Monday, September 03, 2012
HOW A BIBLE PREACHERS CAN TURN INTO CULT LEADERS You’re in a church that affirms the inerrancy of scripture so you’re safe. Right? Sorry. No. There are other problems. Liberals have long pointed out how that cult-like authoritarian leaders are almost all pastors in conservative Bible believing churches. Unfortunately and painfully that is true. Why? And how do we correct the problem. THREE STEPPING STONES TO CULTISH AUTHORITY There are 3 stepping stones used by personality cult leaders in developing a following. Loyalty to Bible to Movement to the Leader. If they were just to go around saying: 'I am the messianic hero - follow me', then they would mostly just be ignored as crazy. So instead they use a 3 step strategy. * First, they promote loyalty to the truth of the Bible. This massive absolute trustworthy authority gets them lots of sincere followers and provokes little challenge. * Second, they promote loyalty to their movement as a means to implement obedience to the scriptures. Fair enough to do so and necessary, but the break point becomes when loyalty movement becomes more important than loyalty to scripture. Then people are drawn into the next level and for them the movement becomes a cult. The successes of the movement are boasted about in an unrealistic manner. All sorts of benefits are promised. The value of defending each other is emphasised. But most others are still loyal to scripture. * Then the third stage is the transfer of loyalty from the movement as a group to the messianic hero leader himself. Lots of subtle ways to do this: self-promotion, boasting, mentoring, special promotions etc. Telling people their destiny is linked to being around a great leader etc. Leaders introducing each other in bloated unrealistic ways. Anyway, at the same time different people in the movement can be at different stages in this loyalty slide: Bible to Movement to Leader. Once the person is loyal to the next level, loyalty to the previous level can be dispensed with quite conveniently. e.g. Once people are blindly loyal to the movement, then the Bible can be dispensed with. Once people are blindly loyal to the leader, the interests of the rest of the movement can be dispensed with. This explains how certain cultish people can be so hypocritical. They no longer really care about the Bible or really care about the interests of other people in the movement. Their professed loyalty to these other things are just stepping stones for people to stop on in the manipulative plans of a personality cult. In some cases, the driver of this movement is not actually the leader - it is the followers. They move themselves with no encouragement to the next level of cultish loyalty. In fact they push the decent honest leader to behave as if he was God-like, they hero-worship him and flatter him and try to attack anyone who disagrees with him. But it is evil and idolatry and good people must stand up to this degeneration and stop it. The pattern also explains how someone can be teaching stuff that is almost 100% Biblically correct and yet still be leading people astray like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Yes, its painful, but this is how good honest God-loving people get sucked into a personality cult. We must expose this manipulation and try help these people back to God and the Bible. WHY DO BIBLE BELIEVING GROUPS SO OFTEN GO CULTIC? Liberals have pointed out how many Bible believing groups abuse their followers in a cultic manner. How do we as evangelicals explain how belief in the inerrancy of scripture co-exists with spiritually abusive behaviour? I would explain as follows: The cult leader want's absolute power. He does not want partial power or a degree of power. He wants it all. Anything that is affirmed as absolute and infallible automatically carries with it an enormous amount of power and authority. The cult leader wants to share some of that. So he tries to associate himself with the authority (in this case the Bible) in the minds of his followers. This is the same dynamic as the junior wannabe deputy cult leaders who suck up to the senior 'apostolic' and 'senior pastor' 'cult leaders' / ‘wannabe Pope’ - who try hang around them in the hope that they might get some of their power. It is also a bit like the junior leader who ‘name drops’ about all the important people he knows in order to get people to put him on their level. So the cult leader wants to affirm the high authority of the Bible and then also put himself on a similar level of authority as the sole interpreter of the Bible to his followers. That way, he and not the Bible gets affirmed as the final authority. Now in churches which don't affirm the inerrancy of scripture, this trick to steal authority from scripture won't work. If the Bible doesn't have authority, then all that counts is everybodies human opinion. Why should I listen to you - I have my own opinion. Now in such churches there are other ways for people to manipulate to get power. In these instances, power usually goes to the Modernist or Post-Modernist academics who are seen as all knowing and the men with all the answers. But in these instances, it is basically an intellectual following. They can't get people bowing and scraping to their every whim and hanging on their words as if they proceed directly from God. Now really the problem is not with the inerrancy of the Bible. The problem is with cult-leaders who act as though their interpretation of and application of the Bible is infallible - and their cult-followers who believe it. To give a further illustration as to why personality cultists tend to prefer to affirm the infallible word of God. There is real money and their is counterfeit money. They look similar, but on close examination they are not. But what do the counterfeiters counterfeit? Do they counterfeit one dollar coins? No. That would be a waste of time. They counterfeit hundred dollar bills (or hundred rand notes for South Africans). But does that mean that all hundred dollar bills should now be suspect. No. The issue is that counterfeiters go to the trouble of counterfeiting something that is real and valuable. They don't copy cheap stuff. So there is very little point in trying to counterfeit liberal, modernist or post-modernist Christianity. It has no real authority, so there is very little to steal or borrow from. The infallible word of God on the other hand carries with it divine authority - now for those who want to be 'little gods' in their own community - that is a good stepping stone in their quest for divine status. So that is why personality cultists like to affirm the absolute authority of scripture - just that they never want scripture used to hold them accountable. You can't do so because they are the only one who can interpret it. If you challenge them, then they say you are interpreting wrongly and must listen to their interpretation. Their interpretation can bend and change with whatever is convenient at the time - so it is not actually scripture which has divine authority - but them that has divine authority. CHARISMATIC ELITISTS Certain elitist Charismatic groups take this authoritarianism to an even more extreme level with the idea that God speaks through the Messianic leader with 'words of knowledge' and a ‘hotline to heaven’ with perfect accuracy – but that the ordinary congregation member can’t get guidance from God themselves. Then what do you get? A man interpolated as the voice of God - who you better absolutely obey else you are disobeying God. CORRECTING CULTIC AUTHORITARIAN INTERPRETATIONS OF SCRIPTURE A correct understanding of scripture corrects these problems. While the Bible is infallible, the interpretation of it is not – and the senior leader is accountable to other leaders and in extreme case ultimately everyone else in proving his interpretation of scripture from scripture. Historic confessions referred to these teachings as ‘the priesthood of all believers’ and ‘the clarity of scripture’. In the book of Galatians, even the apostle Peter made a mistake and had to be corrected by the apostle Paul. Nobody then is above challenge. Systems of church governance which give mechanisms to hold senior leaders accountable to their followers help correct such personality cults developing. If your church doesn’t have those, seriously consider pushing for reform or moving to a church with healthier governance.