Lessons in Discipleship(25) دروس في التلمذة

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 LID#25 – How to Identify a Cult

This is Dr. Ed Hoskins welcoming you to Lessons in Discipleship, a series designed to help new believers become established in their Christian faith. Today’s session is How to Identify a Cult. First, let me tell you a little about myself. I am a retired physician who spent 34 years in family medicine and student health. I became a Christian 50 years ago and was helped early in my faith by the Navigators, an international non-denominational Christian organization whose stated goal is To Know Christ and to Make Him Known. I have been on associate staff with that organization since 1980. Lessons in Discipleship is a compilation of what I learned from the Bible and under the direction of the Navigators during that time. What I learned then I now pass on to you. Today’s session is How to Identify a Cult.

Let’s start at the beginning. What is a cult? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a cult is “a small religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion and that has beliefs regarded by many people as extreme or dangerous.” That is from a non-religious perspective. From our Christian perspective, a cult is any group whose teachings are contrary to God’s word, the Bible. That is also is called heresy.

Let us see what the Bible teaches about this topic.

The New Testament book of Galatians discusses this as one of its major themes. The apostle Paul was concerned about the purity of the gospel and not adding extra requirements for salvation. In chapter one of Galatians he writes, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-8)
In the next chapter he writes, “This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.” (Galatians 2:4)

Paul continues later in that chapter, “Know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 2:16) He continues, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

In the next chapter Paul continues, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.” (Galatians 3:1)

Paul identifies the major problems here as doubting God’s word (the Bible) and diminishing the person of Christ (his deity and his manhood) by questioning his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead.

None of this should surprise us. Over the last 50 years of my knowing Christ, I can count on this fact: every believer in Christ is going to experience opposition from Satan. If a Christian does not succumb to personal temptation, Satan sends the next most effective attack – to get a Christian to believe the wrong things and then act according to those wrong beliefs. This is deadly and completely neutralizes a Christian’s spiritual life and effectiveness.

That is also why, in our last lesson #24 in Lessons in Discipleship, I covered how to properly interpret the Bible. In that session I gave thirteen principles of Biblical hermeneutics. I briefly restate those in the next few slides.

First, the Bible is authoritative.

Second, the Bible interprets itself.

Third, saving faith and the Holy Spirit are necessary to properly interpret Scripture.

Fourth, we interpret experience in light of Scripture and not vice versa.

Fifth, biblical examples are not authoritative unless supported by a command.

Sixth, the primary purpose of the Bible is to change our lives, not to increase our head knowledge.

Seventh, Scripture has only one primary meaning and should be taken literally.

Eighth, Scripture must be interpreted in light of the historical and cultural context of the author.

Ninth, parables have one intended meaning. Identifying the trigger for the parable, in other words what caused it to be spoken by Jesus, often gives rise to the parable’s meaning.

Tenth, different parts of the Bible are historical narratives (such as Genesis or Second Kings) or wisdom literature (like Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes). They also can be prophetic like Isaiah or Revelation.
The type of literature often determines their original meaning and context.

Eleventh, the entire Bible fits together into a single unit with a unified theme: a promised Messiah king who came in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, to make all things new, be a suffering servant (die on the cross), and reconcile humanity to God.

Twelfth, biblical doctrine is authoritative only when it is consistent with the whole council and teaching of God in the Bible.

Thirteenth, when two biblical doctrines appear contradictory, such as the Trinity and God’s Oneness, or God’s sovereignty and free-will, we accept both with the knowledge that they will be eventually resolved into a higher unity.

Well, of the above 13 principles, I have found numbers 5,8, and 12 to be most useful in regards to spotting cults.

Here are a few illustrations. Be extremely cautious about any person or group that teaches that you need to add anything to what Christ has done in order for you to be a better or more effective Christian (for example, if someone tells you that you need to have an additional spiritual experience, like a second blessing, or a separate filling of the Holy Spirit.) That’s not consistent with what the Bible teaches in hermeneutics. Or, someone might say, “You are not a real Christian unless you speak in tongues,” or “You must live in this special commune or dress in this special way.”

Yes, there are examples of speaking in tongues in the Bible, but there is no associated command (hermeneutics principle #5).

Also be aware of any group or person that teaches the Bible is not the word of God, not accurate or authoritative, or that Jesus is not the Son of God, not fully God and fully man. This is probably a cult that should be avoided.

I recall one time when I was on a college campus and there were some people who were sitting around a man wearing strange clothing and preaching a new doctrine. He was trying to portray this as a Christian based group. A bunch of Christians were standing around with opened Bibles questioning this person. They looked confused. I went up and asked that person, “I just have one question for you: Is Jesus Christ God?” The person answered, “No, not really.” I closed my Bible and said, “That is good enough for me.” Then I turned and left. The other Christians standing around closed their Bibles and left too.

Let’s summarize what we have learned in this brief presentation.

First, all Christians will encounter people or situations in life that will encourage you to doubt what you believe from the Bible. The two most common attacks I’ve seen over the years are casting doubt on the authority of God’s word, the Bible, and on the person of Jesus Christ, his deity, his death and resurrection. These include groups like the Mormons, the Moonies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, liberal Christianity, and yes, even Islam. Some parts of the charismatic movement may also fit here as well.

Second, anytime you hear a new teaching, emulate the Christians in Acts chapter 17:9 who examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

Third, work at properly interpreting the Bible. Use the previous lesson #24 on hermeneutics to help.

Fourth and final, pray at all times and ask God for wisdom.

Well, we will see you next time when we cover lesson 26 of Lessons in Discipleship when our topic will be Multiplying Disciples. That wraps up today’s presentation. Thanks for being a part. Until next time, keep following Jesus. He’s worth it!

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