WHAT IS A CULT?CRI PERSPECTIVE CP0200
With such an overwhelming number of religious groups around these days, it is necessary to understand the difference between a legitimate religious group and a cult. What exactly is a cult?
There are two ways to define a cult. The first way to describe a cult is popular in the secular media. From this perspective, a cult is a religious or semi-religious sect whose members are controlled almost entirely by a single individual or by an organization.
This kind of cult is usually manipulative, demanding total commitment and loyalty from its followers. Converts are usually cut off from all former associations, including their own families. The Hare Krishnas, the Family of Love led by Moses David Berg, and Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church are some examples of this kind of a cult.
The second way to define a cult is popular in evangelical Christian circles. From this perspective, a cult is any group that deviates from the orthodox teachings of the historic Christian faith being derived from the Bible and confirmed through the ancient ecumenical creeds.
These groups deny or distort fundamental Christian doctrines such as the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and salvation by grace through faith alone. Some cults that would fall into this category are the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, The Way International, and the Unity School of Christianity.
Most of these cults claim to be Christian, and even consider the Bible to be authoritative. But they manipulate the Scriptures to fit their own beliefs. Although they may claim to serve Jesus Christ, and may even use the same terminology orthodox Christians use, their definitions are vastly different.
These groups do not lead to the Christ of the Bible, but to another Jesus and another gospel (2 Cor. 11:1-4; Gal. 1:8, 9). We must therefore reject these false teachings, and "earnestly contend for the faith which was once and for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). And, of course, remember the Bible also goes on to admonish us that we must do this with gentleness, and with respect. Remember, you must present the message, but you need to recognize that it is only the Holy Spirit that changes the heart.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
We have available a number of resources dealing with the cults, includingScripture Twisting by James Sire (B105/$14), When Cultists Ask by Norman Geisler and Ron Rhodes (B414/$24) and Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions by John Ankerberg and John Weldon (B568/$20). These resources are available through CRI's online bookstore by clicking on the title or by calling our Resource Center at (888)7000-CRI or by mailing a check or money order to PO Box 7000, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688-7000.
"Their emphasis is upon goodness, morality, kindness, love--indeed, upon everything but Truth. "
This is an age of proliferating heresies, cults, "kooky" religious practices, Scripture perversions, witchcraft, Satanism, and superstition. Eighteenth - century rationalists and so-called "Deists" denied the Scripture and attacked the very basis of Christian faith, but only the last 150 years have seen the birth of so many strange, false religions.
Our Lord inquires as to whether He shall "find faith on the earth" (Luke 18:8) when He returns. He does not say "faiths." There will be plenty of those, altogether false and some extremely foolish, conspiring together to strangle and crush true Biblical and saving faith. While Satan seems to be limited in the number of his "devices," there is no limit to the variety of his false cults springing up. In the devil's stock, there is something to appeal to everyone -- educated or uneducated, cultured or crude. Many are attractive in their philosophies and appeal by their emphasis upon goodness, morality, kindness, love -- indeed, upon everything but Truth.
Of course, all false religions have some truth in them. One of the favorite arguments of the ecumenists and those who say we should not criticize any man's religion is this: "But there is so much good and truth in it." There is much good in rat poison, too. It is about 99 percent good grain and one percent arsenic, but the arsenic has spoiled the grain and made it fatal to anyone who eats it. Likewise, truth ceases to be truth when it is mixed with falsehood. That is why a man, taking an oath as a witness in court, swears to tell "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." As a rat would not take the poison until it is incorporated into the good grain, so men will not swallow false religion if it is not masked with some degree of truth.
All false religions, however, have some things in common. Here are three simple tests by which any religious system should be judged:
First, what is its attitude toward the Bible? The Book makes certain claims for itself. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (II Timothy 3:16); "holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost"(2Peter 1:21), "For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven" (Psalms 119:89). The closing verses of the Book promise a curse upon any man who adds to or takes away from the words written therein (Revelation 22:18-19). It is, therefore, according to its own claims, an infallible, inerrant, inspired, and complete revelation of God's will. It is unique, and there is no other revelation apart from it.
Beware of any religious system that offers some other work to be used along with the Bible. Christian Science adds to the Bible Science and Health--Mary Baker Eddy's frivolous, shallow, and plagiarized work--as "the keys to the Scripture." The Church of the Latter Day Saints claims to base its doctrines upon the Bible and the Book of Mormon. The Roman Catholic Church sets the teachings of the "fathers," the decisions of the councils, and the infallible "dogmas" of the papacy on a par with the Bible as sources of religious revelation and authority.
Other false religions would take away from the authority and perfection of the Scriptures by entirely neglecting certain portions. This is a favorite tactic of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Others completely disobey certain clear injunctions of the Scripture and are identified in the Scriptures themselves by their disobedience. We are told in 1Timothy 4 that there will be false teachers in the last days who forbid marrying and giving in marriage and who command to abstain from meats. This passage informs us quite clearly, therefore, that Roman Catholicism is wrong, since it forbids priests and nuns to marry, and that Seventh Day Adventism is a false teaching because its followers are commanded not to eat meat. Scripture itself, therefore, identifies false religions quite clearly; and the false religion will reveal itself by its attitude toward the Scriptures.
In this connection, it should be pointed out that false religions not only wrest the Scriptures and misapply them, but they also handle the Word of God deceitfully, basing their doctrines on Scriptural passages which were not given of God to teach doctrine. There are certain books in the Bible which are prophetic; that is, God revealed in these books what His plans are for the future. There are certain books which are historical, wherein God has given us a divinely inspired and accurate record of events in the past. There are poetical books like Psalms which may combine prophetic revelation, historical reference, and the outpouring of praise. There are certain books which are given for the purpose of teaching doctrine and practice. All of the epistles, for example, are books which deal with Christian doctrine and Christian living. False religions go to books like Ecclesiastes for their "proof-texts." The theme of the book of Ecclesiastes, however, is "man under the sun" and God's record of how man reasons. It is an accurate record of man's reasoning--it is not a divine revelation of doctrine. To base a doctrine on Ecclesiastes, therefore, is to handle the Word of God deceitfully.
In the second place, any religious teaching should be tested by this question: " What is its attitude toward Jesus Christ?" Our Lord makes quite clear--to us in the Bible Who He is and what He is. His claim for Himself is clear and definite. "I and my father are one" (John 10:30); "he that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9); "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6). He uses the Old Testament name of God for Himself when He says, "Before Abraham was, I AM" (John 8:58). John's gospel describes Him as "the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14), and says "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." The Bible teaches very plainly, therefore, that Jesus Christ is a Person of the Godhead--virgin-born, sinless, the unique Son of God, very God, very man, completely without sin, incarnate Deity. Any religious teaching that tries to give Him a seat in a pantheon with other gods or array Him in a faculty with other religious leaders and teachers is a false religion. Any cult that makes salvation possible without Him is unscriptural and Satanic. Any religious system that makes anyone else in addition to Christ necessary to salvation is equally Satanic. Our Lord, speaking of the Scriptures, said, "in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me" (John 5:39).
Islam, the religion of Mohammed, makes Jesus Christ a prophet. He is not a prophet, He is the fulfillment of prophecy. He spoke of things that would come to pass, but He is the God Who brings them to pass in conformity with His will from the beginning. Bahai recognizes Him as a religious leader. He is not a religious leader, He is not the founder of a religious system--He is the Rock upon which the Church is built, the Stone of the corner. He is the Head of His body, the Church. He is not merely a teacher offering men a philosophy of life, a set of dogmas and a rule of ethics; He is the God Who gives men life, and Who died on a cross that men might have life. Any system that attempts to veil Christ, or lower Him to the level of any other figure of Scripture or history is a false Satanic religion.
Finally, in judging any religious system, we should ask, " What is its attitude toward the blood of Christ?" The Bible is quite clear on this subject. Acts 20:28 tells us that the Church is purchased with His blood. Romans 5:9 says, "being now justified by his blood." Ephesians 1:7 speaks of "redemption through his blood." Hebrews 13:12 tells us that He sanctifies with His blood, and Revelation 1:5 speaks of His having washed us in His blood. Hebrews 13:20 describes the blood of Christ as "the blood of the everlasting covenant." This is a reference to God's promise that by blood we are cleansed. Our Lord told His disciples on the night of His betrayal that His blood is shed "for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:28). It is quite plain, therefore, that Christ shed His blood on the cross that sins might be washed away. The whole teaching of the Scripture is that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins (Hebrews 9:22). Only the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, can cleanse from sin.
This is the point where Satan most strongly attacks the citadel of Faith. The devil hates nothing like he hates the blood (of Jesus Christ). The saints have overcome him with the word of their testimony and with the blood of the Lamb. Any religion that discredits the shed blood of Christ or shows an attitude of hatred for the cleansing blood is of the devil.
Any religious teacher who would discount the blood is not to be trusted. Mary Baker Eddy says, "The material blood of Jesus was no more efficacious to cleanse from sin when it was shed upon (the accursed tree) than when it was flowing in His veins as He went daily about His Father's business" (Science and Health, page 25). Obviously, therefore, Mary Baker Eddy is a liar, because God tells us that He shed His blood for the remission of sins, and that without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins.
R. B. Thieme constantly minimizes and ridicules the blood of Christ. He tells his followers not to sing songs about it and declares we are not saved by the blood of Christ but by the death of Christ. Such statements are born in Hell and hatched in the mind of Satan himself.
Mormonism teaches a kind of progressive salvation through which men may eventually--somewhere, in some distant sphere--become angels and finally gods. The Bible teaches that men are reconciled unto God through the shed blood of Christ and become sons of God instantaneously in a new birth experience.
Three simple tests, therefore, are all that we need by which to judge a
religion. However nice, however sweet, however "inspirational," and
however seemingly "Christian" a religion may be, if it fails to
meet the Biblical standard on any one of these points, it is to be shunned and
avoided as a Satanic trap to damn souls. It may quote Scripture, and it may
seem to follow the Bible on many points; but any teaching that does not
recognize the Scripture as exactly that which the Scripture claims to be is not
Scriptural. Any religious system which fails to give Christ the unique and
exclusive position which the Bible gives Him is to be shunned as one shuns the
plague, for no religion is Christian that does not honor Christ in an exclusive,
absolute sense. Finally, any religious system which ignores, discounts, or
ridicules the blood of Christ is a religion of darkness and damnation.
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