Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Cult in My Life

The front cover of Fudge's text on Oneness Pentecostalism

Last Tuesday night our family celebrated a birthday at McDonald's and I ran into a beloved neighbor of mine, again. For anonymity I will call her "Jan." I haven't seen Jan for a few months. I was so pleased. She is the mother of five grown children, the youngest being 19 and the oldest I imagine is my age, give or take. Last time Jan and I were together at the grocery store it took God bumping us in each other's presence several times before we talked, but this time she flagged me down and invited me to meet one of her daughters, "Lauren," I had thus far not met. Lauren was visiting from out of town. Apparently Jan is troubled that she has decided not to return to the church in which she was raised.

The subject of our conversation changed. The youngest daughter, 19, is the one I know best; "Cindy." I wanted to know how she was doing. So we talked for some time.

I reminisce.

Cindy has not willingly spoken to me in... maybe four years. Though, believe it or not, I see Cindy, and she me, almost every day. She was 15 when I first met her; I was 26. She came to my door because of a fundraiser and she started telling me about her beliefs, quoting scripture, telling me that she didn't believe in the Trinity. I was impressed nonetheless and told her how amazing she was! She was so excited to have me meet the rest of her family. She wanted me to come to her church with her. She was so proud having invited me, when I was so engaged with many members of her church over the truths of the scriptures.

After some time of participating with them all, I bowed out. Long story. Since then, she still walks the same path home from school every day, and every day I pass her in my car on my way to get my kids. But she wants to pretend like I don't exist.

And so we play this game of body language. It's all that's left, but I have consecrated it. Any message is, what; 70% body language anyway? Here is what she does: she recognizes me, forces herself not to be happy, lifts her face toward the sky, and looks far off in the distance, like I do not exist.

But, before her eyes are quick enough, there are days I get to smile directly with joy, and every third time or so I make sure to wave, because I know that sitting in an automobile can make it difficult to see my friendliness.

That's been the routine for years.

The term "cult" has a wide variety of uses. Not every sect is a cult. Not every legalistic church is a cult. Just because a church is not mainstream in its beliefs, that does not make it a cult.

I don't use the word "cult" hardly at all, unless I am speaking culturally amongst evangelicals. (The word is offensive outside of evangelical Christianity, and eliminates opportunities to share one's faith quite decisively.) However it remains useful to me as a description of those groups which have a significant level of suspicion of outsiders.

There are behaviors about this group which concern me for the health of Christ's body, having nothing to do with doctrine.... I know they have services three times a week if not more. The women are only allowed to wear dresses near the ankle, and are not allowed to cut their hair. Without exception every time church is held, the women arrange their hair in styles that are elaborate to compare to prom night, both young girls and the elderly. The preacher himself has testified to me that he has forsaken medical attention because of his faith in God for healing. The church property (which I pass two times every school day of my life) has a single paved spot for the pastor's car, right in front of the building. I notice that most of the people who attend church live along the adjacent street in housing that is not so well to do, but they all drive very clean, new, and high-end automobiles. The pastor's car has gotten more valuable with time, and it changes every 6-9 months. The preaching... the preaching is not often expository, and the arrangements of scriptures appeal to emotion and repentance.

The doctrine:

"Jesus Only" Oneness Pentecostalism, which believes in a transient modalism, and therefore that the Trinity is a lie from Satan.

You may notice in the above graphic, that faith in Christ is missing altogether from the plan of salvation.

Unfortunately, Cindy is not the only one who treats me this way; with the one exception of Jan, they all have adopted this same body language, and I have seen them at the grocery store or along that block where they live many times. They once wanted to treat me to bible studies and help me "become saved" when I was in their midst, but now they too apparently have nothing to say to me.

I consider how I appear to them. It seems to me that even those who have become "heretics," even those who have become candidates for exercising the tool of "disfellowshipping," ought to be sought after by the body of believers; 2 Thess. 3:14-15:

And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

I keep waiting for them to show that regard for my eternal well-being. But rather I worry that my confidence with the word of God that I took with their pastor, spread like a bad rumor. I am an enemy who deserves not to be rescued? Consequently - for the extreme reaction of abandonment which my theological interest mixed with love has wrought - I call this a "cult."

I look back on those precious moments when I was with them. I remember driving to their church and when I opened my car door, their children overtook me and wanted to know me. I remember Cindy's brother miraculously showing up on my door step, talking about how he can't go to church because of his sins, and I got to tell him about the exalted honor of the prodigal son. I remember how the pastor paid a visit to my home and brought his three daughters who listened to my presentation of the gospel of salvation. I treasure these things in my heart, as I wait for the LORD to open a door once more in their lives.

Someone somewhere told Cindy that she and her church were in control. In control of the truth, in control over me, spiritually. But I know something she has yet to learn; Romans 5:20-21 & James 4:11-12:

Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?

These brief "body language exchanges" communicate my non-compromise: I am a living testimony of the sufficiency of grace, and so ought she be! "Mercy triumphs over judgment!" (james 2:13)

Jan keeps my heart encouraged. At McDonalds, she pulled out a pamphlet from her church, and showed it to me. On it was the poetry Cindy had written about her relationship with the LORD. It was talented! I lavished love that comes so natural.

We parted ways with obvious affection for one another. I said, "please tell Cindy to come by and see me some time, I'd love it... that is, if she wants to." I wonder how long I have to wait?

God's timing is part of the demonstration of grace, so, I have no intentions to see it be rushed.


Aletheia said...


thank you so much for filling my heart this morning by sharing this. I have been tremendously blessed by your love and grace.

I am sure there are many of us in similar situations....we have relationships with beloved brethren who are still in bondage in cult like situations.

May God give us all the grace to love


Sanctification said...


I hope you appreciate the cover-art of the apologetical history written by Fudge. When I entered free grace and began hearing the term "cross-less," I thought to myself how all works-based distortions of the gospel are the "cross-less" tragedy -- and I say that struggling for the words to describe, not to make connect with familiar terminology. Many other apologetics of works-salvation could equally be titled, "Christianity without the Cross."

It is a tempting torment to drive every day past their church. Sometimes I wanna walk back in and just say, "Hello?" (I didn't leave in a huff of theological angst, I left only because I had other priorities in my time, and they admonished me to surrender. I was told we would have some bible studies regardless, but once I stopped coming, they wouldn't return my phone calls.)

But, pressure to conformity of conviction and of deed, is something they experience all too frequently I imagine. What a contrast release, makes. Or so I hope....

Yes, this must be a familiar thing for many people in many places.

Thanks for being here Aletheia,


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