Updated: Sep 2, 2019
Over the past few years I have seen a disturbing number of mind control characteristics creeping into a number of Reformed Evangelical churches. These are the identical characteristics of cults like The Unification Church (the Moonies), the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the cult of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, ISKON (the Hare Krishna cult), and Scientology. There are eight characteristics identified by the psychologist Robert J. Lifton in his book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of Brainwashing in China. This book was instrumental in the exit of Steven Hassan, the author of Combating Cult Mind Control, and former member of The Moonies. These two books are essential in identifying a religion/cult that engages in mind control tactics.
The first objection a member of a high control Reformed Evangelical church is going to make is that the cults I listed are either pseudo or non-Christian cults. The issue with this objection is that it is relying on an outdated definition of a cult. That definition was coined by the late apologist Dr. Walter Martin, who stated, “By the term cult I mean nothing derogatory to any group so classified. A cult, as I define it, is any religious group which differs significantly in one or more respects as to belief or practice from those religious groups which are regarded as the normative expressions of religion in our total culture.” This definition can no longer apply. The reason is that a number of the Reformed Evangelical churches are not splinters of “historic Christian denominations” like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Latter Day Saints, Seventh Day Adventism or Christian Science, nor are they non-Christian cults, like the Hare Krishnas, Rajneeshees or Scientology. Rather they are historically orthodox in their teachings. However, they do engage in high control techniques of their rank-and-file members, just like the pseudo and non-Christian cults mentioned above.
According to Lifton, the first characteristic of mind control is what he called, “milieu control”. Whether voluntarily or by force, perspective members are removed from their previous environments, and placed in the isolated atmosphere of the group. Many of these Reformed Evangelical churches emphasize the consumption of Reformed Evangelical blogs, conferences and other “approved” Reformed Evangelical pastor/teachers. If there is any interaction with persons outside this group, it is usually to caricature or denigrate them. All one has to do is watch the so-called Strange Fire Conference hosted by Grace Community church to see how good Bible believing Charismatics and Continuationists were caricatured by the speakers, especially John MacArthur’s “right hand man” Phil Johnson.
The second of Lifton’s characteristics is called, “mystical manipulation”. This is the manipulation of seemingly spontaneous experiences in order to demonstrate divine authority, spiritual advancement, or some other exceptional insight or talent that sets the leader(s) apart from the rank-and-file. In my experience with these Reformed Evangelical victims of mind control, they point to the multiple decades of the numerical growth in a particular leader’s church or his scandal free ministry as a sign of God’s blessing and reasons why those of us who are free of the mind control should listen to said leader or stop criticizing him. Numerical growth is no sign of “God’s blessing” and neither is a “scandal free” ministry. As the past has shown, no church leader is scandal free. John MacArthur himself has misrepresented his whereabouts during the day of, and after, the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It has also been shown that he exaggerated about his football prowess. Sadly, when these fabrications were exposed, the mind controlled people who follow him rushed to his defense with personal attacks, or red herring arguments.
The third characteristic is a “demand for purity”. The world, including churches outside their control, is viewed as black and white. Members are constantly exhorted to conform to the ideological norms of the group. The rank-and-file are constantly prodded and shamed to attain perfect doctrinal alignment with the group’s leader. The “demand for purity” can be seen in the use of membership covenants, in which a member gives the church’s leadership considerable power to place a member under church discipline. In order to achieve full membership status, this covenant must be signed. If a member is placed under discipline, the member may not withdraw from the church until the offending situation has been resolved to the satisfaction of the church’s leaders. Purity can cover most aspects of the followers’ lives: dress code, activities, finances, time, possessions and relationships. The “demand for purity” is a fear-based motivator. Fear of displeasing God by displeasing the leader.
While researching this article, I engaged in an email exchange with a former member of an Acts 29 church about what happened to him and his family at this church. According to him, a young man from said church, who had just been hired for a well-paid position with a local general contractor, had approached him to ask permission to date his daughter, to which he agreed. A few months later, this same young man came to him to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. The father agreed. Both families went to the elders of this Acts 29 affiliate church for permission to have the wedding ceremony at the church and were denied. The reason given was that the church was only available to weddings ceremonies of couples who completed the church’s premarital class and that they would not be allowed to take that class because they had not come to the elders and senior pastor for permission to marry. When the father of the bride protested that the elders had exceeded the proper role of church leadership, he was told that the elders would begin a church discipline hearing against him for usurping the roles of the elders and senior pastor. Needless to say, this man and his family left this Acts 29 affiliate church and resigned their memberships. Nevertheless, the entire family was put on church discipline. The groom’s family forbade their son from marrying this gentleman’s daughter. He defied their wishes and married this young lady. They have been married for five years and have two children. To this day, the groom’s family has shunned him, and his parents have never seen their grandchildren. Shunning will be addressed later in this article.
Tied in with the third characteristic, is the fourth, “confession”. Sin, is defined by the leader, and all sin must be regularly confessed on a personal or corporate level. Confidentiality is non-existent, as all members’ sins can be discussed and/or exploited by the leaders. Consider this experience with confession of sin as revealed in culteducation.com forum under “Ex-members of John MacArthur’s church”:
In the back of the MacArthur Study Bible is a list called "Character of Genuine Saving Faith" which has a list of about 20 items that must be present in your life to merit salvation. You must constantly increase the abundance of these things and answer to a mentor, a "more mature Christian" (usually a small group leader or church appointed counselor that has paid thousands of dollars to the church to take "Nouthetic" counseling classes) who will evaluate how you are doing. Not doing enough (not topping your last progress) is grounds for discipline, or as they call it "stumbling." If you stumble over the same thing 3 times in a row you are shunned, or as they call it "treated as a pagan or a tax collector." Friends are made to constantly report on each other, and when they catch someone "stumbling" if the person was considered more mature than you, you are not allowed to question their findings. (There were signs up all through the dorm halls saying "Am I making sure everyone else is engaged in holy living?") You are not allowed to see a psychologist or psychiatrist as MacArthur feels these are a conspiracy to infiltrate Christianity by the evolutionists, and should you have depression, anxiety, etc. and want counseling you must sign a release stating that GCC will not be sued should you be injured or commit suicide while in their care. The longer you are in is the more authoritarian the church becomes over your life to the point that most of your free time is spent serving the church or witnessing, mostly to other churches who do not accept Lordship Salvation. You are constantly reminded that not doing enough works means you do not have genuine saving faith, thus condemning you to burn in hell for eternity.
As I have highlighted, there is pressure applied on members of the church to inform on other members. The pressure to inform on others is a key characteristic of a cultic mentality seen in the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientology, just to name two.
The fifth point is “sacred science”. This is an assumption on the part of the churches rank-and-file that the ideas of the man they follow are God. Again, this is seen in how the writings or even a study bible is treated with fanatical reverence, and the “science’ of the leader can never be questioned. All one has to do is read the responses of MacArthur followers like Phil Johnson, Fred Butler, Justin Peters and others following the smear job done during the Strange Fire Conference.
The sixth point is the use of “loaded language.” These are words or phrases that allow members of the cult or high control church to communicate without hearers understanding the real meaning of a conversation. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses talk to other Witnesses about “the arrangement”. This term refers to the rules under which Jehovah’s Witnesses are organized. Another term is “independent thinking”. This term refers to any thought process that does not rely on the publications of the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society. In Reformed Evangelicalism, some examples are “bitterness”, the state in which someone is rightfully angry about abusive treatment by the church community, and must be repented of. “Darkness/Light” is used to perpetuate an Us versus Them mentality.
The seventh characteristic is called “doctrine over person”. This reflects the subordinating of the human experience to the doctrinal claims of the church. This is done primarily through the cult or high control church pressuring the member to cut relations with family and/or friends that are not a part of said cult or church. It can also be in such banal areas such as hair style and attire. Visit any Reformed Evangelical church and the men in dark suits, white starched suits and blue ties are everywhere. Pastors may use 1 Corinthians 1:11 as the basis for this sort of control, but that would be an eisegetical misinterpretation of Paul. Another would be the reshaping of your personal conscience. A leader can label any normal activity as “wrong”, “worldly” or “fleshly”. This can lead to an overly sensitive conscience that leads to consistent guilt. The leaders of a cult or high control church will establish themselves as being stricter than the Bible. No one, especially a Christian, should live in the state of guilt that the modern Lordship salvation teaching imposes on its adherents and its emphasis on life apart from the grace of God and the sanctification of the Holy Spirit.
The last characteristic of mind control is “the dispensing of existence.” It is this characteristic that has me the most disturbed. I will be giving this characteristic the most coverage. In the Jehovah’s Witnesses it is seen in the callous manner in which they refer to non-Jehovah’s Witnesses as “worldly” or “religionists”. Then there is the deeply offensive term “wog”, used by Scientologists to refer to non-Scientologists. However, that is not the most pernicious form of the characteristic. That would be shunning. Shunning entails the cutting off of all, but “necessary” social contact with the person who has been excommunicated, disfellowshipped, or has voluntarily left the religious organization. I experience shunning to this day. I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and now I am shunned by all my family still involved in that religion. What was the reason for this treatment? In 1989, I left the religion after I discovered the truth about that cult, from its corrupted leaders (past and present) and its teachings trumpeted as biblical, yet having no biblical basis whatsoever. On August 19, 1991, God was gracious to save me. That prompted the shunning by my Jehovah’s Witness family.
In many Reformed Evangelical churches, members can be excommunicated (the final negative outcome of church discipline) and shunned for offenses like reporting a registered sex offender in the congregation to law enforcement, confessing same-sex attraction (but not acting on it) or simply knowing too much about the inner workings of the church.
I want to be clear. I am not saying that church discipline is unnecessary, nor am I saying it is not biblical, nor am I saying that there are sins which, if in continual practice by a professed believer, require removal from the visible church. These sins are primarily found in Galatians 5:19-21 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. The goal of excommunication is the restoration of the confessed Christian caught up in practicing sin back into fellowship and communion with the visible church.
However, rather than use excommunication as a tool of love and to elicit repentance, it is used to punish and silence those that dare to question the elite circle of pastors and leaders in or expose the sinfulness within Reformed Evangelicalism. This is the same way shunning is used in the cults, and it should not be used by Christians!
When a cult or an Evangelical Reformed church uses shunning, they are operating out of fear. Fear that secrets will be exposed. That is why John MacArthur promoted the shunning of the ex-wife of David Gray, the convicted pedophile that was in leadership at Grace Community Church and is considered a “missionary” to the California prison he is paying his debt to society in, by none other than John MacArthur himself. The leaders feared the exposure that they had a pedophile in their midst. Rather than admit their sin, Grace Community Church leaders, like Phil Johnson and Fred Butler, have attacked those that have exposed this travesty of sin to the unwitting fans of John MacArthur.
Excommunication is a good thing, because it is biblical. A good thing in a good system promotes healing and restoration. However, a good thing can be perverted in a bad system by bad men and be used to cut people off from their families, friends and, worst of all, fellowship with other believers. Shunning is the worst form of “dispensation of existence”. When shunned, the living people are treated as if they are dead. Their existence has been snuffed out by bad men in a bad system. They are unelected popes who are untouchable because they are protected by a perverted system they instituted. They use shunning as a club to beat the sheep into subjugation and control them through manipulation and fear. Shunning, as practiced by the cults, and now the Reformed Evangelical churches, is a product of the fear of losing control over the lives and wallets of millions of people.
One last point on shunning from someone who is currently shunned: shunning has stiffened my resolve to fight the Jehovah’s Witnesses. As one that regularly interacts with former members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other cults, shunning has done the same for them. Even those that have kept the beliefs of the cult they once belonged to, they are firm in their belief to never go back. The Reformed Evangelical use of shunning will accomplish the same results.
In conclusion, it is easy to see that many Reformed Evangelical churches have taken many steps down the dark road of cultic behavior through the use of these eight mind control characteristics. Those of us who have had experience with these characteristics in the cults are standing up to warn the good men in leadership to avoid these cultic characteristics and to show them that the biblical way to lead is not through fear and manipulation, but through love and the conviction of the Holy Spirit. We also warn the members of these churches to flee these places of fear, manipulation, and the false gospel of men, and find a place of worship that is a place of love, grace, and the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is my prayer and fervent wish that the men currently employing these cultic characteristics repent of their use by destroying the abusive and cultic policies and practices, and to resign from their positions of leadership. They must resign because they have shown themselves unfit to lead the flocks that God purchased with the blood of his Son and entrusted to them.
To those that see these characteristics in the church you are currently attending, LEAVE! LEAVE NOW! Sadly, I see no change in the power structure of many Reformed Evangelical churches. They are truly bad men in a bad system. Find a good man or men in a good system. They are few, but they are out there.
Lastly, to those who will read this and come after me with threats, innuendo and attacks on social media, I pray that the Lord will soften your hearts and bring you to repentance.
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