1993, 04/13. A Short Follow-up Note.
April 13, 1993
I am “alive and well” and living in New York City. I got your package a few days ago. You probably got my letter by now. A letter like that deserves a follow up letter (on my part) and I am thinking over what to write next. But I need to be in a good letter writing mood to do so. It’s easier to drop a note like this in the mail, so I thought I’d do it.
I read an article in Moody Magazine called “On the Fringe” which gives a good idea of what it’s like here. It’s about fringe churches that are Christian in doctrine, but slowly (and dangerously) move off into behavior and attitudes that are characteristics of cults rather than mainstream churches. Such as exclusivity of doctrine and the belief that they are, or practically are, the only true church–which we seem to believe. They have an authoritative leader, which we have, and they censure or disfellowship members who criticize or ask sticky questions, which sometimes I am in danger of being.
I’ll write soon,
Had to move back to Woodruff. Send next letter there. Will explain in next letter.
I don’t have a copy of the article “On The Fringe” that was in Moody Magazine. Below are notes from Ron Enroth, the author of Churches That Abuse, which are summary of some of the ideas in that article. The Moody article also had information on how groups drift off into the fringe and the edge of society, which is not included in this summary.
Characteristics of aberrational cultic groups.
Fellowship with groups having one or more of these traits can be harmful to your spiritual health.
1. CONTROL-ORIENTED LEADERSHIP
The control of the movement is vested in one or more persons who are accountable to no one else but God. These persons are to be considered absolutely above reproach. Checks and balances are non-existent. The sole responsibility of interpreting the Bible and the formulation of the group’s beliefs and practices rests with the leader. Leaders and their teachings are never to be questioned. Questioning the group’s leader(s) is considered questioning God Himself. God speaks to and through these leaders by means of audible voices, inner leadings and visions. These leaders may hold titles such as the apostle, bishop, father, mother, oracle, prophet, seer and so on.
2. DOCTRINAL DEVIATION
The beliefs and practices of the group deviate sharply from orthodoxy. The essentials of the faith are compromised. The nature of God, including that of the Trinity, is maligned. God is humanized, man is deified, sin is minimized, the Scriptures are ostracized, a different Jesus is publicized, and a very different gospel evangelized. Salvation by grace is compromised. Familiar doctrinal terms are redefined and new ones invented to support the beliefs and practices of the group. The group’s more objectionable beliefs and practices may be hidden from the public eye. Group members are subjected to extreme indoctrination. The group may also distribute its own literature to propagate their heresy. Only safe reading materials are permitted and recommended to the membership.
3. EMPHASIS ON EXPERIENCE
The theology of the group may dictate following subjective experience over one’s knowledge, negating discernment skills and placing in doubt the sufficiency of revelation found in the Scriptures. Group members may exalt emotion, feelings, enthusiasm and personal experiences over doctrine, creating their own standard of orthodoxy that becomes their means to judge others by.
4. SPIRITUAL SUPERIORITY
The movement believes that it stands above all other existing Christian groups. Some groups believe they are the one true church, the only true expression of God and His work on earth today during this age. They believe that they are God’s special chosen people. No one outside of the group can be saved or expect to receive the full blessings of God that are available only as a member in good standing with the group.
5. DENUNCIATION OF OTHERS
Such groups, encouraged by leadership, harshly judge Christian churches, denominations and organizations based on their own beliefs and practices. Others are considered apostate, divisive, fallen, sectarian, enemies of God and agents of Satan. Members must burn bridges behind them to remain completely faithful to God. This mindset usually results in the destruction of family ties, friendships, previous lifestyles and activities.
6. PERCEIVED PERSECUTION
Such groups develop a persecution complex and are told to expect it from the outside world. Persecution validates the truthfulness of the movement and its messianic cause. Family members and others who claim to be Christians are not to be trusted. They are to be considered as the instruments of Satan who are caught up in this world system. Group members may develop paranoia and will learn to size up those who enter their midst.
7. MANIPULATION OF MEMBERS
Group leaders give excessive advice, care and love to members to influence their decision making and to bolster the leader’s position of spiritual maturity, authority and control over the group. Many join such groups to receive this attention that is regrettably not obtainable elsewhere. In some cases they may welcome such guidance and control. Members are taken advantage of under the guise of spirituality by self-seeking leaders. Leaders also use unethical practices to gain and retain members.
8. LIFE-STYLE RIGIDITY
Group members are expected to conform to certain standards of behavior and appearance. Fear, guilt and peer pressure are used to obtain conformity and commitment to the group. Activities are structured to bring about desired responses. Loyalty to the group and its cause comes first. Individuality is severely prohibited. Members’ ability to think clearly is hampered and they are not given adequate time to reflect upon what is taught. Weekly meetings and daily activities leave little time for group members to associate with those outside the movement. Shared religious and social activities of the group draw members closer together, resulting in bonding that strengthens the group’s hold on its members. This results in distancing members from those outside the group. A communal environment further restricts contact with others and plays an important role in shaping behavior and lifestyle.
9. HARSH DISCIPLINE
Groups use fear, guilt, intimidation, public humiliation, harsh language, and even physical abuse and violence to keep their members in line. Illness may be perceived as evidence of lack of faith or sinful living. Covenants, loyalty oaths and pledges of support may be employed by the group.
10. PAINFUL EXIT PROCESS
Those departing the true church may face hard adjustment elsewhere. They have been taught, or fear, that leaving the group is tantamount to leaving God and his protection and favor. They have been programmed to stay in and may feel that they must settle for God’s second best elsewhere. Members who have committed many years to the group must leave behind friends, social standing and perhaps even financial security. Because they have been burned once already they will find it more difficult to trust others, including those in positions of church leadership, their families and friends they left behind. They may take with them the teachings of the group they belonged to and it may take years for ex-members to re-adjust to the world they once left behind.