This video makes disturbing viewing as one does not have to look far to find churches that manifest many of the classic signs of a cult. For this very reason I would recommend that people watch it.
There are a number of tendencies of some Christian groups that I find particularly troubling in this area. Here are a few examples.
1. A failure to engage with the broader Church tradition and a tendency to become theologically inbred. In the Church we are blessed with people from a vast range of historical, social and cultural backgrounds and theological convictions. We do well to interact with them. Christian groups, for example, that only sing CCM or that sing only 18th and 19th century evangelical hymns are inviting the increased expression of the negative recessive traits that are present within the ecclesiastical or theological gene pool in question. The fact that ‘evangelicalism’ has produced some terribly mutated offspring is, to a large degree, a result of this practice.
2. The manner in which conversion is spoken of and conceptualized. One can be a Christian without having undergone a ‘conversion experience’. One can be a Christian without having any clear sense of a ‘before’ and an ‘after’ in your life. Many have been raised as Christians and do not remember a time when they did not believe in and trust Jesus. For many people becoming a Christian is a very gentle and gradual process and there is little sense of a sharp break with a past life.
Without wanting to deny the reality of a ‘before’ and ‘after’ (which is clearly biblical), it is important to pay attention to the way that we construe this. The Gospel does not merely present Christ as pronouncing God’s ‘No’ to the sin of our world; the gospel also presents Christ as the one in whom the true telos of creation is realized, as God’s ‘Yes’. For many converts, it will be the ‘Yes’ that hits them with more power. However, in many churches the ‘No’ of the Gospel drowns out any whisper of the ‘Yes’. Converts are led to deny that which they were before, rather than appreciating that the Gospel calls them to recognize that which was good about their ‘past life’ and fulfill it.
The product of this is churches filled with boring clones. They are subtly discouraged from expressing that which is truly interesting and exciting about them as individuals. People are entirely stripped of their old existence and have to begin their lives again from scratch. This process of rebuilding their lives makes them very dependent on the church and their newly constructed life will often tend to revolve around the church. Conversion, however, is a death and resurrection. The old body of our existence dies, but there is a coming back to life in a more glorious form.
3. Too many church meetings and activities that one is expected or encouraged to attend. There is only so much free time and so many free evenings in the week. The superfluity of Christian meetings and activities can often simply crowd out everything else. New converts have less time to spend with their families, less time to take up new hobbies, less time to devote to developing new skills, less time to be around their non-Christian friends. Many new converts lose many of their non-Christian friends primarily because they come to spend all of their free time around other Christians. They also lose friends because this process tends to result in their becoming more boring people.
It is incredibly easy to have a week where practically every evening is taken up with church meetings, Christian groups or activities with other Christians. I really don’t believe that this is particularly healthy. If one is not careful Christian meetings and events can consume one’s life. There is no biblical commandment that teaches that the day of rest should be filled with church meetings. It is not a sin to only attend one. Nor is it a sin to stop attending a midweek meeting and to take up a sport instead. However, it is not unlikely that you will be made to feel guilty should you decide to cease attending such things. Being a Christian is not primarily about attending church meetings.
4. The indoctrination of new converts. There is a difference between teaching and indoctrination. Good teaching should equip the mind to think critically. Indoctrination tends to turn off the mind’s critical faculties. Indoctrination imposes an ideology upon people, an ideology that often restricts them from giving expression to important aspects of their lives. Teaching grants people the tools with which they can begin to work towards true expression of the world, God and themselves. Someone who has been taught, rather than indoctrinated, is empowered to think in a way that goes beyond their teachers.