Three Charismatic Trends That Remind Me of the Cult I Grew Up In (and why I can't follow them)

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One of the things I’m most thankful for is that the cult I grew up in didn’t rob me of my love for Jesus. While it did wound my family terribly—leaving us stunned and lost spiritually for several years—it didn’t succeed in turning our hearts away from the only One who could help us.  And it didn’t rob us of the many blessings that come from being a part of a solid bible-teaching church family. That’s a testament to the healing power of God.

Though the healing is real, the cult scars are still there. And I’m glad. I thank God for those because they are my warning flags. When something brushes up against one of those scars, I’m on high alert. I’m aware that something is nearby that could wound me again, and I’m not up for that. Nope…not one bit.

I want to write about three of those scars—or warning flags—that have been alerting me with greater frequency these days. Before I do, I’d really like to clarify a couple of things. First, I’m not a cessationist. What I mean by that is I fully believe in the continuing charismatic gifts and working of the Holy Spirit today. The Holy Spirit is the One who confirms to me my identity as a daughter of the King, who continually illuminates God’s truth so I can silence the liar, and who loves me enough to go to the darkest places of my heart (places no one else ever could) in order to bring me into His marvelous light. I’m not averse to biblically sound words of prophecy. I’m a hand-raiser. I sway. I weep. I love holy goosebumps. I’m not a heresy hunter.

Second, I’m not writing about these warning signs to expose individuals. I’m writing to alert others of movements. I understand that not all people who affiliate with movements agree with every teaching involved. But I believe we need to be aware of movements and then take every single teaching from all individuals to the Word of God to see if it is biblical, as we’ve been directed. We are warned that in the last days, false teachings will increase. And they will sound so good. And many…many…will be deceived.

So, here they are:


Militaristic and dominionistic eschatology

What in the world do I mean by that? In a nut shell, it’s the view that Christians are being called to a major end-time army that must dominate the world so that Christ will return. Christ isn’t coming back until the church has overcome the entire world, and it’s a high calling and great privilege to join in the war efforts. There is a lot of military language and extreme warfare worship and prayer.[1]

This exact language and ideology was used in my cult. The mantra was “Word over the World” which really meant “our cult over the world.” We were sent to communal training programs and put through boot camps which included early morning runs, special diets, and surrendering everything to the cause. When my parents were asked to sell literally everything we owned in order to leave family and friends and commit to an even higher level of warfare training (an incredible honor given only to the “gifted” --without pay, of course), they recognized the manipulation and seduction. It was devastating. And family relationships were damaged for years.

Are we in a battle? No doubt. Are we called to respond to the Great Commission? Absolutely. But…what is the directive there? To make disciples. To evangelize. To love the lost and hurting. To be like Jesus, who wasn’t militaristic, by the way. I don’t see anything in Christ’s directives that including raising up an army or participating in special directives delivered by specially illuminated end-time generals. In fact, the only time I see the word army used in the New Testament (the covenant under which we live today), is in Revelation.[2] In this verse, Christ is coming with His army, not for His army. Here’s what the New International Commentary of the New Testament says about this verse:

The scene is eschatological in an absolute sense. The Seer is not describing the gradual conquest of evil in the spiritual struggles of the faithful, but a great historic event that brings to an end the Antichrist and his forces and ushers in the long-awaited era of righteousness. History may offer examples of the triumph of right over wrong, but far from exhausting the truth of Revelation, they merely prefigure the actual consummation with its end to wickedness and beginning of universal peace.

I understand we are told to put on our armor. But the only offensive piece of gear mentioned is the Word of God. Not a bunch of military strategies proclaimed by a chosen few enlightened and self-proclaimed “Prophets” or “Apostles.” 

Any global strategy for the entire church proclaimed by a modern-day human being that doesn’t line up with something I read in the Bible, no matter how exhilarating and exciting it might sound… I can’t be a part of.


Subjective and over-spiritualized hermeneutics

What do I mean by this one? Well…basically proof-texting. Picking and choosing verses from the Bible out of context to “prove” what you’re proposing as God’s will. This is what cult-leaders do including Joseph Smith (Mormons) and Charles Taze Russell (Jehovah’s Witnesses).  What does this look like? Well, an individual has some type of vision or dream which he or she claims is from God. In the vision/dream, God has chosen him/her to deliver to others His new move or direction for the church. Then the enlightened one goes to the Bible, and finds a verse that seems to validate exactly what he’s saying, and then shows masses of biblically illiterate and genuinely seeking people, who then follow blindly. The more verses the enlightened one can find that seemingly validate his position, the better. If they’re from the Old Testament (which has points upon which even scholars disagree), perfect. It’s so mysterious and historically removed from us that we’re vulnerable to the weirdness. And if another person has a dream or vision that seems to confirm it, well, there you have it. When two or more are gathered, that’s the Lord, right? Not necessarily. But most people aren’t familiar with sound interpretive methods—in other words, they aren’t familiar with the importance of taking genre, historical context, original readers, and proper translations methods into consideration.[4]

They also don’t understand the huge importance of systematic theology, which shows what the entire Bible has to say on a subject rather than one verse.[5] We say, “Well, there it is…chapter and verse,” but here’s the deal: not everything that’s in the Bible is God’s plan or His will. Some things are just historical records of things God actually hates. We can’t just flip and turn and point to a verse and expect it to lead the way. We are actually commanded to handle the truth rightly, which means it’s possible to do it wrongly.[6]

In my cult, this happened all the time. The only thing to which the incredibly charming and super charismatic leader needed to appeal was the “authority given to him by God.” He twisted and turned scripture around until he stole the deity of Christ right out from under us. He was able to redefine and over-emphasize several things creating new doctrines on demand because we didn’t know better.

Here’s the biggest interpretive alarm bell for me these days: when a leader uses a lot of “I feel like” statements. “I feel like God is saying…” “I feel like God wants us to…” I’m sorry, but the way a leader is feeling isn’t what I want to know. I want to know what God’s word says. The Bible is the authority that Jesus left for us—to be illuminated for our application by the Holy Spirit. When a leader reads an Old Testament scripture (which most won’t understand) and then adds “I feel like God is saying He is going to raise up an army…” my response is, “Great. I’m glad you feel that way, but that’s not enough for me. Not enough for me at all.” We all have feelings. Our society is being led to crazy town due to feelings.

When preaching gets over-spiritualized (focused predominantly on all the amazing dreams, visions, and prophetic words a leader is having) and increasingly feelings based, I just can’t follow.


Us against the world mentality

I’m pretty sure you can understand what I mean by this one. This is the mantra of every fringe movement in church history: “We’re the ones who really know what God is doing. We’re the true followers of God.” And everyone else is a nominal Christian at best…beset with oppression by the “spirit of religion.” No one else understands the level of enlightenment this new army has. Only those who are willing to surrender everything (including common sense) can be part of it.  This has a great appeal to young people who need direction and are aching to do something meaningful with their lives.  Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to do great things for God. But the directions we get need to be biblically sound and open to accountability.

And that’s the biggest problem I have with some of these fringe charismatic teachings. They encourage people to break away from anyone who doesn’t see it. To move away from parents, pastors, friends, or anyone who doesn’t agree with the direction they’re hearing from God. In fact, the more guts one has to break up with family seems indicative of their devotion to the new move.  Yes, there are times we will make decisions not everyone agrees with, but to turn away from all accountability in order to follow the lead of (and gain affirmation from) a teacher who “feels like God is saying” things, is dangerous.

This happened in the cult. We were encouraged to turn away from any family members or friends who wouldn’t join us (after asking them for financial support, of course). Families were wrecked. Friendships lost. Educations surrendered. Careers ended. All in the name of bravery or true devotion. All for an “Atta boy” from the leader. Boy, did it feel good to be one if his favorites. Dangerous with a capital “D.”

I’ve personally traveled the road upon which ignoring parents and accountability can take a person.  And it led to an abusive first marriage with a very broken man who struggled with addiction and other issues. He eventually divorced me, leaving me a single mom. Thankfully, God is a redeemer and a healer who can make beautiful things out of messes. But boy did I learn a big lesson the hard way.

When leaders start pitting young people (and everyone) against their families, friends, and other Christians—applauding them for the bravery, dedication, and willingness to suffer for the cause…I can’t follow.


I’ll end by saying this: I want to see God make His name famous. And I believe He will. Because the Bible tells me He will.  But I’m not interested in hype. I’m not interested in being led astray by feelings, the lure of excitement, and a call to be part of an elite super-Christian group that will overtake the world.[7]

No matter how many masses of people sign up for it.

Why? Because I’ve been there and done that, and it led to disillusionment and brokenness I can hardly describe.  I don’t want that for anyone. Please be alert…please.


[1] Some of these teachings include the call to “Joel’s Army” and the “Manifest Sons of God” doctrine- google it

[2] Rev 19:19And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army.

[3] The New International Commentary of the New Testament, Revelation, accessed via E-sword, 2017.  This is a commentary put together by a team of scholars and subjected to peer review. This is not a commentary put out by one pastor or teacher, which is something I urge people to use with caution.

[4][4] I highly recommend every Christian read How To Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart.

[5] I recommend Basic Theology by Charles C. Ryrie.

[6] 2 Timothy2:15Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 

[7] If you’re interested in reading more about movements like this, I highly recommend God’s Super-Apostles: Encountering the Worldwide Prophets and Apostles Movement by Douglas GeivettHolly Pivec.