon pedestals, take credit, demand obedience and authoritative respect. His response to those types of people was to proclaim to His disciples NOT to be like that.
Mat 23:8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. Mat 23:9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Mat 23:10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. Mat 23:11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.
Jesus Christ is your father, your lord, and your master. Not another man, who is as equally flawed as you are. And before it enters into your mind that ‘Yea but God gave us Pastors and we are supposed to obey them’, read again Matthew 23:8-11. This was Jesus telling his Apostles (above Pastors in the food chain) ‘Neither be ye called masters’.
The word here for ‘master’ is the Greek kath-ayg-ay-trace (G2519 in Strongs Dictionary) which means guide, a teacher. Others use it as authority. Neither be ye called authorities.
1 Corinthians 11:1 Imitate me as I imitate Christ.
This was Paul saying to follow his faith, follow his example and I would remind you Paul never demanded ‘unwavering loyalty for the permission of marrying’. Paul never used dictatorial control of his disciples. Rather, he expressed the Love of Christ and knew he was answerable to Christ.
Paul went on to express what Biblical headship is which gives us guidance as to who we are to be loyal to;
1Co 11:3 Now I want you to realize that the Messiah is the head of every man, and man is the head of the woman, and God is the head of the Messiah.
Recognize and realize that our obedience is to Christ, our Messiah, and savior! It is Him we must please and nowhere did Jesus say, ‘If you obey the commandments of men, you will be saved.” In fact, he said quite the opposite.
Mar 7:7 Their worship of me is worthless, because they teach human rules as doctrines.’
Joh 15:10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
Lastly, the commandments of Christ were quite specific – love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor. Paul told us in Galatians 6:2 “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
What was it that Jesus did? He came to bear the burden of our sin. He gave himself for each of us and thus, he gave all Love to God and to his neighbors. If we do the same, we abide in Christ’ love and have the Father.
If we are obedient to Christ, we are obedient to God. Let no man deceive you and hijack your faith by the claim that you must be obedient to them! Paul asked people to follow him, he didn’t demand it. Any man who claims you cannot please God without first pleasing him is a robber of God’s grace and a hijacker of your faith! Do not let them, but put your faith in Christ and Christ alone.
Jesus Plus Nothing = Everything