Destructive Charismatic Churches

April 2002
By a former member of the movement

I was once involved in a destructive Charismatic church for twelve years. My family and I left because of the behavior within that church, which became increasingly cult-like. For instance, our church was a strongly "prophetic" congregation. And when a "prophecy" came forth, it was considered the "word of the Lord," even if it didn't match up with the Scriptures. That put us in the frightening position of having to obey the prophecy, or consider ourselves as "opposing God."

Being a committed Christian and having spent nearly all of my Christian life within the Charismatic movement, I now recognize that some leaders within the movement have the propensity to overextend their authority. And as an elder under such authority for five years, I was once bound by fear. It seemed that if I didn't participate in a variety of "prophetic manifestations," which regularly happened within our church, I was somehow missing "God's best." However, when I objectively investigated my church's methods and beliefs, I saw its error and regained my personal freedom. Specifically I began to read the bible without the aid of any church interpretive material.

After more than a year of intensive research, from a variety of independent sources, my family and I were brought to a point of decision, which resulted in our "leaving the fold." The pain of that process was tremendous. After we left, not one person from our church visited us. The fear, which is engendered by the kind of manipulation we experienced, often locks people into a mindset that disregards common logic and even bypasses a simple heartfelt faith in the God of the bible. Instead, those involved will just "go with the flow." When I first looked seriously into my church's doctrines, I found that many of them had parallels with much criticized groups like the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses.

The extreme teachings practiced by some churches within the Christian Charismatic movement have serious implications. Some of the particulars of these churches should be closely scrutinized. Consider the following:


    • Extra-biblical Revelation. Much of our belief system was based upon supposed "words of the Lord," without supporting Scriptures to validate the teaching. Those who believed the "revelations," were in the inner circle. Those who did not, were frowned upon as somehow "spiritually immature." The founder of Mormonism Joseph Smith had his own personal revelation, which had no clear confirmation within the bible. But of course he explained this away, by telling his followers that he brought forth a hidden gospel, an actual addition to supplement the New Testament. This kind of personal revelation seems to be becoming increasingly common within some extreme Charismatic groups.


    • Strong resistance to Scriptural authority. Any attempt to correct a leader/teacher involved with this type of extreme Charismatic church, often is met with stonewalling, excuses, or anger. They may say, "How dare you presume to question doctrine coming from the pulpit." Those who do are frequently labeled as in the "outer court" or "immature." For example, in my own experience with churches influenced by the Brownsville Revival and Toronto Blessing camps this actually led to the demonizing those who disagreed. I remember Pastor John Kilpatrick of Brownsville issuing a "prophetic" threat of destruction against Hank Hanegraaff, when he criticized Brownsville.


    • Esoteric knowledge. Only for those who reach the higher "levels" of understanding. One of my pastors would not openly share his "knowledge" with just anyone. Instead, this was to be shared only with the enlightened, which really meant those who agreed with him.


    • Unreasoning disregard for contrary evidence. Any evidence brought into the light that contradicted an experience, vision, prophecy, or doctrine, which supposedly came from God, was completely disregarded. People simply refuse to discuss the situation intelligently, react in anger, avoidance and/or fear.


  • Fear. People become locked into accepting almost anything, because to question or disagree with the group's doctrine, was tantamount to questioning God. For example, when I left my church I found myself very afraid that God was angry with me and that I would lose His blessing. It was very difficult. One pastor I knew of a destructive Charismatic church told his flock, "If you question anything going on in this church, just watch out!" This fear-inducing admonition was preceded by his recitation of the account within Acts 5 about Ananias and Sapphira, who dropped dead after lying to the Lord. There are many other traits amongst some destructive churches, which mirror those found in cults, but those cited above will suffice for now.

I have spoken with others who have left extreme Charismatic churches. They too have lost their church friends, support, experienced family conflicts, trauma and have been targeted by gossip. Some have even received death threats that were supposedly "words of the Lord." It is a miracle that any of these Charismatic causalities can still maintain their faith in Jesus Christ after all they have been through. But through my own experience I've learned, wolves clothed as shepherds, cannot invalidate the message or its true messenger.

Please understand that there were many good times as well. This included church potlucks, fishing trips, praying for one another and helping each other through difficult times. But for all the love expressed during those years of faithfulness, it is both a source of pain and concern that our onetime church brethren are now afraid of us and wish no further close contact.

We faithfully supported (our tithes and offerings to one church totaled approximately $25,000.00), promoted, and led others into a group that we now recognize was largely based upon a destructive and often heretical beliefs. The love of Christ, our purchase from sin on the cross by His death and resurrection, was certainly preached. But so many additions and personal interpretations were consistently interwoven within that simple message, the net result was often harmful and chaotic.

Can a Charismatic or Pentecostal church be cultic? There are controversial preachers such as Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland, who have certainly caused many faithful Christians to ask this troubling question. And what about movements like the "Toronto Blessing," the "Brownsville Revival" or the "River" movement, which was spawned by both? Are they in some ways cult-like?

I have many friends still involved in these movements. And I fear and pray for them. At times I try to offer them helpful scriptural insights, if and when an opportunity presents itself. But it is hard to help those caught within such ideological snares and entwined by such groups and leaders.

It has been a difficult road back to the basics of biblical Christianity from the chaos and confusion my family was once caught within. One of the things that has helped us the most, was realizing that "bible-based" cults and those who borrow from them, did not originate their beliefs. They merely copied from other sources and redefined teachings. The damage done by these groups notwithstanding, Jesus Christ is still the Savior, and His message remains unchanged. Destructive leaders and groups, may dim the truth but can't snuff out the Light.

My family is still Pentecostal, but we avoid the maze and torment of aberrational teachings and/or pastoral manipulation. And we know that there are many good Pentecostal churches. They have helped us tremendously to get back to the truth of the Scriptures, and also guided us through the process of sorting out false doctrines, which have crept into many Christian churches. One thing we have definitely decided upon is this, we will follow no man with unquestioning obedience from now on. If what is being said from the pulpit, or even informally, does not match the biblical record, we will support neither the man nor the message.


Copyright © 2002 Rick Ross.

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