“Responding to Spiritual Abuse at Authoritarian Churches” by Dale Rudiger

Below is another excellent article in a series by Dale Rudiger who blogs at The Ex-Catholic Journal. It is an important read, I believe, not just for ex-Catholics, but for anyone in churches who, by way of false doctrines, desire to usurp God’s authority and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. Unfortunately, these groups are growing fast in various forms.

Dealing With An Abusive Church

[This is the ninth and final in a series on improper submission: The first article (link) covered the similarities between Roman Catholicism and Islam, and mandatory submission. The second article (link) introduced improper submission that often occurs in evangelical churches. The third article (link) discussed the role of integrity (or lack thereof) in submitting to fallible creeds. The fourth article (link) warned about making rash oaths in submitting to church membership. The fifth article (link) described the problem of elders acting as overlords rather than as loving teachers. The sixth article (link) was a case study involving spiritual abuse related to a signed church covenant. The seventh article (link) discussed spiritual abuse at 9Marks churches. The eighth article (link) analyzed Mark Dever’s 9Marks for unhealthy attributes.
What Should We Do About 9Marks and Other Abusive Churches?
I’m a friendly stranger in the black sedan
Won’t you hop inside my car.
I got pictures, got candy
I’m a lovable man
And I can take you to the nearest star.
I’m your vehicle baby
I’ll take you anywhere you want to go.
I’m your vehicle woman
By now I’m sure you know
That I love ya (love ya)
I need ya (need ya)
I want ya,
Got to have you child…
From the song “Vehicle” written by Jim Peterik of The Ides of March (1970)
This is my third article concerning 9Marks. The first article detailed my experiences of abuse at 9Marks churches. The second article explored “Why are 9Marks churches so unhealthy?” In that article, I listed nine problems with 9 Marks that result from Mark Dever’s puritanical paradigm. Last year I wrote a “stream of consciousness” article that covered this topic. This is a more structured treatment of the topic.
In this article, I explore the question, “How should we respond to 9Marks and other improper religious structures?”
The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 16:17:
I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.
First, we need to SPOTLIGHT these dangerous “church vehicles.” Second, if you are already in the “black sedan”, you need to LEAVE immediately for your own safety. Third, the children of God need to AVOID hopping into such dangerous “vehicles” in the first place. Fourth, the church at large is to WARN these divisive “drivers of the sheep”. After a second warning, we are to have nothing to do with them (Titus 3:10).
Are 9Marks churches divisive? 
In my experience, the answer: “YES!” Here is my “Top Ten List” of the attributes of their “Dividic Kingdom”:
#10: They Divide Christians From Their Assurance
Mark Dever and 9Marks recommend that pastors constantly warn the sheep that they may not belong to Christ. He even tells us to question one another’s relationship with Jesus! This promotes an inward focus upon one’s obedience instead of an outward focus as to what Jesus accomplished for us at the cross. Constant puritanical instruction causes the sheep to question their conversion. They divide Christians from their assurance. [We need to tell these “back seat drivers” to shut up and stop critiquing the way we drive!]
#9: They Divide Christians From Their Freedom
Mark Dever and 9Marks require one to sign a binding “church covenant”. This is a legal document that must be agreed to in order to become a card-carrying member of the “church”. By swearing an oath, the consciences of believers are bound where they should be free. They are pointed away from the New Covenant and its freedom and are directed back to the bondage of the Law. Christians are divided from their freedom in Christ.
#8: They Divide Christians from One Another
Mark Dever and 9Marks require the signing of a fallible statement of faith in order to become a member of the “church”. This eventually leads to divisions among the body. Step one: They pressure us toward membership. Step two: They make us sit through a crash course in the pastor’s systematic theology. Step three: I later discover that I disagree with some secondary or tertiary doctrine. Step four: I can no longer in good conscience remain a member of the church. This promotes church hopping and unnecessary division.
#7: They Divide Christians at the New Covenant Meal
Mark Dever and 9Marks require evangelical “membership” in order for a Christian to participate in the Lord’s Supper. Dever goes even further and has all the “church” members stand up and recite the church’s covenant before partaking. Christians are questioned as to their worthiness to share in the meal. This divides Christians from the wonderful grace of remembering Jesus and the blood he shed for us at the cross. It also creates two classes of Christians: the “in-crowd” and the “outsider.”
#6: They Divide Christian Men and Women
Mark Dever and 9Marks have a very strange understanding of submission. They demand it! This is so detrimental to the healthy functioning of a body of believers and to the health of a marriage. When a pastor teaches that a husband should expect submission from his wife based upon his office as head, he is causing division. In marriage, the husband is called to submit to the wife, just as the wife is to submit to her husband. He is to love her. Love is sacrificial and submissive. The beauty of a loving marriage is mutual submission. The husband is built up by the respect, nurture, and empathy given by the wife. The wife is built up by the respect, nurture and empathy given by the husband. They are together in Christ.
When women are treated as second class citizens at a church, or are kept separate from the men folk, problems arise in the body. I have witnessed an unloving spirit at the 9Marks churches I have attended. They lacked empathy. I think it was a direct result of the authoritarian teaching requiring submission to an office, whether to pastor/elder or husband. They improperly enforce gender roles.
#5: They Divide Christians from the Holy Spirit
Mark Dever and 9Marks promote legalism. They demand improper oaths. They mandate adherence to a fallible statement of faith. They preach uncertainty and question one’s salvation. In a word, they point people back to Mt. Sinai and the Law. Such practices quench the Holy Spirit. When submission to an office is required, the pastor or elder usurps the authority of the Holy Spirit. This causes Christians to lose touch with the Comforter. Christians are divided from the Holy Spirit. This results in a very unhealthy church.
#4: They Divide Christians from the Body of Christ
Mark Dever and 9Marks promote excommunications. Cut ’em off from the Lord’s Supper! Cut ’em off if they don’t “belong” to a “church!” Cut ’em off if they break their vow of attendance! Cut ’em off if they question our authority! Cut ’em off if they want to leave! Instead of excommunication being a rare occurrence based upon a serious and public sin, just about any act of “rebellion” is grounds for removal. [For example, Karen Hinkley is threatened with excommunication for annulling her marriage to her unrepentant pedophile husband by the elders at The Village Church in Dallas, TX. I urge you to read this shocking email that this church sent out to its members.]
These divisive men abuse their presumed authority and do the unthinkable – they divide Christians from the Body of Christ.
#3:  The Leaders Divide from their Fellow Christians
Mark Dever and 9Marks declare unashamedly “In our preaching, we stand in the place of God.” Are they claiming to be a mediator between God and man? [If so, they are usurping the role of Jesus.] Mark Dever also asserts that trust between pastor/elder and congregant is not earned, but rather must be “given as a gift” to church leaders. “We trust God by trusting our leaders.” By demanding submission based on their office, the 9Marks pastors and elders divide themselves from the “common” Christian. In practice, they deny the priesthood of the believer. They are the priests. You are not a priest, and neither am I.
#2: They Divide Their Minds; They Lack Integrity
A symptom that goes along with an inflated sense of themselves and a low view of the sheep is double-mindedness. They lack integrity. They don’t hold themselves to the same standards. They are hypocrites. For example, Mark Dever has no problem letting C.J. Mahaney flee church discipline and hide out at “his” church. These men do not accept reproof. They only interact with those who agree with them. On their blogs and websites they shut off comments. They hide out, and divide their minds from the reality of what they are doing. They preach to others, but don’t preach to themselves. They are Pharisaical.
And #1: They Divide Christians from Christ!
Mark Dever and 9Marks claims that the “church” holds the keys to the Kingdom. Thus, it is the God-given right for the “church” to decide who is or is not a Christian. They also hold the keys in the matter of excommunication. I spent 34 years of my life in a religion that claimed it held the keys to the Kingdom. In fact, the logo of the organization is two keys and a triple crown.
Brothers and sisters, I can say with assurance that YOU hold the keys to the kingdom. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be a Christian. Let me explain. The keys represent the message of salvation. When we confess our need for a Savior and place our trust in Jesus, we enter the kingdom. NO CHURCH HOLDS THE KEYS TO THE KINGDOM. Any church that claims to do so is usurping the authority of God and is placing Christians in bondage. I personally discovered this truth by studying the Book of Colossians. In Colossians 2 there are multiple warnings to beware of authoritarian leadership. “Let no one delude you with a persuasive argument…See to it that no one takes you captive…Therefore no one is to act as your judge…Let no one keep defrauding you…Why do you submit to decrees…”  We are warned NOT to hand our keys to a fraudulent authority.
Jonathan Leeman, in his book “Don’t Fire Your Church Members”, performs a deceptive sleight of hand. He desires, on the one hand, to place authority in the congregation. Then on the other hand he places everyone in the congregation under the authority of the elders, demanding submission. Here is how Leeman steals our keys:
Step 1He tells you that your keys belong to the Church
[Al Mohler, a good friend of Mark Dever and avid supporter of 9 Marks, was responsible for adding an “s” to “the priesthood of the believer in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, thus making our priesthood a corporate one].
Step 2Every member of the Church must submit to the elders.
My keys are now the elder’s keys. We are doubly deprived. We now are two steps removed from Jesus. The church is our first mediator, and the pastor/elder/priest is our second mediator.
A typical excommunication at an abusive church proceeds based upon the recommendation of the elders. And these elders demand that every member of the congregation submit to their authority! In what courtroom does the prosecuting attorney (elder) demand that the judge (congregation) submit to him?
How Should We Respond to Abusive Authority?
These authoritarian churches are dangerous S.U.V.s (Seductive, Unsafe Vehicles). 9Marks “popes” stand in the place of God and claim, “I’m your vehicle, baby!” In reality, they are “the stranger in the black sedan”. Don’t be tempted by their “pictures and candy” to get inside. You do not want to go where they are driving.
When divisive, authoritarian “leaders” have been identified, we should SHINE THE SPOTLIGHT on them. We should LEAVE them. We should AVOID them. And we should WARN them. (For you shredded cabbage lovers, S-L-A-W.)
1. Shine the Spotlight on Them
I recently watched the movie “Spotlight”. It is amazing that it took over forty years for the truth to come out. It took a “Spotlight” to reveal the extent of the abuse and cover-up by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Abusive “churches” that replace Christ (e.g. the Pope or the 9 Marks pastor), hide Christ (behind mediators), add requirements or traditions to Christ, or subtract from Christ’s sufficiency must be identified and investigated. God often raises up “watchdogs” to shine the spotlight of truth on abusive religious structures. Once the spotlight reveals the truth, many stories of abuse come to the surface. This brings comfort and closure to those who have previously been hurt and provides a warning to others.
2. Leave these churches
If you have been seduced into the “vehicle” of an authoritarian church, it is imperative that you get out. The sooner, the better. These churches will keep you from a thriving relationship with Jesus. They will sap the spiritual life out of you. It takes courage to leave a church. You have developed friendships (tasted the candy). One of the important purposes of “church” is to gather for fellowship. In leaving an abusive church, you may lose your friends. They could even become your enemies. But you will also experience freedom, and will eventually feel the Spirit once again flowing in your relationships.
If you have been spiritually abused, you will need healing. Ask your friends to pray for you. Remember that you have Jesus interceding for you. You may feel alone, but you are not.
After you leave, realize that you are still in a very vulnerable position. Personally, I gravitated back to another abusive church. We do not always take responsibility for our own spiritual growth, and we hand the reins over to another improper spiritual “leader.” We may be deceived because we are used to “milk and not solid food”. We may have an unhealthy fear of man.
Another issue is “where do I go?” Some people who have been hurt or deceived by abusive authority eventually call it quits and give up on institutional church. They become “Dones”. These Christians “find church” outside the walls of what many consider “church.” They fellowship with Christian friends and share ministry. They display hospitality. They form Bible studies. For a good evaluation of the “Done Movement,” I recommend the book Church Refugees by Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope. The House Church movement is another possibility for those who have been burned or restricted by the institutional church.
Realize that you are a member of the universal church whether or not you have been excommunicated or forced out of an abusive church. Do not let these abusers keep you from growing in Jesus Christ. In other words, never give up. Never. Seek out Christian fellowship wherever it may be found. I experience church fellowship on the golf course with Christian brothers who love me. Church doesn’t have to be so structured and rigid. Find someone to be your mentor. Be a mentor yourself. Take advantage of social media and share your story with “online friends”. Learn from dead Christians. It’s okay to visit churches without “membering”. Perhaps someday you will be led by the Spirit to formally join a healthy congregation. But these churches are becoming “fewer and farther between.”
You may have been scarred by your awful experiences at church. Learn to love your scars. My scars remind me not to fear man. They remind me to rest and revel in my relationship with Jesus Christ. They remind me that God loves me so much that He removed me from my abusers. I can look back and see God’s hand in everything that happened to me and see how He still is guiding me. My scars remind me of the healing power of Jesus Christ and the powerful fellowship of the Holy Spirit in my life.
3. Avoid these churches
It is the responsibility of Christians to “act like Bereans”. Do your homework. Go to the 9Marks Church Search to see if the church you are attending subscribes to the 9 Marks system. ASK QUESTIONS! Abusive pastors/elders are threatened by those who are independent thinkers. If they become at all defensive, you should consider “gittin’ outta Dodge”. Tell others about churches you consider unhealthy. Don’t sign covenants. Be patient in getting to know the church you are attending. Don’t submit to church leaders based on their office, but rather by the consistent display of their character. Avoid anyone who claims to have a special anointing. Beware of following leaders who have been given a “ministry vision”. Leave if Hebrews 13:17 is used to demand submission. Watch out for legalism. Do the elders have a critical spirit? See if Jesus is the center of attention at the church. Listen to some sermons online. Watch for unbiblical accountability structures. If there is any sign of sin-sniffing, leave. If you are married, pay attention to your spouse’s feelings about the church you are attending. Very important: keep yourself from idols. No hero worship! Don’t base your church attendance solely on “pure doctrine”. If you do, you may find yourself joining another abusive church with the “Ephesian love problem (Rev. 2)” – one where God has removed the lampstand of the Spirit.
4. Warn the abusers
This can be very dangerous. Know that if you do this alone, you may become prey. You are risking abuse and perhaps excommunication. Your abusers typically try to divide and conquer. They may not let you bring others with you to confront them, and they may gang up on you. Tell your stories to others, and get their support. This also may be difficult, because you may have become part of a spiritually abusive collective. Your friends may have become addicted to the “candy and pictures” that they have been receiving week after week at the hands of divisive spiritual abusers.
Pray for these men. They will be held accountable by God for acting like demigods. Perhaps He will be gracious and bring these wayward pastors to repentance. But it probably will not be according to your timetable. In any event, the Bible tells us to warn divisive people twice. Three strikes and they’re out! Have nothing to do with the abusive person if they do not respond to your warnings. These men are unqualified to be leaders in the household of God. They lord it over the flock. They lack love and empathy. They are not above reproach. They are become beyond approach.
There is Nothing New Under the Sun
I would like to conclude this article by recognizing three very brave individuals who have gone before us in this battle for freedom.
The first person is the Apostle Paul. He confronted the Judaizers who wanted to divide the church based on Jewish law. Paul warned Christians of this error and his writings set free the Christian conscience. He suffered persecution.
The second person is Martin Luther. He confronted the powerful papacy, who were dividing the Christian from Christ’s righteousness.  He set in motion the Reformation, which freed multitudes from bondage. He suffered persecution.
The third person is Roger Williams. He confronted the leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony who were dividing Christians from liberty. He set in motion religious liberty in America. He suffered persecution.
May God continue to raise up brave warriors who will defend our freedom that we have in our wonderful Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. May He be magnified and glorified in the church now and forever! Amen!
In Christ,
This entry was posted in abuse, Commentaries, cult and occult, most recent posts, Patriarchy/Complementarianism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to “Responding to Spiritual Abuse at Authoritarian Churches” by Dale Rudiger

  1. duffy1958 says:

    Reblogged this on Duffy1958 and commented:
    Abuse in the Church and Otherwise


  2. duffy1958 says:

    This is a fantastic article. I think you can substitute other abusive situations into this writing and would be highly appropriate.
    It’s an all out war and attack on Believers. Keep your feet firmly planted on the SURE foundation of The Lord Jesus and keep your eyes, heavenward.
    Going to reblog this. Thank you. Very ‘meaty’. 👍🏼✔️😁


  3. Sally Richardson says:

    This is a truly excellent article. Thank you.

    I agree and identify with so many of the points
    you make in “How Do We Respond To Abusive Authority?” You say, shine the spotlight on these abusive churches. This I have done.

    As you also point out, leaving abusive churches is not easy. You make all sorts of excuses for not leaving; I myself was in denial
    and was desperately trying to justify what I knew was wrong. Like you, too, I went from one abusive church to another. An awful pattern seemed to be emerging.

    Most of the people in the abusive church I left last year now regard me with great suspicion, and have withdrawn themselves from me. I know I still need prayer for healing, though I have had some.

    I have actually written extensively about spiritual abuse, and my experiences of it. If you
    would like me to send you these articles, I’d be happy to do so. My only desire is to help other victims, as you are so obviously doing.

    Thank you so much once again.


  4. Mike Rogers says:

    Reblogged this on Closingstages and commented:
    Great article, very encouraging.


    • pmcb says:

      Hi, Mike,

      Agreed. Dale does a great job of exposing the Catholic Church’s errant teachings, and encouraging others. I’m sure he himself is encouraged by your linking to his article on your blog: https://closingstages.net/

      RE: you topic vis a vis the Sozo heresy at Bethel Church in Redding, CA, Jan Markell did a recent, 2-part radio program on this topic. Here is a link to part 1: https://olivetreeviews.org/radio-archives/wolves-not-sparing-the-flock-part-1/ Perhaps you have heard it? I believe it might be another valuable piece for your blog. Markell interviews the parents of a young woman who has been trapped in the Sozo cult via classic cult psy ops, and this has been very heartbreaking for her family. Bill Johnson’s cult keeps getting worse and worse. Thanks for YOUR good work to expose it.


      Liked by 1 person

  5. Cathy says:

    Very interesting, these Authoritian Churches!
    They are basically CULTS…want your Submission Of Will and Intellect! 🤔
    We know the Worst Usurper!


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