I’ll be honest—this isn’t the first time we’ve left a church.
But, before you think of us as some church-hopping flakes, let me explain.
As practically lifelong Christians, we have needed to change churches occasionally. We’ve done our share of moving around the country. We’ve even done some moving within our city.
Over approximately a decade, we’ve been involved in two other churches (besides our cult-like church) here in town. The first was a wonderful congregation where we were happily involved, but our move to a new neighborhood ten miles away coincided with a massive repair project on the road we had to take to get to this church. After several Sundays where we literally idled in construction traffic for 45 minutes or more, we realized with sadness that we were going to have to find a congregation closer to our new home.
The second church was just a mile from our house. It was a much larger place, with multiple services, and although we made considerable efforts to get involved and put down roots there, we never quite felt as though it were home.
Which is probably why, when we stumbled upon the seemingly fresh, new, “alive,” Spirit-led congregation (the very one that ended up being what we now see as a “cult-like church”), it was pretty easy to walk away from the church a mile from our house.
So, as I said, we’ve left a couple of churches before, one purely for reasons of convenience, and the other because we believed we’d found someplace else that was truly special, a place that wasn’t like any other.
In that last respect, we were right. The cult-like church IS like no other place.
I mention our previous church-switching experiences because another interesting aspect of our journey with the cult-like church has been…the process of leaving it.
Granted, when we said goodbye to our previous two churches, both times this process was not born out of anything negative. But it still is amazing to us how different our exit from the cult-like church has been in comparison. When, years ago, friends from the first two churches heard that we were leaving, their responses were basically, “Hey, that’s too bad—we’re going to miss you guys. But we understand.”
The cult-church people, though, had very different reactions when we recently broke our news.
I probably should mention that, except with one very close friend, we haven’t gone into much detail when describing why we are moving to a different church. There is no point in telling anyone in that congregation about how mixed-up and heretical some of the teachings have become—none of the members would EVER want to hear it. So—rightly or wrongly—we’ve been vague, we’ve been bland, we’ve been as non-confrontational as possible. Our goal has simply been to leave. We established this website for the express purpose of providing support to anyone else who might be having similar experiences…but they’re going to have to do some searching in order to find this information. We have no ax to grind. You will notice that we name no names. We’re not interested in gossip.
So it’s been especially difficult to understand people’s reactions when they’ve called us to find out about our absences of late. Everybody who contacts us to ask where we’ve been responds, when we simply tell them we’re going someplace else, with a strange mixture of fear and concern.
Here are, almost word for word, several of the comments we’ve received (said with panicky undertones, sometimes bordering on paranoia):
“Oh, no, I hate to think of you guys leaving this anointing!”“I’m so afraid to know that you won’t be under this covering any more.”
“You’re going to miss out! God’s getting ready to do some amazing things here!”
“Look what happened to Mr. and Mrs. Such-and-Such. THEY left. Look where it got them!” [Mr. and Mrs. Such-and-Such had the bad luck to begin attending a different church where, just a few months later, the pastor was involved in a scandal.]
“There aren’t any other churches in this town where people get saved like they do here.”
“You’re not going to find a better preacher than Pastor Smith! We know. We’ve been everywhere, and there is nobody else around with his anointing!”
“Oh, we hope you’re doing the right thing! Are you SURE you’re doing the right thing??”
“You’re making a mistake!”
While I realize that these comments were made in kindness, it still seems odd to us that we are being treated as though we are losing our religion. Despite our steadfast assurances that we still believe in Jesus, are still seeking to honor Him, and are still going to be committed to a Bible-believing church body, our cult-church friends have responded to our news as though we’ve announced our conversion to Buddhism.
It’s like all these people truly believe that in this large metropolitan area, only the thousand or so people who attend Pastor Smith’s church are getting the “real gospel.” As non-Biblical as that concept is—that God would only reveal His “full truth” to just a tiny percentage of Christians in this town—it’s now apparent that quite a few of our friends are laboring under this mistaken notion.
But of course, that’s just another aspect of this church that made it sort of like a cult—Pastor Smith has conditioned his church members to view his church as the ONLY church in town that “gets it right.” We ourselves spent at least the first couple of years of our time there telling everybody about how superior our new church was. Since they do so many things well (they have a very well-equipped, flashy, and exciting children’s ministry, for instance), it’s easy to get distracted by the seeming “excellence” that’s on the surface. And while one is thus distracted, that’s when the “exclusivity” pulpit teachings seep in..and in a peculiar way, seem to make sense. For awhile.
What’s been even more interesting than the comments from these more casual church acquaintances, though, is the response we got from one of my closest friends there. She is the only person with whom I shared some of our observations and discoveries, partly because she came to the cult-church with much the same Christian education as we did, so I knew she’d understand where we were coming from, and partly because I am deeply concerned that she is making some destructive financial choices based on the pastor’s heretical “prosperity gospel” teachings. Of all the people we’ve met at this place, I thought that maybe, just maybe, she’d have to agree with our observations. Maybe she’d even be helped by them.
I was wrong.
Her response, when I shared all that we’ve been learning, was pretty much the same as the other acquaintances’ had been. She expressed doubt that we were exercising good judgment. She was fearful for us because we were “leaving this covering.” She was sad that we’d be “missing out” on all the wonderful things coming down the pike. And despite her own extensive Bible training, she denied the (to me obvious) Scriptural truth of everything I pointed out. At one juncture, she actually said, “I really don’t care about any of that petty doctrine stuff.”
That conversation ended well enough, on what I thought was a somewhat positive note. Because I really do care about her, I said, “I hope we can still be friends, despite our difference of opinion.” And she agreed that we’d always be friends.
But an email she sent the next day was very cold, canceling our lunch plans. And since then, I haven’t heard a word from her. Apparently, I’ve now been wiped off her email distribution list, too, because I haven’t received any of the typical forwards that she always liberally sent.
More than three years of close friendship gone…all for the sake of “petty doctrinal stuff” that she supposedly doesn’t care about.
My husband, too, remarked to me only today how he just noticed that he’s also been dropped from various cult-church people’s email lists. He’s also not received any of the usual forwards.
Obviously, the word has spread, and we’ve been ostracized.
If there’s anything that confirms to me the cult-like nature of our former church, it has to be these responses from our “friends” there. We’re leaving a sick place.