Know the Marks of Cults
By Dave Breese
( the following is excerpted from the book/study guide on cults,
we highly recommend this book, due to the fact that it helps distinguish
cults & cult groups as they are in the process of apostisizing. This
is not intended to replace the Book, rather it is intended to encourage you
to GET IT and READ IT so you don't get sucked into some cult unknownly. )
Why do Cults Grow?
A cult is religious perversion. It is a belief and practice in the world
of religion which calls for devotion to a religion which calls
for devotion to a religious view or leader centered in false doctrine.
It is an organized heresy.
A cult is impossible to define except against the absolute standard of
the teaching of Holy Scripture.
1. Love of Darkness
One of the chief reasons people refuse to believe the true Gospel of
Christ after they hear the truth of God is its ruthless illumination
of sin and its call to repentance and faith in the Saviour.
Despite this fact, there are those who foolishly go on refusing to
recognize the moral law of God. They choose rather to embrace a false
doctrine that excuses their immoral or self-centered lives. They
foolishly prefer the ever diminishing pleasures of sin and self-willed to
the joy of Christ's forgiveness and life.
2. Spiritual Immaturity
One of the great needs in the church today is for Christian growth.
Nothing is more important than spiritual growth in the life of the
newborn Christian. The spiritual babies mentioned in Scripture are
called upon to "desire the sincere milk of the Word" what they may
grow as a result.
It is the study of the Word of God which produces the knowledge of
3. Spiritual Subversion
Another reason sincere people are drawn off into the cults is that
traveling religious carpetbaggers work industriously to subvert people
from the true faith in Jesus Christ into a religion that is contrary
to the Word of God.
They doubtless commended them for believing in the Gospel of the grace
of God but then proceed to insist that they must become obedient to the
law of Moses in order to be true Christians.
the subverters of the Corinthian church were advocating the heresy of
phenomenalism. That is, they were denying the Pauline thesis that the
just shall live by faith and rather insisting that the just shall
live by sight.
In Colossus, the troublemakers came preaching the mysterious gnostic
heresy. Therefore Paul said, "beware lest any man spoil you through
philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the
rudiments of the world, and not after Christ" (Col. 2:18)
Intellectual pride has lead many to feel that Christianity is
"not sophisticated enough" or "too simple" for their perceptive intellects."
True wisdom consists in simple obedience to God and His Word.
The first responsibility each Christian has is not to be an expert on the
cults, but on the Word of God. Few pursuits are more exhausting than
an attempt to get to the bottom of the endless labyrinth of cult
A cultic religious point of view may be valuable in many ways and even true
in part. This is what makes it attractive to its followers. What makes
religious practice a cult, however, is not only the falsities which it
believes but also its fatal omissions of sound doctrine.
IDENTIFYING MARKS OF A CULT OR CULTIC PRACTICES
1. EXTRABIBLICAL REVELATION - How has God revealed Himself?
The Word f God, is therefore, God's final and complete revelation, and
this revelation can be supplanted by no other. The cults have no such
commitment, believing in the heretical doctrine of extrabiblical
They assert that God speaks or has spoken outside or apart from the
Bible. the first and most typical characteristic of a cult is that
it claims for it's authority some revelation apart from the clear
statements of the Word of God. Most cults claim to respect the teachings
of the Bible. Many even attribute divine inspiration to Holy Scripture.
many religions have invested divine authority in the person of a visible
individual who speaks infallibly, his words having the same or higher
authority than Holy Scripture.
After giving us 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, the Holy Spirit
directed the Apostle John to categorically close the verbal revelation of
God at the conclusion of the Bible. (Rev. 22:18-19)
Final truth is the Person, the Word, and the work of Jesus Christ.
No subsequent revelation as to the nature of truth can supersede the
revelation of Jesus Christ.
They place their arcane and mysterious writing on a par with the Word
of God. A word of admonition is therefore in order. The Christians
believes the Bible to be the final and only verbal revelation of God.
Believing the, he must give himself to the study of the Word of God
with a higher degree of intensity than ever before.
One is at least being inconsistent and perhaps hypocritical if he
professes a high view of Scripture but neglects to dispel his
ignorance of the truth of God through a serious program of Bible study.
The greatest single reason for the advance of the cults in our world today
is ignorance of Holy Scripture on the part of Christians. The second
greatest is unwillingness on the part of the people of God to transmit
divine truth by way of a testimony for Christ to others who need yet
to receive salvation in Christ.
The life of the Christian will be firmly anchored against all opposition
when it is grounded in a working knowledge of Holy Scripture.
2. A FALSE BASIS OF SALVATION - What must I do to be saved?
This longing for reality is the fuel that energizes the growth of most
cults in existence today. Because they are involved in some form of
exploitation, the cults without exception obscure the truth and offer
salvation on some other basis than that of a free gift that comes to us
by the grace of Jesus Christ. The clear teaching of the New Testament
Scriptures is that eternal salvation comes to a believer solely as a
result of faith in Jesus Christ.
By contrast, Scripture teaches that all other forms of supposed salvation,
based on human efforts, are cursed by God. "For as many are the works of
the law are under the curse; for it is written, 'Cursed is every one
that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the
law to do them.' but that no man is justified by the law in the sight of
God, it is evident; for, 'The just shall live by faith'" (Gal. 3:10-11)
When he comes in humble faith, he receives the gift of God which is
eternal life. And it is exactly this, a free gift. When he believes
the Gospel, he receives eternal life and is justified in the sight of
God. To be justified, of course, means to be declared righteous.
This is a legal change in the attitude of God toward the sinner and
depends on the saving act of Jesus Christ which is entirely independent
of the individual experience of the believer.
Eternal salvation comes to the believer because of imputed righteousness.
Imputed righteousness is righteousness that is placed to his account
in heaven. Personal righteousness is not, however, the basis of his
salvation. He is saved on the basis of imputed righteousness.
The total benefits of Calvary come to the believer on the basis of Grace.
No message is more viciously attacked by the cult promoters of our
present world than the Gospel of grace of God. It is absolutely
maddening to the professional religious promoters that god saves
individuals freely, by grace alone.
Nevertheless, the promoters of the cults continue to press their malignant
doctrines of some other way of salvation besides faith in the finished work
of Christ on the cross. One of the most popular alternative doctrines
of salvation is that of salvation by membership. Failure to keep this
membership intact incurs the damnation of the soul. In many of these
religious programs, what a person believes is of little consequence;
it is what he does that counts.
By contrast to all of this we need to hear again the finality of the
words of Paul, "If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is
dead in vain" (Gal. 2:21). Few scenes are more tragic than that of
a benighted soul pursuing a false hope of salvation when Jesus Christ
offers all of this as a free gift.
3. UNCERTAIN HOPE - The soul that is in distress is also in bondage!
If a person's distress can be perpetuated by a religious promoter,
that promoter can be reasonably sure of keeping a distressed soul in
continued and ever increasing bondage. The religious charlatan,
therefore, must be very careful never to produce a final cure.
Rather he must push certainty up into an unreasonable future in
order to keep needy souls continually striving today.
We ought not to be surprised, therefore, that a nearly universal
characteristic of the cults of our time is their insistence that one
can never be sure of eternal life while in this world. The issue of
salvation is never settled. The follower lives in constant fear that
he has not done enough, given enough, prayed enough, worshiped enough
to be sure of salvation.
One suspects because of all of this that the cults are really not talking
salvation at all, but rather are pushing religious philosophies tied to
a set of unreasonable goals in the name of which they can extract every
kind of sacrifice from their hapless followers.
Because they are interested in producing perpetual obligation as
against spiritual freedom, they keep their followers in hopeless bondage
of a continually insecure relationship with God. A hope so uncertain
is hardly a hope at all.
A thoughtful person who examines the preaching and writing of the cults
carefully is almost certain to sense a frustrating indefiniteness. He
is being strung along, beguiled up a primrose path to nowhere. A common
characteristic of the cults is that they are devoid of a theological
structure that offers to anyone a sure salvation.
The reason is very clear: They traffic in anxiety.
The person who is anxious is also exploitable. To make him fearful is the
design of these religious leaders so that they may use fear to create
dependence upon the religious view that they are promoting. Cult gathering
places are populated by frightened people who live in terror of falling
into disfavor of their religious establishment.
4. PRESUMPTUOUS MESSIANIC LEADERSHIP - Only Jesus Christ deserves disciples!
This towering fact is ignored by most of the religions in the world today.
The cults are replete with the stated or implied suggestion on the part
of leaders as to some unusual divine capability that might well inspire
worship on the part of their followers. One of the marks of a cult is
that it elevates the person and the words of a human leader to a
Their (followers) easy mental acquiescence has led them to seek a leader
who can give them all of the answers and personalize or objectify their
religious needs. They want someone to speak to them with authority,
even finality. The temptation to change from a simple servant to an
exalted messiah can be very strong in the life of a charismatic leader.
Another form of presumptuous messianic leadership in the religious scene
of our time is the claim of some leaders to their own ability as special
intercessors with God. Their followers are asked by them to "believe
in my prayers" and to give me the opportunity to pray for you." There
is a general buildup of presumption that the leader, because of his
special gifts or deep spirituality, has some unusual powers with which
to gain leverage before the throne of God. This shameful doctrine is
false and foreign to the teachings of the New Testament. The clear
teaching of the New Testament is that each person who has been justified
by faith in Jesus Christ has access to the Father in prayer and needs
no human mediator. One of the great promises of the Bible to every
believer is found in Paul's words to Timothy, "For there is one God,
and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5)
Every believer in Jesus Christ is himself a priest and has access to
the Father because of the work of our great High Priest, Jesus Christ.
Distant hands laid on stacks of letters are as nothing compared to
present believers meeting in prayer with Jesus Christ before the throne
of God. The great relationship for the Christian is that personal one
which he has between himself and his Lord. This relationship continues,
made viable by the Holy Spirit who lives within the heart of every
believer independent of any human mediator.
The fearful contrast is apparent in the cult scene today as cult leaders
labor to produce idolatrous dependence upon themselves. This tragic
development is only possible because of the ignorance on the part of
many people as to the teaching of the Word of God. The message of Scripture
is that the individual must not commit himself to "infallible" human
leaders. Rather he must become a follower of Jesus Christ, who alone
is the head of the Church.
The cult leader also strengthens his presumptuous leadership by arrogating
himself the position of being the only repository of divine truth.
5. DOCTRINAL AMBIGUITY - If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall
prepare for the battle?
Doctrinal ambiguity is a mark of a cult. One of the very fascinating
characteristics of the cults is the interesting and sometimes hilarious
changes of doctrine through which they pass. Their doctrines are continually
altered in order to adapt themselves to new situation, arguments, or the
whims of their leaders.
The word "doctrine" has not meaning in the fever swamps of the mind which
are inhabited by the cults, for doctrine means a systematic presentation
and understanding of truth. The idea of doctrine is therefore virtually
unique to organized Christianity. By contrast what passes for doctrine
in the cult is really a sub-rational set of disconnected thoughts and
practices that only serve to confuse the mind and the emotions as well.
Emotions were never intended to be an end in themselves and are totally
untrustworthy as the custodians of truth. Any religion, therefore, that
deliberately bypasses rational doctrinal understanding and seeks to build
upon the emotions will inevitably deceive rather then enlighten.
This "mindlessness" of the cults is a most useful device. The cult
promoters are not truly appealing to the mind but rather are attempting
to set the mind aside and to appeal to a set of religious emotions.
The words of the cults are the products of a corrupted language. The words
themselves have no real meaning. They have become emotional triggers
connoting to you whatever they want them to mean. The cult promoters have
denied the doctrine of objective value as relates to the words they use.
Indeed, unlike the religions of the world, Christianity commits itself
to careful details of all kinds. Like no book in all of the world, the
Bible is a book of careful historic detail. In addition to this, important
theological propositions in the Bible are stated in many ways so that
there can be simply no question about the meaning.
The Christian who studies the Word of God becomes spiritually mature, a
defender of the faith, and able even to teach others. Fables, predicted
in Scripture, are one of the marks of a cult. One can listen endlessly
to cultic representatives on radio and television and never by sure what
they are talking about. They pose questions which they do not answer.
The answer cannot be found even by reading hundreds of pages of his
literature. Rather, the reader is led into an ever deeper labyrinth
of confusion. The tendency of cults is to more away from the objective,
categorical truth as taught in Scripture.
The great need in the religious establishment of our time is for the
candid preaching of sound doctrine as against the tantalizing sentences
of those who never do quite get to the point. Thank God for the faithful
Christian expositors of the Scriptures in our time. Ambiguity is the
devils gospel, whereas clarity is divine.
6. THE CLAIM OF SPECIAL DISCOVERIES - I have found the secret!
Religious fantasies that are presented as special spiritual discoveries are
dangerous. the careful teacher of sound doctrine is rarely as electrifying
as the mysterious religious promoter who, usually for a price, will let us
in on his "secret." Under the spells he casts, we are often tempted to
forget that the best things in life are not only free, but they are usually
obvious. It would be impossible to have a cult without mysterious, otherwise
unavailable inside information. In one way or another, each of these
dreadful religious traffics in such hallucinations.
The Christian must remember that there is no discovery in the entire
universe that anyone could possibly have that is superior to his discovery
of salvation in Jesus Christ. There is no higher information, no better
revelation, no deeper truth - nothing is greater than the knowledge of
Christ. The person who turns from this greatest discovery, this
ultimate revelation, to pursue the delusions of a cult leader is a fool.
Despite this obvious truth, the cults continue to beguile unstable souls
with their false claims to special discoveries. No discovery is more
special than Jesus Christ.
People willingly flock into the train of the religious leader who has
"discovered the secret" and is willing to pass it on to them. The claim to
special discoveries and "repeatable-on-demand" revelations from God is the
point where the cults tend to move off into the occult. Witchcraft,
spiritless, and Satan worship are nothing more than religions which claim
to be able to call for the incursion of the metaphysical in the realm of
the physical. This is surely on of the reason why the cults are often
but a stopping place where a disturbed soul lingers briefly before
dropping totally into the pit of the occult.
Nevertheless, the almost universal base of each cult religion is the
purported revelation that one person received. These persons claimed
divine authority for a private, unauthenticated religious event.
the fundamental characteristic of the faith of Christ is that it is
based on historical fact. There were hundreds and in some cases thousands
of witnesses to the open and public facts of the Gospel. Often those to
whom the Gospel was preached were reminded that they knew of their own
knowledge the truth of these things (Acts 26:25-26). the truth of
Christianity does not depend on private knowledge or secret,
unconfirmable relationships on the part of individuals.
we notice that heresies being brought in by false teachers are secret
and destructive. It is a fair generalization to say that it is the duty
of the true minister of the Gospel to take the mysteries of God and
make them plain. The normal direction of the cultic promoter is to
take the plain truth of the Word and turn it into as mysterious a
message as possible. Many deadly pitfalls lie along the path of the
dark and mysterious.
7. DEFECTIVE CHRISTOLOGY - Who is Jesus Christ?
In all the history of the Church, the most grievous heresies have been
those which have advocated a view of the person of Christ other than that
which is taught in the Word of God. A false view of the Saviour
produced a false religion which presented no salvation at all. Most of the
cults that are active in our time deny the true deity of Christ, the
true humanity of Jesus of the true union of the two natures in one Person.
It is clear then that the test of a true representative of the Gospel has
to do with his definition of the person and the work of Jesus Christ.
The central doctrine of Christianity is Christology, the doctrine of the
nature of the person of Jesus Christ. Many today who claim to be Christians
deny the true deity of Christ. Religious liberalism can be judged as
heretical on the basis of its denial of the sure deity of the blessed
Son of God. The thoughtful Christian will carefully analyze the
doctrine of a cult that is being pressed upon him, paying special
attention to the Christology of that alternative religious message. The
message that in effect declares Christ to be the automaton of the Father
and not a real person in Himself is a cult. The message that denies the
virgin birth of Christ, holding Him to be merely the natural son of Joseph
and Mary, is a cult. An examination of the doctrinal base of any religion
in the light of its views on the person and the work of Jesus Christ can
be most revealing.
Closely related to the fatal heresy of defective Christology is a denial
of the trinity of the Godhead. These critical doctrinal problems concerning
the nature of the Godhead should come to each Christian as a new reminder
of the need for Christian scholarship. The cults will have a field day in
exploiting experience-oriented saints who have no time for the study of
8. SEGMENTED BIBLICAL ATTENTION - There is no book in all the world like
Variation and diversity are not marks of error. But herein lies a
potentially serious problem. they take some important but not critical
emphasis of Scriptural doctrine. It is easy to see how a religious group
can move from the true to the false by small steps of defection from the
teaching of Holy Scripture. Too often, however, this special emphasis
becomes the critical, all-important point. When a theological eccentricity
moves to the very center of the attention of a group of Christians, that
group, often without sensing it, becomes eccentric and potentially heretical.
Its attention to an interesting portion of Scripture has been carried to
the point where it has isolated this passage of the Word of God from the
corrective modifications found in other portions of the Word. Its
segmented biblical attention has cut it off from the body of divine truth.
Virtually every cult in existence today has followed the unwise course of
segmented biblical attention out beyond the pale of reason into the
production of a destructive heresy.
The lesson for all of us is very clear. While we may be fascinated with
the words of one of the personalities of Scripture and with the emphasis
of a given book of the Bible, we must not fail to pay attention to the
message of the entire Word of God.
It is of great importance that the doctrine by which a Christian orients
his faith and his life come from ALL Scripture. He remembers also that
revelation is progressive! God presented truth in a cumulative fashion,
moving from the basic theistic concepts of the Old Testament to the final
revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ. Christ brought life and immortality
to light throughout the Gospel (2 Tim. 1:10), and His doctrine was explained
to us by His apostles who wrote letters of the New Testament. We must also
never forget that the proper interpretation of the Bible must be based on
text, context, and greater context. The biblical interpreter must ask,
"What does this verse mean? In what setting is it given to us? How does
it relate to the whole Bible?"
Some who pretend to be experts on demonism fall into the same error.
Knowing of demon influence, the proceed to attribute all forms of
aberrative behavior to the presence of demons.
There are others who find a verse in the Bible about God having given to
some prophet a vision. They use this as the scriptural base for a notion
that all sound religion is therefore conducted on the basis of God revealing
Himself in vision and dreams.
Another leader may greatly encourage Christians by his emphasis on a
relaxed and positive mental attitude. While this message may be of value,
if taken as ultimate truth, it can cause a naive person finally deny
It is a grave temptation for any group to find a verse in the Bible about
holiness, the kingdom, law, grace, works, faith, or something else and use
it for a substitute for the whole counsel of God. Even zealous Christians
have frequently fallen into the trap of segmented biblical interpretation,
thereby creating a cultic influence in their system of doctrine.
9. ENSLAVING ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE - "You belong to me!"
Cults actually bring their followers into psychological and spiritual slavery.
So important to the writers of Scripture is the preservation of Christian
freedom that we are not only advised that we possess it, by we are carefully
warned never to lose it. The consequent emphasis of the New Testament is
that Christian leaders who have power or persuasive ability must be careful
never to overly control or dominate the faith of others. The Apostle Paul
never said that the strong should control the weak but rather that the
strong should support the weak.
Few passages are more indicative of the divine concern for the proper
pastoral attitude than his earnest words, "Neither as being lords over
God's heritage, but being examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:3).
the word of God is clear; spiritual leadership is to be the leadership
of example. In simplicity and godly sincerity, the leader is to be an
imitator of Jesus Christ and pray that his very life will furnish, before
his onlooking flock, and illustration of the Christian life for all to
see. When the life of a Christian leader illustrates only arrogance,
groundless authoritarianism, and human imposition, he is representing
another Christ than the One presented in Holy Scripture.
The promoters of cults obey no such rules as Scripture lays down for
leaders. Indeed, they know that their success is directly dependent upon
their ability to trap followers into a permanent entanglement. This
association is almost invariably formed with the bonds of fear. The
leader's preaching, teaching, and efforts are dedicated, not to the
production of individual competence and freedom on the part of his
followers, but to create dependence. The leaders of the cults are working
to promote, not liberty, but slavery. Thus an almost universal
characteristic of the cults is the creation of a monolithic, merciless,
and entangling organizational structure.
"So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which
I hate" (Rev. 2:15). Who were the Nicolaitans? What were their deeds
and their doctrine? We have only one definite indication as to the nature
of this group and that comes to us from the meaning of the word itself.
The word Nicolatitan comes from two Greek words, "nicao" and "laos"
which means victory over or subjugation of the people. The exaggerated
distinction between "clergy" and "layity" had begun in the early stages
of Christianity. Some were already thinking it spiritually necessary or
practical to subjugate the people of God and become masters over them.
Power corrupts! This is not only true in the realm of politics. It is
tragically true in the area of religion. The religious ascendancy of a
group of spiritual elitists of the mass of People is a program and a
belief hated by God ... the subjugation of the people is a program
despised by God. We may note also that the Nicolaitan trend was merely
a set if deeds in the church at Ephesus. By the time we come to the
church at Pergamos, however, what had been deeds has turned into a doctrine.
Religious institutions today are filled with whole sets of catechisms,
disciplines, liturgies, and stated methods which are basically nothing
but the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. The program of subjugation of the
people kills the true work of Christ. This kind of killing organizational
structure is one of the reliable indexes of the cults of our time.
The cult is usually represented to the captured devotee as synonymous
with the kingdom of God itself.
One of the normal connotations of the word "cultic" is that of passionate
devotion to a cause to the point of the irrational. The cult hopes to
bring its hapless followers to the place where they think of little else
except their involvement with the movement and its human leader. The
average cultist is as much a slave to his present religious involvement
as he ever was to the sin of his former life. Certain large religious
groups in the world, some of them thought of as legitimate, preach the
doctrine of damnation for all outside their particular organization.
It is a truism that the less truth a movement represents, the more highly
it must organize. Truth has its own magnetism producing loyalty. The
absence of truth makes necessary the application of the bonds of fear.
A cultic leader may present his wares by saying, "Come to Jesus," but
his real theme song is "You belong to me."
The only imperative membership which the true Christian recognizes is
membership in the body of Christ. Jesus Christ has set him free, and
no one is entitled to take this freedom from him.
10. FINANCIAL EXPLOITATION - The marvelous message of the Gospel of Christ
is that one may receive eternal salvation "without money and without price."
The Word of God makes it clear that the Christian is never put under
obligation to do, give, sacrifice, or expend himself in any way in order
to be more sure that he has the gift of God which is eternal life.
The Word of God, however, is clear that service for Christ is a voluntary
proposition on the part of the Christian, and nothing that he does will
increase his own guarantee of eternal life. He is saved by grace and
kept by the power of God. His eternal life came to him without payment
on his part. It is dependent on the work of Christ on the cross.
The Apostles taught that sacrificial Christian leaders thereby gave
evidence of their faithfulness to Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul, again
leaving us a shining example, was very careful never to accept gifts from
the churches for his own personal use. He did this for the purpose of
making the Gospel of Jesus Christ totally without charge.
What a strong contrast we see in the cultic practitioner of today!
He strongly implies that money contributed to the cause will buy privileges
or gifts or powers for the receptive follower. The follower of the the
cult is often promised that he can escape the many purgatories in this world
and the next through the investment of his money. In the financial
structure of the average cult, tithing is but the beginning. Then comes
the real pressure. Enamored of his new spiritual leader, the head of
the house forgets the clear teaching of Scripture, "If any provide not for
his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith,
and is worse than an infidel" (1 Tim. 5:8).
It is fair to say that an almost universal characteristic of the cults is
an insatiable financial appetite in the leadership. The false religions
of the world are characterized by lavish temples, overlaid with gold and
studded with diamonds. Most of them stand in the midst of a sea of poverty
which the cults themselves have caused. Their apparent prosperity is
nothing more than the shameful result of their cruel exploitation of
frightened people who seek their favors with financial gifts.
11. DENUNCIATION OF OTHERS - When one announces himself as the true
Messiah all others of course are false and must be put down.
Some of the most bitter imprecations in print are the scathing calumny of
cultic messiahs upon all who do not believe their views and join their
organizations. True Christians are forbidden to judge one another
(Rom. 14:13) and are given the liberty to be persuaded in their own minds
as to how to live unto the Lord (Rom. 14:5). They are even told to
"judge nothing before its time" (1 Cor. 4:5)
The cultic attitude is a fearful contrast. The sincere Christian will
conduct himself very carefully when it comes to criticism of others.
We are therefore reminded in Scripture that one is guilty of the most
forbidden kind of arrogance when he presumes to judge the activity of
his brothers who labor for the Lord. We are often warned in Scripture
to be very suspicious of those whose first calling seems to be to
produce divisions within the Church of Christ. Much unsettlement has
been caused in the ranks of Christians by those with pretended convictions
who demand a hearing and who are often purveyors of a new discovery of
12. SYNCRETISM - We must become all things to all men!
The loving concern for spiritual accommodation can be pressed to the point
where it compromises the Gospel of Christ, sometimes beyond recognition.
This kind of accommodation involves one in a grievous sin called syncretism.
Syncretism describes the attempt to gather together what some would call
"the best qualities" of various religious points of view into a new and
acceptable faith. It is the attempt to "synchronize" the otherwise
diverse religious elements currently believed by people so as to make
a new religion attractive. The definition of syncretism from a religious
point of view is "the process of growth through coalescence of different
forms of faith and worship or through accretions of tenents, rights, etc.,
from those religions which are being superseded" (Webster).
Syncretism is a favorite cultic device. Both the older and emergent cults,
almost without exception, have accommodated themselves to existing
religious points of view, incorporating older doctrines into their
systems of faith along with new and creative heresies. Few cults of our
time present much that is really new in the world of religion. Almost
invariably they are a rehash of existing concepts, orthodox and heretical.
They present warmed over elements of Protestantism, Catholicism, paganism,
pantheism, idolatry, local tetishes, and some pure idiocy.
Sensing some new, exploitive possibilities, the cultist glues together a
bewildering array of religious components, knowing that some of these will
strike a chord of response. Incorporating these in the same package with
a few theological terms, he is off and running with another cult.
A similar thing also happens on the mission fields of the world.
Missionaries, some of them merely para-Christian backgrounds, arrive in
an area already steeped in religion. Animism, ancestor worship, religious
paganism, or raw heathenism are flourishing. Hoping to minimize the
offense of their "Christianity," the missionaries accommodate themselves
to the local religious climate. Sometimes the resulting religion brings
together a regional god, an animal sacrifice, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus
Christ all in the same system. Syncretism on mission fields is becoming
one of the scandals of the religious world. A syncretistic religion is not
Christianity at all; it is a cult.
We hear talk in churches today that may open the door to acceptance of
a religious potpourri that is something other than Christianity.
The Gospel does not of itself promise to change the social structure, the
political climate, or the physical environment of those who, even after
faith in Christ, live in the midst of a fallen world. Many groups of
Christians today rejoice in the gospel plus a wonderful religious heritage.
The sacred traditions of many religious groups have been a significant
source of stability as they guide their way through the new problems
of this current generation.
Looking to the past, however, can produce subtle deceptions in our Christian
thinking. Surely what the Church needs today is not so much the "faith of
our fathers," but the faith of Jesus Christ as expressed in the changeless
Scriptures of the New Testament. Hertiage can become a dangerous element
in the thinking of Christians because it is almost always applied to a
human tradition which, at best, is only partially biblical. Indeed, great,
time-spanning religious traditions are ordinarily formed to protect by
custom certain theological propositions which are unvoiced in the Word
Another syncretistic tendency has been the movement of the great
denominations to include "the imperative of social action" in their
preaching of the Gospel. This has been true to the extent that they have
been legitimately accused of preaching a social gospel. The Gospel may
have indeed have social implications (fewer, I think, than are commonly
touted), but this is another, infinitely less important subject than the
death of Jesus Christ on the cross and His glorious resurrection. The
one produces eternal salvation; the other, endless discussion. The point
is that Christians need an understanding of Christian doctrine adequate
to discern the difference between what the Gospel IS and what the
Europe resembles a vast cemetery of Christian religion; it is now dead
but has left behind its grave markers. Little of Christianity remains
in the countries of its origins. As churches grew older, they seem to
have given themselves to the spirit of accommodation while forgetting
their heavenly calling. They set up ecumenical movements, national
conferences of Christians and Jews, and endless other movements to make
their situation more legitimate. The opted for political change, social
action, and worked with sincerity. Time, money and irreplaceable human
energy went into these "worthy causes" and salvation from sin seemed pale
Syncretism, the attempt to synchronize the Gospel of Christ with a godless
world, is a deadly virus from which almost no institution recovers.
WHAT SHALL WE DO?
1. Understand Christian doctrine.
The chief single reasons for the success of the cults is the spiritual
naivete' on the part of many. Too many Christians are content with a
superficial knowledge of the Word of God and think of themselves as
thereby being spiritually intelligent. Nothing could be farther from the
The Christian must give himself to a detailed study of Scripture and must
understand the Bible from a doctrinal point of view. He should have valid
biblical information that answers the questions: Who is God? What is
man? What is sin? What do we mean by biblical inspiration?
We live in a time when doctrine has been played down in favor of Christian
experience. This is the most foolish course imaginable because experience
has little or nothing to do with Christian truth.
2. Separation from spiritual subversion.
Many people ask whether they should not attend meeting of cultic religious
organizations and give themselves to an extensive reading of subversive
religious literature. With rare exceptions, the answer to this question
is NO, a thousand times NO! It is not true that we cannot speak critically
of false doctrine unless we have read everything that the leadership of
these cults have to say. The statement that says, "You cannot know what
it is until you have tried it" is a satanic doctrine, and it is the very
one that he used to subvert Eve and bring the terrible cancer of sin into
all the World.
3. Refuse profane points of view.
Scripture commands again and again that he must be careful, take heed,
watch, remember. He is called upon to be very sober because his satanic
adversary continues to go about seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).
4. Do not encourage cultic practitioners.
Those who do not believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ are in fact enemies
of the Lord. The Apostle John wrote: "Whosoever transgresseth, and
abideth no in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in
the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there
come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your
house, neither bid him God speed; for he that biddeth him God speed is
partaker of his evil deeds" (2 John 9-11). This is the hard but
necessary course of action for one who would protect himself and his family
from spiritual danger.
5. Be willing to contend for the faith.
Scripture calls upon us to earnestly contend for the faith, which means of
course to be willing to defend the truth of the Gospel in the face of
satanic adversaries (Jude 3).
The true servant of Jesus Christ must be careful that his friendship with
Jesus Christ's the association that is absolute. by comparison to this,
all human associations are relative. This principle of the universe is
truth and this must be defended even at the cost of our lives.
Our spiritual sentiments, and this is the most sentimental age in the
history of the Church, would lead us many times to feel that contention
for the faith of the Gospel is somehow unspiritual or undignified. Nothing
could be farther from the truth. The world is described as a battleground
and the essential struggle on that field of conquest is the struggle
between truth and untruth.
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