Abuse by Churches: Cultic Characteristics to Watch For
Dale Ratzlaff wrote a book in which he examines what he concludes is the unbiblical doctrine of the 7th Day Adventists called The Investigative Judgment. It is a complicated matter, but it surely denies the gospel of Christ, and he explains why. (The Cultic Doctrine of Seventh-day Adventists). Ratzlaff writes out of a heart for the SDA’s, as he was one of them for decades.
For our purposes here, I would like to list for you some of the 15 cult characteristics that Ratzlaff identifies and discusses. I think you will find them very relevant to the experiences of abuse victims at the hands of their churches:
1. Persecution complex: “The world is against us because we have the truth.” While this contains some truth in regard to Christians – the world does hate us, it hates Christ, and it hates the truth of His gospel – Christians must not develop a “complex” about it. Their own small group is not the only company of God’s people on this planet (Elijah: “And I alone am left…”). In terms of abuse, “we are the only hope for marriage and the family. Our rules must be enforced.”
2. Doctrinal ambiguity: “The truth doesn’t have to make sense.” That God requires an abuse victim to remain in an abusive marriage and suffer its horrors makes no sense at all. Yet, the no divorce for abuse camps insist that it is God’s will.
3. Presumptuous leadership: “I know what is best for you.” This feature of the cult works to bind the consciences of people. It sets itself above Christ’s people, and even above His Word and dictates to people how they are to live even the most personal areas of their lives. It intrudes into home, marriage, sexual intimacy, recreation, diet, and so on.
4. Segmented interpretation of the Bible: “These verses are more important.” “God hates divorce! There! It is settled. We don’t need to consider anything else.” No matter that this phrase is not even in the Bible.
5. Messianic complex: “We are God’s only hope to save the world.” By standing firm and unbending against the evils of divorce, we are going to preserve the most vital social unit — the family, and thus save society.
The point is that when a church embraces these kinds of practices, people are abused. Unlawful authority is lorded over people. And we might even say, such a church becomes a cult.