counterfeit Christianity and cults

Tarantula molting

Tarantulas molt. Who knew? 

If you look closely at the picture, only one of the two spiders is real. The other, a discarded shell.

Have you ever noticed that cult religions are like this as well? At first glance, they look like the real thing. It’s only when you look closer that you realize what you’re dealing with. If you realize what you’re dealing with. To be able to spot real Christianity from fake Christianity, first you must have a foundation of true biblical teaching.

That’s epitomized in this two book series by Allison Pittman. 

The first book in this series, For Time and Eternity, was one of the very first books I reviewed on this blog.

I recently finished the sequel, Forsaking All Others. I very much like this series. While I don’t normally read historical fiction, I enjoyed the books premise. A young Christian girl from a very strict family follows a charismatic young Mormon man on the Mormon pilgrimage to settle Utah. Not only do you get exposed to the history of the Mormon faith, but you get to see it through a girl who, deep down, knows what they’re teaching isn’t right. And we all know, or should, that Mormonism and Christianity mix together as well as oil and water.

The second book, Forsaking All Others, picks up the story where For Time and Eternity left off. While oil and water don’t blend, they can be difficult to effectively separate, especially where there are children involved. The end of the series is set against the Mormon desire to become a state, and the US governments refusal to allow polygamy.

My undergraduate degree was in Anthropology, so I very much enjoy learning about other cultures and what they believe. It’s one of the reasons my husband found me in bed last Saturday morning reading a JW tract. Once I assured him I wasn’t going to convert ;) I got back to research.

So what is a cult? Chip MacGregor gave an excellent definition of one today on his blog.

Let’s define a cult as a group of people with beliefs outside of orthodoxy, usually secretive, almost always exclusive, who tend to see outsiders as dangerous, and are led by one charismatic and authoritative leader who has a unique interpretation of truth, but who commands nearly every aspect of the lives of the followers.

Another definition, this one by Alan Gomes, quoted by Ron Rhodes in his excellent book, The Challenge of the Cults and New World Religions (Zondervan, 2001):

A group of people, which claiming to be Christian, embraces a particular doctrinal system taught by an individual leader, group of leaders, or organization, which [system] denies (either explicitly or implicitly) one of more of the central doctrines of the Christian faith as taught in the sixty-six books of the Bible.

The important points are that in cults, what is taught in the Bible is brought under the authority of a human teacher. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young for the Mormons, the Watchtower Society for the Jehovah’s Witnesses. And whichever group you speak with, on the surface their teachings seem no different than orthodox Christianity. Either they use the same terms but define them differently, or they use similar terms but the context is changed.

photoAnd then there are groups like this, identifying themselves as Baptist (Fundamentalists). I received this tract in the mail shortly after moving into our new house. You’ll notice that if you are a reader of the NIV, NASB, or other popular Bible translations, you are under the Antichrist. Personally, I’m safe, because my Bible is NLT. Just sayin’ ;)

Here, this church professes the King James Bible (not the original languages) to be the “infallible, inerrant, and inspired Holy Word of God.” The group is under the authority of one man to whom God gave a vision and a burden. Sounds like the definition of a cult, does it not?

My point is that just because a church claims to be of an orthodox denomination, you must check their doctrinal statements and teaching closely against Scripture. No one person or organization has special revelation of Scripture or from God. God gave His Word to everyone. Outside the truth of the gospel, the real Jesus, the God of the Bible, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we must be ever vigilant.

Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. ~ Matthew 7:15

Jesus told them, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. ~Matthew 24:4-5

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. ~Galatians 1:8

But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent. You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed. ~2 Corinthians 11:3-4

[Dismounts from soap box]. So, friends, let me hear from you. Have you read any good fiction out there that shows the difference between true Christianity and false teaching like the Sister Wife Series? Or do you have any experience with a cult? 

10 thoughts on “counterfeit Christianity and cults

  1. When I was in college, a girl in my dorm tried to push me to attend her church. I wasn’t interested and later found out that her “church” was a cult and they were praying on believers. I’ve heard the term “sheep stealers” for this type of group. Later, I was able to use my experience to minister to someone who’d been similarly approached.

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      • It was one of the larger of these types. It was called Indianapolis Church of Christ and affiliated with the Boston Church of Christ. Don’t let the name fool you, this has nothing to do with the legitimate church of Christ denominations (Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ, etc.). About as close as Westburo Baptist is to your local Southern or American Baptist church. A Big clue that the church might be a cult is someone approaching you in a food court or other public place and pressuring you to attend their church. These churches don’t have buildings and usually meet in hotel conference rooms. Once inside, they pressure you to be baptized in THEIR church and to give to THEIR church. They also try to make you cut ties to your family, even if they’re Christians. Very scary. Granted these are signs. Just because there’s street evangelism or the church meets in a hotel, doesn’t mean it’s a cult.

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        • It seems there are two different types of cults. The scary fundamentalist types, like the Branch Dividians, who pressure, coerce, and kidnap. And then the ones that masquerade with their Christianese and try to lure people in an inch at a time. Both are scary for different reasons.

          Thanks for sharing, Gretchen!

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  2. When we first moved where we are now and were church hunting, we visited one little church a few miles out of town – beautiful log building, lovely stained-glass. Didn’t have any denomination signs to indicate exactly where they fell. When we got inside the congregation was teeny – like maybe 4 families total? But they all greeted us, welcomed us, invited us to a potluck down the road at one of their homes afterward. We were impressed by the welcome and I grew up in a small country church (though not *that* small) so I wanted to give it a chance. Well, about half-way through the sermon, Hubby & I look at each other and ask, “Did he just say what I think he just said?”

    Turns out, they’re adhere to a Pauline theology that is rather Marcionistic. The pastor preached nonstop that Paul was the only true Apostle as he was the only person to see Jesus after His ascension. Therefore, the Pauline letters are the only truly God-inspired books in the Bible. We very nearly walked out and would have had it been a bigger church. We politely turned down the offer for the potluck & then we pretty much ran to buy a book on Denominations and resolved to never visit a church again without a clear idea what we’d be getting into.

    As for in fiction, The Last Battle by CS Lewis has a bit of a cult going on. And I seem to recall a cult springing up in one of the Dragonkeeper books by Donita K. Paul.

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  3. We have discussed theological issues with both Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses. With the latter, after we traded ideas on the Trinity, the wife was obviously interested. The husband hastened her out of our home. We never saw them again. The young men who visited us several times — and we even went to their annual play (I forget what it’s called) — would go back to the more mature elders with questions we brought up. Finally, they gave up when we showed them in the last chapter of John that Jesus did NOT say John would live until He returned, but it was a rhetorical question.

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