True or False: you can spot a cult, because its members shave their heads and wear long robes

The answer of course is False. In fact, you might look around inside a cult group and see your neighbors who look absolutely normal and fit into their neighborhood and sing recognizable songs and still be in a cult.

Let’s break things down into groups:

A – Doctrinal Error. They stray from historic Christian teaching. This might include the Oneness doctrine, the Mormon cosmology, the notion that White Americans (or Black Americans!) – are the true Israelites.

B – Leadership Error/Power Cult. They may make a big deal of the fact that their doctrine is more or less sound.

AB – and this is the most common, groups that have both False Doctrine and Abusive Leadership.

This time we’ll be focussing on a group from Category B, once which was at its peak in the 1970s and 1980s. Except for one notable point, it fell broadly within historical Christian teaching. Its “…members consider themselves an active and orthodox Christian group.” Because of this, they “prove” that they are not a cult.

What was that one new doctrine that caused all the trouble? A variation of the old hoax, that “God has a man” (and it’s almost always a man, not a woman!) and that to disobey him is apostasy. The pastor told his followers that this was true, because, you can guess it, God told him so. (You can guess what happens next: some poor soul asks, “Well – how do I know it’s true that God really told you so?” and the wrath of the leader falls on him).

I had hear about this movement only third or fourth-hand, and only this week looked it up. What I found left me speechless. Christian Research Institute did a thorough and years-long study of a group that was operating just up the highway from me in New England during my High School years. I had never hear of it until it was already fragmented and drifting apart.

Because friends of mine had some involvement with them, I will not share names. But I will quote some of the relevant material from CRI and other sources:

“___ members consider themselves an active and orthodox Christian group, and their leaders point to the number of converts, quality of teaching, and number of outreach ministries as evidence of God’s blessing upon them. However, former members and cult-watching organizations have been speaking out about another side of this group: a culture of lying, guilt, fear and manipulation; a culture that is undergirded by authoritarian teachings which are out of sync with historic and orthodox Christianity. Many claim that there is a sordid, but largely unknown, history of sinful and abusive activity on the part of key leaders, followed by cover-up and denial, all of which is justified by distorted teachings on grace and the finished work.”

“Some ex-members state that they were eyewitnesses of such behavior. When they tried to go through proper channels and deal with the problems, [the Pastor] and others in leadership sought to discredit these whistle-blowers, using tactics such as subterfuge, denial, character assassination, and threats of legal action. [Church] loyalists were taught to regard any differences with the leaders as an evil report, and that disagreeing with the leaders could bring harm upon themselves. Many have left the ministry with the sense that God’s grace and love is given only to the [church’s] faithful, not to those with a different viewpoint.”

The major error of this group was their doctrine they called “delegated authority”. Just as Moses or Joshua had to be obeyed completely, every single Christian had to obey the group’s pastor. And if the pastor sinned or lied, well, that was just part of God’s plan. The pastor was answerable only to God.

“Delegated authority” is an ingroup buzzword, which is another cultic trait.

And members needed to be baptized “unto a man”, that is, “I baptize you in the name of Pastor ___”.

I continue the quotations:

“In his explanation of exactly what it means to be baptized unto a man, [the Pastor] reveals the extent off unreserved devotion he expected to receive from those who sat under his ministry: ‘…obey his teachings, submit to his love, protect and honor his ministry, co-labor with his purpose without question, without pretense, without hesitation, without giving him a hard time, [his voice rises] without putting him off again and again in procrastination and disobedience, and subtle rebellion… [the Christian should say to ‘God’s man’] ‘I’m going to be with you until you drop, I’m going to be baptized unto your life, unto your heart, unto your soul, unto your prayers.'” Later in the tape [the Pastor] affirms again that the believer “…must be baptized unto a man of God, be true to him, honor him with double honor, submit to him, never criticize him, being willing to die with him.”

Gary again: He also implied that he was perhaps the only spokesman of God on Earth. That to see his face was to see the face of Jesus, since the pastor was the only one on earth who had seen him.

But as in many Leader cults, there is a predictable spectrum of sins of sex, money, power; a trail of broken marriages and lost friendships. Lies are justifiable if they help the pastor; in fact, this pastor publically problemas the the Christian Research Institute had cleared them of all charges of heresy – a claim that CRI denounced. There was a huge emphasis on financial giving, with people selling their homes to further God’s work. Frankly, compared with being baptized in the name of God’s man, the pastor, the loss of real estate pales into insignificance.

In the end, it is not surprising that a civil lawsuit against a later incarnation of the group included these charges: “Physical, Sexual, and Emotional Abuse of minors and individuals at risk. Bankruptcy fraud, blackmailing, extortion, coercion, and other forms of financial fraud and organized efforts. Prescription Fraud & Medical Fraud.” Authoritarian leaders demand full obedience; anything less means people are persecuting him. Here is a full article that deals with other traits of a cult.

For the rest, you can Google the text I’ve quoted above.

The human mind by its nature fights against the idea that we are in a cult. One bad sign is, if an organization like Christian Research Institute invests years examining your church, something is definitely amiss. And if you even BEGIN TO SUSPECT that your church is cultic, odds are excellent that it is. A good step is to google your group’s name to see if people have raised legitimate questions about it. You might also ask yourself:

Guard yourselves!

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