27 Mar 2023

Cultism & Theological Inbreeding

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Church, Discipleship, Faith, Journey, Restoration History

The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge,
for the ears of the wise seek it out.
” (Proverbs 18.15, NIV)

The fatal error of all reformers, has been that they have too hastily concluded that they knew the whole truth, and have settled back upon the same principles of proscription, intolerance and persecution, against which they so strongly remonstrated.” (John Rogers, Christian Messenger, 1830)

I need to get this off my chest.

Over the years I have had numerous people knock on my door. Several times it has been some Mormon “Elders” or the local Jehovah’s Witnesses. Invariably, I invite them in and we chat. They offer me reading material and I take it. I usually offer them some material as well. It is typically NOT taken.

One time, a piece of literature made reference to a book called A Short History of Christian Thought by Linwood Urban. I knew the book did not support the claim being made. I told them I had the book. So I walked into the next room, got the book, turned to the appropriate page and asked them to read it. They refused! They only read approved material. I said, “Obviously it is approved because your material quotes it.” They refused. Suddenly the book was “apostate literature.” They could read what was told to them! It did not matter what the book actually said or did not say, what mattered was they “knew the truth” because they had the truth in approved literature.

They did not need to read anything but what the Watchtower provided. Oh they read lots they insisted but it all comes from approved sources.

I winced.

Most of us will look at this and also cringe. We will say “what a cult.” “How closed minded.” Some would even say “brainwashed.” This is the very essence of Sectarianism. It is the heartbeat of Cultism in fact.

Several times recently however, I have encountered the exact same mentality not among JWs and Mormons but in “Churches of Christ,” personally and on social media. This mentality is a complete repudiation of the “restoration plea” as we used to call it.

If all I am allowed to read, to be exposed to, is “Church of Christ” teachers, “Church of Christ” articles, “Church of Christ” books, “Church of Christ” thought, then we live in terror of having to think, to evaluate, to wrestle, to grow. All that matters, according to this ideology, is OUR position, which is assumed to be absolute truth and beyond all question. Our group speaks ex cathedra … it is not the Pope that is infallible, we are!

Such a view is theological inbreeding and it has the same warped results as any other genetic inbreeding. It is not different, even by an iota, from the JW’s in sitting in my living room mentioned above.

If we are so insecure that the only thought our mind is allowed to encounter is information that has been approved by our group, or agrees with our group, or published by our group then that is worse than “denominational,” it is “cultism.” It is a denial of everything the Restoration Movement has ever stood for.

This same principle applies to other areas of life. If the only source of information I allow to enter my orbit of thought is Fox News, Alex Jones, Tucker Carlson, MSNBC, TYT, then something is wrong. If we are banning books and refusing to allow the counter perspectives it is not liberty we have but fear.

Barton Stone routinely published in his Christian Messenger articles from every religious group of the day. Alexander Campbell regularly published Baptist, Methodist, Anglican, even Catholic sources in the Christian Baptist and Millennial Harbinger. He published Moses Stuart, Alexander Carson, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Spencer Cone, and dozens of others. David Lipscomb, in the Gospel Advocate, published the same great variety. In 1883, J. W. McGarvey spoke to a group of Christian leaders in Missouri at the Missouri Christian Lectures and gave a whole list of books to read and only one was from with the Stone-Campbell Movement. (See A Talk with McGarvey on Books, Reading & Preachers).

The reason these leader pursued this course was because they were non-sectarian and refused to believe that commitment to truth was limited to our little group. They refused to believe in their own infallibility while also recognizing others had profound insights. If truth is what we are after, then we have to allow our assumptions, our hidden biases, and blind spots be examined because we are not inspired, we are not infallible, we are not beyond growth, we do not have perfect understanding.

I publicly denounce such a position and affirm the right of every student and adventurer in God’s kingdom to grow and to change their mind. (Again, the principle here is true for those who only read approved sources politically too). This is the very reason the Bereans were considered by Luke to be more noble. Can you imagine what would have happened if the Bereans were like so many sectarians and cultists today? They did not search to find out if Paul said what they already believed. They searched to see if what Paul said was true. What a difference. (See Who is Sound? A Memory from the Nashville Bible School, 1916).

The people there [in Berea] were more OPEN MINDED than the people in Thessalonica. They listened with great eagerness, and every day they studied the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was really true” (Acts 17.11, TEV).


Of Related Interest

Some Looked & Couldn’t See: Galileo, Seeing and the Quest of Truth

4 Responses to “Cultism & Theological Inbreeding”

  1. JT Says:


    Haha, you had to “get this off my chest”. I get it. But, what have you been recently reading and/or experiencing that you might appropriately share as to why now, why now did you need to get this particular message off your chest?

    Seems you have commented from time to time over the years about this “problem”. It is especially problematic for at least one reason: one cannot hardly talk with another about it.

    Individual to individual is how things change. But the needed changes come so slowly. Finally, when enough individuals begin to recognize certain “things”, groups begin to respond; churches begin to talk about some things differently. But it starts with an individual being brave enough to speak the truth as he understands it and let time and God bring the necessary changes. Unfortunately, sometimes one can be “cancelled” (to use an in vogue word) by one’s friend for attempting to enlighten. Preachers can get “cancelled” by their group as well. It happens. People say they want truth but they don’t always mean it. Or, they can’t see a better version of truth because of what you wrote about here!

    Great article! Glad, for whatever reason, you felt the need to get it off your chest!


  2. Robert Says:

    Sad, innit.

  3. Ed Dodds Says:

    Especially re: clergicals

    1 Kings 22:22 NEdV And the spirit said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And God said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; …

    Upton Sinclair — ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.’

    Follow the mammon*, er, money – Ed

    *sometimes, tenure

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