Is your church behaving like a cult?

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Martin Saunders  13 May 2016 | 11:24 AM

Reuters

Do you ever worry that your church is exhibiting strange behaviour? Asking for more commitment than seems sensible; encouraging an unusual amount of devotion to the leader? Requiring your life and all be given to them, rather than directly to God? 

Mike Bickle, author of Passion for Jesus and founder of IHOP in Kansas, came up with a list of seven key ‘tells’ that suggest a church is behaving like a cult. Most churches could probably do better in one or two of these areas but for some, this checklist provides a dangerously accurate description of how things work. There are various ‘cult watch’ organisations which provide similar lists, but Bickle’s is especially pertinent because it comes from within the church, and recognises some of the nuances and grey areas involved.

Mike Bickle has identified seven signs of cult-like behaviour.

So here is the list, with some thoughts on how it might apply in practice, and what to watch out for. Because cult membership is dangerous, and can destroy your life; arguably the same could be true of a church which behaves just like one.

Sign #1: Opposing critical thinking

I remember a friend telling me that he’d finally become more comfortable at his charismatic church because he’d realised that he just needed to disengage his brain during the services and ‘go with it.’ To him this made sense because his intellectualism was making him overthink everything, but there’s a fine line between resisting your cynicism and disabling your critical functions entirely. The Bible and God both stand up to intellectual scrutiny; so any church which tells you to switch off your brain is probably trying to lead you into dangerous new territory.

Sign #2: Isolating members and penalising them for leaving

Some of the more mainstream cults are well-known for this sort of behaviour, even turning family members against those who try to leave. While there aren’t many churches which will go that far, there are examples of those which deliberately exclude those who appear to oppose or challenge the leaders from the rest of the community. This accusation was aimed at Mars Hill in Seattle by individuals who questioned the behaviour of the leaders and elders. If a church begins to close ranks against anyone, especially those who have previously been members of the community, they’re behaving just like a cult.

Sign #3: Emphasising special doctrines outside scripture

This is especially prevalent among churches which preach a ‘prosperity gospel’. Cults use extra-biblical ideas and wrap them up in biblical sounding language, in order to compel followers to practice certain behaviours which are usually nothing to do with the actual gospel. Infamously this often involves sexual or financial conduct, and while there hopefully aren’t many churches which encourage the former, there are entire church movements which appear to have created special new doctrines around the latter. From the seed-of-faith evangelists to the megachurches which take several offerings in order to finance a ‘professional quality’ worship performance, this is one of the easiest and most transgressed pitfalls on the list.

Another key area here is around End Times prophecies, which Scripture does talk about, but in no way to the levels emphasised by some churches and individuals. This line of thinking is exactly what leads cults into tragic suicide pacts; an obsession with the coming apocalypse runs counter to Jesus’ warning in Matthew 24:36 that only God knows the day and the hour of Judgment Day.

Sign #4: Seeking inappropriate loyalty to their leaders

I wrote recently about the prevalent problem and of leader idolatry, and in particular the disgraced church leader who on returning from his prison sentence made every member of the church kneel at his feet and pledge devotion to him above the justice system. This might be an extreme case, but there are plenty of other churches which hold their leader in inappropriately high esteem, showering him with gifts (like the British church which bought its pastor an £80,000 Mercedes as a birthday present) and viewing him essentially as being above scrutiny. Unaccountable leaders, with devotees who love them perhaps even more than they love God, are a key feature of any cult… and some churches.

Sign #5: Dishonouring the family unit

God loves family: he’s crazy about children, and he’s not at all keen on family breakdown. So any church which encourages its members to put the church first, even ahead of their commitments at home, is behaving unbiblically. This is exactly how cults convince people to turn against their own non-believing parents, siblings or spouses; many churches also subtly request the same order of priorities, whether subconsciously or deliberately.

Sign #6: Crossing biblical boundaries of behaviour

Thankfully, this is an area where few churches will recognise themselves. But if your church starts encouraging lifestyle choices which don’t tally up with scripture, then start to worry, and fast. Scary examples might involve Westboro Baptist-style affirmation of prejudice or even the use of violence to accomplish supposed ‘kingdom’ goals. More subtly though, this could be seen in a deliberately permissive attitude to sex or other behaviours. If your church is actually preaching against holiness, it’s acting like a cult.

Sign #7: Separation from the rest of the church

Finally, and perhaps of most concern to the modern church, Bickle identifies that cults always promote the idea among their members that they’re the only part of the ‘church’ that has truly understood God’s plan for the world. For cults this often means not only cutting their community off from the rest of the church, but also wider society. Churches rarely speak with quite this level of arrogance, but they do often exhibit a related behaviour; claiming that God has given their particular church a specific mission and calling which means that it’s unhelpful for them to work in unity with others. And forget what they say, if your church stream behaves as if it’s the only true way, guess what: that’s exactly what cults do.

Take another look down that list. Hopefully you only vaguely recognise your own church, and others that you know. Try not to use Bickle’s helpful signposts as a means by which you can judge other churches though; but rather to note where yours needs to take care not to stray into cult-like territory. And if there’s a real red flag among the seven, then pray about how you might be able to help your church get back on to a straight path. After all, it was for freedom that Christ has set us free; cults offer the very opposite. It should be of the utmost concern to us when our churches begin to resemble them in any way.

Martin Saunders is a Contributing Editor for Christian Today and the Deputy CEO of Youthscape. You can follow him on Twitter: @martinsaunders

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Mind control at church | Six tell-tale signs of abusive leaders


MIND CONTROL: SIX TELL-TALE
SIGNS OF ABUSIVE CHURCH LEADERS


1. Idolatry – Create excessive, and sometimes blind, admiration and devotion to a person or group, and their beliefs.

2.  There is a well developed, and often unstated system of rules and codes for behavior.  Teaching God will approve of the members who follow the leader and are loyal to him is of utmost importance.  God is not acting out of grace or mercy.  God is a strict judge of justice who is working directly with and through the leaders who alone know what God really wants.  The Mind Controller becomes their parent, and his followers are treated like children.  They do not need to know everything, but just what the leaders think they need to know.

3.  Almost total dependence on a leader, leaders, and the group, combined with cutting off most of the outside world; especially close friends and relatives.

4.  Systematically using subtle techniques for changing the way people think, what they think, and keep existing member’s thoughts and hearts loyal to the Mind Controller and his cause.  The goal is to have the Mind Controller as the parent, and the adult subjects functioning as his children.

5.  Teaching that the group has all the answers; it has everything good in life and there is nothing else.

6.  Creating an environment of fear in leaving.  Any deserters are punished by shunning, and are vilified and marginalized by ridicule before and/or after they leave. This creates a profoundly deep subconscious fear in the existing members to never leave, so this won’t happen to them.  Anything outside of the group is inferior and of Satan.  It is evil.  There is no rule or doctrine more pure, or better, than the group’s.  Outside is failure and disaster.

There is a lust for power that burns deep inside a lot of men, (and some women).  Most people suppress it, or are never in a position to use it.   Some people are just not smart enough to figure out how to control others.  So-called Christian leaders are not much different. They also still have natures that lusts for power and control.

Satan tried to tempt Jesus with this with his offer to make Him king over the entire earth.  It is a temptation common to all humans.

When a leader has deep insecurities coupled with a licentious lust for control over others, layered thick with deep welling pride, then a wolf, an abusive and divisive leader, emerges.   Like a vortex that begins swirling and sucking everything into themselves, they become incrementally worse and worse, sucking people inward and downward.

This was a common expected problem to deal with for Jesus.  He warned his disciples right after the mother of James and John asked for a place of honor for her sons in the Kingdom.  Jesus said, “You know the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just like the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.” 

Godly leaders need to lead by example, serving others.  Peter was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write:  “Do not lord it over those entrusted to you but rather be examples.”

John strongly rebuked Diotrephes for his wicked words and lengthy malicious speech and for casting others out of the church for unbiblical reasons.  

The Bible warns against Satan disguising himself as an angel of light, and his servants as ministers of righteousness.  An abusive control is deceptive and the doctrines of demons. 

“What, you don’t want any authority in your life? 

Ahh, you’re a sinful rebel, rejecting accountability to your leader!” 

People often just “put up with it”, and allow themselves to be motivated by satanically inspired guilt and fear.

When the abusive authority ridicules others, marginalizes, and puts opponents who threaten their control out of their association, then followers just “put up with it”. The more the followers “put up with it”, the stronger the control becomes and it spirals inward into an increasingly abusive vortex of control.  The abusive authority takes full advantage of the common trait most people have in wanting to appease leaders. 

Christians are especially vulnerable to manipulation by perceived spiritual authority figures, and easily intimidated in large groups by their desire for living quiet and peaceful lives, and respect of authority.

Some clues to help tell if it’s a Mind Control environment:

Deception is heavily used with mind control.  Once the victims pass through the gate of deception and they accept the way they were deceived as rational for “the cause,” then they are set up to deceive others the same way.  They become a slave to deception themselves by believing the end justifies the means.  The lying isn’t looked upon as real lying, since the lying is done for a good purpose; for “the cause” or “the truth.”

These people unwittingly become Mind Controllers themselves by straying from the truth and are exploited by the Master Mind Controller.

By buying into deceiving others, the followers become deceived themselves by not letting the truth control what they say.  The expression, “just trust Your Elders,” is used liberally in these assemblies.  

Mind Controllers hone in on a person’s weaknesses by first making their target comfortable, then get personal and confidential information to exploit the person later.  People are easy to control by a Mind Controller, especially after a vulnerable time of stress in their lives, making them easy targets.  Defense mechanisms are broken down or overloaded, and people are easily controlled.

Many cult leaders project themselves with false humility; as spiritual men.  They take the place of the person’s physical father and successfully use this emotional leverage for the deep seated need for approval in order to motivate and control them.  The goal is to make the adult followers as much like their own children as possible.  When people accept this, then they accept human authority in their lives to the point where they are hopelessly dependant on the authority, as children are with their parents.  One technique used to obtain this type of parental control is to keep them off balance to foster dependency, making it hard for them to make their own decisions. 

When cunning craftiness is plotted to deceive the followers into functioning like children, they become much more manageable, being easily influenced by false doctrines and other tricks of deception. 

Mind Controllers use friendships and peers to leverage control over others.  People tend to doubt themselves and defer to what the group says.  This is why it is so important for a Mind Controller to gather to himself leaders who are loyal followers themselves!  The Mind Controller strives to get all the bases covered first, so the only alternative is to readily accept his teachings and/or policies, no matter how fabricated they may be!  That is why after an hour long message, many followers lose their frame of reference and accept what is being said to them without objection.  At that point into the message, faces begin to relax into a blank neutral stare, enduring the repetitive, rhythmical, droning, and they accept in time, the truth, the truth of the Mind Controller’s choosing.  

Mind Controllers are shrewd manipulators and effective communicators.  Followers are taught to follow orders without hesitation or question, like soldiers in the Army.  The Truth becomes perfect and absolute.  Any flaw pointed out is associated with that person’s flaw, not the Truth.  Follow the Truth even if you don’t understand it.  The living and true God becomes smaller and smaller.

Information is tightly controlled.  When the information is controlled, it restricts the ability to think critically and make sound judgments.  This is done extensively. “Gag orders” are routinely given, instructing followers not to talk to outsiders about assembly matters.

Fear of the outside world and all the bad things that will happen if one leaves, is firmly and methodically embedded in the mind of the followers by creating an “us vs. them.”  The “them” or “other side” or the “outside” is associated with Satan.

Phobias are created to systematically create a fear of deserting the Mind Controller.  The thought they need the Mind Controller or group to grow spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally is drilled in.

Constant reinforcement and interaction with the group and/or Mind Controller and his fellow mind controllers is needed.  The more personal time people can be persuaded to give up the better.  People are ridiculed who want more “family time” or “personal time.”

The Mind Controller stress followers have to “keep rank” and “stick together.” There is a feeling of power from the single-mindedness.

Mind Controllers manipulate so the followers can’t make decisions without going to the Mind Controller.  They are being continually encouraged to not think independently or make their own decisions.  They become dependent on the Mind Controller or his underlings as their parent.  The more dependent they are, the more controlled they are.  It would be a terrible thing to be accused of being “independent.”

For many followers, personal problems are blown way out of proportion to keep the focus on the person being controlled, so they don’t challenge the Mind Controller.  

Mind Controllers exploit the natural tendency people have to obey authority.  They exploit the fear people have of ridicule, rebuke, and losing relationships.  This fear is a very deep subconscious fear that profoundly motivates them to defend  what they are doing, and condemn others that do not obey the leaders.  

Even the thought of people who left the assembly or disobeyed the mind controller, conjures up defenses in the minds of those controlled to discount or think poorly of those who have “gone to Satan” and the evil outside world, outside of their assembly.  Their mind is ensnared and captivated by fear to automatically think evil of anybody who leaves their group.

Getting away with public ridicule, sarcasm, and rebuking automatically lets the Mind Controller gain more control over an audience because the audience fears the same thing happening to them!  Pointing people out publicly creates fear in others to behave so the Mind Controller won’t do this to them, so they want to be nice to the Mind Controller and get on his good side and please their parent.  And they might tell on their friends to gain more favor. 

Private and public slander creates fear in the followers by naturally not wanting the Mind Controller to do this to them.  Creative slander can be used to create bitterness and walls against those who could help the followers.  Slander against the Mind Controller is a very, very bad sin, and divisive.  Slander against followers is not nearly as bad an offense, and even very acceptable if the leader is doing it.  

Using guilt and fear to manipulate and control keeps the followers off balance.  Confession of past wrongs is a powerful device for controlling emotion.  But rarely is the confessed sin forgotten, but brought up later to manipulate.

People are not allowed to talk to each other about anything critical of the leader, doctrine or organization.

Mind Controllers often have a deep inferiority complex.  What they require is attention and power.  They learn to crave it, and develop a need for more and more power.  Some cult leaders are in it for the personal power, not the money.  They operate under the belief that people are too stupid and unspiritual to know what is best for them.  They begin to believe their own propaganda.

Related Articles:

Spiritual Abuse Survey

Brainwashing: How church leadersprevail in their deception


BY: Rhett Stuart
“The Bishop Maker” 


RETRIEVED http://www.wickedshepherds.com/MindControl.html