If you look at the famous (and infamous) cults, you will find that they all share some common features: a charismatic leader, moral double standards, isolation of members, rules of silence, and an “us against them” philosophy. In many “Christian cults”, you will also find that at least one area of peripheral or fringe theology is elevated so that it becomes a core non-negotiable theology.
These elevated fringe theologies are designed to promote the idea that some kind of good deeds are required for the membership to be approved by God. For example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons elevate the obligation of door to door witnessing and good moral living (as per the standard that set by leadership) as more than simply advisable or good ideas, but as necessities that need to be met in order to be found in good standing with the leadership and by extension, God.
You will also always note that when these peripheral doctrines are made to be central, they are always directed towards the main congregation and never the leadership. You never see the leaders of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in Brooklyn or the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake standing on street corners handing out tracts, or knocking on your front door.
In the church that I helped to grow, the fringe theology that was elevated to become a fundamental theology was that of demon possession and deliverance. It wasn’t thought up in our church, in fact it came from where many of today’s fundamental theologies come from; Christian Television.
The leader of the church saw a man talking about this type of demonic oppression on an episode of a popular Christian TV show that attempts to focus on the paranormal and mystic side of Christianity. In every episode, the show brings on a guest who can be anything from a person who went to hell in a dream to a guy who sees spiritual creatures on roof tops. The host of the show interviews them and then tells us, the viewer, that we can learn more about this niche thing that God is doing by buying a DVD or book which was offered by the guest in the episode.
In retrospect, the show was actually a “glorified” infomercial, and we bought it, hook, line and sinker. We bought the book and started to implement the ideas in it, into ministry. This is basically the idea in a nutshell.
- The Christian’s “spirit” is possessed by the Holy Spirit
- The Christian’s body and soul however are extremely prone to demonic oppression
- This demonic oppression is facilitated by “open doors” to the demonic realm
- These open doors are granted to the demonic realm by (1) generational curses (2) the person’s sins or (3) any unforgiveness that the person has in their heart.
- As a result, in order to be “clean” from demons, Christians ought to confess and repent of their current sins, the sins of their ancestors and any current unforguveness towards other people
- Once the “true repentance” has occurred, the demons would have effectively lost their permission to the person and were now legally bound to leave when being “cast out”
Now here’s the part where it starts to get muddy (yeah, if that wasn’t muddy enough). On top of this, we “the church leaders” taught people that we could pray for them to cast the demons out. This meant that they would meet with us at a pre-determined date and time and we would interview them, asking about their family sins, their sins and anyone they were upset with and they didn’t forgive. We asked them to be completely open and honest with us, so that we would “know what to pray for them” and told them if they weren’t, it could mean that they may not be made free.
One of my greatest shames as a servant of Jesus is my contribution to and involvement in this façade. We compelled people to tell us their most personal issues, not because they actually thought we were trustworthy, but because without doing so, we told them they may not be free from demons. I saw us “the leaders” make claims that we would treat their personal information as personal, and then have conversations about what we heard behind their backs. We sold freedom to people who already had it in Christ.
This goes back to the “Levels” of Christians that I spoke about in my last warning sign. Do you see how this newly established doctrine is able to powerfully reinforce the divide between regular Christians and leadership? The leadership were not only the folks that got it right and had Christianity worked out, now they were the folks that you needed in order to keep satan’s minions from infiltrating your dreams at night. In fact, this doctrine was able to do more than just help divide leaders from the congregation; it was able to make divisions between members. There were the people that were prayed for, and the people that weren’t (yet) prayed for and I saw how one group thought they were better than, or cleaner than the other group.
Here’s a question you may be asking. Who prayed to get the demons out of the leaders? And by leaders I mean, the guys at the top; the preacher and his wife. I mean, since sin creates doors for demons, it must mean we all have them because we all sin… Right?
Well you may have guessed it; in the same way that the leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons aren’t really required to come to my front door, the preacher and his wife never really required deliverance.
This peripheral theology being allowed to become central to the Christian’s doctrine is proof of what can happen when we allow a divide to occur in how leadership is viewed and congregation is viewed. Such a distinction can serve no other purpose but to make allowances for one group to control the other. It allows for the emergence of double standards in the church, more of which I will talk about in my next warning sign: Double Standards.