[ Author: Rich Christian ]
Thou shalt not bear false witness
If you have spent a decent amount of time doing counter-cult ministry, it is quite likely that you have been accused of hate, slander, or other charges. To be fair, I have seen some apologists bully people around: trying to back folks into a corner, demanding answers, pulling pot shots, and the like. (If that’s you, stop it!) 1
I’m speaking about legitimate evangelism (with the aid of apologetics) where, no matter how gentle one’s approach, the opponent fires back with such accusations. It is important to note here that apologetics has a lineage all the way back to the early church, even to Jesus himself. 2
When engaged with a member of a cult, it is good to establish with him that the Bible not only permits the challenging of belief systems and teachings, but it encourages one to do so! This is a passage that I often bring up:
(HCSB) Ephesians 5:11 Don’t participate in the fruitless works of darkness, but instead expose them.
Your opponent will likely balk, saying it doesn’t apply to him, as what he believes comes from the Bible. At this juncture, you could bring up a couple of points:
- There are several groups that make this claim such as the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, etc. Can they all be right? No.
- Does a person who has been deceived know that he is deceived? Nope. Otherwise, he would reconsider his position, right?
What did Jesus do?
If you claim to follow Jesus, you should be actively involved in refuting false teachings in addition to sharing the gospel and truth of God’s word. We see in places such as Matthew 23 that Jesus challenged the Pharisees regarding their various hypocrisies and perversions of truth. Of course, Jesus could read hearts and was establishing the new covenant — thus challenging the religious leaders of his day. Though we cannot read hearts and are not establishing a new covenant, we still should follow Christ’s example.
Paul was always up for the challenge of apologetics. In Acts 18:4, we see that he came to the synagogue on the Sabbath, attempting to persuade the Jews and Greeks. 3
Paul was passionate for his people, the Jews, loving them so much he later said he would be willing to be cursed and cut off from Christ for their sake (Romans 9). That sure sounds like love, doesn’t it? Love motivated him to debate with the Jews, to share the truth with them. The word persuade (Gk. dialegomai) found in Acts 18:4 means:
“to converse, discourse with one, argue, discuss” 4
He also challenged the Greeks on their home turf, too, in the midst of the Areopagus at Mars Hill:
(NASB) Acts 17:22-31 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.
Of note in this passage, Paul quoted a piece of Greek literature, a snippet of a hymn to Zeus. In so doing, he came alongside the Greeks, sharing that their worship was in vain and correcting them. 5 He was well-equipped in dealing with these thinkers. In Acts 19, his preaching led to a riot in Ephesus. The cash cow of idol making was facing bankruptcy.
When talking to someone who claims to follow the Bible but is not interested in defending his beliefs, you can ask him why he doesn’t follow the example of Paul. (To be fair, it is not a good approach to debate into oblivion. Wisdom and discernment is advised.)
Something that that works well is to show a person—say, a Mormon—actions and teachings of a different cult. I have known of a case where a Mormon watched the cult behavior of a Jehovah’s Witness, then came to the realization that he was employing the same tactics and behavior, which led to his leaving the Mormons! Keep this idea in your back pocket.
What is a cult?
Something that should usually be avoided is calling your opponent a cult member. Often, people fire from the hip, calling folks cult members as a pejorative. It’s a real conversation stopper, so as a rule, just don’t. Having said that, on occasion I have been asked what constitutes a cult. In short, it can be identified as a high control group. (More on that in a moment.)
In mainstream Christianity, however, a “Christian” cult is further defined as a group that is out of the bounds of orthodoxy—especially containing heretical teachings. It could also be defined as a splinter group that has deviated away from the core teachings of the parent religion. A serious component to this categorization is a group’s Christology. That is to say, what is said about Christ—His ontology (nature)? Is He a mere angel, a lesser god, or is He eternally God?
If He is viewed as anything less than eternally God—in addition to being viewed as a distinct person from the Father (I see you Modalists)—then biblically and historically speaking, this is considered a damnable heresy. (Not all heretical teachings are necessarily damnable. It is possible to be a Christian and have a heretical belief. However, if you have the wrong Jesus, that’s a different story.) Cults just can’t seem to get an accurate view of who Jesus really is!
Being in control
While cults have an array of different beliefs, the techniques they use are virtually the same. Steve Hassan, a former Moonie and now a mental health counselor, has developed the B.I.T.E. model of identifying cults: behavior, information, thought, and emotional control. 6
As you can see, the end of the road is control, and there are several ways to get there. For example, Mormon missionaries have told me that they have restricted access to websites on their tablets. When asked why, they replied that it is, so they can focus on their mission, having no distractions.
This might seem legitimate, but it really isn’t. This restricted access is a means of control. The Mormons, on their mission to prove themselves as good Mormons, are in a potentially volatile period. It is not uncommon for Mormons to leave Mormonism while they are on their mission, as some of them encounter dilemmas that they just cannot reconcile. The restriction of website access preempts and facilitates damage control.
The Watchtower has also employed the information control strategy, encouraging its members to destroy “apostate” literature (86wt 3/15 p. 12). Despite this, the Watchtower warns its readers about not falling prey to propaganda:
“THERE is a difference—a big difference—between education and propaganda. Education shows you how to think. Propaganda tells you what to think. Good educators present all sides of an issue and encourage discussion. Propagandists relentlessly force you to hear their view and discourage discussion. Often their real motives are not apparent. They sift the facts, exploiting the useful ones and concealing the others. They also distort and twist facts, specializing in lies and half-truths. Your emotions, not your logical thinking abilities, are their target.” 7 (emphasis added)
True to its duplicitous nature, the Watchtower is caught in doublespeak: what they write does not apply to themselves, but only to others. While what they say about propaganda is true, they love to call the kettle black. The Watchtower is well known for speaking half-truths 8 and forcing uniformity; I’ve known several people who have been kicked out of the Jehovah’s Witness organization for disagreeing on even the most banal things. In recent years, they have really hunkered down during open dialogue, especially at their literature carts. Thankfully, there are still those who are curious enough to stick it out with enough encouragement. That is becoming the exception, though.
If you are a former Jehovah’s Witness who has been disfellowshipped, it is a different story. While the Watchtower claims that no one should be forced between beliefs and his family (A), they do not apply this principle to former members (B). (Research Jehovah’s Witnesses and shunning for more details.)
|“No one should be forced to worship in a way that he finds unacceptable or be made to choose between his beliefs and his family.” (Awake! 2009 July pp. 28-29)||“Do not look for excuses to associate with a disfellowshipped family member, for example, through e-mail.” (Watchtower Study Edition 2013 January 15th p. 16)|
What about judging?
Why can’t we all just get along? Why must you pick on people? Why don’t you mind your own business? These are questions that arise on occasion even from those who are not members of a cult (sometimes from general sympathizers). On occasion I have been chided for judging. After all, the Bible said that we are not to judge people, right? (Luke 6:37) Well, yes and no.
As Christians, we are not supposed to judge hearts—as only God can know hearts and motives—but we most certainly are commissioned to call out false teachings. Do you remember reading the passage in Ephesians earlier about exposing darkness? Now, if we’re not supposed to judge on any level, about anything, then how is it that men like Luke (Acts 20:28-30), Paul (2 Timothy 4:3-4), Peter (2 Peter 3:14-18) and John (1 John 4:1-6) warned of false teachers? To warn someone about something, you are making a judgment call, right? Early Christian fathers, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, were well known for such judgment calls—calling out various heretics and teachings of their day.
There were shots fired
It must not be forgotten that groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, and others have called out mainstream Christianity for its “error.” In Joseph Smith’s first purported vision, the Lord supposedly told him that all the creeds and teachings of the churches are an abomination:
“My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right — and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong, and the personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in His sight: that those professors were all corrupt… 9 (emphasis added)
The Book of Mormon repeats this, by saying: “And he said unto me: Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil” . 10 As an interesting exercise, ask a Mormon what this passage means to him.
Similarly, the Watchtower has shot their arrows also:
“Then, too, as Jesus showed his hatred for lawlessness by exposing hypocritical religionists, so today Jehovah’s Witnesses are showing their hatred for all hypocritical religious lawlessness. How? By distributing Bible literature that lays bare Babylon the Great for what she really is, a religious harlot. If we truly hate lawless religious hypocrisy, we will be forthright in exposing Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion. We will do so for the sake of honesthearted people whom she has blinded and held in spiritual bondage. To the extent that we truly hate the lawlessness of Babylon the Great, to that extent we will be zealous in sharing in all the features of the Kingdom ministry”. 11 (emphasis added)
The Watchtower teaches that Babylon the Great is the world’s collective body of false religions, which God rejects. 12 Over the decades, the Watchtower has spent ample time condemning “Christendom” —basically, all the churches of mainstream Christianity. Some may remember their old tactics where they would wear placards and hold up signs that read, “Religion is a snare and a racket.” They would march around an area, sometimes carrying phonographs playing Kingdom messages from their president, J.F. Rutherford.
Unfortunately, it gets worse. In recent years, they have taught their members to actually hate people, especially former members:
“When a person persists in a way of badness after knowing what is right, when the bad becomes so ingrained that it is an inseparable part of his make-up, then in order to hate what is bad a Christian must hate the person with whom the badness is inseparably linked”. 13 (emphasis added)
If that isn’t enough, former members have been called mentally diseased:
“Suppose that a doctor told you to avoid contact with someone who is infected with a contagious, deadly disease. You would know what the doctor means, and you would strictly heed his warning. Well, apostates are “mentally diseased,” and they seek to infect others with their disloyal teachings. (1 Tim. 6:3, 4) Jehovah, the Great Physician, tells us to avoid contact with them.” 14 (emphasis added)
What about the Seventh Day Adventists (SDAs)? Quick side note: Some, such as the late great Dr. Martin, wondered if they are even a cult at all. Regardless of one’s opinion, what should be understood is that they actively try to convert regular Sunday going Christians. That should tell you something right there. (It is my position that they are in error on several things which need to be addressed.)
Several years ago, I went to a Greg Laurie Crusade with my wife and some friends, and as we were leaving the stadium, we were met by SDAs who were trying to evangelize people. For those who don’t know, the SDAs teach that Sunday will be the Mark of the Beast 15 during the Tribulation. (If you’re not a Futurist, 16 you can look the other way now.) That sounds serious, right?
It is to them; that is one of the reasons why they actively try to convert all non-Sabbatarians. Their founder, Ellen G. White, had this to say about mainstream Christianity:
“I saw that God has honest children among the nominal Adventists and the fallen churches, and before the plagues shall be poured out, ministers and people will be called out from these churches and will gladly receive the truth. Satan knows this; and before the loud cry of the third angel is given, he raises an excitement in these religious bodies, that those who have rejected the truth may think that God is with them. He hopes to deceive the honest and lead them to think that God is still working for the churches. But the light will shine, and all who are honest will leave the fallen churches, and take their stand with the remnant.” 17 (emphasis added)
For these reasons, among others, mainstream Christianity has been firing back with rounds of sound theology. I really must ask, why is it okay for these groups to challenge and condemn mainstream Christianity, yet when a response has been given, they cry foul? If you can’t eat your own cooking, perhaps you shouldn’t cook—try knitting instead.
Coming to grips with things
It is human nature to deny contrary information that comes our way, especially if it challenges our very worldview. No one wants to hear that what he believes is a lie. (Contrary to the claims of postmodernism, we cannot all be right in our own eyes, but we all could be wrong. Logically speaking, someone must be wrong, unless we are all just closet nihilists or relativists. If that is the case, no claims of any type should ever be made!)
If your best friend was engaged and you saw that his fiancé was cheating on him, would you not say something to him? Or, would you just look the other way, pretending all is well? Telling him might grieve him deeply, sure, but is the alternative of silence any better?
In the 5 stages of grief (the Kubler-Ross model), you have: 1. Denial 2. Anger 3. Bargaining 4. Depression and 5. Acceptance.
People could spend years in stage one—denial. Appeals to emotion can easily override one’s critical thinking capacity. Subsequently, sound reasoning gets pushed aside. (Deceit isn’t necessarily a sign of one’s lack of intelligence; even the smartest of people can be victims of deception.) With denial—or cognitive dissonance—the persecution complex sets in. We all have a bias (position), but will that bias inhibit sound reasoning and lead to confirmation bias? (Don’t pick cherries.)
Think of a person who has been poisoned. The victim writhes and screams as the medical staff tries to save his life. In his anguish and delusion—the poison of sin deludes man into thinking that he’s “A-ok”, but he isn’t—he concocts the idea that they are trying to poison and kill him. No! He has already been poisoned, and they are trying to administer the antidote to save him! Nevertheless, the man vigorously pushes away the very people (and medicine) that will save his life. Little does he know that those sore ribs he received from the CPR brought him back to life when he flatlined. Saving a life isn’t always gentle, but it is loving.
As a mainstream Christian, I follow the Great Physician and think that what I believe—eternal life is only by spirit regeneration—is correct. I take the position that groups like Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are in serious error on several things, biblically speaking and historically. Boy, what arrogance! What a bigot! Jesus was “arrogant” like that, too; He spoke of the narrow road to eternal life only through Him (Matthew 7:13-14). In addition to Jesus, make sure to throw Paul, Peter, and other biblical figures under the “bigot bus” also.
Furthermore, the Bible warns not to receive another gospel or another Christ (Galatians 1:8), but entreats its readers to stick to the received tradition (teachings and doctrines) of the disciples, and ultimately Christ Himself. I believe that groups like the JWs and the LDS have another gospel and another Jesus. (Neither teach that Jesus is eternally the Son of God—the second person of the Trinity—but that He had a beginning.) Consequently, I feel emboldened to point that out and challenge them.
Why do we do it?
What motivates me (and other apologists) to challenge such people? In a word—love. That might sound unbelievable to some, but I sincerely mean this. Please keep in mind, I never was a JW, LDS or SDA, nor have any of my family. I have no axe to grind nor any emotional attachment to any of these groups.
As seen with Paul earlier, he too was motivated by love, challenging those whom he believed to be in error. I do the same.
Ask yourself, why is it considered an act of love for a Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon to come to your door to share with you why what you believe is wrong, while if you did the same to them, it is viewed as hate? To truly hate someone is to not tell them about the cliff ahead and let them perish (Proverbs 14:12).
1. There are good ways and bad ways to go about doing apologetics; be winsome in your pursuit. Truth must be shared in love. I will say, though, that for those who are in a cult, it might prove difficult for them to keep their emotions (and anger) at bay. Imagine dedicating your entire life to a belief system; all you’ve ever known revolves around this group. Your friends, family, and even business associations have been inseparable parts of this world. You live in isolation—the “us vs. them” mentality. Then, you find out that you’ve been duped. You either: a) fly under the radar suppressing what you now believe (a status known as the “conscience class” in the ex-JW community), or b) you leave, knowing that you will be shunned and even treated as dead. Yeah, you might be a little mad because of that! Here’s a great lecture series by Dr. Ron Rhodes on dealing with contemporary cults.
2. The basic meaning of apologetics (Gk. apologia) is to give a defense.
3. (NET) Acts 18:4 He addressed both Jews and Greeks in the synagogue every Sabbath, attempting to persuade them.
4. Dialegomai, Thayers definition (Accessed on eSword)
5. Matt Slick, Did Paul quote pagan philosophers? https://carm.org/did-paul-quote-pagan-philosophers (Accessed 2/7/2018)
7. Awake, June 22nd, 2000 p. 9
8. Their 1989 Trinity brochure is a fine example of this, and how! The Watchtower quoted several sources (including scholars) in this publication and the quotes appear to affirm what the Watchtower claimed. However, there are no references or footnotes listed for one to track down what has been quoted! If I recall correctly, the Italian version had to have the footnotes (by law) and that is what spilled the beans on their purposeful misquotes and half-truths. What deception! Curiously (well, not really), this publication is no longer listed on their website.
9. Joseph Smith, History of the Church, vol. 1, p. 5-6
10. 1 Nephi 14:10
11. The Watchtower, July 15th, 1992 p. 12
12. What Is Babylon the Great? https://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/questions/babylon-the-great/ (Accessed 2/9/2018)
13. The Watchtower, July 15th, 1961, p. 420
14. The Watchtower, July 15th, 2011, p. 16
15. “The Sunday Sabbath is purely a child of the Papacy. It is the mark of the beast.” Advent Review, Vol. I, No. 2, August 1850.
16. Futurist Interpretation https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/revelation/introduction/futurist-interpretation.html (Accessed 2/9/2018)
17. Early Writings by Ellen G. White http://ellenwhite.info/books/ellen-g-white-book-early-writings-ew-62.htm (Accessed 2/9/2018)