Inerrancy - Part 2

Infallibility, inerrancy, and perfection are words often used to describe the Bible. One does not have to be a member of a fringe religious group to believe this either. Many mainstream churchgoers of both the Protestant and Catholic persuasion believe this to be true. In addition, many in the Jewish community believe this to be true regarding what is often referred to as the "Old Testament".
When a cult leader uses these words though they can mean something quite different than they would to the mainstream churchgoer. The terms infallibility, inerrancy, and perfection in the context of a cultic group really mean that the leaders and/or groups interpretation of the Bible is inerrant and infallible. A cult would have little appeal if it could not somehow set itself above and apart from mainstream religions.
New Light! The idea of "new light" or something like it is a feature of all "Bible-based" cults. This can come out sounding a couple of different ways depending on the type of group.
In a group with fundamentalist leanings the teaching goes something like this: Sometime between the first century church and now (we don't know exactly when) true believers lost their way. The truth got watered down and distorted to the point where people were no longer following God anymore even though they thought they were. Fortunately, our leader(s) rediscovered these simple truths from scripture and have passed them on from person to person until this very moment when you are now learning them. It is now your mission to save others from the deceptions taught by other churches, bringing them into the true way.
In a group with "progressive revelation" leanings it might sound more like this: You can read the Bible all day but if you are not guided by inspiration you are wasting your time. Fortunately, this church has been specially blessed by leaders with true inspiration who can and will lead you into the truth. You can be certain that all of the teachings, prophecies, and wisdom that comes from our leaders is true because they have correctly understoood the word. To refuse to listen to them is to refuse to listen to God himself.
One of the things I noticed in our monthly support group was the high lack of agreement between "Bible-based" cult members from different groups. This was curious to me because I thought that since these guys all believed the Bible to be infallible, inerrant, etc. there should be a fair amount of common ground to work with there. Nope!! More areas of disagreement than agreement and I think that I finally figured out why.
I was having lunch one day with a friend of mine Mike (not his real name) who is a protestant minister. We were having a lively discussion about inerrancy and something he said has stuck with me since. Mike said that when he looks at scripture from within the context of his "biblical model" everything makes sense to him. That is when it struck me. The reason "Bible-based" cult members from different groups have a difficult time coming to agreement is that their "biblical models" are different. Same Bible (in most cases), different models.
Your biblical model affects how you view everything else, especially scripture!!! Cult leaders are masters at framing a consistent, "infallible" "biblical model" in the minds of their followers. If you have ever tried to discuss the Bible with a cult member on your doorstep, you may have experienced this phenomenon. If you disagree with anything he or she says regarding scripture, they say "well, maybe but look at this" and then show you another scripture. If you then show them a verse that backs up your point, they will pause for a second and then quickly show you 2 or 3 more verses that "prove" their point. At this point you are not really having a discussion about the Bible; what you are having is a skirmish between his or her biblical model and your own.
For a cult member, the groups "biblical model" is made up of anywhere from 3-4 dozen to 3-4 hundred verses all the members know by heart.
These verses become the group's signature teachings. They are taught over and over again in great detail to the point that knowing them, and often knowing exactly where they are located in the Bible, becomes second nature.
When cult leaders say that the Bible is infallible, inerrant, and perfect what they really mean is that their groups "biblical model" is infallible, inerrant, and perfect.
The Bible verses that compose the model, together with the group teachings about those verses, are what makes "Bible-based" groups different from one another. Each model has a different emphasis but consistently the groups model verses are the ones that emphasize and underline for the group members how different and unique they are among all other religious groups.
In the 15 years we have been working with this I have come across "Bible-based" cults with biblical models focused on each of the following topics:
1. End Times are near
2. Physical health/healing for all believers
3. Material prosperity for all believers
4. Water baptism for salvation
5. Speaking in tongues for salvation
6. Women must marry for full salvation
7. Miracles still happen today
8. Miracles don't still happen today
9. Certain diet necessary for righteousness
10. Group membership necessary for salvation (they all have this one)
11. You MUST believe in a literal "trinity"
12. You MUST NOT believe in a literal "trinity"
13. You MUST believe Jesus is fully God himself
14. You MUST NOT believe that Jesus is fully God himself
15. Children must be raised by group leaders
16. Children must be raised using specific types of discipline
17. You must quit your job, school, and move in with group members
18. You must keep your job and donate heavily to the group
19. If you ever leave this group you are in deep do-do (they all have this one too)
The list above is by no means complete! I do need to emphasize again here that I am not saying anyone who believes some of the above is a cult member. The points I do want to make here are as follows:
1. Each group communicates a "biblical model" to the members
2. The biblical model helps to solidify the groups "specialness" and "uniqueness"
3. The biblical model helps instill a fear in the member with regard to ever leaving the group
4. The model also alienates the member from people in other faith communities. Since these other churches all believe x, y, z and we know for a fact it is a, b, c (you get the idea)
5. The model helps bond the user to the group. Everybody here sees it exactly the same. Nowhere else do they teach the "truth"
Once in place in the mind of the member, the biblical model becomes the prism through which everything else is evaluated. Everything the member does, everything he or she reads (including "out of model" parts of the Bible) is filtered through the lens of the biblical model.
In the next article, we will look more closely at the "why". Why - if these groups are all looking at the same Bible, do all of their "models" differ so much? Are they all distorting scripture? Is it just a matter of interpretation? What is the real deal here?