How to Heal from Theological Abuse

It’s not uncommon for me to receive communication from people who God has graciously saved out from extreme charismatic abuses, prosperity gospel exploiters, and cultish movements like the New Apostolic Reformation. I find myself both overjoyed and heart-broken at the same time because on one hand it’s the beginning of the rest of their new life in Christ. Sadly, on the other hand, it’s often the beginning of a very painful journey through loneliness, despair, and confusion.

People saved out of deception don’t know where to start. Imagine being in their shoes and having everything you ever believed and most everyone you ever trusted turn out to be predominantly false. Now, go even further. Your friends, social circles, and even family members ostracize you when you try to explain the truth to them. You get labeled as “rebellious” or “hateful,” are threatened with divine judgment, and anyone associating with you is warned not to join you in “touching the Lord’s anointed.” Few people understand what many theologically abused exiles say feels a lot like PTSD.

One of most common series of questions looks something like this: What can I do to heal and move on from the abusive theology and actions I have been a part of? What do you think my next step is? How to I get over this? How do I get stable after being so confused?

Before any of those questions can be answered effectively, it’s important we echo the words of Martin Luther when he was asked how the Reformation happened. He said, “The Word did it all.” Friend, whenever “reformation” happens in our lives it is a “word-centered” process. That is what the Holy Spirit uses to illuminate our dark souls.

I’ve put this list in emails to people time and time again so I thought it best to compile a blog in case this may help more people get answers. Think of this list as a “plagiarize and customize” kind of thing. Use what you think is helpful and toss out what you don’t.

If you have some helpful tips, add them in the comments here or on social media. My guess is that over time, we’ll continue to see people share their stories and provide practical steps towards recovery from their own experiences as well.

Here are several next steps:

1. Cling to a (BIBLICAL) church, your pastors, and wise mentors — In my case, I was fortunate to be saved at the same time that our church was shedding shallow methods (and some bad theology) and embracing sound doctrine. We received a lot of help from seminary professors, selfless pastor-theologians, and retired pastors. Our pastors and elders (thankfully) were open to learning and growing! They wanted truth. Had they not, my wife and I were ready to pack our bags. God was gracious — we didn’t need to leave and so we all grew together. Older, wiser, and spiritual balanced mentors will always be used by God to play a key role in helping abused and confused sheep recover. Overall, run from error and abuse, find a biblically minded church with leaders who shepherd people, then stick to it like velcro! That’s the takeaway here. Don’t go rogue. Don’t do “online church” because you refuse to trust anyone. Don’t wander aimlessly. Find a Biblical church and plant yourself there.

2. Get into counseling — Depending on your church size and pastor’s schedule, you may need to seek counseling outside your church. In order to keep progressing, I recommend seeing a biblical counselor. I remember a very fruitful season of growth because at various points over a period of three years I met with biblical counselors. I poured my heart out, told them everything I’d been through, asked questions, received wisdom from the word, and put truth into practice as soon as possible after each session. Counseling is huge for recovering. Don’t hold back. Get your trust issues out on the table.

3. Saturated your life with sound teaching — For all the time our society spends binging on Netflix, wounded sheep do well to put that energy into soaking up sound doctrine. I’ve heard story after story of people who were saved out of deception and subsequently spent Sundays under their pastor’s teaching, then spent 5 nights a week reading solid blog articles, devouring theological books, and watching John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Steven Lawson, and Paul Washer sermons — taking notes as though they were in the front row at church until their eyes couldn’t stay open. Get serious about sound doctrine. God will use it to strengthen you.

4. Journal what you’re learning —This may not be your first thought, but writing can be very useful for processing thoughts, emotions, and the wisdom you’re learning. Make T-charts of “true teachings vs. false ones,” write out verses that debunk your old beliefs, write your testimony in 500 words, 250 words, and a 50-word elevator speech. Consider making prayer lists and spending substantial amounts of time on your knees with the Lord. In short, putting things on paper helps bring clarity to otherwise sporadic thoughts and emotions.

5. Continue your education – Seminary education may not be your thing but continuing education should be. This could be an online learning program, or a Bible Certificate from a seminary or Christian University, or starting some classes at your local church’s bible institute. Doctrinal training puts “meat” on the bones of your new beliefs. Many churches have excellent (free) resources for training lay people (find one of those kind of churches). If you’re church isn’t there yet, consider an online learning tool like Ligonier Connect.

6. Wash, Rinse, Repeat – Never stop doing the steps listed above. Even if school ends, or you’re counseling is complete, continue saturating your life with the Word. Stay plugged into the local church, keep accountability close by, seek out wise counsel, and prioritize your devotion to Christ. What you’re experiencing now is the Christian life. We get saved, and then the fun begins — even if the “fun” takes hard work. Remember, God is the one working in you and through you, but your hands need to stay on the plow. The road to recovery is more like running a marathon, not using a microwave. Salvation is instant, sanctification is a process. Trust the Lord and stay the course.

20 replies
  1. Kati Naatus
    Kati Naatus says:

    This is a topic that resonates deeply with me. By the grace of God, He delivered me from the hyper-charismatic movement in 2016. Thankfully I did not sit in it for long but did, unfortunately, drag my family along for the ride for a season. I praise God for our small Bible church where God’s word exposited and I did, indeed, go back to school to complete a certificate in Christian ministry in addition to my degree! It’s very hard for me to see people who I love caught up in deception possessing tremendous zeal, but rejecting the truth that’s plainly taught in God’s word. I truly believe that God allowed me to experience what I did from an insider’s perspective in order for me to help point my sister’s in the direction of truth. It’s not easy at times, but I will continue to be a Berean and encourage others to always check what is claimed in the name of God to the word of God…in context.

    Reply
  2. D H
    D H says:

    This article is a huge blessing. I wish you wrote it two years ago when we were going through it! One area I wish I would have committed to is finding a good biblical counselor. Relating it to PTSD is spot on, especially being someone who has experienced traumatic experiences in the war zone. In all honesty, the spiritual abuse from leaving was far worse. Thank you for your faithfulness and love for the Word sir. You are a blessing.

    Reply
  3. Fran
    Fran says:

    I firmily believe Our Father’s word even being in ministry that does not follow Yahusha. It doesn’t and sadly has ingulfed so many of our Savior’s people. His word is simple; FOLLOW ME. He didn’t have a place to put His head, only those who do the WILL OF THE FATHER does He know. So much of what is taught doesnt match what the Master taught. It took me a lot of prayer of crying out to HIM, “i want to know the TRUTH.” ALL THINGS WORK TOGETHER FOR THE GOOD OF THOSE WHO LOVE HIM AND ARE CALLED ACCORDING TO HIS PURPOSE. Nothing can shake us from HIS word.

    Reply
  4. Jerry
    Jerry says:

    My family left the NAR after watching Strange Fire. “None come unless the Father draws them…” I especially came kicking and screaming even though I knew the NAR was hogwash. We have all immersed ourselves in reformed doctrine for years now and what a blessing sound doctrine is! I appreciate this article because it mirrors exactly what we have done and is kind of like positive feedback. Thanks for posting!

    Reply
  5. Niko
    Niko says:

    I can totally relate to this one. I grew up in a staunchly “Word of Faith” household. Luckily I did read my Bible, but was indoctrinated with a lot of false teachings, particularly that anything bad that happened was somehow either my fault or a demon. We went to 2 charismatic churches over a period of 25 years. The people I knew from these places ranged from outright hypocrities (like looking at porn while teaching, or sending nude pics to church members) to overly religious (if you say something it will happen and God will curse you!). At some point I left and wounded up at a reformed leaning church doctrinally and actually began to learn the Bible. Over a slow course of about 4 years (along with some severe depression- which of course to my relatives was ‘my fault’ or ’caused by the devil’) I realized a lot of what I had learned was false. The biggest one was that Cessationists are terrible people who don’t believe in the “gifts of the Spirit” and are “missing out.” The sad truth is that Charismatics are missing out on the actual fruits of the spirit while they chase after long since gone “gifts.” And the cessationists that I have met do believe God can heal someone today – but it is a gift from God, not something we force Him into doing. Some days I still feel bad that was in a Word Faith/Charismatic movement for so long and didn’t leave sooner. It was semi accidental how I left (or appeared that way initial). I do believe God saved me out of that movement. I finally stumbled upon decent teaching – like RC Sproul, John McArthur, and Paul Washer. I am thankful to God I never dated or married anyone in the charismatic movement- even though for years that is what I was told I should do and “needed.” I think God was really protecting me.

    It is really hard to communicate with my relatives that what they believe is false. They will have none of it even if I try to tell them. We’ve gotten into verbal altercations and I think my mom thinks I am some sort of lost sheep being eaten by Satan even though I go to church each week. I look on their bookshelf and I just want to burn all of the garbage on it – thousands of dollars worth of junk by Hinn (unfortunately not you- Costi!), Creflo Dollar, Ahn, and the horrible “Destiny Image Publishers.” I’m really tempted to trashcan bits of it when they are out one day and hope they don’t notice.

    Reply
      • Niko
        Niko says:

        Hmmm let me see- dozens of false prophecies given to me over a period of about 20 years. Seeing how the “prophetic” literally destroyed what little several of my relatives had- they supposedly heard from a spirit that told them to move and sit under the teachings of Bill Johnson but none of them work- they are basically homeless paupers all while thinking the “kingdom now” will make them rich. The time a NARby (NAR-baby) tried to lay hands on me and I could feel a “thing” trying to attach itself to me. It wasn’t the Spirit of God, it was a thing. I literally had to push the person away physically and they kept trying to lay hands on me and wouldn’t listen…. a normal Christian would not do that! I had another relative lose their home due to a false prophecy. Also I noticed a string in all their prophecies- they have only to do with the positive- just like the false prophets in the Bible. Each of them had to do with temporal things, like spouses, jobs, wealth, or some abstract idea like “the kingdom of God,” or “ministry” or “the Glory realm!” But nothing to do with repentance, sin, etc. I personally knew people getting “prophecies” who were deep into sin. Not one of them called them out to repent. Instead, they felt encouraged =p. Hearing my then pastor teach a 3 month long sermon about how we should give sacrificially (mind you all built up by stories about how random strangers supposedly gave him millions and his trips to Nordstroms) also made me re-think it. Each week he would talk about his “experiences” and some false prophecy from 30 years ago, and supposedly we are just “closer” to the fulfillment of it. It was as oddball as Joseph Smith saying an angel appeared to him. I realized I was not growing, nor was anyone in my family.

        Reply
  6. Terry Buddrow
    Terry Buddrow says:

    Seems simple enough to me, so you were bamboozled, who isn’t at some point, who doesn’t get scammed? In the secular world you don’t get bummed out where you need counseling when someone scams you and you lose some money or it and may or may not be stuck with shoddy workmanship, or shoddy product, or a lemon of a car or whatever. Why get all PTSD because you allowed some slick talker to pull the wool over your eyes? Yes, you allowed because if you study your bible they can’t snooker you. Do as Paul says, “forgetting those things which are behind I press forward”. Forget about it, press forward in your bible study and don’t be so quick to believe whatever is told you. Be a Berean and check scripture to see if they are telling you the truth, there is plenty of books, software programs, youtube video’s that expose all kinds of false teachers. There is no excuse to be lead astray anymore with all the information and websites devoted to expose false doctrine and teachers. You don’t need counseling any more than you need counseling when deceived by a store or salesman, you need to just forget it chalk it up as a lesson learned and move on and use your experience to set others free….

    Reply
    • Amy
      Amy says:

      Coming out of the NAR and WOF is similar to Coming out of any secular cult such as Scientology. Or to some degree Mormonism. It may not be write as extreme as those, but it’s close. Having come out of extended pentacostalism and WOF nonsense. I doubt you have. In 2008, I became aware of what I was being peddled was part of the Latter Rain Movement AKA New Apostolic Reformation. You clearly haven’t been involved in those movements for any length of time. Or WOF teach, when it comes to fake Christian teaching, it goes far beyond fake secular teaching, which by the way, isn’t any less destructive. But if you were not abused and controlled by someone in these movements, and yippee unwilling to understand how bad it is, just stop talking. Im sorry. WOF and NAR took 10yrs of my life and destroyed so much of my good theology. It put me in bondage to a fake God if I just do things right and have enough faith, but if I don’t, I’ll never get any single blessing. Do you not get how destructive that is? And that if I don’t give to so and son’s ministry I’ll br cursed? It is dangerous even to those who are truly saved, I got sucked into it bc I was mentored by a married couple who taught me these things and it put me into a never ending spiral of “God is punishing me” and “I’m never ever good enough ” this doesn’t even come close to encapsulating the damage that is done. I don’t necessarily have PTSD from it, and Cost I doesn’t claim you will, be said PRSD-like symptoms, not the sane thing as what you said. You’re twisting his words. But you need to study these movements and how much they really hurt people. It goes FAR beyond bamboozling. Go to churchwatchcentral.com pulpitandpen.com and search for and word of faith.

      Reply
      • amy minassi
        amy minassi says:

        having been a member of Bill Johnsons church i will say that his teachings seem to be different to the how the congregation do life. They are not adhering to his teachings. He is a true man of God. I am afflicted in my body and so burnt out by the word of faith teaching ” if you just had enough faith ” or “a revelation on healing” i’ve been healed of lots of things i don’t need anymore revelations. I feel sick about it. The non charasmatic churches to me have no faith for anything,… Just sit back and watch a sovereign God deal the cards. THat’s not right either. Feel fed up by it all. i Just READ the word.

        Reply
  7. Amy
    Amy says:

    I came out of this junk, and I respect you Cost I, but this article feels more worldly than biblical. Advice should come out of the bible. The whole point is we left biblical bereft teachings. We don’t need more human advice.

    Reply
    • Ken
      Ken says:

      I couldn’t agree with you more, Amy! My wife and I left an abusive, controlling Church many years ago. While it was immensely hurtful and painful, it was, in retrospect, one of the best things that ever happened to us! We did not attend a church for about five years. We did go to a small Bible study and simply read our Bibles – A LOT. It was difficult for some time, to simply read what was in the Scripture and not read into it what I had been taught. I had to struggle to throw out man’s word and read only God’s Word.
      But what a rewarding struggle it turned out to be. God’s Word is the ONLY inerrant, infallible Word and it is sufficient to lead us to Truth. “Thy Word is Truth”.
      The church we were delivered from, by the way, was not an NAR church nor a WOF church. It was a Calvinistic church.
      My wife and I both praise the Lord for that most difficult of times because it forced us to depend upon God and His Word and to weigh all teachings against It.

      Reply
      • Janet
        Janet says:

        Yes, Ken. We had the same experience and now, our children are struggling to know our true Heavenly Father and not a man made rule maker. May each one dig into the Word to gain the One true God!

        Reply
  8. Brien
    Brien says:

    The Bible is a compendium of fire side tales and fables,

    recounted orally for generations by goat herders and primitive tribes from the stone age, until writing was invented,

    and then again many different sources, transliterations, and versions were copied and written down.

    There were no grand central universities to organise the many various versions of these origin/creation stories, stories common to most primitive cultures.
    They were for entertainment (as in all migratory camp tribes),
    and to answer the questions of the many fears and mysteries of our universe, like ‘thunder’ and earthquakes, since there was no science yet.

    This is the old Testament.

    The ‘new’ Testes is also hearsay since these letters, ‘gospels’ and stories were written by the loyal faithful, the camp followers,
    not by objective historians at that particular time,
    or by any contemporary writers,
    and these tales were written many years after the supposed events of this mythical Jesus.

    Thus, there is no verifiable evidence of a Jesus in real documented history.

    Then, many of these stories, but not all, as many were not chosen,
    [ There are more than just four Gospels but only these four were agreed on ],
    were compiled for one self-absorbed converted Roman Emperor in his Nicean Council,
    for his expressed purpose of conquest and
    control of the people of Europe for his Holy Roman Empire.
    He recognised that this was the perfect religion/mythology for the future domination of the populaces.

    Half of the stories were ignored by the Nicean Bishops and none have been proven to be based on fact.

    This ‘Bable’ book is backed up by absolutely no facts and no evidence.
    It is not proof for any god(s) ….(or of any jesus…)

    It is a historical novel…Only!

    The Bible is proof of a book ONLY (certainly not evidence of any gods…)

    Reply
    • The Church
      The Church says:

      Thank you Brien. Please then show and prove that the universe started from nothing and came into existence. And I mean PROVE it. No theory. No “possibility” explanations. You can’t prove it because you were not there.

      We have advanced so much in technology. It’s true – we don’t have tribes and we’re not just farmers or sheep keepers. But we’ve been blinded by knowledge. No, God’s miracles are not apparent to people with nice apartments, designer clothes or Uber delivered dinners. God shows His miracles with the broken, persecuted and those who need hope.

      Since we’re in the discussion of the bible being just “a bunch of stories”, let us open your mind by giving you a few words from it. Perhaps it will give you hope and better encouragement than any motivational speaker could give you.

      ““Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?”
      ‭‭Job‬ ‭38:2-5‬ ‭NIV‬‬
      https://www.bible.com/bible/111/job.38.2-5.niv

      “Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well. For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.”
      ‭‭Ecclesiastes‬ ‭12:6-7‬ ‭NLT‬‬
      https://www.bible.com/bible/116/ecc.12.6-7.nlt

      “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
      ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭139:13-14‬ ‭NIV‬‬
      https://www.bible.com/bible/111/psa.139.13-14.niv

      ““For this is how God loved the world:
      He gave his one and only Son,
      so that everyone who believes in him
      will not perish
      but have eternal life.”
      ‭‭John‬ ‭3:16‬ ‭NLT‬‬
      https://www.bible.com/bible/116/jhn.3.16.nlt

      Reply
    • The Church
      The Church says:

      Thank you Brien. Please then show and prove that the universe started from nothing and came into existence. And I mean PROVE it. No theory. No “possibility” explanations. You can’t prove it because you were not there.

      We have advanced so much in technology. It’s true – we don’t have tribes and we’re not just farmers or sheep keepers. But we’ve been blinded by knowledge. No, God’s miracles are not apparent to people with nice apartments, designer clothes or Uber delivered dinners. God shows His miracles with the broken, persecuted and those who need hope.

      Since we’re in the discussion of the bible being just “a bunch of stories”, let us open your mind by giving you a few words from it. Perhaps it will give you hope and better encouragement than any motivational speaker could give you.

      ““Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?”
      ‭‭Job‬ ‭38:2-5‬ ‭NIV‬‬
      https://www.bible.com/bible/111/job.38.2-5.niv

      “Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well. For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.”
      ‭‭Ecclesiastes‬ ‭12:6-7‬ ‭NLT‬‬
      https://www.bible.com/bible/116/ecc.12.6-7.nlt

      “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
      ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭139:13-14‬ ‭NIV‬‬
      https://www.bible.com/bible/111/psa.139.13-14.niv

      ““For this is how God loved the world:
      He gave his one and only Son,
      so that everyone who believes in him
      will not perish
      but have eternal life.”
      ‭‭John‬ ‭3:16‬ ‭NLT‬‬
      https://www.bible.com/bible/116/jhn.3.16.nlt

      Reply
  9. gary
    gary says:

    Just how historically reliable are the Gospels and Acts if even prominent evangelical and conservative Protestant Bible scholars believe that fictional stories may exist in these books? The link below provides comments from conservative scholars such as Richard Bauckham, William Lane Craig, Michael Licona, Craig Blomberg, and NT Wright on this issue:

    https://lutherwasnotbornagaincom.wordpress.com/2019/05/23/bombshell-how-historically-reliable-are-the-gospels-if-even-conservative-bible-scholars-believe-they-may-contain-fictional-stories/

    Reply
  10. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    This was a good post. I was going to contact you about this exact thing. I think people coming out need resources. I’ve watched some videos from justin and others I don’t want to continue to be influenced by the false teachings though so I can’t watch anymore. Its hard when you first come out because you are unsure who is right. The Lord showed me certain things that you and him would say while I was in it that gave me confidence that those things I was hearing in my spirit were things the Lord was trying to alert me on and that I should listen to you both. Your spot on with your preseption of it. I don’t think many people take it as serious as it is. This is antichrist it tries to take over your mind. It is the strong delusion. Its worse now than in the beginning. I grew up in this also. It is hard and confusing to understand why they are going against things in the bible. They tell you its just because you don’t know this or that and you feel like you don’t know and they are older and know more. I trust God more he never left me or gave up on me. I was told these other faiths were part of the catholic church so I was never going to even consider looking into them. When you look on Wikipedia its says they practice catholic things.

    Reply

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