To Former and Current Pentecostals, church leaders, and to whomever
else may read this;
When I originally wrote this essay, its purpose was to state our
purpose quickly since it was to serve as an introduction to our web-site.
What resulted was a scathing generalization of the movement at large
without any consideration for exceptions, and without any hope for change
within this larger group. While I do believe that emotional manipulation
and spiritual abuse occur within Pentecostal and Charismatic congregations
at a greater percentage than within Christianity at large, I don't believe
that it happens in every P/C church, nor do all occurrences of such play
themselves out to the same extremes as may be mentioned in many articles
on this web-site. I also do not accept the notion that the Pentecostal and
Charismatic movements cannot change for the better -- many Christian
denominations have had atrocious past histories, and Pentecostalism and
it's spin-offs can be no different. They are a faith system in its
Having said that, I must restate my conviction that many congregations
within the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements (and within pseudo-Pentecostal
"non-denominational" churches) are emotionally manipulative,
psychologically deceptive, and in some cases, spiritually (or religiously)
abusive -- with rare occurrences of physical or sexual violence. These
manipulations take place in the form of (but are not limited to)
"expressive worship," "prophecies," "interpretation of tongues,"
"miraculous healing," and the "rebuking of demons (exorcisms)." These
events create the perception that "God is in this place," which not only
electrifies those in attendance, but it also "validates" the legitimacy of
the ministry and their actions.
By reading the many criticisms, experiences, essays and other resources
on our site, you will see the true nature behind many of these
"supernatural occurrences," and will understand that they are highly
manipulative tools used to create obedience and adherence to local
pastoral authority. These "events" may be dismissed as a circus sideshow
by some, but are integral to the movement at large -- they are the
foundation, the very cement that holds many of these churches together --
and allow for remarkable and shocking abuses of power to take place in
so-called "houses of God."
Many within these faiths cannot even comprehend the situation in which
they exist, or the abuses that they have deadened themselves to tolerate.
Many current Pentecostals have written us, stating they could match horror
stories with our supporters, yet they still "accept the truth" of their
faith. They don't even see the sad realities of such statements -- the
truth being that in traditional Christian faiths, church isn't about
tolerating manipulations, abusive pastors, sideshow behaviors, or
restrictive legalism -- it's about expressing your love for a Savior,
receiving spiritual nourishment, and . . . above all . . . feeling safe
and loved. How can anyone feel "safe and loved" when they're constantly in
fear of losing their salvation, or not getting the "total" blessings that
God has to offer (as many Pentecostals/Charismatics do -- regardless of
whether or not current one is will admit to it)? Many of these people will
say that "Pentecostals are human," and that anything that happens in their
churches could happen at a church down the street. The sad reality is that
these things often happen in Pentecostal/Charismatic churches (or
in other denominations commonly characterized as cults), and only
rarely occur in churches of other mainstream, orthodox, or
So, what's wrong with Pentecost? I think the most important fault
within the entire movement is the religious power and authority most of
these denominations and congregations instill within the local pastor --
something that is pandemic within both Pentecostalism and its spiritual
descendent, the Charismatic movement. The local pastor has Pope-like
powers over the local church, and many Pentecostal/Charismatic pastors
rule over their local assemblies like virtual dictators -- many only
having church "boards" filled with "yes-men" to satisfy tax authorities.
In many of these congregations, the pastor answers to no one -- to no
committee, not to the church at large, and not even -- in many cases -- to
the denominational organization that credentials him. He is an authority
unto himself and to his God, and many
Pentecostal/Charismatic/non-denominational church-goers literally believe
that his words uttered in sermons, prophecies, etc., are the literal words
of God -- as surely as most Christians believe the Bible to be.
"Why, yes," you may counter, "but he can only utter words that are
consistent within their denominational context!" To those more familiar
with traditional Christianity, you may be surprised to learn that
Pentecostalism is almost devoid of any doctrinal context. Many of their
denominational doctrines, or official stances, can be put on one piece of
paper -- though they may use reams of paper to justify those few ideas.
Pentecostalism does not borrow its doctrine from traditional and historic
Christianity -- in most cases, they started over with Biblical
interpretation during the early revivals, and -- in the case of many
Pentecostal ministers who forgo education in ministry -- they simply make
it up as they go along (presenting their doctrinal stances -- often
presented as 'new revelations' -- as the unadulterated intent of God).
This doctrinal authority (not unlike the authority the pope uses to "bind
things in Heaven") gives the pastor a blank check in controlling behaviors
of church members. Within some sects of Pentecostalism, it is not unheard
of for church members to ask permission to go on vacation, or to make
major purchases -- not for advice, but for permission.
Many Pentecostal/Charismatic pastors protect this authority by citing
scripture where those who harmed or lied to God's ministers were killed.
These scriptures are used in some churches to silence even the mildest
forms of dissent, and to prevent the questioning of pastoral authority. It
is also used to preserve many of these pastors' sole control over church
finances. In many of these churches, the pastor needs no approval from any
source to make any financial purchase or obligation to the church. In some
situations, the church financial accounts may not even be separate from
accounts the pastor uses for personal needs -- which not only leads to
corruption, but also evasion of income tax by some of these ministers.
This unchecked authority can and does corrupt many people who feel
called into Pentecostal/Charismatic ministries. Church money is used for
personal gain, people are abused and controlled by tactics intended to
create obedience and loyalty to the pastor, bible passages are contorted
to bend to the pastor's personal opinions -- and to preserve his wealth
and authority, and those that question or stand up to such abuses can
sometimes face public humiliation from the pulpit, or even be
"excommunicated" -- which can be quite stressful to someone who still
accepts the core doctrines.
So, a system that was intended to revive Christianity has devolved into
a corrupt system that manipulates people for power and wealth, leaving
emotional and psychological scars on individuals and families for the rest
of their lives. Some can be considered "backsliders" -- still believing
the core faith, but unable to bring themselves to return to a system that
manipulates them on so many levels. Some can be called victims -- peoples
whose personal lives, relationships, and individuality have been destroyed
by the stress, strain, and abuses that occur in many congregations of
The rest of us call ourselves "survivors!" We have left our painful
past, picked ourselves up (perhaps with the help of likeminded friends, or
through therapy and counseling), and we refuse to let our future be
determined by people who want nothing more than our money and obedience!
The "threats" of hell cannot prevail against those of us who know that our
spiritual walk is between us as individuals and our Higher Power, and
cannot be defined or controlled by such High Priests of Propaganda and
Personal Power! We ARE free, indeed!
Having said all that, I am not a person that thinks Pentecostalism
can't change for the better and in such a way that doesn't compromise on
their fundamental doctrines. Here are a few ideas:
1) Create a system of pastoral accountability
(This is mostly directed at Pentecostal leadership) Make your
denominational systems where they are "open" for internal complaints.
Allow for people to complain to an outside authority
(local/district/state/national denominational boards), and create a system
where these complaints can be investigated and acted on by fellow
ministers. And when abuses occur and are proven, have a "real"
disciplinary process that responds appropriately according to the degree
of the offense -- even up to the point of removing ordination, or
expelling the minister if the offense was great enough. Most of all, stop
the cover-ups, stop the ineffective "hand-slapping," and stop ignoring the
problems. To any officials of Pentecostal organizations that may happen to
read this: Do you really want your churches being drowned by scandal if
the news media's spotlight shines on your organization the way it's
shining now on America's Catholic diocese? Act NOW to control abuses that
you know are happening in your churches before you're faced with defending
your credibility to the world at large. All it takes is for a few
disillusioned congregants to get the gumption to start suing for emotional
and psychological abuses, and then a litigious tidal wave could come out
of no where. If you really want to prevent this from happening in the
future . . . start policing your ministers NOW!
One step that Pentecostal denominational officials could do (especially
those that are interested in the future success of their organization) is
to reach out and create a dialogue with those who've left. Don't be
condescending, don't be judgmental -- and if you sense that bitterness and
anger are still there, don't patronize them by "inviting them back to
church." Create an earnest dialogue with one singular purpose -- to
discover the true reasons people leave your churches.
In business, this is called "Quality Control," or "Performance
Improvement." You might be surprised to find that people are marching out
your doors for reasons you've never imagined! Most don't leave because
they've "fallen into sin," "fallen into deception," or "become
demon-possessed," but because they've been truly injured or taken
advantage of by ministers or others in positions of authority. The lack of
ethical leadership within many Pentecostal communities actually creates
this exodus -- causing people to question the very doctrines the
denominational system is supposed to protect. In essence, the churches
are creating the backsliders themselves!
The LACK of a system that self-monitors and self-disciplines is
creating these problems -- don't ignore these problems by putting it off
on God. You are the high priests -- don't let the son's of Aaron defile
the temple! You can do something about it! Put your house in order!
2) Create a system of financial accountability
Okay, church people -- this is one you can do yourself! This is one
area that you actually have the power to create change in! You elected the
pastor; you can starve him out if he don't straighten up!
Create a system in your local church to "Open the books!" Not only for
gross revenue and expenditures, but also in matters of pastoral
reimbursement. There is no excuse and no reasoning that this information
can't be public to church members, and there is no reason that the amount
can't be controlled by the congregation or a board it delegates its
authority to! This doesn't mean your pastor can't live nicely, but it
means you should probably think twice about him receiving the lion's share
of church revenues (aren't churches supposed to be charitable by
definition?). Giving the pastor a salary doesn't make him a "hireling,"
but it makes him accountable!!!
Don't give the pastor the sole signature line on the checking account!
When church revenues (especially when they are based on doctrines that
mandate 10% tithing) are likely to reach the hundreds of thousands of
dollars (if not millions) per year, this can be a temptation that no man
or woman wouldn't fall for -- especially if the money is unregulated and
unchecked. I don't think ministers could get in trouble at your local
hardware store buying tissue and light bulbs -- but if he's constantly
buying new cars, upgrading to a bigger home, or constantly going on
extended vacations -- all off the church account -- then, you have the
right to ask questions, and you have the right to control how your money
is being used.
Many traditional churches allow the minister to be the "manager" of the
church campus, but for larger purchases, or for personal salary increases,
approval from the board is required. There is nothing unscriptural about
this, though it's a constraint that Pentecostal/Charismatic ministers
vehemently oppose with great passion.
3) Create a system with real credentialing authority
This is an area that local churches and denominational boards alike
could create action on. Require your candidates for the ministry or for
pastorship to obtain a minimal theological education from a seminary or
"bible school." This will not only ensure that he is well grounded in
denominational doctrines, but will make him less likely to "make up his
own mind" about things he's not too sure about. Why is this important?
Because Pentecostal/Charismatic preachers are notorious for "getting new
revelations" from scriptures that the denomination at large may have a
differing view on, or from scripture that even another minister of the
same denomination may have "received" his own differing "revelation"
A concise, consistent doctrine only improves a denomination's
legitimacy and respectability within communities of faith, and reduces the
amount of religious abuse that can be doled out over issues the minister
may not be well educated on. And requiring such to obtain ordination (or a
job as pastor) will do a lot to accomplish this goal.
4) Let the people be heard and represented
Many Pentecostal and Charismatic denominations aren't laity-based
organizations -- they are ministerial clubs, or "bishop's councils" -- to
use a better term. Although it may be asking too much to give "members" of
local churches decision-making authority, is it asking too much to allow
them to be "members" of the denomination itself? Is it asking too much for
them to at least have a voice in matters that affect their spiritual walk
-- if not to decide, then to at least approve, or publish their opinion?
There is an idea in Pentecost that the ordinary member can't make up
their mind about spiritual matters -- that the "priests" (as it were) are
the ones empowered to make decisions concerning the body of their faith.
Well, this certainly defies New Testament scripture that teaches we can
directly petition Christ -- no priesthood is required. And likewise, there
is no reason they can't have a voice in matters of church government,
local church administration, or on major doctrinal issues. Many P/C
leaders protest such ideas, claiming such paranoid ideas that the
"standards would go out the door," or that the church would turn into a
bunch of alcoholic prostitutes -- well, the idea IS being practiced in
both mainline and fundamentalist church groups, and it has absolutely no
bearing on whether or not the group becomes more liberal or conservative.
The Southern Baptist Convention remains a very conservative organization
despite its democratic principles.
In conclusion, there is a reason we at Association
of Former Pentecostals exist -- we
have legitimate complaints based on our past experiences within
Pentecostal and Charismatic congregations. These problems aren't local,
however, but are systemic flaws -- most that can be corrected --
especially if major Pentecostal/Charismatic faiths wish to survive in an
increasingly litigious society.
If you have questions about your experience in Pentecostalism, examine
our resources, and visit us on our forums!
If you are a Pentecostal/Charismatic leader who is shaking their head
in dismay while reading this (yet, deep down, you know many of these
accusations are accurate to some degree), take some time in contemplation
or prayer and ask yourself and your God if there's something you can do to
stop the hurting, the emotional and psychological abuses, and the
manipulation of people's lives that is giving your movement a bad name as
stories come to light. This is your house, so make it one that doesn't
injure, but heals; that doesn't disfellowship, but welcomes; that doesn't
hate . . . but loves.
I don't think I'm asking a whole lot, but I'm asking for those that
can't and won't ask right now. If you -- as a leader -- attempt to make
things better, then maybe so many won't leave and won't abandon a faith
they still may feel is true.
to read the original version of this
Welcome to Association of Former