Several years ago, I was employed as an addictions counselor. One of the more tragic aspects of addictions counseling is successfully weaning someone off a substance or chemical addiction, only to have them succumb to an altogether different and new addiction. In reality, the individual is still an addict, and they unfortunately just exchanged vices, and often their new vice is worst than the last. I have seen clients trade alcoholism for prescription meds, prescription meds for marijuana, and marijuana for methamphetamine. This phenomenon is called cross-addiction.
In polemics, a similar phenomenon exists. For those prone to adopting heretical doctrines or joining sub-christians sects or movements, a certain phenomenon exists in which they will often abandon one heresy or sub-christian teaching, but soon adopt another. The reason for this disappointing phenomenon is readily available in the Scripture; a heart that is hard or spiritual eyes that are blinded aren’t necessarily made regenerate or whole by repudiation of false doctrine. In other words, just because one finally comes to the realization that one doctrine is false, it doesn’t mean that they’ve become spiritually illumined to recognize other doctrines as false or to recognize the true.
There are several historic examples of this.
On October 22, 1844, a group known as Millerites – followers of Baptist apostate, William Miller – awaited the return of Jesus. When that didn’t happen, the day was christened The Great Disappointment. The followers of Miller were publicly humiliated and shamed. One would think the false doctrines of Miller would have been enough to correct their thirst for novelty and they would have returned to Biblical faith. As history would have it, that was not the case. A good number continued to make predictions for the second advent, failing to learn their lesson. Most of the Millerites went on to adopt even more bizarre spins on Miller’s heresies, including the “shut door doctrine” (that no more could be saved after that date). Most of those belonging to the Millerites, however, began to follow the teachings of a prophetess named Ellen G. White and became the sub-christian sect that you may known as Seventh Day Adventists.
Out of the frying pan, into the skillet.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses
Charles Taze Russell was an Adventist. He believed in many of Miller’s teachings, as well as the prophetic prowess of prophetess, Ellen G. White. Certain post-Miller doctrines, such as the “closed door doctrine” (that no more could be saved after a certain date) influenced Russell and what would become the watchtower society. Russell was also influence by Millerite doctrines against the existence of hell, and other teachings brought by the “Millerites of the First Day.” A magazine, “The Midnight Cry,” an adventist-cult publication that attempted to date the return of Christ also influenced Russell heavily. Once partnering with A Midnight Cry, Russell left to form his own magazine that would put his own spin on Adventist doctrines, including soul-sleep, date-setting, “heaven on earth” eschatology and more. Russell even abandoned orthodoxy more than Miller and his followers, going so far as to practice and affirm the Arian Heresy and denying the divinity of Christ. You know that magazine as the “Watchtower Magazine” and it formed the cult you know as the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Out of the skillet, into the deep-fryer.
This one happened in our lifetimes. The end of the world was supposed to be in 2011. Or, so said Harold Camping, who had already infamously set one wrong date. But he was really sure this time, and he had no shortage of people agreeing with him. Billboards and radio advertisements were all over the nation, warning of impending doom. And then, God shut the false prophet’s mouth with a stroke and Camping died quietly short after. Many of his followers continue to make prophecies, and most recently predicted the world would end on October 7, 2015 (hint: it did not). Journalists have stayed in touch with his most devout followers, and even though many repudiate Camping as a charlatan and scoundrel, most have found new, weird niche sects to take part in. Few have found their way back to the orthodox churches that Camping convinced them were of the devil.
Out of the deep-fryer onto the gridiron.
In the heyday of theonomy, not long after it was invented by RJ Rushdoony, the influence of the sub-christian teaching was profound and easily observable. They formed allegiances with Charismatic Dominionists. They helped to create fringe elements like the New Apostolic Reformation. They ran candidates for president, and helped launch the career of Pat Robertson into the stratosphere. Countless churches were torn asunder by the doctrines of theonomy that – in spite of their insistence it isn’t true – replaced the Gospel with the law of Moses. And even seemingly reasonable-sounding people like Greg Bahnsen were insisting that we should be executing slothful youth and putting adulterers to death. With its wide back door, most of the more prominent names in theonomy abandoned the movement for other more novel or new concepts, or more militant branches of post-millennialism. Some became full-preterists. Many moved on to quite-contradictory but non-threatening ideologies like Libertarianism.
Today, it’s hard to find leaders in the supposed theonomic movement who hold to the Theonomy of Rushdoony or Bahnsen. American (Re)Vision’s Joel McDurmon has altogether abandoned theonomy and the Mosaic penology that was the greatest, most-obvious distinctive of the 20th Century doctrine (maintaining the title theonomy is as immaterial as it is vapid). The few dignitaries of classic Theonomy that are still alive, like Gary North and Gary Demar, seem to not notice or care. McDurmon and other TINOs (Theonomists in Name Only) like Bojidar Marinov seem to have replaced their affection for Rushdoony’s theonomy with a new sub-christian teaching; the Sectarian Minimalism of the schismatic group, Abolish Human Abortion (AHA). Today, their affections seem to be more on dismantling the preeminence of the established, organized church than anything else.
The heart that is set on flesh is at enmity with God. One falls into sub-christian sects or teachings because the Holy Spirit is not leading them to the knowledge of truth (John 16:13), and that problem is not fixed merely because one sees the error of their former ways. A fool returns to his folly like a dog to its vomit (Proverbs 26:11). Removing one doctrinal error doesn’t automatically make one come back to truth. A heart that desires novelty and sensationalism in their doctrinal positions will surely find it, and will find it anywhere but the orthodox church.