I was once involved in a destructive Charismatic church for twelve years. My family and I left because of the behavior within that church, which became increasingly cult-like. For instance, our church was a strongly "prophetic" congregation. And when a "prophecy" came forth, it was considered the "word of the Lord," even if it didn't match up with the Scriptures. That put us in the frightening position of having to obey the prophecy, or consider ourselves as "opposing God."
Being a committed Christian and having spent nearly all of my Christian life within the Charismatic movement, I now recognize that some leaders within the movement have the propensity to overextend their authority. And as an elder under such authority for five years, I was once bound by fear. It seemed that if I didn't participate in a variety of "prophetic manifestations," which regularly happened within our church, I was somehow missing "God's best." However, when I objectively investigated my church's methods and beliefs, I saw its error and regained my personal freedom. Specifically I began to read the bible without the aid of any church interpretive material.
After more than a year of intensive research, from a variety of independent sources, my family and I were brought to a point of decision, which resulted in our "leaving the fold." The pain of that process was tremendous. After we left, not one person from our church visited us. The fear, which is engendered by the kind of manipulation we experienced, often locks people into a mindset that disregards common logic and even bypasses a simple heartfelt faith in the God of the bible. Instead, those involved will just "go with the flow." When I first looked seriously into my church's doctrines, I found that many of them had parallels with much criticized groups like the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses.
The extreme teachings practiced by some churches within the Christian Charismatic movement have serious implications. Some of the particulars of these churches should be closely scrutinized. Consider the following:
I have spoken with others who have left extreme Charismatic churches. They too have lost their church friends, support, experienced family conflicts, trauma and have been targeted by gossip. Some have even received death threats that were supposedly "words of the Lord." It is a miracle that any of these Charismatic causalities can still maintain their faith in Jesus Christ after all they have been through. But through my own experience I've learned, wolves clothed as shepherds, cannot invalidate the message or its true messenger.
Please understand that there were many good times as well. This included church potlucks, fishing trips, praying for one another and helping each other through difficult times. But for all the love expressed during those years of faithfulness, it is both a source of pain and concern that our onetime church brethren are now afraid of us and wish no further close contact.
We faithfully supported (our tithes and offerings to one church totaled approximately $25,000.00), promoted, and led others into a group that we now recognize was largely based upon a destructive and often heretical beliefs. The love of Christ, our purchase from sin on the cross by His death and resurrection, was certainly preached. But so many additions and personal interpretations were consistently interwoven within that simple message, the net result was often harmful and chaotic.
Can a Charismatic or Pentecostal church be cultic? There are controversial preachers such as Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland, who have certainly caused many faithful Christians to ask this troubling question. And what about movements like the "Toronto Blessing," the "Brownsville Revival" or the "River" movement, which was spawned by both? Are they in some ways cult-like?
I have many friends still involved in these movements. And I fear and pray for them. At times I try to offer them helpful scriptural insights, if and when an opportunity presents itself. But it is hard to help those caught within such ideological snares and entwined by such groups and leaders.
It has been a difficult road back to the basics of biblical Christianity from the chaos and confusion my family was once caught within. One of the things that has helped us the most, was realizing that "bible-based" cults and those who borrow from them, did not originate their beliefs. They merely copied from other sources and redefined teachings. The damage done by these groups notwithstanding, Jesus Christ is still the Savior, and His message remains unchanged. Destructive leaders and groups, may dim the truth but can't snuff out the Light.
My family is still Pentecostal, but we avoid the maze and torment of aberrational teachings and/or pastoral manipulation. And we know that there are many good Pentecostal churches. They have helped us tremendously to get back to the truth of the Scriptures, and also guided us through the process of sorting out false doctrines, which have crept into many Christian churches. One thing we have definitely decided upon is this, we will follow no man with unquestioning obedience from now on. If what is being said from the pulpit, or even informally, does not match the biblical record, we will support neither the man nor the message.