State of the Church part 5a: When carnality leads to spiritual abuse

By Elizabeth Prata

State of the Church:

Part 1: Introduction, Love growing cold
Part 2: Are you tending your anchor?
Part 3: The numbers aren't good
Part 4: Carnal Carnival, & the greatest sin pastors commit
Part 5b: Is your church spiritually abusive?
Conclusion: Spiritual Leaders and Humble Relationships

We have been exploring Jesus' end time prophecy in Matthew 24:12, which says, "Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold," and looked at how this prophecy applies to believers. We explored the incremental drifting away from Jesus and how that impacts our selves and our churches. In part 3 we looked at the numbers of surveyed born-again believers who state they hold to a biblical worldview and found that it was 8-9%. When you have 91-92% of a congregation that has in some part a secular worldview you are in for trouble, and part 4 looked at that trouble: carnality.

Carnality is described by GotQuestions as "translated from the Greek word sarkikos, which literally means "fleshly." This descriptive word is seen in the context of Christians in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3. In this passage, the apostle Paul is addressing the readers as "brethren," a term he uses almost exclusively to refer to other Christians; he then goes on to describe them as "carnal." Therefore, we can conclude that Christians can be carnal. The Bible is absolutely clear that no one is sinless (1 John 1:8). Every time we sin, we are acting carnally. ... Until we are delivered from our sinful flesh, there will be outbreaks of carnality. For a genuine believer in Christ, though, these outbreaks of carnality will be the exception, not the rule."

In this feverish time where love is growing cold, carnality is the rule, not the exception.

Rampant carnality is now more than outbreaks, they are the norm. Carnality and secular worldviews lead to apostasy, something else we are told will happen in the last days. 2 Timothy 4:10 shows us that it a worldly spirit that tends to make apostates.

Sanctification is the process of the Holy Spirit taking a believer away from carnality and toward Christ-likeness. To the degree that Christians are submitting to the Holy Spirit's authority, sanctification occurs. defines sanctification-
Sanctification is the process by which the Holy Spirit makes us more like Christ in all that we do, think, and desire. True sanctification is impossible apart from the atoning work of Christ on the cross because only after our sins are forgiven can we begin to lead a holy life.
The more drenched you are in the biblical worldview the faster the process of sanctification goes. The more a Christian holds to a secular worldview and who sins willfully and repents slowly, the slower sanctification goes. If carnality continues apace unrepented of over a long period, apostasy is the end result, showing that they were not of us at all, but had been lost the whole time.

When love grows cold, it means the sanctification process has slowed or stalled. We see Jesus's rebuke of the Church at Ephesus for their love growing cold.

Revelation 2:4-5, Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.
So, "what was the matter in Ephesus? Christ found a fatal fault that probably nobody else saw. Their hard hearts, that labor of passion and fervor was becoming the cold orthodox function. That was deadly, dangerous. The service had started to become mechanical." (online source)
The condition of the heart is something only known to Jesus. He could see that their ardor had cooled and they were beginning to let tradition set in. 'You don't love Me like you once loved Me. Your love has cooled.' That, reader, is the forerunner of spiritual apathy.

That is the forerunner of indifference. It's the greatest fear that I have for any church because it is step one that moves you through the rest of the steps. Indifference and apathy begats love for the world, compromise with evil, corruption, death and judgment. The decreasing fervor of your love for Christ is sin. Lack of loving Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength is sin. Repent, get on your knees before God and ask Him to forgive you for that weakening love. Here is the sad, downward trend:

Fervor-->Love Cooling-->Spiritual Apathy-->Love for the world-->Corruption-->Death-->Judgment

Apathy gives rise to churches who have stalled in their process of submission to Christ and so are apathetic in their studies. They allow an authoritarian pastor to take over. They still want someone to tell them what's what, but they have left their first love (Jesus), so the tough pastor will suffice becasue he does all the work. If a church is going to be abused by an authoritarian pastor, it would begin now. Having a large group that is more worldly than not, is either apathetic or ignorant of the biblical duties of a pastor, they allow him to take more spiritual authority than he is given by God.

Now, I will say that I have never been a lifelong fan of the word abuse. Everyone and their brother says today that they have been abused, and while that may or may be actually true for the many people, I've always been a proponent of sucking it up and getting on without much fuss.

But the issue I've uncovered through researching this series has shown me clearly that spiritual abuse, or if it makes you more comfortable, its synonym, authoritarianism, is not only present today, but it is just as rampant as it was in the days of Jesus confronting the Pharisees. It breaks my heart. Since discovering this, I have cried on behalf of the abused and the sinning pastors while praying every night. So is Spiritual Abuse/Authoritarianism a new phenomenon or is it biblical?

"David Henke notes in "Spiritual Abuse in the Bible?" Spiritual abuse has a very prominent place in the Bible, though that terminology has not been used until recently. In the scripture it is called bondage to men and the traditions of men. It is a by-product and outgrowth of legalism, which is bondage to the letter of the law."

Jesus mourned that the people had no shepherd. (Matthew 9:35-38; Mark 6:33-34; John 10:11-13). Every town had a synagogue if the town had eleven men, so there were shepherds, the priests were the shepherds. What Jesus was mourning was their lack of compassion, their penchant for abuse by instituting legalistic rules, and their selfishness, self-aggrandizement and vanity. The problem was that the religious system had been corrupted by men to the extent that they were abusive, hypocritical, lordly legalistic shepherds who harm and not help the flock. These scriptures speak to the shepherds who not only harm but scatter the sheep: Ezekiel 34:1-24, Zechariah 11, Jeremiah 5:26-31, 1 Peter 5:1-4." (online source).

So we see that though the term is modernized it is a very old problem. And everything old is new again. Though we are told many times in the New Testament that wolves will be among us, Christians usually take that to mean, out there, or at best, in other churches. But it is not so. Wolves will be among us, everywhere. (Matthew 7:15). Even pastors.

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.  Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. (Acts 20:28-31).

The Pharisees and Scribes were poster children for abusive spiritual authorities. "[I]f you look at Ezekiel and Isaiah and Jeremiah, was that they were not using the authority they had been given for the benefit of the weak, for those who didn’t have a voice. They were using their authority for their own purposes and for the sake of human kingdoms.

The result in people’s lives then was the same as now: spiritual exhaustion rooted in misconceptions about who God is, about what God wants from us and about God’s stance toward us. ... in Matthew 23 he not only describes the dynamics that were going on between the Pharisees and the people, but he also warns people about the Pharisees."

So we know the path that leads to love growing cold and what a sin it is. We know that it is prophesied to be rampant in the last days. In this post we looked at the biblical history of the constant problem of authoritarian pastors and worthless hireling shepherds. In the next post I will discuss what spiritual abuse is, how frequent it is, and look at list specifics as to what constitutes the warning signals of authoritarianism in the church, or spiritual abuse.


  1. You might find this short video goes right along with this post:

  2. I am interested in your next post. Because of a lot I have seen.

  3. ANonymous, I'll write it tomorrow. Today's post took a long time because of prayer and making sure the scriptures were right and the tone was right. Tomorrow will be tougher. It is a delicate subject, on behalf of all those who have been abused. But also to make sure that there is a lot of love even for the sinning pastors and deacons etc, so I want to make sure the one is right. There is quite a bit of information out there on this topic. I hope to do it justice.

    1. I recently took my membership out of my church, an independent Baptist church, because of observed abusive attitudes in the leadership (pastor, et al.) and truly a lack of love and concern for the elderly. I have personally seen that of which you speak. I am very hesitant now to join another church. I am a 75 y.o. widow.

    2. I am so sorry that happened to you! I know how devastating it can be. I understand the last thing you would want to do is put yourself at risk again...that is how the bad shepherds strike the sheep. DO you know of anyone in your area who was at that church and feels the same as you? Do they go to a new church? It is risky not to attend church, satan loves to cut the herd and strike at the loners. Would you consider another church? :)


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