Eight Distinctives Of An

Aberrational Christian or Bible-based Group

When discussing Christian or Bible-based groups that are "aberrant", the intent is not to simply to hang a label on a minority sect based on their departure from a certain doctrinal standard or theology. There are many groups that do have peculiar doctrinal emphases which are in no way "dangerous" or "cultic", however, it is more accurately the gravitation towards high-control, authoritarian leadership structures that actually make a group "aberrant". In describing this tendency towards spiritual totalitarianism, one could accurately depict the methodology in terms of it's visible manifestation, as does Steve Hassan in his BITE Model of Mind Control. In our explanation below, however, we address the process in the specific way that it expresses itself in a Bible-based group, inasmuch as the beliefs of the group are utilized to create and maintain that strict authoritarian schema. It is the perversion of otherwise benign belief and doctrine which becomes the vehicle for the leader(s) to gain control over the members.

Definition: Aberration - undue emphasis on a fringe doctrine, or a group of persons holding that doctrine that has not separated itself from the Church, frequently resulting in a potentially dangerous leadership structure. This is often an anti-conformist group, sometimes led by a charismatic leader, but as often by some principle of greater strictness, more single minded dedication, or more intense renunciation of the world and its attractions. Often has as its main principle some aspect of orthodox faith that is being neglected. The question concerning the seriousness of the fringe doctrine will be answered by the fact that the group has chosen to stay in the Church (i.e. within the boundaries of the "faith once for all delivered unto the saints").

Introduction: There are eight general distinctives that are frequently found in aberrational Christian groups. Not all aberrational groups will necessarily exhibit everyone of these distinctives, but most do, and some will evidence one or more with greater intensity and scope. It is important to remember in identifying an aberrational Christian group that we are not dealing with a thorough going heresy, but often a mainstream group that is in transition from the fringes of Christianity to a heretical group completely outside Christian orthodoxy. For our purposes the difference between the two is this. A heretical group takes something major in Christianity (who Jesus is, salvation, the Trinity, etc.) and either negates it, or makes it minor. An aberrational group, on the other hand, typically takes something minor in Christianity and makes it major (submission to a pastor, baptism, worldliness, holiness, etc.) usually for the purpose of being able to manipulate or control the members.

Examples: Victory Chapel (a.k.a. Potter's House, Church of the Open Door); International Churches of Christ (a.k.a. Boston Church of Christ, Boston Movement) however, some would list the ICC as a full blown heresy; Greater Grace World Outreach (Bible Speaks); and numerous independent churches.

I. Scripture Twisting.

This is the most important distinctive from which all other distinctives flow. Usually there is a deficient concept of Church history or theological categories. Consequently Scripture is taken out of context, carelessly applied, and used to justify wrong conclusions (prooftexting).

II. Controlling Leader/Leadership.

Frequently, near to total submission is implicitly or explicitly demanded by the leader/leadership. This is because they have "the mind of Christ," special revelation, are "God's anointed," etc.

III. Separation/Isolation Of The Membership.

Members are separated from the "world" in a variety of ways in order to protect them from "harmful" influences.

IV. The Chosen Few.

Spiritual elitism is often rampant in these aberrational groups. All other Christians outside your group are either lukewarm or not true believers at all.

V. Uniformity Of Lifestyle.

This uniformity of lifestyle may be manifested in beliefs, dress, language and living conditions.

VI. No Dissent.

Because the leadership is authoritarian it follows that there can be no questioning of God's anointed or prophet.

VII. Traumatic Departure.

Leaving an aberrational Christian Group is always extremely traumatic.

VIII. In Transition

Doctrines and practices tend to mutate further and further from healthy belief and expressions.