Let’s Talk About Sects


Andrew Jones’ post today entitled “Cults: We Gonna Expose Yo Ass” was very interesting. Those of you who have read here for awhile know some of the circumstances at the church we left. Some of the posts I have written about this can be found, here, here, here, and here. The reactions of the people leaving now vary from, “It just wasn’t for us,” to, “Run, it’s a cult!”

While I know that some cult-like tendencies have developed, I have been hesitant to label this group a cult. The majority of people who attend there are people who deeply love God and are still walking with Him. This is also true of the leadership. However, they are more culpable than the rest of the body in their responsibility and motivation for pursuing the deceptive teaching they have embraced.

I would go so far as to say that in their error, they have become a sect. In fact, in spite of the Christian pressure to always be nice, I think as believers, we should be willing to point out when teaching is false. This description of Andrew’s fits the situation:

“A ‘sect’ is a group with some whacky beliefs that are a little off-base and usually in protest to the norm. Some churches become sects when they take on some beliefs that are not shared by the wider Christian community.”

He also posted Rick Ross’ ten warning signs of a cult. I think that one of the reasons that people have trouble recognizing they have become involved in a sect is because the warning signs are more subtle.

I have adapted his list to some signs that are specific to the church in which we were involved:

1. Frequent teaching on authority and submission. Lack of submission is considered to be lawlessness and rebellion.

2. Questioning is regarded as disobedience and an unwillingness to submit. Conformity to the corporate ideal is encouraged.

3. It is expected that outsiders will not be able to understand the teaching being presented without becoming involved and submitting themselves to the leadership.

4. Those who leave are seen as unwilling to fully submit themselves to the teaching and the process of transformation.

5. All those who have been asked to leave were accused of disloyalty and lack of submission. Once declared guilty, they had no means of proving their innocence.

6. The culture is such that adopting the teaching is rewarded and questioning the teaching is punished. Inclusion and promotion is based on compliance.

7. Having people leave and being questioned by other churches is justified because only the elect/remnant will be able to understand and willing to follow in the process of being perfected.

The final 3 are identical to Rick Ross’ list.

8. Followers feel they can never be “good enough”.

9. The group/leader is always right.

10. The group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing “truth” or receiving validation, no other process of discovery is really acceptable or credible.

Another warning sign would be the fact that they are becoming more and more inwardly focused. Andrew’s advice to stay involved in the wider body of Christ is really important. At this time, the pastor of the church that has become a sect has dismissed the warnings of other pastors in town. His belief is that his understanding of truth is superior to theirs. Therefore, their warnings carry no weight with him.

I was visiting with a young lady the other day, and she was worried about how apparently easy it is to be deceived. Because she is moving to a new community and looking for a new church, she was wondering if she could be discerning enough to find a good church.

My advice to her was that it really isn’t that complicated. If Jesus is lifted up, in word and actions, and if the traits of humility and love are obvious in the people and leaders, then it is likely a safe group. The message is simple, love God, love others. If someone is trying to complicate the simplicity of that message, then run!

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11 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Sects

  1. So Grace, did you happen to go to my church?
    Your observations about your CLB being a sect are essentially the same things I discovered about my own church. I found it interesting and a little disconcerting to make such a discovery.
    You can read a bit of the story at Robbymac’s site in the crabby-detox comments…
    (so sorry but I can’t remember the tag info to add web links)

  2. Grace-
    These kind of post bother me so. Not that they are bad, but how long it took me to be willing to accept the cult or sect my church I was a pastor at became and was prior to my coming. Over two years ago my best friend who was also a pastor at the church turned to me and said “Our church is a cult.” I about drove off the road and told her she was wrong. Through a series of events, which are too long to list here she turned out to be right. It took me 6 months after that to leave and I only did that after much turmoil. I have been detoxing for the past year from this and I see everything you said in your list and even more extreme in what I was involved in. The other hard part of it was knowing you participated in pushing the agenda on the people in the congregation and felt good about yourself. All of this to say we shouldn’t be so afraid to look critically at what we are a part of and be willing to leave if it is not building us up. Thanks for the post Grace.

  3. ksg,
    No need for a link to Robby’s site. I read everything over there. I’m sorry about what has happened to you and also your brother’s family.

    Would it be so difficult to bless someone in their decision, even when you don’t agree with them? Control is nasty when it manifests.

    pj,
    I often thank God for His mercy in removing us. I wasn’t able to see or understand many of these things until we got away from the church. I now see that in many of the people leaving. The longer they are away, the more they are able to see clearly the dynamics of the whole situation.

    I also am extremely grateful that we aren’t responsible as leaders for the abuse that is occurring. There was a time when we may have gone along with the leadership out of obedience and loyalty.

    Andrew,
    Thanks, nice to have you drop by!

    -she says casually- :)

  4. Grace,

    I haven’t told the half of it, but I’ll save that story for a time when I decide to anonymously run my own blogsite!

    The ability to “bless someone out” is one of my markers for a healthy community. Both on the day they leave and in the sermons that follow.

    In my church, the higher up you get, the less likely you are to be blessed out. And even at that, we’ve been clearly insructed on what “blessing someone out” means… that we can’t support their decision but we’ve all agreed to be nice about it.
    The other options for leaving are (from worst to first)…
    Being a rebel = leaving the church and then telling others about the bad stuff that happened to you…
    Being a deserter or fugative = leaving the church and keeping your mouth shut.
    Being an idiot = moving away for a job, etc.
    Being a misguided fool = moving away because you believe you are following God but the leaders can’t give you their stamp of approval so you get blessed out.
    Being “sent out” = moving way to expand the kingdom of XchurchX, oops, I mean the kingdom of God. Because leadership has heard from God that it is time for you to go.

    The BIG thing is to be “sent” out, not to “went” (just go) out.

    By the way, we’ve (my wife & I) have been told we will be “blessed out”.

  5. Check, check, check, check, check, check…

    There are groups officially declared cults, and there are those who are “on the borderline”, but really are in many ways more cultic but they get a pass because they have their doctrines right.

    Those are much more dangerous.

  6. I was involved in an extremely conservative cultic branch of Seventh-day Adventism. Cults do exist. They are experts at manipulation and guilt trips. In my experience, they are usually formed by a few people who like controlling others. They pick a few off the wall ideas and make a whole theology out of them.

    I’m still recovering from that mind-trip!!

  7. Grace, I fully agree with your observations of what makes a “cult”. We deal with it from time to time. I am in a church where some of the former Pastors were eager for notice. I think we do need to be Biblically aware, and not unwilling to prayerfully challenge leadership when they are wrong, and prayerfully praying for them.

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