T.A.C.O.s Anyone?

For 17 years I taught a course on America’s Cults and New Religions on the college level (and occasionally on the seminary level, too). I promoted the elective course to the student population as “Unsafe Sects.” For years I’ve thought about writing a book with that title.

Have you ever wondered why you just don’t hear that much about “cults” in the secular or Christian media anymore? One reason is because “cult watchers” can be successfully sued for calling a specific group a cult. Another is because secular sociologists of religion (and some religious ones) have virtually abandoned the word because its use risks violence against religious groups that are non-traditional. In the popular mind “cult” evokes a fanatical religious group stockpiling weapons and abusing children, etc. So the word has virtually fallen out of use except for those few groups that are notoriously and universally known to be engaging in illegal activities (and most of them are underground).

One thing I discovered when teaching the course (and talking about “cults and new religions”) in numerous churches) was a term coined by some sociologist of religion: “T.A.C.O.”–”Totalistic, Aberrational, Christian Organization.” I don’t recall who coined the term (if I ever knew). It was used in print by sociologists to describe a category of churches and sects.

I think it’s time to resurrect it.

Just in the past two to three years I’ve encountered a number of evangelical Christians whose lives have been very negatively impacted by churches (and sometimes networks of churches) who most people consider “evangelical” but fit the profile of a T.A.C.O. Somehow, many of these are able to fly under the radar, so to speak, and not be widely recognized as that. Many conservative evangelicals admire them for their dedication, intensity and outreach.

There is, I judge, a fine line between a high-demand, intense religious group and a T.A.C.O. It’s easy for the former to slide into the latter and some groups are what I would call “TACO-ish” (rather than absolutely “a” T.A.C.O.”).

Here’s an example from my own life experience. Some years ago my wife and I were members of a Baptist church that most people would consider mainstream evangelical. But dysfunction set in–beginning with the governing board. Because of my status as a church professional and researcher and teacher of cults and new religions (including T.A.C.O.s) I could see where that dysfunction was leading–toward totalizing control of the church by a small coterie of men whose motives I has reason to question. The board brought to the congregation seemingly innocent changes to the church’s by-laws that I saw could and probably would lead to some abusive behaviors. I stood up in church business meetings and pointed out where the process was leading and why the proposals were not appropriate. With very little effort I was able to sway the congregation to defeat the proposals. Then the governing board called me to meet with them. They asked me to stop speaking in church business meetings. I asked if I said anything unethical, abusive, heretical or manipulative. They said no, but…I was too strong an influence. They wanted to have their way and they knew without my voice they could. Needless to say, my wife and I left that church. Soon after that the governing board manipulated the dismissal of the entire pastoral staff–including a single mom (Christian education director) and man with four children who had just moved his family a long distance to join the church’s staff as youth pastor. Their only reason was that they wanted the new pastor (not yet chosen) to have a “clean slate” meaning to be able to bring in his own people. During a particularly tense church business meeting (which my wife and I attended just before finally leaving the church) the governing board lined up before the congregation and threatened to resign en masse unless the congregation did their bidding–gave them the power to fire the whole church staff. The denomination’s executive minister was present and spoke. He told the congregation he could not in good conscience recommend anyone to become pastor of the church if they did this. Out of fear of offending their friends on the governing board and of having no leadership, the congregation voted to give the governing board the power to fire the entire pastoral staff.

This was one personal brush with what I would consider semi-TACO-ish behavior in a “mainstream” evangelical congregation. It is not, I have come to believe, uncommon. My advice to people who experience this in their own congregations is “Run!” This kind of behavior, I believe, is not only unhealthy but also abusive.

Recently I have read about and heard sad stories from former members of churches that most people in their communities (and sometimes far and wide) consider “evangelical.” In some cases the pastors are well-known authors and greatly admired for their intense dedication to, for example, “discipling” people. In ever case I’m referring to here, there is something I would consider “cultish” or at least “TACO-ish” about the church.

What I think we need is an agency LIKE the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability to monitor and warn people away from “evangelical” churches and sects (including “networks” of congregations) that behave in aberrational, abusive ways. Being considered evangelical should not just be a matter of doctrine; a church with impeccable evangelical orthodoxy on paper might nevertheless be aberrational and abusive.

So here are my suggestions for behaviors that should cause people to RUN from a congregation EVEN IF it is perfectly orthodox doctrinally and even though its reputation is evangelical:

1) Condoning (including covering up) sexual abuse or sexual immorality of leaders within itself.

2) Silencing honest and constructive dissent.

3) Treating leaders as above normal ethical standards, above questioning.

4) Implying that “true Christianity” belongs to it alone or churches in its network.

5) Using intense methods of “discipleship training” that involve abuse of persons–including, but not limited to, teaching them they must absolutely lose their own individuality and sense of personal identity in order to become part of an “army” (or whatever) of Christ and using methods of sensory deprivation, brainwashing and/or abject obedience to human authority.

6) Teaching (often by strong implication) that without the church, especially without the leaders, members lose their spiritual connection to God. (This happens in many, often subtle, ways. For example a church may claim that its “vision” of the kingdom of God is unique and to depart from it is to depart from God’s kingdom, etc.)

7) Simply closing itself off from all outside criticism or accountability by implying to its members that the “whole world” outside the church is evil.

8) Falling into magical, superstitious beliefs and practices such as “spiritual warfare” with an emphasis on destroying all of a certain kind of object because objects “shaped like that” are often inhabited by demons. (A few years ago some churches were teaching people that if they were having marital problems it was probably because they had owl-shaped objects in their homes. I was told by members of a church that having books about world religions or cults in my library would corrupt my spiritual life. A church held bonfires to burn records and books considered unholy. Etc., etc., etc.)

9) The pastor literally owning the church lock, stock and barrel.

I don’t think what I’m talking about can be properly understood without some examples. So here are some:

A church in a small town in Louisiana (that I visited twice with a friend who was a student at a local college) was owned by the pastor. The pastor was very rich and uneducated. (He owned his own construction company.) He just decided to start his own church; there was no church board or business meetings. He handled all the money and paid the staff out of his own pocket, etc. The worship service began and, when well underway, the pastor and his wife entered to great applause. The pastor had an armed body guard near at all times. The pastor preached a gospel of prosperity–give to the church and its “ministries” and God will bless you financially and in other ways. Offerings were by people coming forward to put money in the offering plate on the “altar” with the pastor standing nearby. During one sermon the pastor began breaking and smashing small pieces of furniture–a vase, a picture, etc.–stomping on them and screaming God only knows what. Many congregants applauded.

A church in the Rocky Mountains owns a “discipleship boot camp” that uses sensory deprivation and extreme physical hardship to “train” members to obey Christ and care nothing about comfort. The emphasis is that “true discipleship” is like war–a true disciple of Christ like a true soldier must obey without question and care nothing about his or her own safety or security or well-being.

A church in Oklahoma condoned sexual harassment and sexual abuse among staff members.

A church in Texas specializes in exorcisms (every Sunday evening) with every member sooner or later being exorcised of numerous demons–often with vomiting, writhing on the floor, screaming and pulling hair.

A church in California teaches that its pastor has a direct connection to God and God says that the end of the world is coming soon with the U.S. government (rarely mentioned that explicitly) waging war on Christians so that church members must stockpile weapons and food and “get off the grid” by using wood burning heat and having their own sources of electricity (and, if possible, underground bunkers).

Often such churches call themselves “evangelical” and somehow manage to convince evangelicals they are mainstream evangelical.

The examples I’ve given are extreme, but there’s a continuum–from increasing unaccountable authority by church leaders to out-and-out cultishness. Church authority that is afraid of honest, constructive dissent and uses coercion to silence it is already on the way toward being a T.A.C.O.

My advice is to RUN from such churches. And, if possible expose them as aberrational and abusive–even if their doctrines are perfectly orthodox by evangelical standards.

  • John Duffy

    I thank you for this post, Dr. Olson. I belonged to a group that resembles many of the churches you cite for 17 years of my life and I am often filled with regret about that. It was the first (and thus far only) church I joined, so it was difficult to discern whether certain practices were legitimate. I also stayed because I was coming from a pretty dissolute lifestyle as a non-Christian and so the discipline that the church instilled in me resulted in some positive changes in my life.

    One of the things that attracted me to the church was the personal closeness that was expected in the church. I came to learn that that closeness was fostered in order to further the overwhelming imperative: reach out to the “lost”, study the Bible with them (using a church developed and approved study series), and baptize them into our church.

    So my old church gave its people both mission and family. It seems that these two things are needed by all Christians and “mainstream” churches don’t seem to be very good at providing them. I’ve been going to a “megachurch” for more than a year and I’m shocked at how impersonal it can be.

    Can a non-abusive, non-authoritarian church that lives through the Spirit of Christ foster authentic love among its members, proclaiming the truth to the world and living it out in daily life? Prayerfully and humbly meeting these challenges is one of the primary things that the Christian Church can do to combat these “TACO”s.

    • Roger Olson

      I certainly hope so! But I agree that it is hard to find a church that functions as a real family of faith without eventually falling into some abusive practices. Such a church needs to have such a strong ethos that when a new leader comes in and attempts to use the intensity of the family nature of the church to exercise unaccountable authority the church notices immediately and corrects him or her (or if necessary expels him or her).

      • labreuer

        Roger, what do you think about the fulfillment of Eph 4:13 for churches with a strong family atmosphere? It seems like this ought to go a long way toward protecting such atmospheres. The danger you see seems more a characteristic of Heb 5:11-6:2-type churches—churches where [eventual] spiritual maturity is not expected of all its members.

      • http://returntorome.com/ Francis J. Beckwith

        I published an article years ago called “Sects in the City: Mormonism and the Philosophical Perils of Being a Missionary Faith.” You can find it here: https://bearspace.baylor.edu/Francis_Beckwith/www/Sites/Sects.pdf

  • Dante Ting

    In my country (I’m from Malaysia), most churches suffer from symptom #8, where most bad things happening to Christians are blamed on “spiritual warfare” though I rarely hear of churches going to the extreme of destroying objects – but at one point some years ago, now no longer even mentioned, churches everywhere have been telling the young people to stay away from computer games like DotA because it featured a character named “Lucifer”. My church (I am a member of the Methodist Church in Malaysia) is also prone to such superstition, and not only that, but the pastor of my church occasionally engages in “speaking of tongues” (in the form of incoherent babbling, audibly throughout the church of about 100) during our time of prayer, and I’m afraid I can’t even consider the preaching to be orthodox – a sermon on discipleship turning into one that relies on the account of the Roman centurion who sought Jesus and had his son cured to teach the congregation that discipleship is about seeking the Lord and asking (at the time we have a church member whose young daughter, born with a particular genetic defect and bedridden for as long as I could remember, was entered into the hospital due to her worsening condition).
    What could/should I do in such a situation? I am currently appointed as the “worship leader” (song leader) of the church and recently also elected as a committee for Christian Education of the church. If I run from this church, the only other option I could find would be an Evangelical Reformed church, but I am a committed Arminian! Could you advise me on this matter?

    • Roger Olson

      I would have to know more to advise you. Your comment contains a crucial incomplete sentence. What does the pastor say about people who do not get healed? Does the pastor over emphasis tongues and healing to the detriment of other, more important, dimensions of the Christian faith? Sometimes you have to stick it out and use your influence to try to turn things around–but only if there’s hope and you and others who are attempting to make healthy changes are not being abused for it.

      • Dante Ting

        My pastor is silent on the issue of those who do not get healed. My pastor has no emphasis on tongues, but he really does have a heavy emphasis on healing. His sermons are generally saturated with his personal life experiences rather than actually touching on the Word.

        His “sermon” this morning was a reading of Luke 5:1-11, followed by showing the church a 6 minute clip from the History Channel depicting Peter’s crucifixion and his request to be crucified upside down, next talking for around 15 minutes about how one’s personal encounter with the Lord would cause one to change their life entirely, and then showing a 20 minute video clip of a person’s testimony of how his personal encounter with the Lord caused him to repent of his sins which he has committed as a Christian pastor for years, lastly ending with a sort of “altar call” where he asks for the church members who desire to repent of their sin to come to the front of the church and be prayed over.

        I’ve spoken to two different members of my church regarding the lack of faithful gospel preaching, and I received two different responses: one says that the sermons are indeed shallow and we should be going for additional discipleship classes if we desire for a deeper study of the Bible, but unfortunately the discipleship class which is also run by the same pastor is based on Blackaby’s Experiencing God Bible study, which I found to be shallow and questionable; the other member, who’s more elderly, admits that the problem with our church is that we lack structure in preaching, as we do not have a theme and so we would never know what our pastor would be preaching the following week, plus we invite pastors and non-pastoral speakers to our church and we let them speak on any topic they want with little to no moderation, so we have good preaching interspersed among the bad.

        In addition to the above, the main problem with most Christians in my country is the misunderstanding of Christianity to be a “private” religion in the sense that God will sometimes speak personally to Christians outside of the Bible via life experiences.

        Incidentally I’ve just returned from a four-day conference on The Church which is run by a largely Reformed parachurch organization. One of the things I’ve learned from that conference is identifying a true church, and basically there are the three marks of a true church, which is the faithful preaching of the gospel, the proper administration of the sacraments, and the enforcement of church discipline. My church has fulfilled the latter two, but as for faithful preaching of the gospel, I sincerely doubt it.

        I am just reminded of a time where the pastor of my church has quoted the Gospel of Thomas in one of his sermons to make a point; should this be condoned?

        • Roger Olson

          It would be nice if you had more church choices.

        • BradK

          Dante, even as a committed Arminian you might find it more comfortable in the Reformed church you mention. I reject Calvinism as well, but find that when Calvinists are not stuck on TULIP they are more than tolerable. Most Reformed churches would easily fit the three identifying marks of a true church that you mention. Maybe you could have a private conversation with the pastor of the other church you mentioned and share your concerns about both your current situation and how you might fit into a Reformed church as an Arminian? Sounds like you are already pursuing options within your church. Obviously this will require much prayer and consideration. Pray for wisdom, brother.

  • David Lindsay

    Roger:

    I’ve seen T.A.C.Os as well.

    My advice in that situation is we need to be “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2) and to keep our eyes on the exit door !

    Dave

  • Don Bryant

    It is all sadly true. There is a price to pay for the free church model and it requires continual balancing by level-headed Christ lovers and Bible knowers. May Christ give to the Evangelical movement leaders of a generous heart, true scholarship, and extraordinary humility. As a movement we have a large place for “thus saith the Lord” and the power of the pulpit. This can open us up for some very dark moments of gullibility. The “Christ against culture” model of many Evangelicals churches needs serious balancing.

  • Perry L. Stepp

    Thank you for this; I’ve spent the last few months watching the legal proceedings around one such group, and dealing with current & former students who are in its clutched. This is excellent material for that fight.

  • Van

    Public exposure is the best cure for TACO-ism. With the exploding use of new mediums of social communication these control freaks will no longer be able to operate with impunity. For daily examples of how this is working out, just notice all the complaints of many former church people whose faith has been shattered by TACO-ism, but are now beginning to show up on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Roger’s Blog, etc. Jesus came to right all wrongs, saying, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”

    • Roger Olson

      I agree, but the problem is that our litigious society and judicial system (that allows frivolous law suits) makes it risky to name any church or sect and then criticize it publicly. Some of them have lawyers on retainer to sue anyone who criticizes them. You might be able to prove everything you say, but the expense of defending yourself against a frivolous defamation suit is prohibitive. So, TACOs and other abusive religious organizations flourish with virtual impunity. All we can do is describe the “profile” of a TACO and hope people can use that to decide for themselves whether to stay or leave. My advice is to RUN if it feels TACO-ish. Don’t get ensnared; it’s hard to leave once the TACO has become your whole support system–spiritually and personally.

      • labreuer

        It sounds like an insurance program for those interested in identifying what they think might be TACOs is in order. My startup has such insurance for our IP; should anyone infringe, we have some amount of guaranteed lawyer-time.

        The charter for any such insurance program should probably include Mt 18:10-35. The focus would be on protecting and healing, not on inquisition. Anyone with worries about potential TACOism would first be asked whether he/she has obeyed Mt 18:15-16, unless the matter has already been made public.

        Before any such venture were started, I would want historians of the Spanish Inquisition, Salem Witch Trials, and other related events to be included. How do we avoid the many pitfalls which would go along with calling out Christians on un-Christian behavior?

        Instances of reversal of TACOism ought to be celebrated, like the Prodigal Son and other examples in scripture. After all, Christians are supposed to be their brothers’ keepers. We’re supposed to intrude on each other’s lives—according to scripture such as Eph 4:1-3, Phil 2:1-11, and Gal 6:1-6—in order to bring stronger unity to people who are not like each other.

      • Julie Anne

        So true, Roger.

        I (and others) used public exposure to speak out about my spiritually abusive pastor and was sued by my former pastor. Our defamation lawsuit went viral. My pastor lost and had to pay nearly $60K in our court costs to the 5 defendants. Now, over a year after he lost the court case, he continues to speak out against me on Twitter, has his own blog talking about me and another defendant and our families, etc.

        The very sad thing is that even though he has an open police file for trespassing on former church members’ property, exhibits stalking-like behavior, lost his minister’s license, he continues the same bully ways against former members.

        He, just like his initials “[deleted] has been able to manipulate others to believe his version of the story and is now schmoozing with celebrity church leaders, inviting them to speak at his evangelism conference, etc. He has pulled the wool over their eyes. There is a price to pay for speaking out. I am paying it, but at least at the same time, it has given me a ministry opportunity at my blog where we discuss spiritual abuse.

        • Roger Olson

          For the record, I have no idea who you’re talking about, so I deleted his initials. I have to be very careful here.

  • ben

    Great article. Thanks a lot. I was part for many years of a group which fulfilled most points you mentioned above…. I did run but it was very hard however God is faithful . Praise to Him

  • out4god

    Please do not make the mistake that these behaviors are confined to conservatives, fundamentalists or Christians. Any religious group can devolve into this kind of collective behavior. It happens a lot.

  • http://waynepark.wordpress.com waynepark

    Thank you for this post. I am dealing with this right now, with a family that has become involved with an “unsafe sect.” I, along with others, have painstakingly tried to convince them of the problems therein but they are set – it is emphatically not a cult in their mind because it is “biblical” and stands strongly on the bible. How, as their pastor, am I supposed to answer that? I can try to talk about hermeneutics / interpretations but they only hear what they want to hear. Finally, exasperated, I tell them the roots may all seem the same now – biblio-centric, evangelical – but the tree will not be the same. They were unconvinced.

    Now, months later, I have to simultaneously deal with a dismissal from membership as well as taking cautious, yet firm measures to prevent the further spread of this sect within my own church, as it has a strong track record of doing in the past; infiltrating, dividing, and destroying existing churches – of course, all in the name of true biblical discipleship.

  • Chris

    Great post. I’m currently reading “Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul” and in it the author details the way the Puritans treated those who transgressed. It sounds very much like your descriptions above. Any thoughts on the suggestion that this style of religious organization (T.A.C.O.S) might be embedded in the DNA of our history and understanding of ourselves as USAmericans?

    • Roger Olson

      Very interesting research project! My initial guess is that one could find T.A.C.O.-like characteristics in religious organizations all the way back (in recorded history). But it seems that TACOs have flourished among evangelicals in recent years. I suspect it has to do with a general lack of discernment among Christians in contemporary America. Many are drawn to very absolutist, totalizing churches to escape the ambiguities and uncertainties of modern/postmodern culture. Then they find themselves caught in an abusive context.

  • Anon

    Hi Roger, I was a part of this kind of church. We were heavy on 2,3, some 4, 5 & 9. When I gave feedback, I was immediately pointed to all the pastor did for me, and how my thoughts were judgments. I asked for more accountability, transparency, and equipping people to understand and not just follow. Ironically, I was then censored. A few takeaways from the experience:

    1. I was naive and the perfect candidate for groups like this.

    2. Running was hard. The group came together against these ideas instantly, and expressed no interest in considering them. So it is not just running, but running with the message that you are a judge echoing in your mind.

    3. Leadership is so important. This relates to #1. I was the perfect candidate for a group like this, but broken people are exactly the kind of people leaders will be encountering in ministry. So, I am an advocate for the opposite of each item on your list now because I am concerned for vulnerable people like I was who can’t identify these items. What my former church saw as my judgments, I have had to claim for myself as my love for those who won’t see these things coming.

    4. Do you have any thoughts on how to deal with the sense of guilt and confusion that comes from running? Even though I know that this list is absolutely correct, my experience is that the isolation from everyone in the community and the censoring have been no minor challenge. I would say it has been hard on my own to claim a spirituality of church feedback and also running.

    • Roger Olson

      I’m not a psychologist or counselor, so the only advice I have is to find a non-abusive church and become involved in it.

  • Brent O.

    Although small congregations can be TACO, there is the trouble of BIG congregations and the group-think toward the TACO mentality. While Paul speaks of being of one mind, that mind is Christ centered: not self, family, country and least of all congregation centered. Congregations should share/praise among each other as well as give biblical constructive criticism. All to often, we avoid the negative because we haven’t learned how to approach/be approached in love.

    Added to the list can be ministry of omission: not teaching uncomfortable biblical truths and not encouraging prayer or scriptural study outside a Sunday school or service setting. This tends to lead to spiritual mediocrity and depending on a congregations leaders to fulfill the spiritual/emotional needs of congregants.

    Also, leaders who not just fall short of biblical characteristics for deacons/elders but live their lives with blatant disregard to biblical truths. Yes, we have all fallen short of the glory of God and He does use ordinary men to do extraordinary things but to purposefully live in sin does not help a congregation in the least.

    Many of the examples given also shows how inward facing the church has become. This is hardly Christ’s example.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    I got my head messed up by a T.A.C.O. back in the Seventies.

    Thing is, TACOs sail right under the radar of Christian Cult Watch groups (or at least they did at the time) because the Cult Sniffers always defined “CULT(TM)” as aberrant THEOLOGY, not repeat not abusive/control-freak behavior towards their people. While the Cult Sniffers parsed theology letter-by-letter, the TACOS acted like North Korea towards their people. As TACOs follow “orthodox” Fundagelical theology to the letter, they’d get a free pass as “NOT a Cult”. Which the TACOs’ Leaders and Elders would use as an additional weapon on dissidents.

  • Monique

    Dr. Olson, Thank you for your post. By putting a name to yet another face of those who are truly wolves in sheep’s clothing I pray your post will wake us (the church) up!. I do have a question though. In your post you recommend we run, why run instead of bringing it out into the light?

    • Roger Olson

      By all means expose a TACO as such if you can while remaining well. Many former TACO members need counseling and years of rehab in a healthy church setting. Immediately launching a campaign to expose a TACO for what it is can be obsessive and rob the escapee of opportunity to regain spiritual and mental health. There is also the danger of a law suit. Many former members of TACOs have been sued when they’ve been less than careful in their attempts to expose them.

      • Monique

        Thank you Dr. Olson.

  • http://www.soulation.org/ Dale Fincher

    Having survived a TACO community myself and have been advocating and helping the spiritual abused for a decade, I am very encouraged by this post. I wholly agree we need more advocacy… a “rating” system would help. G.R.A.C.E is working on this also. Maybe we also need a “RateYourPastor” site just like we have “RateYour Professor”sites.

    But even more, I find that the evangelical community needs to continue to grow (at a faster pace) in what a healthy spiritual life with Jesus looks like. These TACO organizations that thrive on mega-millions and control the microphones are so *obvious* to the are spiritually healthy. But that these groups continue to thrive in the name of “Jesus” and the “Gospel” speaks not just about those organizations but the larger Body of Christ. We simply lack, as a whole, an awareness of what the abundant life means and what human life redeemed looks like. We favor picking up casualties rather than stopping the spiritual assassins. We don’t want to ruffle feathers… or we lack the courage… or we have too much to lose by whistle blowing.

    Public exposure doesn’t even work that well, as we’ve learned in the [church name deleted] debacle, who has had whistles blown at it for over 7 hears in large public forums, even when sexual scandals have been brought to light. Dislodging spiritually abusive celebrities is harder than pulling wisdom teeth from a vampire. Even when the problems are glaring, the alliances are formed and the masses are told not to look at the man behind the curtain. Church, oh Church, have we eyes to see? Do we care about our structures than we do about Jesus? Is Jesus no longer our Head but our Figurehead?

    The only solutions I see is mass exodus and removing of the money tree. But that will only come by changing evangelical culture itself to taste and see how God good is in light of the impostors.

    I’ll be sending my readers from my blog and spiritual abuse groups to ponder this post. I know many who will be glad to join in the advocacy if methods are in place to create a unified voice of the Body resisting the hirelings.

    • Roger Olson

      Thanks. I deleted the name of the group you mentioned, though. I have to be extremely careful here.

  • Derek

    Hi Dr. Olson,

    I realize you are currently on a hiatus and therefore will not be able to respond, but I just want to post this now and hope you (and others) can offer some input eventually:

    My concern has to do with the Biblical text itself. You find numerous examples where Paul the Apostle, and even Jesus Himself, giving strict, almost fanatical, commands that often times pale in comparison to a lot of what you wrote above, and we are commanded to follow their admonishments.

    It seems to me that the fanatics merely highlight these texts and demonstrate that if we want to be faithful to Jesus’ (and Paul’s) teaching we also need to develop this fanatical way of life as well.

    How do you respond?

    Thank-you.

    • Roger Olson

      I respond to them by pointing out that they are neither Jesus nor Paul. I also suspect both Jesus and Paul would have received with grace a person who honestly and sincerely questioned them. In fact, Paul did commend the Bereans for not just believing what he preached and taught but for practicing discernment.

  • Matt Barber

    Dr Olson,
    I need to offer you my sincerest thanks for your work. I have read a few of your books and they have gone a long way to confirming and challenging my beliefs and pushed me towards God and his Word. I read your blog regularly and would love to see a further exploration of your thoughts on “spiritual warfare” and/or receive some direction on good information sources on this matter. Thanks !!!

  • Roger Olson

    I don’t allow mention of specific groups in a negative light here (except to express disagreement with doctrines so long as those doctrines are fairly represented).

  • Steve Miller

    I’ve been a member at many churches which practice and expect strong biblical accountability amongst its members, and they sometimes get accused of being TACOish or cultish by those who wish to have a comfortable church which is not overly demanding or structured.

    It seems when the Holy Spirit does not lead weak leaders will rely on strong arming members and weak members will insist on personal comfort over being missional.

    We cannot be over devoted to Christ, the call is clear to die to self, carry your cross, and live for Jesus. It has always been an all or nothing proposition. When you live totally for Christ you don’t become a faceless drone conforming to church policy you become a vibrant unique disciple willingly communing with the Lord and His people. This will always be misunderstood by the lost outside the church and the merely culturally “Christian” unsaved church members within the church.

    Healthy churches see Jesus as the head and are run by godly men who humbly server rather than rule the congregation. It is impossible to be too committed to Christ, but it is a terrible substitute to be overly committed to a religiously run church functioning on man power rather than Holy Spirit guidance.

  • Marius Lombaard

    thanks for writing this. i was a pentecostal (bless their hearts) many years ago, the specific church where i was attending was owned by the pastor and any honest constructive dissent was not necessarily silenced, but they had this demeaning way of laughing off anything that wasn’t in agreement with them (specifically the pastor).

    yep…. orthodoxy is a nice disguise, but a cult is really a sociological phenomenon than a departure from orthodoxy.

    i also tend to see these things from afar, though i’m not always able to articulate those things that bother me – so i’m always at a loss to explain to people why i chose to leave certain churches in the past. unfortunately sometimes it takes a while to leave, because you have to get in deep first to see where things are going wrong.

    your remark about honest and constructive dissent is a good one. i’m swiping it. ;-)

  • Logan

    What do you think of the Salvation Army?

    • Roger Olson

      Love it. I just wish they’d baptize with water and celebrate the Lord’s Supper!

  • angangang

    I was in a church that was new apostolic reformation for nine years without knowing it was associated with the NAR? They are definitely T.A.C.O. or ???!!!

    • Roger Olson

      I have e-mailed with the “guru” of NAR movement C. Peter Wagner and he assures me there’s nothing cultic about it. What did you find in that church (don’t name it) that make you think it’s a TACO?


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