Christianity 201

January 15, 2021

How to Start a Christian Cult

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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There are many [versions of Jesus] proclaimed today. There is Jesus the liberator and Jesus the revolutionary. There is Jesus the teacher and Jesus the example. There is Jesus the healer and Jesus the burden-bearer. Homosexuals and adulterers point to “an unconditionally accepting Jesus,” seeking to show that Jesus is on their side. Even the demons are willing to accept certain aspects of our Lord’s identity, but not His authority.  – Robert L. (Bob) Deffinbaugh, in today’s linked article

When I first began to think about this topic earlier today, I had in mind two specific areas where groups which perhaps started out in mainstream Christian orthodoxy end up drifting away from their moorings.

  1. Adding to the gospel message
  2. Subtracting from the gospel message

If it were all that simple it might be easier to identify such teaching at a greater distance, but sometimes the approach can be more subtle.

As to adding to the message, this is much of the core of the book of Galatians. It appears in our Bible after Romans and 1&2 Corinthians, but is considered Paul’s earliest work. It is addressed to those who are surrounded with “Judaiizers,” that is people for whom the laws of the first covenant, i.e. circumcision of males, still applies. He writes, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (5:1 NIV)

At the council of Jerusalem, recorded in Acts 15, Peter stands up and addresses this issue, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery…” and then James continues, “…It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.” (15: 10,19,20 NIV)

Of course, if you were numbered among the Pharisees who were raising these issues, you would see Peter, Paul, James and Barnabas as subtracting from the requirements.

Thomas Jefferson was notorious for his physically removing passages of the Bible with which he disagreed.

When we think of these concepts, we easily remember the book of Revelation’s final warning, “…and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.” (22:19 NASB) This echoes the Old Testament words in Deuteronomy 4: “Do not add a thing to what I command you nor subtract from it, so that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I am delivering to you.” (v2 NET)

…The concept of addition and subtraction merely scratches the surface in looking at how false teachers arise. In the article I quoted at the outset of today’s thoughts, the writer marks a number of characteristics which are worth studying in greater detail. I’ve reduced his nine points to five for us today:

  1. Claiming to be a prophet. (I know this will grate with those for whose practice emphasizes being a prophet as one of the five-fold ministry gifts — sometimes called APEPT — but generally the prophet does not say this of himself.)
  2. They can come from both inside and outside the church.
  3. At some point, their teaching attracts rebuke from the world at large (and harms not only the place where they do their teaching, but the capital “C” Church in general.)
  4. They start out subtle. (Here the author quotes Matthew 7:15-23 and says you will know them by their fruit. I think it’s interesting that as a non-agriculturally-aware person, I can look at a tree and not be able to identify it until the fruit appears. This then, is a process of time.)
  5. Apart from the message, there may be flaws in the false teacher’s personal morality. This will be seen in their motivation (money, power, success, fame) and their methods (deception, secrecy, smooth-talking).

There was also a reference to the book of Jude, which is very instructive on this subject:

NIV.4 For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

17 But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. 18 They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” 19 These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.

20 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith…

The book of Jude ends with a doxology to “him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy…

This is Jude’s highest aim for the readers of his letter; that they be kept from falling.

Here is the link to the full article at Bible.org concerning false teachers.