Religious spirits are abusing spirits and the most wicked kind of evil. Their purpose is to impersonate the Spirit of God in order to oppress, control, and abuse God’s people. In the same way that young children are more vulnerable to long term damage from emotional abuse because of their developing emotions and their still-growing ability to interpret love, security, and risks, so too are new Christians more susceptible to long term spiritual damage from religious abuse. One harsh statement from a Christian in a position of authority or influence in the church can send a new Christian down a long, hard road.
To be clear, when I use the terms “religious abuse” I am not implying that church people are abusers or that church is a bad place to worship God. Some Christians and Christian leaders misrepresent the risen Jesus via false doctrine. Because Jesus is the Word of God in the flesh He is also the true doctrine. False doctrine misrepresents the risen Jesus and introduces a Jesus imposter instead. It’s the Jesus impersonator who causes some people to abuse new Christians.
So, in this post, I want to correlate this principle with the importance of loving Christians who are brand-new to the faith and also those who have not matured spiritually. And let’s keep in mind that children often think they are smarter than they actually are, oftentimes being obnoxiously wise in their own minds. Relax, it’s okay!
Spiritual Babies and Toddlers
Today, then, I will discuss new Christians and spiritual “babies” in the faith, and how they often can suffer from the religious abuse of ordinary Christians and religious leaders, though it’s usually unintentional. The Bible states that when a person receives Jesus as Lord and Savior, they are born of the Spirit of God and they become a new Christian: “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” Jesus then went on to say, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:3, 6).
Years after Jesus had ascended to heaven, the apostle Paul taught about the spiritual maturing process for Christians after experiencing new birth. I’ll quote a couple of scriptures here for reference: “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it” (1 Corinthians 3:1-2); “For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant” (Hebrews 5:13). In these verses Paul was teaching that when people are born again, they are spiritual “infants” in much the same way a person is born as a baby fresh out of the mother’s womb.
Therefore, just as adults must do with infants, “adult” Christians need to be extra gentle and careful with how we treat new Christians who are spiritual infants, as well as those who are toddlers or still “young” in the Lord even after many years of walking with Him. Many “children” in Christ have received emotionally painful and even damaging messages from other Christians about who they are and how God feels about them. Even some religious leaders have rejected infants and toddlers in the Lord in terrible ways, and it’s important to address victims of religious abuse. So please give me time to explain. I’ll start with a familiar passage from the Bible:
Do not Rebuke the Little Children
And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them. (Mark 10:13-16)
One problem with the disciples rejecting and rebuking the children in this story was that they misrepresented Jesus Himself. Had Jesus not been there to personally correct the situation, the poor little kids would have certainly become insecure about how the Son of God felt about them personally: Jesus doesn’t have time for us. Jesus doesn’t care about our pain. Jesus only cares about those in His inner circle. Do you see how the lies are actually about Jesus? The lies of the enemy literally have no limits when people unintentionally send false messages to new Christians or those young in the faith.
Religious Abuse Example #1
Let’s pause and envision a Sunday school room full of toddlers. The children are dressed as sheep, and their teacher is dressed as a shepherd. After the scheduled reading time, a four-year-old boy approaches the shepherd, full of excitement, and he tells of a story he had read in a children’s Bible. In telling the story the boy accidentally refers to James as the cousin of Jesus, whereas the Bible clearly says that James was Jesus’s brother (even though scholars actually still debate this). When the shepherd hears the error, he sharply rebukes the child and says, “You are going to hurt innocent people if you don’t get your facts straight!” As the child receives the rebuke, unhealthy adrenaline and emotional pain flood his little body. So, even as a toddler, the child has learned that if he is not perfect in his search for Jesus, it makes the Lord angry—and that it’s risky to talk about the Bible. Not only does the boy not continue to read the Bible, but he also doesn’t view God as offering unconditional love, and then chooses a life of sin instead of service to Him.
Religious Abuse Example #2
Now imagine that it’s about an hour later in this same Sunday school session. A little five-year-old girl with ADHD—and from a single-parent home—gets bored and sneaks out of the room, wandering the halls before she eventually steals some money from the church office. When the shepherd finally finds her in the office, he sees the money in her hand and the open desk drawer, and he says, “That was really stupid! If I can’t trust you out of my sight for even a few minutes, you will never be able to help Jesus in ministry! Father God hates thieves!” The shepherd then bans the child from Sunday school and doesn’t even say that the church will ever welcome the child back. From that point on, the girl doesn’t view Jesus as loving her unconditionally and she is never able to turn away from sin.
Religious Abuse Example #3
I’ll share one more story for good measure. At the end of Sunday school that same day, the shepherd notices that a little boy is reading a book about Mormonism during nap time. The shepherd snatches the book from the boy’s hands and says, “Only bad kids read books about other religions!” And so the boy doesn’t mature spiritually, for fear that Jesus is limited to whatever the Sunday school teacher teaches. Two years later, when that same shepherd is banned from the church for stealing, the boy believes that Jesus must only love the righteous. Feeling unwelcome, the boy never goes to church again.
In each case of these children doing wrong or something perceived to be wrong, the Lord was really only displeased with their shepherd. The children were only children, even though the stories just as easily could have been about adults who were new Christians or not spiritually mature for one reason or another. With religious abuse, age makes no difference
In the first story, the shepherd exposed his own pride in knowing so much because of having attended seminary. In doing so, the love of God was filtered out of the message. In the shepherd’s mind, the love of God was conditional, based on his own perfection, and thus that was the message he sent to the boy and all the children present that morning.
The story of the girl who stole the money represents the very purpose of what Jesus said to Peter in Matthew 18:21-22: “Then Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’” But because of the response of the shepherd, the little girl never got to hear that scripture and instead believed that Jesus is done with a person after a strike or two.
In the third story, the shepherd transferred his own insecurities about Jesus to the child because of his own religious pride. If the Lord were insecure about His own power, He would have never told Elijah to invite 450 false prophets to Mount Carmel for a showdown between truth and lies. But if our doctrine is sound, then it will also be saturated with love and will easily overpower any false teaching. Recklessly rebuking a child for supposedly being seduced is religious abuse. Its purpose is to rob Jesus of His opportunity to capture the child with His love and goodness.
The world is full of new Christians and those who have not matured in their faith after receiving salvation. Because of religious abuse, Some of these people may feel that Jesus personally rejected them because of some sin or perceived imperfection. Millions of Christians have fallen into sin soon after salvation and were shamed and humiliated by other believers. This too is religious abuse. These new Christians want Jesus in their lives, but they don’t want to be hurt again and may even feel like feel Jesus doesn’t want them back. And many Christians have given Jesus 100 percent but can’t stay strong, so they give up entirely. They don’t understand that the reason they are not able to stay strong is because they haven’t dug into the Bible or found a loving community of believers, or perhaps they’ve followed false doctrines.
In these stories Jesus was never mad at the children, and He remained faithful and committed to them even after they thought He had rejected them. Each of the little children would certainly continue to experience miracles in their lives, even though they might not recognize them as such—and that’s the unfiltered love of the resurrected Messiah, and we need to help them see that.
I want to encourage Christian leaders and influencers to be mindful of this truth and also understand the potential consequences for recklessly rebuking and rejecting “children” in the Lord. New converts and even long-time believers who have never matured in their faith are only little children no matter their age or how they might view themselves, and we have to be merciful, gracious, loving, forgiving, and kind to them. Also, the very reason the disciples of Jesus rebuked the children in the first place was because they had become prideful about being in the Lord’s inner circle. Religious abuse stems from religious pride. Consider Matthew 18:1-6 and the warning from God prior to the disciples’ rebuking of the children:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” https://www.depthofgrace.com/bullied-with-jesus-bullying
As harsh as this may sound, the solution of humility offered by Jesus should be refreshing and encouraging for all Christian leaders and influencers. Every believer has acted against “these little ones” at some point. I know that I have, and when I think about it, I’m quickly reminded to always put love first and to also make sure I put it at the end of any correction or difficult conversation. I of course still miss the mark sometimes, and we’re all in that same boat. To overcome, we need to listen to Jesus and become like children ourselves, to be covered as they are. As smart and talented and knowledgeable as we might be, our intelligence and accomplishments still reduce us to children in comparison to Jesus. We will always be little children to Him, so let’s view ourselves in the same way and thus receive God’s grace through our humility. Let’s embrace this truth as one body so that Jesus finds us spotless and without wrinkle upon His return.
God bless …
Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible® (NASB), Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. www.Lockman.org.