For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.
Second Corinthians 11:4
From the outset of the founding of the Church there have been direct and indirect assaults against it. Opposing religious ideas have been relatively easy to identify and distinguish from Christianity. What has not been as easy to identify are pseudo-Christian ideas which have been more of an indirect assault against Christianity. This is because they claim to be Christian and even use Biblical and Christian language to state their position. Shortly after Christ delivered and defined the Gospel, there arose those whom the Apostle Paul described as “proclaim(s) another Jesus” and “a different gospel” (2Cor. 11:4). He specifically warned the Galatians about this-
¶ I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.
We refer to these pseudo-Christian groups as “cults”. It is important for Christians to be Biblically and Theologically sufficiently informed so that they are able to avoid be ensnared by a cult’s teaching and practices. Apart from the dangerous ideas of cults, there are also potentially dangerous psychological and social harm that can be caused by involvement in a cult.
A Christian Cult is pseudo-Christian. That is, they differ so markedly fro orthodox, classical, Biblical Christianity, that they no longer align with essential Christian doctrine – yet they themselves claim to be “Christian”. These kind of cults are characterised by the following.
1. THEY ARE EXCLUSIVE
Cults are nearly always ‘exclusive’ which means they teach that their group is the only group which has God’s approval. Those embedded in a cult find it almost impossible emotionally and socially to extract themselves from it. The idea that this cult and its teaching is the only truth – and therefore, every other group (including ‘Christian’ groups) are considered false and heretical – becomes ingrained in cult members. A cult’s exclusivity creates a toxic social reprisal for any who leave it.
2. A CHARISMATIC LEADER
Cults are usually founded by a charismatic leader who claims to have received a new and special revelation from God – Mormons have Joseph Smith and Jehovah’s Witnesses have Charles Taze Russell. Added to this, the leader most often asserts that all other expressions of Christianity are corrupt and apostate. Because their ideas are inconguent with the Bible they also claim that what we have today as our Bibles have been corrupted and significantly altered. Hence, most cults will have either their own amended version of the Bible or supplementary books to the Bible, which the leader has written. The cult leader often asserts their greatness over others and claims to have a special relationship with God. Cult leaders frequently tend to be very sexual and take multiple wives (Mormon founder, Joseph Smith had up to 40 and Branch Davidian founder, David Koresh also had about 40).
3. REDEFINED LANGUAGE
What also defines a cult as ‘pseudo’ (false) Christianity is their use of Biblical and established Christian language. Despite this, these terms are almost without exception redefined by the cults. Terms such as, heaven, hell, salvation, grace, atonement, gospel, and even, God, all have peculiar definitions for a cult. Christians who ask a member of cult whether they are saved by the grace of God might be surprised when the cult member answers resoundingly, “Yes!” But they may not realise that the definitions used for ‘saved’ or ‘grace’ are radically different from the way the Bible uses them.
4. SPECULATIVE ESCHATOLOGY
Eschatology is the theological word for ‘last things’. It is generally associated with Bible prophecies assumed to be unfulfilled. It sometimes referred to as ‘the doctrine of end-times’. Nearly all cults have very peculiar views about what the Bible says about the future. For example, Mormons believe that God will transfer Jerusalem’s status as “Zion” to Jackson County, Missouri –
Latterday revelation revealed to Joseph Smith in 1832 teaches us that this Zion, the New Jerusalem, will be built upon the American continent. In Doctrine and Covenants 84:2-3 the Lord reveals: “Yea, the word of the Lord concerning his church, established in the last days for the restoration of his people, as he has spoken by the mouth of this prophets, and for the gathering of his saints to stand upon Mount Zion, which shall be the city of New Jerusalem. Which city shall be built, beginning at the temple lot, which is appointed by the finger of the Lord, in the western boundaries of the State of Missouri….” This is the region known as Jackson County.
Following Christ’s return, Jerusalem and Zion (the New Jerusalem) will exist as two great capitals where Christ’s people will live and where Christ will dwell and reign personally on the earth (Micah 4:2) in some sort of divine government (D&C 45:59, Dan. 7:13-14). Thus the scripture, “For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3) will be fulfilled. While we do not know the details of how this divine government will work, we do know that Zion, the New Jerusalem, will be located in Missouri and will be a central place for the ruling and running of the Lord’s Kingdom during the Millennium.
WHAT MORMONS BELIEVE
And Jehovah’s Witnesses have made several bold predictions about the return of Christ and the coming “millennium” –
Jehovah’s Witnesses are more speculative than most denominations when it comes to the second coming of Christ. They believe the millennium is to “shortly happen,”‘ “within this generation,”‘ and that “a literal millennium fits in harmoniously with the proved timetable of God.”‘
Several times they have predicted this advent. They said Jesus would come again in 1874 (which they explain as a miscalculation to be blamed on The Emphatic Diaglott and the King James Version0). Later, believing God’s people who survive Armageddon “will be favored with the privilege of literally seeing the resurrected `Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets’ back here on the Paradise earth and in royal service under the Kingdom of God,’ they said, “Therefore we may confidently expect that 1925 will mark the return of Abraham, Issac, Jacob and the faithful prophets of old, particularly those named by the Apostle in Hebrews chapter eleven, to the condition of human perfection.”‘ But this event did not happen either.
The most often promoted of their predictions is 1914. They believe Revelation 6 depicts World War I (1914), which “marked the time when . . . Jesus Christ, received the heavenly crown.’ But since the church was not glorified in heaven on Oct. 1, 1914, they said, “Something must have been miscalculated.”i0 They now say that “since that time (1914 when they believe he was enthroned”) Christ has turned his attention toward earth’s affairs and is . . . educating the true Christians in preparation for their survival during the great storm of Armageddon, when all unfaithful mankind will be destroyed from the face of the earth.””
Shane Carrington, Truth Magazine
After every prediction by the Jehovah’s Witnesses of Christ’s return failed, the organisation which Charles Taze Russell left behind, The Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, has made several more startling predictions about the timing of Christ’s return. The first was 1986-
“Yet one more event will come as an unmistakable signal that world destruction is imminent. Of this the apostle Paul wrote: “Jehovah’s day is coming exactly as a thief in the night. Whenever it is that they are saying: ‘Peace and security!’ then sudden destruction is to be instantly upon them . . . and they will by no means escape.”-1 Thessalonians 5:2, 3; Luke 21:34, 35. The world’s leaders know that a nuclear war means virtual extinction. Also, critical problems such as pollution, the population explosion, and domestic problems demand attention and money. So they want to relax the strained international relations. An evidence of this is the proclamation by the United Nations of 1986 as the ‘international year of peace and security.’ This, no doubt, is a step toward the fulfillment of Paul’s above-quoted words.”
True Peace and Security – How Can You Find It? (1986) p.85 When Will the Foretold World Destruction Come?(Watchtower)
1. THE NATURE OF GOD
Almost without exception, cults deny the Biblical revelation of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who are co-existent and co-eternal (the ‘Trinity’). Some cults, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, teach that God is monolithic (a solitary being). Others, such as Mormons, teach that God was once a man like us who ascended to Godhood and is just one among a multitude of gods.
The Christian position is that God alone possesses the divine attributes of eternality (He has always existed and is uncreated and will always exist); immutability (He doesn’t and cannot change or be altered); omniscience (He knows all things- actual, theoretical, and false positives); omnipotent (He has unlimited power); and, omnipresence (He is present everywhere).
But this is not all we know about God. He also possesses certain qualities. Because mankind is created in the image of God, we each possess these qualities to some extent, yet these qualities are intrinsic to God – that is, there has never been a time when He lacked these qualities – indeed these are God’s essential qualities and He alone exhibits them infinitely.
The divine qualities include, love – God is love (1John 4:8 ~ Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love). Love is doing the highest good for others. Love produces a feeling, it not the feelingitself. Because God is love He has always loved.
God can only do good. He is intrinsically good. Good is beneficial, advantageous, morally virtuous, proper. Good can only come from a motive of love. Thus, God’s actions are often interpretted as not good because if the same actions were done by anyone else they may well be bad. For example, God may hurt someone to make them stronger and more resilient. Yet a person may hurt another perhaps in the same way, yet with a motive of hate, and this same action is bad.
And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.
God is truth. He can only speak the truth. Truth is what corresponds to reality, is right (not limited to merely factual statements – for example, before 1969 it was true that man could walk on the moon, but it was not yet factual), and represents oughtness (what we ought to do – 2Cor. 13:8; Gal. 5:7).
I the LORD speak the truth;
I declare what is right.
Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
God is holy. He is not like us. He is not common. He is not trivial. Holiness is separateness, special, important, morally upright, virtuous, preeminently good.
“Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.”
Cults do not present God as possessing these attributes and qualities. The second area of difference between Christianity and Cults pertains to the identity of Jesus.
2. THE IDENTITY OF JESUS
Orthodox Christian doctrine holds to Jesus being the eternal only begotten uncreated Son of God. Scripture demands that we regard Jesus as possessing both the attributes and qualities of God.
|CHRIST’S DIVINE ATTRIBUTES||SCRIPTURE|
|Deity||1John 5:20 ¶ And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.|
|Eternality||Col. 1:17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.|
|Immutability||Heb. 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.|
|Omniscience||Col. 2:2b …the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, Col. 2:3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.|
|Omnipotence||Col. 1:16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.|
|Omnipresence||Matt. 28:20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”|
|CHRIST’S DIVINE QUALITIES||SCRIPTURE|
|Love||Rom. 8:39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.|
|Good||Acts 10:38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.|
|Truth||John 1:17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.|
|Holy||Mark 1:24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”|
The orthodox classical Christian position regarding the identity of Jesus Christ is stated in the Nicene Creed-
I believe in one God,
the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only begotten Son of God,
begotten of his Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light,
very God of very God,
begotten, not made,
being of one substance with the Father;
by whom all things were made;
who for us men and for our salvation
came down from heaven,
and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost
of the Virgin Mary,
and was made man;
and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried;
and the third day he rose again
according to the Scriptures,
and ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;
and he shall come again, with glory,
to judge both the quick and the dead;
whose kingdom shall have no end.
Jesus is God. God the Father is not God the Son. God the Son is not God the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit is not God the Father. Yet, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are co-equal, co-eternal, co-existent. Even though they are co-equal, they have order. The Father sent the Son. The Son sent the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit glorifies the Son who glorifies the Father. The Nicene Creed says that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father (and the Son) and all are worthy of worship-
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
The names and titles of God are applied to Christ (Saviour, Creator, Lord, Redeemer). The attributes of God are applied to Christ. The qualities of God are ascribed to Christ. The exclusive prerogatives (creating, judging, forgiving sinners) are exercised by Christ. In Matthew 4:10-11, Jesus tells Satan that worship is only due to God and in Hebrews 1:6 it says that the Father commands all the angels of Heaven to bow down and worship the Son.
¶ And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,
“Let all God’s angels worship him.”
Cults deny that Jesus is the eternal God the Son. The above Biblical data presents an overwhelming case for the Classical Christian position for the identity of Jesus being God the Son who possesses all the attributes of God, all the qualities of God, and exercises all the prerogatives of God.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Second Timothy 3:16-17
3. THE BIBLE
Cults generally regard the Bible as either insufficient (such as the Mormons do) or in need of re-translating (such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses do). The Bible itself claims to be inspired by God (2Timothy 3:16-17). It is therefore true in it accounts, statements, history, and pronouncements. Cults rely directly or indirectly on supplementary literature to the Bible. Mormons have The Book of Mormon, Doctrines & Covenants, Pearl Of Great Price. Jehovah’s Witnesses have the publications of The Watchtower Bible & Tract Society which includes their own translation of the BIble, The New World Translation.
Without exception, every cult teaches that salvation requires human effort which the Bible calls “works”. This is in complete contradistinction to the Gospel which states that a person can do nothing to merit, deserve, earn, or attain their own salvation. The Christian Gospel (“Good News”) is that despite our own inability to make ourselves morally pure enough to stand righteous before God on the Day of Judgment, Christ has borne our sin and guilt and taken our penalty to satisfy God the Father’s demands for justice. This is the greatest display of love the universe has ever witnessed. It is offered to all. It is given freely, unconditionally, and forever. This is the grace of God. It is amazing.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
A better question to ask a member of a cult than do you believe Jesus Christ died to forgive us of our sins? is “What do I have to do to get God’s best for me after I die?” There is only one right answer and it involves putting our Biblically informed faith and trust in Christ as our atoning Saviour.
While it is difficult to share the Gospel of Grace with someone deluded by a cult, it does happen where a member of cult begins a journey to freedom in Christ. As followers of Christ we should be aware of what the Bible teaches about God, Jesus, the Bible, and Salvation. By acquainting ourselves with Scripture we are less likely to be taken captive by deceitful doctrines pretending to be “Christian”.
¶ See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,
Legana, 2nd May 2015