Understanding People in Cults
June 11, 2016 version
"I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray." (1 John 2:26 NIV). Ever since the Apostle John penned these words, Christianity has had to deal with cults. Cults are religions that claim be Christian, but in fact have teaching that John, Peter, Paul, Jude, and Jesus warned against.
Understanding others is important, and before we run off and preach the gospel to people in cults, let's try to understand their point of view first. This article introduces the thinking of Moonies, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Oneness Pentecostals, and extreme Churches of Christ. When you share the gospel with cultists, usually they are also trying to share their gospel with you. You say may one thing to cultists, but they will hear something else with their own definitions. On one hand, it is more challenging to share with people in cults than with other lost people. On the other hand, I especially like to share the gospel with cultists, because while many non-Christians are not interested in spiritual things, most people in cults do care. Many of them understand self-discipline, dedication, and some even about Lordship. Now if they could just know the real Jesus as Lord! A second reason to enjoy sharing with cultists is that I have known many ex-cultists, and they generally make excellent Christians.
A Different Jesus is no Jesus at All
If you were to survey everyone in America with the question, "Are you in a cult?", your results would suggest that cults do not exist. If you were to ask everyone in a cult: "Do you believe in God, in Jesus, and salvation", the answer again would be 100% yes, - at least by their own definitions. One can be wrong on a number of things and still be a genuine Christian. However, cults are cults in that they have a substantially different God, a different Jesus, or a different salvation. What is a different Jesus? A jesus who Moonies say failed to save us completely, a jesus whom Mormons say is the spirit-brother of Satan, or a jesus whom the Jehovah's Witnesses says is a created being, is substantially different than the Jesus of the Bible.
What Cultists are Thinking
Many cultists (Jehovah's Witnesses excepted) think of themselves as "Christians Plus", or as other Christians, only with extra advantages. They use many Christian phrases, but we should pay attention to the different definitions. The truth is, their "additions" turn out to be "subtractions" since at heart they do not have the same God, same Jesus, or same salvation. All take strong issue with being classified as a cult, but different cults and heresies have slightly different ideas about the relationship of their group to Christianity. Cults in general claim to have all the answers. They do have all the answers, just not the right ones. For example, how do you explain to a child that God always existed? Mormons have an easy answer; they say god was once a man and had a mom and dad just like you. All cults want you to believe their religion, but they have different immediate objectives. Different cults have different ideas about bending the truth, too. We will look at understanding five major cults here, and five other heresies in the next article.
Rev. Moon's Unification Church (Moonies)
The Unification Church is active on college campuses and in conservative political causes. People in Rev. Moon's Unification Church, also called Moonies, firmly believe that Christ has already returned, and He is Rev. Moon. They are devoted to their Lord, and Rev. Moon has become very wealthy off their contributions, with two yachts, a mansion, etc. Their sinless Messiah was also in U.S. prison for tax evasion. I once asked a "Unificationist" why Rev. Moon was so wealthy, when the "last time around" Jesus was poor, as were Paul and the other apostles. She said she thought it was a kind of test, so that only those who had faith would still follow Rev. Moon.
Rev. Moon also teaches what he calls "Heavenly Deception", in that it is OK to lie for a good cause, and even God lies very often (Master Speaks 3/16/73 p.11). An ex-Moonie man that I spoke with said that a student newspaper reporter visited their house one time and asked the leader point-blank, "Do you believe that Rev. Moon is Christ returned?" The leader said "No". The man was troubled by that, and later asked the leader why he answered that way, when they do believe Rev. Moon is Christ returned. The leader told him that given the reporter's level of knowledge, that was the best answer to give him. In addition, there are many important things you generally will not hear from the Moonies, unless you read their books or talk with them at length. They think Jesus did not physically rise from the dead, Satan and Eve had a physical sexual relationship, and reincarnation is true. Rev. Moon teaches that the Bible was a textbook for truth 2,000 years ago, but we must have a higher standard today, and Jesus failed to save us completely (through no fault of his own though).
Some Moonies can quote both the Bible and their book, The Divine Principle well. That does not mean that they know the Bible well though. Once a woman from the Unification Church quoted to me a verse out of Jude. I said I did not think the verse meant what she claimed, and asked if we could look at that verse in context. She opened her Bible, looked for Jude, and looked, and looked, and looked. Eventually she went to the table of contents and found where it was. I had doubts that she ever read the Book of Jude.
When sharing with Unificationists, emphasize the unique Lordship, character, and truth of Christ. In Philippians 2:10-11, in the end, every knee will bow to Jesus, and yes, Rev. Moon does have knees too. The angel in Acts 1:11 said the same Jesus will return the same way. Also preach the Second Coming of Christ compared with the coming of false Christs. In Revelation 1:7 every eye will see Jesus, and many people in the world today have no idea who Rev. Moon is.
When Unificationists share with students, their main objective seems to be to invite them over for a dinner, where they discuss some of their theology of Genesis, and then to get them to go to a Unification camp. Ten years ago, it was estimated that half of the people in the Unification Church eventually would leave. Rev. Moon is getting old now, and Unification members have to consider what they will do when their "Christ returned", passes from the scene. Thus, while it is unlikely that people will leave the Unification Church the first time you contact them, it is more important that you have a positive influence for Christ so that when they do become disillusioned they will not become bitter against all religion, Christianity included. See the following articles on the Unification Church for how to share with them and refute their beliefs.
Mormons (Latter-Day Saints or LDS)
In contrast to Rev. Moon's group, Mormons do not practice any "Heavenly Deception", but they often hide, both from others and themselves, their own doctrines, such as believing there are many true Gods. I have often had the following conversation:
Me: Do you know that Mormons are polytheists?
Mormon: That is not true. I am a Mormon, and we are not polytheists.
Me: Don't you believe that Mormon men who do the right things become exactly as God is now? And don't you believe that many have already done so and become gods?
Me: Then Mormons are polytheists.
Some Mormons rather a high opinion of their own knowledge. Once when I was handing out tracts a Mormon came up and asked me if I claimed to know everything about God. I told him, "No, I do not". Then he asked me what I was doing here, since I did not know what I was talking about. I was so shocked, I did not have anything to say. Here was a Mormon who thought you could know everything about God, or at least his god. As for Mormons having all the answers, it is interesting that among other things, good Mormons are not supposed to have tea, coffee, or read anti-Mormon literature. However, just as "anti-cold" medicine is against the colds but for the people who have colds, "anti-Mormon" literature is against false doctrines but for the Mormon people.
However, false doctrines are not the only problem with Mormonism. Their heart is in a different place than Christians too. One evening when I was handing out tracts and having a calm discussion with a Mormon, he asked me what I looked forward to when I died. I told him how glorious I thought it would be to go to Heaven and worship and serve God forever. He did not look impressed. He said that what he looked forward to was to be a God himself, and be with his spirit wives and children, and have people worship him. Another time a Mormon told me that he thought that God made many mistakes when He made the earth, and that when he became God, he would do better!
When I was in Utah as a Christian missionary, many of the Christians I labored with were ex-Mormons, and it was fascinating to ask them questions. One time someone asked how they could have slept well at night, knowing about the contradictions of Mormonism. They answered that they slept very well, because they "knew" that the church authorities had all the answers, and that was enough for them. As Mormon apostle and later prophet Ezra Taft Benson said, "When the prophet speaks, the thinking is done."
When sharing with Mormons, emphasize worshipping not just any god, but the Most High God. Emphasize that we should have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I have heard some Mormon missionaries will agree that we should have a personal relationship. However, the late Mormon apostle Bruce McConkie spoke at Brigham Young University on why we should not have a personal relationship with Jesus. Either McConkie was right: we should not have a personal relationship with Jesus, or else McConkie and the Mormon Church were leading people away from Christ. See the subsequent articles on Mormonism for different ways of sharing with them and breaking down their deceptions.
Jehovah's Witnesses (JW's or The Watchtower)
Jehovah's Witnesses are a "conservative cult" in that they value their scripture like Mormons do, but they come across very differently. While Mormons present the face that they are Christian just like everyone else, only better, Jehovah's Witnesses will plainly tell you that all Christian religion is horribly wrong, and you are lost if you are not a part of their organization. They say it is a terrible thing to believe the Trinity, including:
* Worshipping Jesus [as the angels do in Hebrews 1:6 and Revelation 5:13]
* To pray to Jesus [as Steven did in Acts 7:59-60]
* They will not call Jesus "my Lord and my God" [as Thomas did in John 20:28-29]
They misrepresent John 1:1 to say that Jesus is "a god" as a created being who is highly honored and showed be paid homage to [proskuneo], but He is not "True God" as in one who should be worshipped.
Once I asked a Jehovah's Witness if Jesus was her Lord. She admitted she was not sure. The next week she came back and she that He was. I asked her friend if she had the Holy Spirit inside of her. She was certain that she did not. (The Watchtower Society teaches that only the 144,000 have the Holy Spirit inside them.) Then I showed her Romans 8:9-11, where it says that if you do not have the Holy Spirit inside of you, then you do not belong to Christ. She did not know what to say. However, the next week she came back and said she had the Holy Spirit inside of her after all.
Jehovah's Witnesses often are aware of at least some of the false prophecies their organization has put out. They try to rationalize these by saying at least they are still looking for Christ to return. Some Christians think the "false prophecy approach" is the best approach to use with Jehovah's Witnesses.
When sharing with Jehovah's Witnesses, I usually prefer to focus on the God of the Bible versus the Watchtower, Jesus in the Bible versus the Watchtower, and the Holy Spirit indwelling all believers. Like Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses have no assurance of salvation (the so-called 144,000 excepted). A person does not join the Jehovah's Witnesses per se. They do not place much stock in inactive members. Only those who attend the meetings, and work are really "in".
Jehovah's Witnesses used to discourage their members from going to college, as many college-bound JW's would leave their church. This is why on most college campuses I have seen many different cults represented, but (so far) no organized Jehovah's Witness group. However, the Jehovah's Witnesses now recognize that college is important, but they encourage members to live at home when they go to college.
Jehovah's witnesses believe it is better to even sacrifice their lives than to accept a blood transfusion. The Bible says not to drink blood, and they think a blood transfusion is like drinking blood, which is why they think God forbids blood transfusions. Jehovah's Witnesses also are pacifists.
Jehovah's Witnesses do not have a lot of respect for the religious people who follow Christ, yet celebrate Halloween or do occult things, celebrate Easter, especially Easter eggs, or celebrate Christmas. Christians have nothing to be ashamed of in celebrating Easter or Christmas, and these can be readily defended. They also do not celebrate birthdays, because in the only birthday recorded in the Bible, John the Baptist was beheaded. See the following articles on Jehovah's Witnesses for different ways of sharing with them and how to refute their false doctrine.
Charismatic Christians believe that prophecy and speaking in tongues are for today as they were in Acts and the early Corinthian church. They distinguish between a public gift of speaking in tongues for some Christians, and a private prayer language that all Christians ought to have. Believing wrong on this does not make one part of a cult.
Oneness Pentecostals are different from regular Pentecostals. Denominations such as the World of Pentecost and The Church of God-Cleveland go further in saying that everyone who does not speak in tongues is going to Hell. Like many other cults, they lack a historical perspective. Luther, John and Charles Wesley, the godly missionaries C.T. Studd, David Livingstone, etc. must all be in Hell, because no matter how much they loved God, they did not speak in tongues. Many martyrs, who were tortured and killed for their faith, will all be in Hell because they did not speak in tongues!
They say this because they have a wrong definition of having the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:9-11 says that anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ (or Holy Spirit) does not belong to Christ. If one does not speak in tongues, they falsely think one does not have the Holy Spirit, and therefore is not saved. Apart from Paul, we have no evidence, either way, that any of the apostles spoke in tongues after the Day of Pentecost. If speaking in tongues is such an essential doctrine, why is so little said about it in the Bible, and why do we have no evidence of any Christian writers that spoke in tongues until the Twentieth Century? Furthermore, what is said about tongues includes 1 Corinthians 12:29-30, which teaches that just as all are not apostles, prophets, etc., all do not speak in tongues.
Oneness Pentecostals, as implied by their name, deny the Trinity. Rather than believe the Father, Son, and Spirit are One God in three distinct persons, most of them believe the Three are one in every possible way. Thus, one could say the Father died on the cross as much as the Son died on the cross. As a Oneness preacher on the radio put it, "I refuse to worship a God who would send His boy to die instead of Himself." Well, not only did the Father send Jesus, the same God instructed Abraham to go to Mount Moriah to sacrifice his son Isaac. I never heard that Oneness Pentecostal preacher say whether or not he would worship a God that told someone else to sacrifice his boy.
Perhaps Oneness Pentecostals do not think through what they are saying. If God were One in every way, let's think where this leads. When Jesus was dying on the cross, saying in Matthew 27:46: "Father into thy hands I commit my spirit" did Jesus, in a moment of insanity, start talking to Himself? During calmer times at Jesus' baptism, when the Father spoke: "this is my Beloved Son..." was Jesus fooling people with his ventriloquism act? In Hebrews 5:8, when Christ learned obedience, to whom was he giving obedience? When Jesus prayed, He was NOT just talking to Himself.
A few oneness Pentecostals see this problem and have a different explanation: the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are the same, but there is a difference between Jesus (the divine person) and Christ (the human person). Besides introducing more difficulties, this does nothing to solve their contradicting Matthew 27:46. Jesus said this, not Christ.
Perhaps a root cause of the Oneness Pentecostals' problems is that while they accept the verses that show the Three are inseparable, but fail to think about the verses that show the Three are distinct. In a sense they have a shortsightedness similar to Jehovah's Witnesses, taken to the opposite extreme. See the subsequent articles on the Oneness Pentecostalism for how to show the truth about God.
Extreme Church of Christ, the International Churches of Christ
The Churches of Christ grew out of the Campbellite Movement of the 19th century. Originally they were not to be just another church, but accepting of all Christians. Today strangely, many Church of Christ do not accept as Christians any outside their own sect.
As differently as the godly leaders Chuck Swindoll, Martin Luther, Max Lucado, and R.C. Sproul view baptism, someone can be very wrong about baptism and still be saved. One can be wrong about the use of mechanical instruments in church and still be a genuine Christian. However, when one believes that everyone who is not baptized in a particular way in their denomination is going to Hell, then there is a problem with that idea. It is Jesus us that saves people, not the water.
I once asked a Church of Christ college student about the thief on Jesus' right, who believed and died without ever being baptized. How could Jesus say to him, "Today you will be with me in Paradise"? The student admitted that for a long time that used to bother him. Then he figured that God is big enough to be able to take care of people in situations like that. Thus, while he did not excuse disobeying Christ's command, he saw the contrast between his extreme upbringing and the just and merciful nature of God. The water did not die on the cross for our sins, Jesus did. The water only saves in the sense of a pledge of our good conscience toward God (1 Peter 3:21). In Acts 10:44-48 Peter's listeners were saved, as evidenced by their speaking in tongues, prior to their water baptism, not after. Even Alexander Campbell, a Campbellite founder, was baptized by a Baptist pastor according to the Memoirs of Alexander Campbell vol.1 p.395-398.
Another problem with some Church of Christ churches, including the "True Faith Church of Christ", is their view of humanity. Like Pelagius, of whom they speak with approval, they do not believe people are in any way depraved. While we are not as depraved as possible, we are depraved in that our sinful nature is so godless that God needs to draw people to Jesus, as John 6:44 says. While we are commanded to seek God in Matthew 7:7-8, and people, by God's grace do seek God (Proverbs 28:5; Psalms 27:8, 105:4; 31:1, 34:4; 28:1-2, 42:1-2; 120:1), Psalm 14:2 and Romans 3:10-11 show that ultimately it is God who first seeks us. We love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19), not the other way around. Some Church of Christ say the Holy Spirit only works in believers. Non-believers are "on their own" with only the Bible, until they believe.
Kip McKean allegedly "restored the New Testament Church" in Boston in 1979, later pronouncing it as "God's True and Only Modern Movement". They think you must be a disciple within what they now call the International Churches of Christ for your baptism to be valid. All who never receive a valid baptism are going to Hell. They believe each Christian should be under a discipler, to whom they confess every sin. The discipler passes these on to the church leaders, who use this information as they see best.
Like most cultists, a person in the Boston Movement likely will agree with everything in a typical Gospel presentation, especially if you do not emphasize the sin nature part. However, they will be wondering why you miss some of the essential points. If you are never a disciple who is baptized in their church, then in their view, the gospel is pointless, as a person will still go to Hell. When you share with them the gospel as presented in the Bible, emphasize that the gospel there is not just nice words, but the complete message for salvation. See the following articles on extreme Church of Christ for how to share with them the simplicity of God's salvation.
Be a Mirror of Christ to All
It is not essential to win every argument; it is more important to win the person. We should be a mirror, in which the cultists can see how seriously their cult differs from what God taught as primary things in the Bible. However, it is even more important that we mirror Christ, reflecting His light. Tell them it is important to seek the truth no matter what the cost. Following a lie does not please God. Tell them not just that God loves them, but tell them about the One True, Most High God, who loves them. Tell them not just that they are sinners, but there is no possible hope for us apart from Christ. Do not tell them Christ provided a way to God. Rather, Christ came from God and provided the one and only way, God's way, to God. Tell them they must repent and accept the Jesus of the Bible, not just any Jesus, as their Lord and Savior.
It is not as important to know all the answers as to know the One who is the answer. You are free from having to worry about whether your knowledge or your clear presentation is good enough to win them to Christ. - It will never be good enough, regardless of how much you study. Without prayer, and without God working in their life, drawing them to the truth, their situation would be hopeless; Satan's deception is just too strong. So do not rely on yourself, but pray for God's help, even despite your words and mistakes. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:10ff (NIV, NKJV), "For when I am weak, then I am strong." Be strong in the Lord.
For more info please contact Christian Debater™ P.O. Box 144441 Austin, TX 78714 www.BibleQuery.org
by Steven M. Morrison, PhD.