I’ve recently read a book entitled Churches That Abuse by Ronald M. Enroth and I found it a fascinating book into the insights of what most would consider highly “cultic” churches. These churches are ones that most people would never get sucked into, but they exist, are quite active, and are in some instances very popular. The most fascinating thing about my journey through this book is not that people will end up in Jonestown, but that discerning people that know their bibles can easily be trapped in a system that is unbiblical, and often dangerous.
I plan to do a blog series on Churches That Abuse because not everyone will go to the effort to buy the book but may spend a little time reading this blog to understand the techniques and characteristics of abusive churches and how they typically function. There are consistent patterns in the churches highlighted throughout the book, and if you find yourself questioning the legitimacy of a church, you might benefit from reading about the most common characteristics
I will quote heavily from the book and note that Enroth’s work is based on years of comprehensive research with real people that have independently verifiable experiences. The leaders of the abusive churches in the book would, no doubt, say that victims had an “axe to grind” or were “disgruntled.” However, when the same complaints are lodged against a church continually, it becomes difficult to maintain that it is just a few bad experiences, or that there was a conspiracy against a group. Reading the book myself, I’ve been made all the more aware that the slightest distortion of truth can have immense consequences and can have long term damaging effects on the precious souls of individuals.
We do need to be careful, though. We can easily assign abusiveness to those with whom we disagree and can throw terms around that may or may not be true, so prayerfully seeking God’s wisdom and sound discernment are important. The Bible assures believers that the Lord will lead us in truth. In our search for the truth we must also bear in mind that most who are caught up in these churches don’t recognize it; they have people that love them and would desire them to see it, but they can’t, or they won’t.
As Enroth points out, “Regrettably, it is not always possible to ‘get through’ to people already caught up in abusive churches. They do not see themselves as being manipulated, or in any danger of spiritual abuse. Hence, the frustration of parents, relatives, and friends who try to reach or ‘rescue’ them. There are no easy solutions to this problem.” 
The book’s front cover description says, “Ronald Enroth identifies what is meant by ‘abusive churches.’ Then, he describes abusive churches, using the ten identifying traits of control-oriented leadership, spiritual elitism, manipulation of members, perceived persecution, lifestyle rigidity, emphasis on experience, suppression of dissent, harsh discipline of members, denunciation of other churches, and the painful exit process. Finally, he shows readers how to discern fringe churches and offers several ‘red flags’ that can be discerned when conventional churches drift toward the fringe.” 
In Enroth’s introduction he presents Pastor Phil and while it is clear Pastor Phil has some control issues he has some tendencies that are common among abusive leaders. Often a family orientation is highly stressed, “’We’re family,’ Pastor Phil reminds us. And while this is true of the body of Christ there is manipulation in the way charismatic, control-oriented leaders live this out. Wisdom and discernment are hallmarks of this type of a leader who will work at gaining trust through these avenues. Often as Pastor Phil stated, ‘he is very negative toward formal schooling.’” There may be inconsistencies in his life that look good on Sunday morning but may not be the same within the home or in the outside world. Pastor Phil is a likeable guy in certain circumstances but in the back of his mind he is working toward a greater goal. Sadly, for the members of Phil’s church the motives are sinister, but for Phil he believes he is doing them good. Is Phil deceived or does he know what he is up to? This is a difficult question to answer in some cases but in others there is no doubt it is manipulation for sordid gain.
Enroth describes the book and why it’s important that we are educated about abusive churches and the leaders that run them:
This book is about people who have been abused psychologically and spiritually in churches and other Christian organizations. Unlike physical abuse that often results in bruised bodies, spiritual and pastoral abuse leaves scars on the psyche and soul. It is inflicted by persons who are accorded respect and honor in our society by virtue of their role as religious leaders and models of spiritual authority. They base that authority on the Bible, the Word of God, and they violate that trust, when they abuse their authority, and when they misuse ecclesiastical power to control and manipulate the flock, the results can be catastrophic. The perversion of power that we see in abusive churches disrupts and divides families, fosters an unhealthy dependence of members on leadership, and creates, ultimately, spiritual confusion in the lives of victims.
And here we will begin our journey. This might be a painful exercise for some, it might be a sweet relief for others, or you may find yourself saying, “I’ve never experienced such a thing” and for that you can praise the God of heaven for His mercy toward you. This article is meant to inform and educate those that may never experience or that it may help you help someone out of such a situation. Whatever the outcome, my desire is that abusive churches and leaders will be exposed and Christ would receive the glory He deserves through His church.
Soli Deo Gloria!
 Churches That Abuse, 1992 by Ronald M. Enroth – Preface x
 Churches That Abuse, 1992 by Ronald M. Enroth – front cover
 Ibid – page 21
 Ibid – page 29
2 thoughts on “Churches That Abuse – Part 1”
Thank you for the series.
Looking forward to it.
An important topic indeed
Thank you Jeff. Yes, it is for sure.