Character Traits of Aberrational Cultic Groups
The following characteristics of aberrational cultic groups have been adapted in part, and expanded upon, from a presentation by sociologist Ronald M. Enroth and are typical of many aberrational groups. The character traits outlined here represent such an extreme departure from Scripture that fellowship with groups in which one or more of them are manifested can prove detrimental to one's spiritual well-being. It is noteworthy that even genuine born-again believers, for a variety of reasons, can involve themselves with individual churches, Bible study groups, denominations, cults, and aberrational movements which are characterized by them.
The control of the movement is vested in one or more persons who are accountable to no one else but God. These persons are to be considered absolutely above reproach! A system of checks and balances is non-existent. The sole responsibility of interpreting the Bible and the formulation of the group's beliefs and practices rests with them. Leaders and their teachings are never to be questioned. Questioning the group's leader(s) is tantamount to questioning God Himself. God speaks to and through these leaders by means of audible voices, inner leadings, and visions. These leaders may hold titles such as the apostle, bishop, deputy authority, father, mother, oracle, prophet, seer, and so on.
The beliefs and practices of the group will deviate sharply from orthodoxy. The essentials of the faith will be compromised. The nature of God, including that of the Trinity, will be maligned. God is humanized, man is deified, sin is minimized, the Scriptures are ostracized, a different Jesus is publicized, and a very different gospel evangelized. Salvation by grace is compromised. Familiar doctrinal terms may be redefined and new ones invented to support the beliefs and practices of the group. The group's more objectionable beliefs and practices may be veiled from the public eye. Group members may be subjected to immense indoctrination. The group may also prepare and distribute its own printed literature with the intent to propagate their heresy. Only safe reading materials are permitted and recommended to the membership.
EMPHASIS ON EXPERIENCE
The theology of a particular group may dictate following subjective experience over one's own knowledge, negating discernment skills, and placing into doubt the sufficiency of revelation found in the Scriptures. Group members may exalt personal emotion, feelings, enthusiasm, and their experiences over doctrine, creating their own standard of orthodoxy that becomes their sole means to judge others by. Expressions such as anointing, drinking, eating, enjoying, feeling, leading, and touching are taken to extremes and may be commonplace.
The movement believes that it stands head and shoulders above all other existing Christian groups. Some groups believe they represent the whole truth and nothing but the truth - they are the one true church, the only family of God, the only true expression of God and His work on earth today during this age. They believe that they are God's special chosen people. They believe that God will treat them favorably in this age and in the ages to come. No one outside of the group can be saved or expect to receive the full blessings of God that are available only as a member in good standing with the group.
DENUNCIATION OF OTHERS
Such groups, encouraged on by leadership, will harshly judge individual Christian churches, denominations, and organizations based upon their own beliefs and practices. Others are considered apostate, divisive, fallen, sectarian, enemies of God, and agents of Satan. One is also expected to suffer loss at the hands of others and must therefore burn all bridges behind them to remain completely faithful to God. This mentality usually results in the destruction of close family ties, existing friendships, previous lifestyles, and activities.
Such groups under controlled leadership develop a persecution complex and are told to expect it from the outside world. Persecution validates the truthfulness of the movement and its own messianic cause. Close family members and others who claim to be Christians are not to be trusted. They are to be thought of as the instruments of Satan who are caught up in the entrapments of this world system. Group members may develop acute cases of paranoia and will learn to size up those who enter their midst.
MANIPULATION OF MEMBERS
Group leaders may give excessive advice, care, and love to members to influence their decision- making and to bolster the leader's position of spiritual maturity, authority, and control over the group. Many will join such groups to receive this attention that is regrettably not obtainable elsewhere. In some instances they may welcome such given guidance and control. Members will be taken advantage of under the guise of perceivable spirituality by self-seeking leaders. Leaders may also employ unethical practices of behavior and conduct to gain and retain members.
Group members are expected to conform to certain standards of behavior and appearance. Fear, guilt, and peer pressure may be employed to obtain the desired level of conformity and commitment to the group and its cause. Activities may be structured to bring about desired responses. Loyalty to the group and its cause comes first. Individuality may be severely shunned. One's ability to think independently and clearly may be hampered and one may not be given adequate time to reflect upon what is taught. Weekly meetings and daily activities may leave little time for group members to associate with those outside the movement. Shared religious and social activities of the group will draw its members closer together, resulting in emotional bonding that strengthens the group's hold on its members. This results in the distancing of members from those outside the group. A tightly run communal environment further restricts contact with others and plays an important role in the shaping of one's behavioral pattern and style of living.
Groups may employ fear, guilt, intimidation, public humiliation, harsh language, and may even resort to abusive physical violence to bring and keep their members in line. One's illness may be perceived as the evidence of lack of faith or sinful living. Covenants, loyalty oaths, and pledges of support may be employed by the group and then later brought to light, should one part from the straight and narrow.
PAINFUL EXIT PROCESS
Those departing the true church may face hard adjustment elsewhere. They may have been taught, or fear, that leaving the group is tantamount to leaving God, His divine protection, and His favor. They have been programmed to stay in and may feel that they must settle for God's second best elsewhere. Members who have committed many years to the group must leave behind friends, social standing, and perhaps even financial security. Because they have been burned once already they will find it more difficult to trust others, including those in positions of church leadership, their families, and close friends they left behind. They may take with them the teachings of the group they belonged to and it may take many years for ex-members to re-adjust to the world they once left behind.
This material had been previously published in Jim Moran's website.
This list stresses practices rather than doctrines. Only point 2 mentions doctrinal deviations. These doctrinal deviations may vary for different groups. Some groups do not deny main Christian doctrines. However, they have some peripheral unbiblical doctrines that are disproportionally emphasized. These groups do not became heretical, but still they have some slight doctrinal deviations from the Bible.
Most points of this list match the concept of cult mind control. Unlike some psychologists, Ronald M. Enroth did not have a purpose to make an all-inclusive model. He just described some cases and some points of spiritual abuse.