In yellow lamplight I stayed up late the other night talking with my wife, burdened about another church gone to seed in Texas.
The sect looks so much like my former church in Maine, a Bible cult which maximized suffering and overlooked grace. The platitudes and sermons coming from the group sound so familiar they almost seem scripted. It’s as if every unhealthy church reads from the same dysfunctional playbook—merely making minor changes in regard to set, costume, and character.
I felt discouraged, until I remembered that there is still one Hero who can swoop down to save the day. No matter how much a Christian group twists scripture—no matter how fearful or controlled the people become—Jesus can still rescue them.
The Situation: Mutually Exclusive Exclusiveness
The group I have in mind is representative of a thousand other groups, each of whom believes it alone possesses the truth. While giving lip service to the idea that there are other genuine believers scattered around the world, in practice they believe that everyone else is a false Christian. They believe that they alone have interpreted Scripture correctly, and that they alone will be saved in the latter days. This helps them to rationalize their cruel behavior toward the “unelect,” that is, anyone with the audacity to stand against the claims of their leader.
The hubris of these sects is astounding. Each group believes that they have discovered true Christianity as God intended; that through much dint of effort they have returned to the fold of Christ; and that the rest of the professing Church is a synagogue of Satan.
Oh really? A synagogue of Satan? How ironic. Because that’s exactly what the other exclusive groups think about your exclusive group.
The irreconcilable paradox is that if these isolated groups discovered each other—not the “liberal” mainline churches, mind you, or the “3000-mile-wide-but-one-inch-deep” evangelical Church, but the tiny, tenacious, tunnel-vision groups popping up all over the place who believe that they alone are the elect—they would fight like cats and dogs in a theological version of King of the Mountain.
“We have the truth!” one group would shout. “No, no! We do!” a second would cry. “Come to our little church and be saved!” a third would chime in. They would bloody each other—these elite Christian sects—like pugilists in the ring, well aware that their exclusiveness makes them mutually exclusive. After all, if you alone have the Truth, then that other group from Missouri or Maine or Michigan must not.
At the end of the day each sect would slink back to its rarified community in complete isolation, damning the world—humbly, of course, and with much praising of God—and decrying the arrogant errors of the other groups.
The Problem: Heterodoxy Leads to Heteropraxy
Despite the geographical distribution of sects, cults, and spiritually abusive churches, most of these groups function in very similar ways. They have twisted the meaning of scripture and have left the straight path of doctrine (orthodoxy). Instead, their distorted belief (heterodoxy) leads to distorted practice (heteropraxy).
Rather than outright heresy such as denying the deity of Christ, their errors are often subtle distortions of scripture. They can trot out a hundred verses to support their position, sure, but each verse is wrenched out of context like a Christmas bulb pulled from a tree. Thrown on the floor and trampled into broken crystals by the clumsy feet of false interpretation, these verses become a wounding snare to the people who profess them.
In this upcoming series I want to focus on ten distortions of Scripture which my own cult practiced—and which I see cropping up time and again in other spiritually abusive ministries.
Notice that I call these “distortions” rather than lies. They are lies, of course, but they are lies which start with a truth and then twist it ever-so-slightly out of plumb to create a Frankenstein monstrosity.
We want to fix this Frankenstein faith.
Distortion #4: Brother’s Keeper: Surveillance in Spiritually Abusive Churches
Distortion #5: “It Says in Deuteronomy…”: Misuse of the Old Testament
Distortion #6: God or Mammon: Logical Fallacy of the Excluded Middle
Distortion #7: I Committed Adultery Watching the Smurfs: James 4:4 Unpacked
Distortion #8: You Shall Be Holy Unto Me (So Ditch the Budweiser)
Distortion #9: “We Alone are the ‘Remnant,’ all 75 of Us!”
Distortion #10: Fun in the Shun? Confessions of an Excommunicator
Stay tuned for these upcoming posts…