One of the few benefits of belonging to a hierarchic church - the sort that tells you what you can and should believe - is that it imposes a cap on craziness. Crazy stuff is limited by the capacity of the leaders to withhold or provide some kind of imprimatur
What this effectively means is that, while your church may indeed teach some pretty weird stuff, it imposes its own discipline on those who wander too far off into total loopiness. The leadership has limits too. Not limits from below, based on egalitarianism or participatory governance. Oh, heavens to Betsy no!
Their limits are what they can get away with without ending up in the tabloid press.
Not exactly ideal, but better than nothing.
Over the years I've observed in some detail the collapse of just such a fringe hierarchic church. That thing, in its heyday, was wound as tight as a watch spring. Urban legend has it that particularly compliant members would seek counsel from their minister before buying a car - just to check that the colour choice
Then came the great implosion. The scattering to the winds of good, sincere, submissive Bible-believing Christians, cut loose from the authority structure that once both dominated and validated their lives.
Not a few immediately opted for the protection offered by splinter sects, aping the security package offered by the original brand. Others, God bless 'em, reentered the real world, abandoning the sectarian mindset completely.
And then there were, and are, the incurable crazies, absolutely convinced that they, and they alone, have come through the trauma intact and tuned in to the pure gospel truth. Confronted with a plethora of similar-minded options available to them, they focus on the minutiae that define their differences, and declare those minutiae essentials.
Many years ago I encountered an elderly ex-member of this group who I'll simply refer to as Ben. Ben was a gentle chap, never married, who lived on a modest bit of isolated rural acreage in New Zealand's central North Island. Since leaving the church (he'd had the tenacity to show the minister the door, no small thing in that church's culture) he'd spent a lot of time mulling over and writing up his ideas, becoming (unsurprisingly) more and more convinced by himself in the process. The trouble was that Ben's knowledge was limited by his reading in the King James Bible, old church publications, and such monstrosities as Hislop's Two Babylons
. He became, in effect, a one-man sect, capable of launching into an angry 'prophetic' tirade if any of his ideas were challenged. The man was probably better off before
his liberation. At least he had the moderating influence of a community then, even if a far from ideal one.
The wilderness years continue for many of those who remember the former things. The 'crash and burn' of one's once beloved belief system, anchored firmly in a hierarchic body that has since crumbled to dust, is a huge strain on anyone. As the years pass, more of these lonely figures seem to be emerging, utterly convinced that they are the Lord's favoured one, soliciting tithes, finding "new truth", and railing against their near-brethren.
Pity their longsuffering spouses and families!
For some folk, regretfully, life inside the the walls of the asylum is probably preferable to the weight of freedom outside it.