Hyper-authoritarian doctrines and practices have become cemented into the foundation, fabric, and functions of many churches and even whole denominations or networks of churches. The problem has become so widespread that it is almost pandemic in Pentecostal and Neo-Pentecostal churches. But, the reason these scripturally-condemned doctrines and practices have been able to proliferate and endure is that they have been going on so long that the present generations of church-goers in these ecclesiastical groupings have been reared in these cultures where domination and control by church leaders is the norm and are accepted as being normal. The purpose of this article is to define hyper-authoritarianism and identify the practices that are hyper-authoritarian in nature.
Hyper-authoritarianism is predominance or psychological control imposed by spiritual leaders upon their followers or congregants with respect to not only their involvements within the church or ministry, but also regarding the personal and private matters of their lives. Ministries and church-groups practicing this illegitimate domination employ various means and degrees of psychological indoctrination and coercion to compel congregants to subject and conform their personal activities, behavior, and affairs of their lives with the leadership-prescribed standards, rules, expectations, and corporate goals of the church or ministry. The purported pretext for the imposition of this scripturally-prohibited religious governance is an adulterated concept of ecclesiastical authority. Promulgators and practitioners adamantly claim that the mechanisms of manipulation they employ are a perfectly Scriptural system of "discipleship" in fulfillment of the role and responsibility of spiritual leaders to "make disciples."
However, the fact of the matter is this kind of "discipleship" exceeds by far the bounds and intents of legitimate, that is, Scriptural and Godly, authority. This kind of so-called "shepherding" is not that which is inspired by the Good Shepherd, but by His arch-rival, for it is nothing other than witchcraft and unauthorized meddling into the personal lives of God's Flock. It is blatant misuse and abuse of authority, and is Scripturally-prohibited usurpation of believers' God-given prerogative of personal autonomy. God Himself declares:
For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. (2 Tim. 3:6-9, NASB).
Indeed, the full context of this passage indicates what ilk of individual it is who engages in this kind of ungodly, self-aggrandizing governance over others, how others should treat them, as well as their ultimate fate:
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, as also that of those two came to be. (2 Tim. 3:1-9, NASB)
Such dominating autocrats indoctrinate adherents with fallacious, psychologically enslaving teachings, predicated on subtle twisting and outright perversion of Scripture, requiring them to strictly adhere to rules and demands set by the leadership if they are to have the approval of and be in the good graces of the leadership, as well as the collective group. Ultimately, submissive members are compelled, cajoled, and/or coerced to commit everything possible of themselves and their resources unto the support of the group's leaders, mission, calling, and purposes.
The following are some of the characteristics commonly present in and control mechanisms practiced by hyper-authoritarian groups. They are all subtle mechanisms of manipulation used to subjugate and psychologically beat the sheep into complete submission and subservience to the leadership as slaves to build their private kingdoms and achieve their selfish ambitions.
- Apotheosis (improper exaltation) of the leadership. Leaders are ascribed God-like homage and sovereignty, not only over the operations of the church or ministry organization, but also over the personal lives and private affairs of their followers. They relegate to themselves "absolute authority" by which they require explicit and complete submission to themselves and their down-line of leadership appointees.
- Open reproof and rebuke. Members are subjected to private and public disparagement, reproof, and rebuke by leadership for what they deem to be insubordination and/or disobedience to their counsel, teaching, instruction, or desires.
- Open disapproval. Members are subjected to disapprobation, disapproval, shunning, and rejection by leadership and/or the collective group-society for some aspect of conduct they deem improper or unacceptable.
- Open denunciation and curses. Members are subjected to denunciation and disparagement as well as voodoo-like witchcraft "prayers" (curses) upon departure of the group.
- Open threat of excommunication. Members are subjected to excommunication from group for unbiblical reasons.
- Threats of judgment from God and church discipline for insubordination. Members are indoctrinated with unscriptural fear of judgment from God and so-called "church discipline" for insubordination to leadership.
- Indoctrination with fear of failure and judgment. Members are indoctrinated with unscriptural fear of failure independent of the group in order to foster undue dependency on the group and its leaders.
- Indoctrination with fear of spiritual apostasy. Members are indoctrinated with an unscriptural fear of ungenuine or lost salvation and inferior spirituality.
- Guilt-projection. Members are subjected to unscriptural guilt projection regarding their sinfulness, weaknesses, faults, and failures in order to reinforce insecurity, diffidence, and self-doubt, so as to make them feel dependent on the group and leaders for direction, guidance, and decision-making.
- Exclusivity and isolation. Members are indoctrinated with teaching about the necessity of them "separating" or isolating themselves from all outside relationships and influences under the supposed pretext of insulating them from philosophical contradictions and criticisms of the particular improper practices and unscriptural beliefs of the group. Leaders also forbid their members from having any kind of exposure to any ministry or ministers outside of the internal hierarchy of their organization and those they have approved, and members must obtain the prior approval of the leadership for any form of exposure to outside ministry.
- Internalization. Excessive and virtually comprehensive internal involvement and group-dedication is required of each member to in effect keep them indentured to the mission and development of the organization.
- Improper Dependence on Leadership. Fostering or requiring of excessive and inappropriate dependence on the corporate group and leadership for guidance and decision-making regarding their ministry as well as personal affairs. Leadership approval, often referred to as a "witness" by the leadership, is required on virtually every decision regarding the personal affairs, sometimes including mundane matters, of members and their entire family. Congregants are taught that their leaders have been placed in a position as a watchman or a guardian over them by the Lord, as the "bishop (overseer) of their souls," which they interpret to mean that the members need to obtain permission or approval from their "personal pastor" or leader for life matters. The commonly purported reason for this necessity is in order that the member can ensure that they are "in the will of God." Though most of them would vigorously deny and refute the charge, the leadership in such ministries have, in effect, imposed themselves as the members' spiritual mediators. Despite public allusions to the principles of domestic authority explicitly expressed in God's Word, in practicality and privately, the husband's headship over his wife and family is often undermined and even usurped in authoritarian groups by their "shepherd" or "personal pastor" and the requirement for members to obtain their approval or "witness" for ministry and personal matters. In the culture of these groups, the boundaries and sanctity of the family delineated in Scripture are obscured, and members are taught that the church-group is the members' "true family," and that because the pastor(s) or leader(s) are the spiritual head(s) of the "spiritual family," they are therefore the ultimate authority over the individual members as well their family.
- Esotericism. Deliberate and crafty concealment or obfuscation of the true nature, agenda, beliefs, teachings, and practices of the group to the general public, prospective members, and new proselytes, who are fed such information piecemeal only as they progress through incremental stages of "enlightenment" or "spiritual maturity" (i.e., indoctrination) so that they can properly understand the teachings and culture of the church-group (i.e., cult).
- Love-bombing. Surreal, unnatural, idyllic, Pollyanna, excessive, ushy-gushy, showy, humanistic, carnal, and very conditional "love" and artificial "acceptance" used to anesthetize members against the potent predomination being imposed upon them. Members are incessantly told how much the leaders love them and how dedicated they are to looking out for the members' personal and spiritual welfare. Not ironically, this is a characteristic common to all bona fide cults, whether they be "Christian" cults or otherwise.
- Economic exploitation and enslavement. Unbiblical, erroneous, excessive demands and requirements imposed upon members for financial contributions under the guise of "financial accountability" or "good stewardship." Many groups require their members to sign a "covenantal agreement" committing themselves to an iron-clad, exacting requirement of submission of tithes and offerings to the organization in order to retain their membership and to be "considered for leadership positions" in the church.
Multitudes of sincere and trusting believers are caught in the virtually invisible web of religious captivation in Charismatic and other Neo-Pentecostal churches, and don't know it. They are unaware victims of spiritual abuse and exploitation under the heavy-hand of hyper-authoritarianism. The leadership of the church-group of which they are a part is dominating, controlling, and manipulating their followers, and exploiting them for their own personal gain and private kingdom-building. And, it is transpiring not merely in radical, fringe religious sects and cults, as some would suppose, but rather in otherwise bona fide church-groups espousing orthodox Christian beliefs, whose memberships are comprised of a cross section of average Americans, individuals and families, of every race, education level, station, and walk of life.
How unfortunate and troubling it is that this terrible blight on the church has been able to prevail and prosper for so long. May God send forth a move of His Spirit to judge and put and end to it soon!