- • THE CULT OF BRANHAM
- • CULTS AND YOUNG PEOPLE
- • FACING THE FACTS ON SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISM
- • CULTS IN CHINA
- • REFLECTIONS ON JONESTOWN
- • A STRANGE & WONDERFUL LOVE STORY
- • TO DIE FOR A LIE
- • The Mormon Church and the African
- • FROM JOSEPH TO JESUS
- • WITNESSING TO MORMONS
- • The Lying Prophet and the "Mormon" Olympics
- • CONFRONTING CULTS ON WORLD MISSION FIELDS
- • HARDNESS OF HEART
- • IS OURS A HOPELESS CAUSE?
- • THANKSGIVING AND SACRIFICE
- • UNCONVENTIONAL WARFARE
- • WHOSE MISSIONARY ARE YOU?
- • ARE THERE APOSTLES TODAY?
It may not be on your radar screen, but the cult of William Branham poses an active threat to the cause of Christ around the world. Month by month, the Centers in the former Soviet Union receive pleas for assistance like these:
Your articles and research materials really help us to “contend for the faith once for all delivered unto the saints.” Here in the Caucasus the movement of latter-day prophet William Marrion Branham is growing. Please send me materials that examine the prophet's words and deeds in the light of the Bible.
They thought it couldn't happen to them. But it did.
CASE 1: From the June 20, 2004 issue of the Chicago Tribune:
When she joined a fledgling missionary group at evangelical Wheaton College, Carrie Andreson expected to grow closer to God.She and other students would gather mornings in graduate student Feroze Golwalla's apartment to pray and plan for an overseas mission trip. But as the weeks passed, the students began fasting and soon were depriving themselves of sleep. Some cut off ties to family and friends and left Wheaton to follow Golwalla and his strict directives.
In her desire to become a missionary, Andreson had become part of a cult.
At Golwalla's orders, Andreson said, she even beat other members and ultimately caused self-inflicted wounds, puncturing her face and buttocks with a hanger until she bled and scarred.
"I always hated the pain," she said. "But at the same time, it made me feel more...worthy to be there. I thought that this is what I needed for my own preparation as a missionary."
Carrie wasn't the only one. At least 20 Christian young people have suffered under Golwalla, who is still at large. He cunningly twisted Scripture and exploited noble motives, such as a desire for missionary service, as a pretext for appalling physical and psychological abuse. (The apostle Paul wrote to naï¶¥ believers of the false shepherds in his day: "For you bear with anyone if he enslaves you, if he devours you, if he takes advantage of you, if he exalts himself, if he hits you in the face" - 2 Cor. 11:20.)
Were the young people whom Golwalla took captive "losers" - marginal Christians, mentally retarded, or emotionally crippled? Press reports indicate that he sought bright students who were unusually active and committed to their faith and had caring, supportive parents. Writes one survivor: "It is not a mystical process by which stupid or emotionally unstable people overnight become zombies (as many believe). It is a very gradual and understandable process by which idealistic and sometimes highly intelligent people join an organization they're interested in and then have their freedoms gradually limited and their perceptions colored to the point that they do not choose to leave even when they are physically able to do so."
CASE 2: A few months ago I received a request from a ministry in Utah to assist a local parent seeking help. The woman's seventeen-year-old daughter (who had attended a wealthy, well-known evangelical church since she was four) had fallen in love with a Mormon boy and wanted desperately to join the cult. Worse, when the parents sought the help of the church's youth pastor, he refused to meet with the girl in order to discuss the dangers and deception of Mormonism! I spent several hours with her and her mother, and I was surprised by her level of biblical illiteracy and her inability (or unwillingness) - even when lovingly confronted with the evidence - to recognize that Mormonism cannot possibly be reconciled with biblical Christianity. Sadly, this scenario is far from uncommon.
I highlight these two cases because they're symptomatic of a much larger problem. Christian young people are at risk, both here and abroad - especially as the church loses its will to discern, and especially among those who think, "It can't happen to us."
Writing in the July 9, 2004 edition of the Wall Street Journal, Dale Buss observes that "while they may profess the faith and indeed love Jesus, the vast majority of Christian teenagers in this country actually hold beliefs fundamentally antithetical to the creed. The forces of moral relativism and 'tolerance' have gotten to them in a big way. In fact, some leaders believe that mushy doctrine among the younger generation ranks as the No. 1 crisis facing American Christendom today.
"About one-third of American teenagers claim they're 'born again' believers, according to data gathered over the past few years by Barna Research Group.and 88% of teens say they are Christians. About 60% believe that 'the Bible is totally accurate in all of its teachings.' And 56% feel that their religious faith is very important in their life.
"Yet, Barna says, slightly more than half of all U.S. teens also believe that Jesus committed sins while he was on earth. About 60% agree that enough good works will earn them a place in heaven.. About two-thirds say that Satan is just a symbol of evil, not really a living being. Only 6% of all teens believe that there are moral absolutes - and, most troubling to evangelical leaders, only 9% of self-described born-again teens believe that moral truth is absolute." (Barna adds that it's "disconcerting to realize that we're relying on this generation for the future defense of Judeo-Christian civilization against the highly motivated forces of militant Islam.")
As the American Family Foundation explains, cults lure the unsuspecting by two interacting forces:
. The tactics the cult uses to recruit, convert, acculturate, and hold members, and
. The personal vulnerability of the potential recruit
So what can parents do? Paranoia isn't the answer! But to be forewarned is to be forearmed. Bible-wielding cult recruiters come in all shapes and sizes, and a healthy respect for their persuasive powers goes a long way. One of Feroze Golwalla's former followers writes: "The Lord Jesus said that we need to be wise as serpents and that we need to understand that there are things out there that look like sheep but that are actually wolves [Matt. 7:15ff]. Feroze was a wolf in sheep's clothing if ever there was one. Please, be aware that things are not always as they seem. Don't assume that they are. You can't always tell from a first impression." Said the mother of two victims: "If Feroze had walked on campus with a bottle of wine and cigarettes in his pocket, he'd be kicked out of Wheaton..But there's nothing protecting students from a predator like Feroze." Nothing, perhaps, except vigilance - and an awareness that even Christians are prey for such deceivers. "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall." (1 Cor. 10:12)
As we raise our families and encourage the young people around us, we can make a difference by consistently recognizing and applying two basic principles:
1. KNOW THE TRUTH
To avoid deception, Christian young people should know how to interpret God's Word, know the essentials of the historic Christian faith (especially as reflected in ancient affirmations like the Apostles' creed), and have some grasp of church history.
2. KNOW THE CULTS
To avoid deception, Christian young people should be familiar with contemporary cults - their names, their errors, and their recruiting methods (the "dynamics" of deception) - and appreciate their areas of personal vulnerability.
Around the world, CFAR is warning the Body of Christ - young and old - about the dangers and deception of cultic groups. Through seminars and CDs, tracts and television, we're committed to inoculating God's people against deception. Together, you and I can reduce the casualties in this spiritual battle, equipping young believers in many nations to stand for truth and win cultists to Christ.
"You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard lest, being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you fall from your own steadfastness." (2 Peter 3:17)
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 at all.
Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion
and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.
Galatians 1:6–9 (NIV)
God recently used a remarkable group of people to pierce my conscience.
They’re former Seventh-day Adventists. They came to southern California from as far away as Canada and the Caribbean to attend the third annual Former Adventist Fellowship meeting. And to be honest, despite my many years of trying to avoid the subject, they now have my undivided attention.
What explains the inner turmoil and confusion experienced by so many who leave Adventism? The sad answer: It’s not a normal church; it’s a cultic movement—one that must be exposed and opposed both here and around the world.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has 15.4 million followers in more than 200 countries—placing it in the same size range as the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and New Apostolic Church. Last year it grew by roughly a million members, at a rate of about 3,000 per day. And it accomplished this, in large part, by persuading non-Adventists that faith alone in Christ alone is not sufficient for salvation. Indeed, if contemporary Adventists merely emphasized Saturday as the ideal day of worship, it would be one thing; but the differences between biblical Christianity and Seventh-day Adventism run far, far deeper.
The movement sprang from the false prophecies of William Miller, a Baptist preacher who twice predicted the Second Coming of Christ—first in March of 1843, then in October 0f 1844. In the wake of these failures, three of the groups that had followed Miller’s message banded together and eventually organized the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1863. One of the principal members of these early groups was Ellen G. White, who as a teenager claimed to experience the first of some 2,000 divine visions in 1844.
What separates Seventh-day Adventism from biblical Christianity today? There are many areas of serious conflict, but three stand out:
• Ellen G. White. Considered “the Lord’s messenger” and the “spirit of prophecy,” Mrs. White is central to Seventh-day Adventism. The nature of her role as a “continuing and authoritative source of truth” for the church demands that we test her affirmations by biblical tests of a prophet (such as Deut. 18:21–22). Mrs. White wrote copiously, claiming that God had given her visions of the past, the future, and even the sinless and smiling inhabitants of other planets. Though she was not always in error, in her revelations she contradicts not only the Bible, but herself. At times she undermines the deity of Christ, indicates that He had a sinful nature while on earth, and declares His atoning work on the cross incomplete. Mrs. White also places an unbearable—and fundamentally unscriptural—burden of righteous ness through works on her followers (labeling the teaching that Christ’s imputed righteousness fulfills the law as “gross deception”). We now know that she plagiarized vast amounts of material in her supposedly inspired writings—a fact that church leaders have actively sought to suppress.
• Investigative Judgment. Right after the “Great Disappointment” of Miller’s failed 1844 prediction, an Adventist named Hiram Edson said he received a vision clarifying the prediction’s true meaning. Instead of Christ’s Second Coming, the completed 2,300-day period of Daniel 8:14 signaled Jesus’ transition from one compartment to another within the heavenly sanctuary. Adventists explain that He did this to initiate a long-term “investigative judgment” of professed Christians. This convoluted new doctrine—which has no scriptural support—was intended to solve one problem, but instead unleashed a host of others. Serious Adventists live in fear that they will be lost for eternity because Christ will plead their case only if they are found worthy.
• Remnant Church. Adventism promotes the elitist view that it is the true church portrayed in Revelation chapter 12. Naturally, this means that other churches are apostate and lack the “full truth”—giving Adventists license to seek converts among evangelicals, often through stealth techniques like “Revelation seminars.”
And this is only scratching the surface. Other serious problems include Adventism’s confusion of law and gospel, its denial of hell, its denial that humans have a soul or spirit, and its use of the deceptive Clear Word “Bible.” And though much SDA medical and educational work is unquestionably praiseworthy, humanitarian “fruits” do not negate our responsibility to subject false prophets to the scrutiny of Scripture. Many of us who have served as missionaries in the Third World recognize the two faces of Adventism: Indulging in cozy ecumenism in English-speaking cultures while engaging in bare-knuckle proselytizing nearly everywhere else. The Seventh-day Adventist Church cannot have it both ways.
As those who have been commanded to “test all things” (1 Thess. 5:21)—especially in relation to prophetic claims—and “defend the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3–4), we have neither the liberty nor the luxury of turning a blind eye to the challenge of Adventism. Doing so would mean not only unconscionable compromise, but spiritual bondage for countless Adventists who need to hear the Gospel proclaimed as God intended.
CFAR is partnering with Life Assurance Ministries to develop new materials for a wide-scale response to Adventism in spiritual battlegrounds like Africa and Latin America. For this, we need your prayers! Ask that God will give us wisdom in warning the church about the errors of Ellen G. White, even as we extend a message of correction and hope to Adventists who trust in her unbiblical message for their salvation.
In Christ our Hope,
Paul Carden, executive director
P.S. I recently wrote the foreword to Truth About Seventh-day Adventist “Truth,” a booklet summarizing many of the deceptions and dangers of Adventism. For information on how you can obtain a copy, contact CFAR.
FOR NEARLY 140 YEARS, Mormonism (the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”) taught that the African people are “inferior” and “cursed” by God. The Mormon leaders who preached such racism in Jesus’ name are honored as “prophets, seers and revelators” by their church, and their cruel, unbiblical teachings remain for all the world to judge.
What’s more, the Mormon Church’s own scriptures have always taught that God sometimes punishes sin by cursing the guilty and their offspring with dark skin. For example, see the Book of Mormon (2 Nephi 5:21, Alma 3:6, Mormon 5:15) and Pearl of Great Price (Moses 7:8, 22).
But in 1978 the Mormon Church suddenly tried to erase over a century of scandal and resentment by announcing that “worthy” people of African descent could receive privileges and secret temple initiations which it had always denied them before.
This strange turnabout came as the cult was preparing to launch a major missionary drive into parts of the world where Mormonism had long been resisted because of its racist teachings—especially Africa. This is no mere coincidence.
The following quotations are taken from authoritative writings and speeches by Mormon prophets (their supreme earthly leaders) and apostles. As you read them, remember: The cult still praises these men as true messengers of God who are equal to the prophets and apostles of the Bible!
Their words are a sobering warning about the true nature of Mormonism—a religion which one day curses an entire people in God’s name, and the next day offers them greater “privileges”.
May true Christians beware of all such hypocrisy!
Since my birth I was raised in the atmosphere of the Mormon faith. My parents were dedicated to the Mormon Church, and I was in church every Sunday. I was also involved in many of the other activities the church offered. When I turned eight years old, I was baptized at the youngest age the church allowed, and I continued as a member of the church for a long time. I received the Aaronic priesthood at 12, had a temple recommend, and was baptized for the dead when I went to the temple. I also looked forward to the time when I could serve my two-year mission. But as I grew older, things began to change...
Eventually I reached an age where I could work. The church had begun to change in my eyes, and I didn’t really have any problem neglecting it by working on Sundays. When it came down to it, I’d grown unhappy with Mormonism. I came to the point where I was more of an agnostic. I never really denied God’s existence — I just didn’t care. I had my own life to live. So I worked through the rest of high school.
When I turned eighteen I had a decision to make. Of course, this is the time when I was supposed to go on my two-year mission. I had been raised expecting to go on a mission, and I had even wanted to go through most of my youth. But I didn’t care much about religious matters anymore. I wanted to go to college so that I could get a good education and live a decent life. Therefore, I began attending college. After all, I thought it was going to determine how much money I was going to make. While attending college, something amazing happened: I met a woman named Jennifer. I certainly wasn’t looking for anyone. But through a mutual friend, we had begun talking on the Internet. At first I just thought of her as a friend, but as we continued to talk, I started to really like her. After about three months, we decided to meet. And after meeting, we began to date. I was on cloud nine.
There was only one problem — Jennifer was a Christian. Not that I really minded. I didn’t necessarily think that there wasn’t a God; I just hadn’t cared for so long. She was very active in a campus ministry, and I began attending some ministry activities to spend more time with her. In time, I decided to prove to her that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the true church. After all, if she was going to be devoted in her beliefs, it should be with the true church. I realized that in order to accomplish this, I would need to study and understand the materials out there written against Mormonism. Then I could refute their arguments and demonstrate to her why Mormonism was true.
This led to a huge problem. The things I was reading could not easily be disproved. As a matter of fact, they could not be disproved — they were telling the truth. The evidence they gave was well documented and easily verifiable. I started to understand more about the history of Joseph Smith and of the Book of Mormon. There were also doctrinal problems that made the theology of the church illogical and irrational. I began having a crisis of faith: Was everything I had ever been taught through the Mormon Church wrong? After my research, I found out what I had believed was wrong. For me, learning the truth about Joseph Smith and the dubiousness of the Book of Mormon were the two primary reasons that caused me to leave the church.
As more time passed, the minister from the campus ministry began making sense. I decided to go with the group to a mission trip in Mexico over spring break. When we finally got down there, I took some time to talk to the associate minister. We spent a long time talking about spiritual things. I realized that I was a sinner — that I had disobeyed God by trying to run my own life and do things my own way. I also knew Mormonism didn’t have the answer, and I knew I could never be good enough to make things right with God (even by keeping the ordinances of the church and the law of the gospel).
Worst of all, I knew I deserved God’s punishment for my sins. So I confessed this to the associate minister, and he told me that Christ died on the cross to take all of this punishment upon Him. Christ also rose from the dead three days later and He has been alive ever since. The associate minister continued by saying that if I came to faith in Christ and what He had done for me, my sins would be forgiven and God would judge me based on Christ’s perfection and righteousness instead of my sinfulness. This was the key. Nothing I could do would help or make me better off. It was not about me anyway. It is about God, whose creation rebelled against Him, and about what He did to restore His relationship with this creation. I realized that what He did through Christ was glorious, and I wanted nothing more than to trust in Him. As a result, I told the associate minister that I wanted to become a Christian. He celebrated with me, and we told God together of my decision by prayer. He then recommended I should get baptized. Later in the week the entire campus ministry went down with me to a lake where he baptized me. This was the best decision I ever made.
I realized that my separation from God no longer existed! Through Christ, the barrier my sin had made was removed. And as a result, I was in a wonderful relationship with my Creator. I now had purpose in my life. I existed to serve God and to glorify Him. Learning the truth and about Christianity had totally changed my life. I began to see a real need for Christians to be better trained biblically and to be able to discern truth from error. I gained a passion to use my talents and gifts to serve God in this matter. Because of this, I began gaining education for this purpose at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I also continue to have a heart for the Mormon people and a desire to show them the truth. I hope that through my involvement with CFAR I will be able to help others in the pursuit of this truth. And I will never forget that for the rest of my life, I will live first and foremost to serve the Lord and to do His will.
Do you believe in "divine appointments?"
"The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps" (Prov. 16:19).
I thought it was only an errand. While driving back to the Centers' office after picking up some envelopes from the printer I noticed two Mormon missionaries standing on a sidewalk preparing to go out on their proselytizing calls. It was an opportunity I couldn't pass up.
I pulled over, got a tract "New Light on Joseph Smith's First Vision" from my glove compartment, walked up to the young men, and greeted them. One was from Utah, the other from Idaho; one of them had been "on the field" for only a week. After getting to know them a bit, I offered them the tract, telling them that it had been written by someone who had done careful firsthand research on Mormon prophet Joseph Smith's claim to have been visited by God the Father and Jesus in a grove near his home in upstate New York.
When our curbside conversation ended half an hour later, I marveled at how God had guided the encounter - easily the most positive and productive in my more than 20 years of witnessing to Mormons!
As I drove back to the office and replayed the exchange in my mind, several points stood out. I'd like to share them with you in the hope that you'll be better prepared when your next divine appointment comes:
First, build a bridge.When cult missionaries come to your door, get to know something about them personally - their names, where they're from, how long they've been in the group, and even how (and why) they joined. Then, begin by talking about something of mutual interest, like a point of doctrine especially dear to them. (This reflects the approach that the apostle Paul modeled for us in Acts 17.)
Second, stick to the point. Even though the conversation covered a lot of ground, the Lord graciously enabled me to keep steering it back to two key issues: What is your hope? and How can we know what is true? The Joseph Smith story outlined in the tract was relevant because, as persistent questioning confirmed, the missionaries' hope rests on him - on his personal integrity, his credibility as a prophet of God, his interpretation of Scripture, and even his personal permission to enter eternal life! Admittedly, there are many controversial (and even devastating) points to discuss about Mormonism; however, I knew my time was short and that I might not get another opportunity to lovingly present the truth to them.
Sticking to the main issue of their hope and how we know truth naturally opened the way to share from God's Word, our final and authoritative standard. Using a technique developed by Mark Cares in his book Speaking the Truth in Love to Mormons, I took them first to Matthew 5:48 ("Be ye therefore perfect"), then to Hebrews 10:10-18 ("For by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified"), asking them to read each passage aloud from their own copies of the King James Version. (While Mormons often question the credibility of Scripture verses that conflict with their teachings, none will reject these two.) And contrasting Matthew 7:15-16 ("Ye shall know them [i.e., false prophets] by their fruits") with the tests given in Deuteronomy 13 and 18 helped the missionaries to see that Joseph Smith's claims must be judged by God's Word.
Third, offer a clear alternative. Too many Christians "share" about Mormonism by ruthlessly tearing down the missionaries' cherished beliefs without offering them any hope in return. Remember that every Mormon missionary has a "testimony" - usually about the Mormon church, the Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith. Be ready to tell of what Jesus has done for you personally and to back up your hope with Scripture (e.g., Galatians 2:8-9, Titus 3:5, 1 John 5:10-13).
Fourth, end on a positive note. Don't get emotional or let your frustration with the missionaries' words or attitudes get the better of you! Believe it or not, this has been my downfall on more than one occasion, as my dear wife can attest. Don't think you've accomplished anything unless you've treated them with "gentle ness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15), and don't casually ridicule their beliefs. Bear in mind that, if you've done your job well, you've left two young people weighed heavily with the possibility that they're devoting two precious years of their lives to spreading a lie. Remember, too, that the messenger (you) can be just as important as the message in these situations; by parting as friends you can counteract the stereotypes Mormons often nurture about being willfully misunderstood or persecuted.
Fifth, have something good for them to take home. This isn't always possible, but it almost always helps. Even after I said goodbye, that tract was still in the senior mission ary's hand; and God willing, it would be read later that day and its references checked for accuracy. These "paper missionaries" keep working even after you've bidden the cultist fare well. (For a great selection of tracts for Mormon missionaries and friends, call our partner ministry IRR at  451-4562 or visit them on the Internet at www.irr.org.)
Finally, pray for them. Bring them daily before the "throne of grace" (Heb. 4:16) and trust God to continue working, by His Spirit, through His Word and your witness!
There are many fine books and other materials that contrast Mormonism and Christianity; for a list see our bibliography. By far the best single resource I've seen on practical evangelism among Mormon friends, neighbors, loved ones, and missionaries is Pastor Mark Cares' book Speaking the Truth in Love to Mormons, which also has an excellent companion video. For ordering information, call WELS Outreach Resources at (800) 884-9312.
You and I are to "be ready in season and out of season" (2 Timothy 4:2). Please pray for our CFAR teams around the world as we equip pastors and lay believers to defend their faith and win cultists to Christ in the former Soviet Union, eastern Europe, Latin America, and beyond.
And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!"Romans 10:15
I want to tell you a strange and wonderful love story.
Once upon a time there was a woman named Carol. She endured nearly 40 years as an active Jehovah's Witness. Then she spent nine years in the spiritual wilderness.
And then, in 1988, she surrendered her heart to Jesus Christ.
As time went by, Carol's love for Jesus grew. But so did another love - an abiding, passionate love for Jehovah's Witnesses.
Carol's love for the Jehovah's Witnesses increased to the point that she was willing to do something extraordinary: She left the comforts of her home in San Diego to cross the ocean and spend three months in the former Soviet Union to tell JWs who don't even speak English about the hope and freedom that Christ alone can offer them.
And strangest of all, the people whom Carol loves have been (in the words of Oscar Hammerstein) "carefully taught" to "hate and fear" people like her - that is, people who have left the Watchtower Society.
But that didn't stop Carol. In July of 2003 she packed her bags and headed for Ukraine.
When she arrived in Kyiv to serve her first term as a CFAR missionary, Carol knew that she wanted to share the love of Christ with Jehovah's Witnesses and help former JWs who hadn't yet come to Jesus. What she didn't know was that so many Christians would want to hear her, too - Christians who wanted to understand the difference between the Watchtower "gospel" and the biblical Gospel, who wanted to know how to express God's love to the Witnesses.
In three months, Carol gave her testimony of God's love in two dozen churches in twenty cities and villages in Ukraine and Poland. And by the time she returned to the States, requests were coming in steadily from churches in other cities and villages - so many that she could easily fill every Sunday from now till the end of the following year (and a lot of days in between).
Of course, Carol also witnessed to Jehovah's Witnesses who she met on the street and on her doorstep, sharing the Good News and planting powerful seeds that we believe God will use to bring them to Christ.
How can you witness to a Witness? Carol offers these four practical steps:
. Ask God to use the Holy Spirit to help you speak to this individual. (Each Witness is different!)
. Be friendly - get acquainted! (Find out about the person's family, how he or she became a Jehovah's Witness, etc.)
. Don't attack the Watchtower's errors right away. ("People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.")
. Give your testimony! (The Witness has no experience of a personal relationship with Christ, and His work in your life sends a powerful message).
One of Carol's most poignant memories was of the afternoon she spent with Irina, a Ukrainian woman who left the Watchtower to follow Jesus. What made the encounter so special was that Irina had never met anyone else who had left the Witnesses and become a true follower of Jesus Christ. Irina's eyes were shining as she and Carol opened God's Word together and she basked in this rare moment of fellowship.
This strange and wonderful love story doesn't stop there.
Carol plans to return to the former Soviet Union next year for at least six more months of life-changing ministry alongside Genna Gomenyuk of CFAR Ukraine. The Watchtower Society has over a quarter of a million adherents in Ukraine alone! If the Lord tarries and her health holds up, she hopes to go back and minister every year of her life from now on.
It wouldn't be possible without the prayers of the Body of Christ. God bless you for helping to make His love real to those trapped in the cults around the world!
Jesus Christ founded and established his Church, and he has continued to build it throughout the centuries. Among the many gifts he has bestowed on his people, there are those given specifically to their leaders for the building up of the Body. Such leaders are the officials of the Church, called and equipped by God - as well as recognized by God's people - for the performance of their unique task.
God has given to the officials of his Church the responsibility to lead his people by example, by the administration of the ordinances, and by the teaching of the Word of God, which is the spiritual food of God's flock. To them it is also given the responsibility to oversee and administrate the Church. Their work has been appointed by God for the edification of his people.
Because of the great responsibility attached to the offices in the Church, God has required that officers meet certain conditions, to be qualified to fulfill their work. These can be found in many Scriptural passages (1 Tim. 3 is one of the best examples).
It is important to recognize that the leaders appointed for the Church offices have spiritual gifts that are present, in different degrees, in the non-officials of the congregations. There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; there are varieties of ministries, but the same Lord. The Holy Spirit sovereignly confers the gifts and works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as he wills (1 Cor. 12:4-11). However, it is required of the Church officials that they have not only the gifts, but also the public recognition (viz., by the people of God) that they have been called and appointed for the offices of leadership in the Church.
The New Testament mentions three specific offices: apostles, presbyters (or bishops, or pastors; the three terms are used in Scripture in reference to the same office, cf. Tit. 1:5-7; Acts 20: 17; 28) and deacons. Throughout the centuries, different segments of Christianity have instituted different models of ecclesiastical government, because of their disagreement on which is the most biblical. However, there has been a historical consensus that the apostolic office is no longer present in the Church.
In recent Christian history, nonetheless, some have argued that there is no explicit verse in the Bible that specifically states the apostolic office is not extant. As a result, some churches go as far as to name their leaders "apostles." Many Christians, therefore, are submitting to these so-called "apostles" under the impression that they are but following the biblical model, and that those leaders naturally have as much authority over them and the Church as Peter or Paul did.
This recent development, being so unique in the history of the Church, raises the question as to whether there are apostles today. Is it true that denying the existence of apostles today is tantamount to denying the operations of the Holy Spirit among the people of God today, as well as the biblical model of church government? Does one quench the Spirit by denying that he could very well decide to raise apostles today? Do we have the right to believe God's freedom of choice and action is detached to his revealed Word? Alternatively, does his Word allow for such development?
To answer such questions, the first necessary step is to examine precisely what is the biblical idea of apostleship - its function, responsibility, and necessary qualifications.
The Meaning of the Word "Apostle"
In the New Testament, there are two basic meanings for the term "apostle." In the most broad, general sense, any person who might be sent by God through the Church for a particular work, whether of leadership or not (cf. Phil. 2:25), can be classified under the term "apostle." This broad meaning is derived from the correlation between the noun "apostle" and the Greek verb that means "to send." Hence, in this very broad sense, there is no difficulty wth the concept that any Christian, in principle, can be called an apostle. For example, any person could be sent by a church to the mission field, and, in a broad, non-technical sense, this person in an "apostle" of God.
In the New Testament, however, the technical and restricted sense of the term is by far the most common. It refers only to the select group of the apostles of Christ. The word normally translated "apostle" (and its variations as noun and verb) is found 80 times in the Greek New Testament. It has the restricted and technical meaning of the word in no less than 73 of those instances. The broad, non-technical meaning (i.e., one who is "sent" for a task) is used only three times (John 13:16; 2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25). One time it refers to Jesus Christ (Heb. 3:1). The remaining three occurrences (Rom. 16:7; Acts 14:4; 14) present exegetical difficulties that make it difficult to determine with certainty if they are employed in the technical or non-technical sense.
There is no controversy about the broader, non-technical sense of the Word. It could be applied in reference to any person sent by the Church to a specific task - although it is arguably unwise to do so, since it is likely to generate confusion (because the New Testament uses it in the technical sense in the overwhelming majority of the instances). Therefore, our focus here is on the more technical use of the word, viz., on the apostolic office, which some claim to have today.
The Apostles and the Scriptures
To understand properly the role of the apostles, it is essential to recognize that the New Testament was written by them and their close associates. To them it was given, by the Holy Spirit, the ability to precisely remember the words and teachings of Jesus (as well as to receive direct revelation after his ascension), and to teach and record them in a unified doctrinal whole without error.Jesus told his disciples (later called apostles):
"These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you." (John 14:25-26)
Because of this, the apostles explicitly considered their own writings as being on the same level of inspiration and authority as the Old Testament Scriptures. They were aware that the documents they were producing were inspired by God as Scripture, and were to be received by the churches as such. This can be seen in the following examples:
. . . that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles. (2 Pet. 3:2)
If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord's commandment. (1 Cor. 14:37)
For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. (1 Thess. 2:13)
. . . as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Pet. 3:16)
The word translated "Scriptures" in 2 Peter 3:16 occurs 51 times in the Greek New Testament, and refers specifically to the Old Testament (i.e., not just to any writing, but to the Word of God) in every occurrence. Clearly, Peter was referring to the epistles of Paul as being Scripture in the same sense as the Word of God in the Old Testament. Given the care and importance the sacred Scriptures had for all faithful in the first century, Peter was not likely to make such statement in a careless manner. It was evident to him and to the Church that God was providing his words for the New Covenant through the ministry of the apostles.
By virtue of the apostolic office, the apostles had the authority to not only receive direct revelation of the Word of God, but also to teach it to the Church. That a document had been written by an apostle or an apostles' authorized associate was the first and foremost criterion for it to be considered as eligible to be included as part of the New Testament Scriptures.
That being the case, one might wonder how documents such as the gospels of Mark and Luke, the book of Acts, the epistle to the Hebrews, and the epistle of Jude, were eventually considered as part of the New Testament canon. After all, Mark, Luke, and Jude were not apostles, and there is no certainty as to who is the author of Hebrews. Indeed, those books were received by the primitive Church because their writers were close associates of the apostles, and were writing under their supervision and presenting their doctrine. The biblical and historical evidence is that Luke was under the supervision of Paul, and Mark under Peter. Jude was one of Jesus' brothers. As to the epistle to the Hebrews, some (in fact, the majority) received it as being written by Paul; others, even if not certain, recognized that its teachings clearly and directly reflected the apostolic doctrine.
The apostolic office cannot be understood apart from its function as the channel through which the Holy Spirit was pleased to provide the New Covenant writings to his people. The apostles were directly commissioned by Jesus to preach, teach, and write his inspired Word to the Church. Nobody had the authority to claim divine inspiration for his writings if he was not an apostle or one of his associates. Similarly, nobody, in the subsequent history of the Church, has ever had the right to include his or her writings as part of the Bible, since the canon of Scripture was closed with the death of the last living apostle - John (at the close of the first century).
If the apostolic office was to be extended throughout the history of the Church, any apostle, at any time, by virtue of his office, could expect the Church to receive his writings as direct revelation from God, inspired documents to be annexed to the Bible. All Christians, of course, would be bound to receive it and submit to it as the inspired Word of God. Since this is impossible, it is prima facie impossible that there could be any apostles after the apostolic age, let alone today. Yet, there are other reasons that also substantiate this conclusion.
The Apostles' Qualifications
There were two requirements for one to be qualified as an apostle:
1. The apostle had to be an eyewitness of the risen Jesus.
. . . until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God." (Acts 1:2-3)
Being an eyewitness was one of the requirements for the appointment of the one to be installed as the twelfth apostle in the place of Judas Iscariot:
Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us-beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us-one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection. (Acts 1:21-22)
And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. (Acts 4:33)Paul the apostle was indeed an eyewitness of the risen Christ:
Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" And he said, "Who are You, Lord?" And He said, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do." (Acts 9:1-6)
Consequently, Paul often emphasized that his credentials as an apostle were based on having been an eyewitness of the risen Christ:
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? (1 Cor. 9:1)
. . . then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1 Cor. 15:7-9)
Paul clearly states he was the last apostle to be commissioned by Jesus. His description of Jesus' appearance to him is given in connection with his apostleship. Since he makes his statement under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, it is not possible that he was mistaken. One could perhaps argue that Paul simply meant he was the last apostle at that time, and that he did not know other apostles were to come in the future. However, like Paul and the other apostles, subsequent apostles would have had to be eyewitnesses of the risen Jesus and be commissioned directly by him (see below) to receive and teach direct revelation. This is no longer possible, since the canon of Scripture has been closed.
2. The apostle had to have been commissioned directly by Jesus.
The twelve original apostles were commissioned directly by Jesus:
And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles: Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James and John; and Philip and Bartholomew; and Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot; Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. (Lk. 6:13-16; cf. Mat. 10:1-7; Mk. 3:14)
Given such requirement, when the apostles felt Judas Iscariot's office as one of the 12 apostles (the number being typological of the 12 tribes of Israel) should be filled, they naturally sought not only God's wisdom, but also his direct revelation and appointment:
"Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us- beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us-one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection." So they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias. And they prayed and said, "You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place." And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:21-26)
Thus, Paul often emphasized that his credentials as an apostle were based not only on the fact that he had seen the risen Jesus, but also that he had been commissioned directly by him:
Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead). (Gal. 1:1)
For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Gal. 1:11-12)
Who Were the Apostles?
As previously mentioned, there were originally 12 apostles. Their number was typological of the leadership of the twelve tribes of Israel in the New Covenant. Besides the 12, only two people are explicitly mentioned as apostles in the New Testament: Paul and James (he brother of Jesus and the leader of the church in Jerusalem, cf. Gal. 1:19; 2:9). Paul clearly states that the risen Jesus appeared to James (1 Cor. 15:7); the apostles' recognition of James' leadership in Jerusalem on the same level as theirs is evidence that they understood James to have been directly appointed by Jesus. As shown above, the apostles considered this criterion as necessary for the apostolic office.
Barnabas (Acts 14:4; 14), Paul's travel companion, might have been called an apostle in the Scriptures, although this is not certain. There are two possibilities: on the one hand, it is possible that the references in Acts 14 should be understood as corresponding to the technical use of the term "apostle." In this case, given the requirements shown above, as well as the selective manner in which the New Testament designates one as an apostle, it is reasonable, if not necessary, to infer that Barnabas met the two requirements for the office. However, it is more likely that Acts 14 uses the broad sense of the term, since, in the context, Paul and Barnabas had been sent on a special mission by the church in Antioch, to which they were to report when their work was completed (cf. Acts 14:27). The emphasis in the passage is not in the office of the apostle, but on the missionaries/evangelists sent by the church.
It is not impossible that other individuals not mentioned in the Scriptures had the necessary qualifications and were considered apostles in the first century. The available data, however, establishes the following: first, even if there were any other apostles, they were a very select group (since very few could have had the two main qualifications), of which Paul was the last. This excludes the possibility that there were any apostles commissioned by God after Paul, i.e., after the middle of the first century, let alone today. Nobody can make a legitimate claim of having received a direct commission by Jesus, whether by vision or revelation, to the office of an apostle after Paul. God does not contradict his Word.
Second, no one could claim apostleship, who had not received authority for the writing of inspired Scripture, either directly from Jesus, or by one of his apostles. This is confirmed not only by the biblical evidence, but also in the history of the canonization of the Scriptures. The Church would not recognize writings as being Scripture if they were not produced by an apostle or one authorized associate. The early Church recognized that only the apostles were commissioned to bring God's inspired Word in connection with the New Covenant. Since the early Church also recognized that there were no apostles after Paul, it would not include any subsequent writings in the canon of Scripture.
The canon of Scripture is closed, God having both inspired and preserved his Word for two thousand years - hence it is not possible that there could be any apostles after the completion of that canon. ?Their main purpose, viz., of mediating the gospel to the Jews and Gentiles through the authoritative words of the incarnate God given directly to them, had already been fulfilled.
The Apostles' Role in the Church
Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us that the apostles had a definite role in God's plan in the building up of the Church. He told the Ephesians that the apostles and prophets were the foundation of the Church:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone. (Eph. 2:19-20)
Similarly, the apostle John describes the glorified Church of God having the apostles as its foundation:
Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, "Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west. And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (Rev. 21:9-14)
The biblical evidence rules out the possibility that there could be any apostles after the first generation of the Church, i.e., in the first century. Consequently, there are no apostles today. They were a select group of eyewitnesses of the risen Christ, commissioned to their office by Jesus himself. Only they had the authority to write (or supervise the writing) of the New Testament Scriptures.
The canon of the Word of God, being complete, cannot be augmented by any document. Since the apostolic office by definition included the authority to write Scripture, it follows that it does not exist today, because that authority is no longer given by God to anyone. God no longer gives inspired and inerrant revelation to any person, under any circumstance. His infallible revelation is found exclusively in the closed canon of Scriptures.
It is important to stress that the ministry of apostles does indeed continue today - not in the person of anyone claiming to be an apostle, but in the New Testament. Every time the Word of God in the New Testament is read and proclaimed, the apostolic ministry and office fulfills its role. The apostles of the first century live on today, in the Church, through the Word God has given us through them.
According to that Word, Paul was the last apostle. The only offices that remain in the Church (even though there is a variety of ministries) are that of the pastor (or presbyter, or bishop - the three terms are used interchangeably in the New Testament and refer to the same office), and of the deacon.
God is sovereign and free in his decisions. The Holy Spirit is a Spirit of freedom. Yet, he is also a Spirit of order. God has bound himself to operate according to what he has already revealed in his Word. He honors his Word. We should never expect him to add to it, to subtract from it, or to contradict it.
"To the famished manevery bitter thing is sweet."Proverbs 27:7b
Cultism is a disease - a spiritual disease. One among many, to be sure, but one seldom diagnosed properly or treated adequately.
Just as a lack of nutrition and hygiene lead to disease, cultism flourishes in the absence of truth and hope.
Perhaps nowhere is this spiritual desperation as starkly evident as in China, home to one quarter of the world's population, where a half-century of communist ideology is unraveling - leading to what the September 26 Washington Post describes as the nation's "frenzied search for new rules to live by":
Across China, people are struggling to redefine notions of success and failure, right and wrong, good and evil. The quest for something to believe in has become so universal and profound that it is one of the unifying characteristics of life in China today.
Wang Meng, one of China's most famous writers, lamented not long ago that "Morality has perished, but everybody wants to have faith." And legions of false apostles and deceitful workers (2 Cor. 11:13) are prepared to promise anything to snare followers. As the Post's Foreign Service reported on July 23, "Manned by an army of the dispossessed and led by alienated government workers, scam artists and self-described visionaries, religious organizations have spread across China, popping up in almost every county, every town." And they can be stunning in their crudeness and brutality. For example, a report in the October 7 Women's Daily told how Wu Jifa, a poor farmer in southwest China's impoverished Guizhou province, joined a religious cult in 997 with dreams of getting rich:
According to the report, the cult's leader, a man surnamed Long, claimed people could leave behind the woes and cares of the world if they stood naked by a road with their identification papers on the ground, and killed the first person who came along to check the papers.
On June 29, 998, Wu, his wife Long Zaihua, his cousin Wu Qiugou and the cousin's two sons went to a roadside at dawn, took off their clothes and put their papers on the ground. They grabbed the first farmer who approached, forced him to look at the papers and then stoned him to death, the report said.
The tragic story of another self-proclaimed savior, Liu Jiaguo, is recounted in the enclosed article from the New York Times. Notably absent from the Times account is Liu's cynical twisting of Scripture. The Associated Press explains that the "Supreme Deity" and his cohorts "told women followers that they must sacrifice their bodies to God, saying that members of their families would get sick and die if they did not have sex with them...Liu and others seduced girls by quoting the Bible out of context, claiming that they were 'predestined in a former life to be called by God to be "holy spirits," which would improve their karma.'" Other "Christian" counterfeits are proliferating - and prospering - in China: Last year Open Doors exposed the work of Bible-quoting "Brother Chen," who callously preyed on impoverished and untaught house church members in Hubei province, wiping out their meager savings and their fellowship through his deceptive doctrines. In September the Associated Press disclosed that "Police in southern China's Guangdong province.arrested 31 people and demolished three churches in a campaign to crush a Protestant sect [sic] known as the 'cold water religion.'" This cult was allegedly founded by a:farm woman, since deceased, who claimed that cold water was the "invincible" blood of the "Heavenly Father." In recent years, it has gained a following of several hundred people, despite attempts by local authorities to close down their churches. Followers, mostly illiterate and semi-illiterate farm women, elderly and disabled people, claim that drinking cold water will cure all illnesses..[The report also] said authorities blamed the sect for causing the deaths of five people, including two young girls, who did not get medical treatment because of their beliefs. Families were broken up and left destitute because of poor harvests after believers substituted cold water for fertilizer and pesticides.
Such cases, long suppressed by officials, are now being brought to light as Beijing struggles to put a lid on Falun Gong and lesser-known spiritual movements that pose a threat to its authority. Conservative estimates place the number of Falun Gong adherents at ten million, and the Washington Post repeats the Chinese government's claim that "Since 1996, in Hunan province alone, authorities have disbanded 0,000 sects and imprisoned at least 0,000 leaders." Even assuming that many of those affected by the government's crackdown are sincere Christians unjustly persecuted for assembling in unofficial churches, cultism appears to be spreading on a scale that defies comprehension. Pray for China!
China seems remote, doesn't it? Sadly, there are few places where cultic diseases cannot reach. In Uganda, authorities are attempting to stop the World Message Last Warning Church (also known as the Doctrine of Brotherhood), a doomsday sect whose members have been charged with defilement of minor girls, rape, theft, kidnapping, and "illegal confinement." According to the Associated Press, leader Wilson Bushara began attracting crowds of followers from as far away as Burundi, Tanzania, and Congo this year "by offering them space in heaven upon death in return for cash payment." At least 24 corpses were discovered in shallow graves in the cult's compound this month. And in the Comoro Islands (an Islamic nation off the east coast of Africa so strict that even the JESUS Film is banned), Jehovah's Witnesses have reportedly gained 00 disciples in just two years.
The sickness can spread so easily - even among committed Christians who haven't been "immunized." Alan Scholes, a professor at the International School of Theology, recently returned from Central Asia, where he gave intensive training to leaders from that predominantly Muslim region. He writes of his encounter with a Christian national, on the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ, who is responsible for supervising all the JESUS Film Project evangelism teams in his former Soviet republic:
He came to me concerned about his friend, whom I'll call Alexe (not his real name). Alexe is the head of the most successful JESUS Film team in the country. But a few years ago he began attending a house church where he learned some strange teachings. Eventually he encouraged all the other members of his team to attend as well. As I heard the description of this group, I recognized it as an American-based cult which denies the Trinity (among other errors).
Another friend of ours, recently returned from a short-term mission in Nepal, describes his amazement upon discovering that his host - a brave pastor/evangelist who frees families from generations of indentured servitude - must help new Christians in that Buddhist land to resist the aggressive tactics of the notorious Boston Movement and Jehovah's Witnesses! In the last several weeks we've also been contacted by a believer in India seeking assistance with the Local Church sect and a Christian in Ethiopia who is responding to the divisive errors of the "Jesus Only" (or "Oneness") Pentecostals in his country.
No matter where the sickness strikes, the antidote for deception is discernment! And no matter what the culture, discernment depends on data - both from God's precious Word and from a familiarity with the methods and message of cults that exploit the longings of the lost and the confusion of vulnerable Christians. That's why I'm so committed to the cause of the Centers for Apologetics Research - and why we covet your intercession for our efforts to equip believers in Eurasia, Latin America, and beyond.
From Central Asia, an evangelical missionary asks a western parachurch agency for help. His problem: Whenever a Muslim converts to Christ, he or she is immediately set upon by Jehovah's Witnesses bent on indoctrinating the new believer.
A Christian in Cuba writes: "I have seen a great number of friends and people in search of truth absorbed into religious institutions like the Jehovah's Witnesses .who claim to hold the truth and that no other church outside of their doctrines practices it and therefore will not be saved. These groups are very much in style in these times, mainly the Jehovah's Witnesses, who are gaining ground like a horrible plague, deceiving sincere people."
From Moscow another believer writes: "We have lots of sects with cultic tendencies in our region. Could you please help us with materials about those destructive cults? How to fight them, what to do?.Help us, for Christ's sake!"
When most people think about missions, they usually don't think about cults.
That may soon change.
Today, the Church of Scientology recruits foreign missionaries in glossy, full-color magazines and boasts that its fastest growth is taking place in Hungary and Russia. A convention of "Bible Students" (Watchtower splinter groups) draws nearly a thousand delegates from across eastern Europe. Latin Americans dabble with the teachings of increasingly popular Japanese sects like Seicho-no-Ie and Mahikari. Disciples of the deceased prophet William Branham produce millions of tracts, pamphlets, and cassettes in languages ranging from Lithuanian to Swahili.
Around the world, cults and controversial new religions are multiplying as they gain cross-cultural sophistication, increase their missionary forces, and step up their translation capabilities. They appear at disaster sites to distribute relief supplies and counsel refugees, and they're going toe-to-toe with evangelical missionaries in the most unexpected places. Their proliferation points to the need for greater awareness among missions strategists and a wider, more effective response on the field.
Characteristics of cultic groups.
Today, while secular scholars define cultic groups largely on the basis of behavioral factors (authoritarianism, unethical manipulation and exploitation of followers), evangelicals focus primarily on a group's beliefs. Robert M. Bowman, Jr. of Watchman Fellowship defines a cult as "a religious group originating as a heretical sect and maintaining fervent commitment to heresy." (Bowman further explains that heresy is "Doctrine which is erroneous in such a way that Christians must divide themselves as a church from all who teach or accept it.")
Of course, Christians regard cultic movements as a danger to the life and outreach of the church because the New Testament says they are. In apostolic times the Body of Christ was faced with cultists and divisive teachers, and the epistles give repeated warnings about deadly spiritual impostors. In Jude 3-4 we are exhorted to "contend earnestly" for "the faith once for all delivered to the saints" because that faith has sworn enemies. In Acts 2 0:8-31 , the apostle Paul warns the elders of Ephesus that such enemies of the gospel appear from both outside the church ("savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock") and from within ("from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them"). In Corinthians Paul makes it painfully clear how very vulnerable the church was to error (11 :3-4, 1 3-5), and in his second epistle Peter spares no words in warning his readers about the threat of false teachers in their midst, calling them to "be on your guard" (2:1-22, 3:15-17).
Growth patterns. Cults lost no time in entering the former Soviet Union, where Jehovah's Witnesses grew at the amazing rate of about 30% per year between 991 and 997, tripling in size. If they continue at this pace for the next six years, there will be half a million active Witnesses there, spending 50 million hours per year spreading the Watchtower message. The Witnesses already boast of being the "fifth-largest Christian group in Russia," and the damage from the cult's efforts extends well beyond its own membership: Jehovah's Witnesses distribute nearly 5,000 tons of literature per year in Russia alone - material which undermines trust in the Trinity, the biblical Jesus, and a host of core Christian doctrines, thus inoculating untold numbers of people against the Gospel message, even if they don't fully commit to joining the sect.
The Mormon Church has found especially fertile soil in Latin America. After English, the languages spoken most widely among Mormons are Spanish and Portuguese, with over 3.5 million combined. Half of the cult's 8 Missionary Training Centers are in the region. And in Africa - largely off-limits to Mormon missionaries until 978 because of their church's racist policies - the "Latter-day Saints" are actively proselytizing in 6 nations, and some half a million Mormons worldwide are of African descent.
In some countries, cults are coming close to achieving a sort of dominance. For example, in the island nation of Tonga, one third of the population is Mormon (as are a quarter of the population of both American and Western Samoa). In Spain there are nearly as many active Jehovah's Witnesses as Protestant church members, and in Poland the Witnesses outnumber evangelicals outright. Long-term trends are not promising: realistic projections by secular sociologists like the University of Washington's Rodney Stark estimate that there will be more than 60 million Mormons and 95 million active Jehovah's Witnesses worldwide before the end of the 21st century.
Growth factors. Two keys to cult expansion are a commitment to mobilization and translation.
The Mormon Church spends an estimated $770 million per year on its missions program and currently fields some 60,000 full-time missionaries in 160 nations who proselytize almost exclusively. At its current rate of expansion, this workforce will increase to 0,000 by the year 01 5. (In comparison, the MARC 998-000 Mission Handbook reports that 825 U.S. and Canadian Protestant agencies combined are fielding only about 40,000 career and short-term [1 to 4 years] missionaries of all kinds.)
The Jehovah's Witnesses go a step further, mobilizing virtually all 5.9 million active members for proselytizing; of these, over 700,000 commit 50 hours or more per month to spreading their message. Mormon missionaries receive systematic training in over 50 languages - impressive, until one realizes that the Jehovah's Witnesses are disseminating their message in over 300 languages, adding as many as 8-2 5 per year. (The cult's deceptive version of the Bible, the New World Translation, is now available in 34 languages, from Norwegian and Croatian to Tsonga and Yoruba.)
But today's cult problem is not limited to U.S.-based multinationals. Some cultic movements, like the Philippines-based "Iglesia ni Cristo" and Mexico's "Luz del Mundo," draw their adherents mainly from distinct ethnic and national groups scattered around the world. Others, like the Bah??faith, actively seek to erase cultural boundaries, while loose-knit spiritist movements like Umbanda adapt to local cultures.
Beyond the consequences of the sheer numerical growth of cultic movements is, of course, the damage done in human lives as cultic groups split congregations and divide families, sowing confusion and heartache while replacing hope in Christ with empty substitutes for salvation.
Answering the call. For a variety of reasons, the response of missionaries and nationals in the developing world has not been proportional to the challenge. Evangelicals need to see cult proselytizers not merely as unwanted "competition," but as a growing mission field in their own right, and some are seizing opportunities for practical outreach:
Roger DeLozier was a successful computer programmer in Maryland when he answered the call of God to help pastors in the former Soviet Union deal with the burgeoning problem of cults. In May of 998 he joined the team of the Center for Apologetics Research in St. Petersburg, Russia, putting his seminary degrees and twenty years' experience in cult evangelism to work training pastors and seminary students.
Joel Groat, research associate at Gospel Truths Ministries in Grand Rapids, realized that his Spanish-language skills could be used to help Christians in Latin America to evangelize Mormons and warn potential converts. Now he is leading nationals and short-term missionaries in evangelistic outreaches to Mormon temple dedication events in Ecuador, Bolivia, and the Dominican Republic.
Former Jehovah's Witness Cindy Marty and her husband, Paul, moved from Minnesota to southern Ukraine to begin AWANA club and help nationals develop small businesses. When local Christians learned of her past they began asking her to share her testimony in churches. As a result, Cindy was able to lead a number of Witnesses to the Lord and warn thousands of Christians about the cult, encouraging some to pursue such ministry full time.
Strategies and solutions. What strategies can help evangelicals to counter the advance of cults on a broad scale? Missions agencies should seriously consider the following:
Pastoral training should include practical instruction about how to protect congregations from the methods and message of cultic groups and impart biblical discernment skills to lay Christians.
Organizations which emphasize evangelism and discipleship should take special care to specifically inoculate new converts and young believers against cult recruitment, since they are especially vulnerable.
Western missionaries with experience in cult-related research and outreach are especially needed in developing nations and in cultures newly exposed to cult influences - as are specialized organizations to monitor and respond to such groups locally.
One promising development is a gradual increase in the variety and availability of non-English language resources for both evangelism and warning potential cult converts.
Using his computer skills, Roger DeLozier has set up an extensive Russian-language web site of camera-ready tracts and pamphlets on cults and apologetics (http://www.apolresearch.org/eng/cfar_eng.php3) and is developing a Ukrainian-language counterpart. Vestnik, a special bulletin on cults and discernment for pastors, is also online at the site.
Joel Groat and Gospel Truths Ministries produce high-quality literature on Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormonism in Albanian, Chinese, Estonian, French, Greek, Hungarian, Korean, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, and Tagalog, much of which is available online at their web site.
Finally, because the battle is a spiritual one, intercessors need to make cult prevention and evangelism part of their global prayer priorities (Eph. 6:12,18). By God's grace, followers of counterfeit gospels can be set free to walk with Christ!
This article first appeared in the April 2000 issue of Evangelical Missions Quarterly.
It is a beautiful privilege to work along with Christ,but we shall not serve in that blessed apprenticeship longwithout learning this lesson: that He has no pleasure in service rendered to Himself or others that does not cost us blood!- F.B. Meyer
Alarmed by the accelerating growth of Jehovah's Witnesses on world mission fields and exasperated by the church's inaction, Walter Martin wrote in 1 965 that "the gravity of the problem which confronts the Christian Church is apparent to all but the most adamantly obtuse." One generation - and millions of cultists - later, award-winning historian of missions Ruth Tucker lamented: "I have come to the conclusion that one of the most serious and least recognized problems we face in overseas missions is that of the proliferation of cults.."
Given the scarcity of literature on the subject and the lack of broad, sustained, action to address the problem, it is evident that Tucker is right: few Christians in the field of missions seem to recognize the threat of the cults around the globe, consistently underestimating the cults' determination, their resources, and the impact they make on evangelism and church-planting.
What accounts for the seeming indifference to the worldwide growth of the cults? Based on conversations with missionaries, missions executives, and lay believers, I'm prone to suspect at least four factors (which turn up in varying combinations):
1. They haven't seen the data. But as I've written previously, the latest statistical evidence could hardly be more compelling: Barring unforeseen disasters, at its present rate of growth the Mormon church is projected to reach a staggering 260 million members and 370,000 full-time missionaries in only a few decades - and the Jehovah's Witnesses will hit at least 30 million. At the same time, dozens of smaller, less-notorious cults and sects are multiplying and extending their harm into areas where the church is least able to resist and evangelize them.
2. They have a misplaced fatalism - a sense that little or nothing can be done anyway. Even as some Christians misappropriate Mark 4:7 to excuse their neglect of the poor, a surprising number simply shrug and say, in effect, "The cults you have with you always."
3. Countering cults requires distasteful dirtywork. Some people have a deep-seated aversion to religious controversy or criticism. This is sometimes rooted in a timid temperament, but often hardened by exposure to abrasive apologists.
4. "It's enough just to preach the gospel." (After all, why lower yourself to grapple with error if you can simply declare the truth?) On the one hand, we must never underestimate the power and efficacy of straightforward, biblical evangelism and teaching. But as the New Testament vividly demonstrates through Paul's ministry in Acts (e.g., 1 7:6-31 ) and the epistles, to effectively address heresy we must research, understand, and respond to specific errors, teachers, and movements.
When I discussed these four factors with a colleague from Mexico, he candidly suggested adding a fifth: "Hardness of heart." The founder of World Vision International, Bob Pierce, is widely known for his prayer: "Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God." When will the church awaken to the heartbreak caused by cults and deceivers in the developing world? Pray for our effectiveness in sounding the call!
Stranger than Fiction: To my amazement, the long-declining Christian Science cult is showing signs of renewed strength. The June 9 edition of its national daily newspaper, the Christian Science Monitor, reports that worldwide sales of its main text, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, have reached more than 00,000 for the fourth year in a row. (The ironic tag line for its advertising campaign is "For People Who Aren't Afraid to Think.") The cult's financial outlook is also brightening: "Contributions have grown in recent years and the annual balanced budget has expanded by nearly $20 million in the last six years." More disturbingly, the Monitor describes a sort of ecumenical shift in the cult's favor. For example, "At the Disciples Baptist Church in Boston, the Rev. Tina Saxon provided copies of Science and Health to every family with a child in Sunday School." The befuddled Dr. Saxon "called for tolerance and understanding among religions," saying: "If all of us.the Baptists, the Methodists, the Pentecostals, the Catholics, if all people who believe in God...don't come to some close belief in the spirit of the Christ, we are going to blow ourselves apart..We all need to come to the Christ consciousness."
Meanwhile, the Southern Baptist outreach to Utah provoked bizarre expressions of support for the Mormons. The June 8 Los Angeles Times quoted Rev. Eileen Lindner of the National Conference of Churches (and a Presbyterian) as criticizing the Southern Baptists because, in her view, calling the Mormon church a cult is "unwarranted" and "unkind." Lindner added that the Latter-day Saints "are absolutely saved..Are Mormons children of God? Of course they are." (Three months earlier, on March 3, Dr. Robert Schuller of the Reformed Church in America welcomed famous Mormon motivational guru Stephen R. Covey to the Crystal Cathedral as his "pulpit guest!" For a scathing appraisal of Covey's writings and religion, see the Feb. 23 issue of The New Republic.) Praise God for first-hand reports from Utah indicating that the Southern Baptists' proclamation of Christ turned many hearts to Him!
Effective prayer has two characteristics. First, we must allow the Holy Spirit to winnow away what is inconsistent with God's will. We cannot impose our will on God, but must wait for the solution of our life problems, which He will most certainly grant, sometimes by a flash, at other times by the slow unfolding of His will.When we cannot solve our problem in our own way, we must trust Him to deal with it in a better way; and He cannot fail.
Second, we must cease to worry. However long the interval, however strong the combination of adverse circumstances, we may still our hearts, in the patience of unwavering faith, sure that our Lord will not rest until He has finished the matter in handwhich we have entrusted to Him. - F.B. Meyer
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. Luke 19:10
In the last couple of weeks, two compelling chapters from African history have challenged and encouraged me by their startling relevance to our calling.
I discovered the first in the missions newsletter Pulse. Editor-at-large Jim Reapsome recounts that "One of the magnificent late 19th-century British military expeditions conquered no new lands for Queen Victoria. You won't find it mentioned in standard history books, but because of the monumental logistics [involved], military historians compare the landing in Ethiopia in 1868 to the Allies' invasion of France in 1944." To most modern minds, the motivation behind this effort must seem astonishing. He explains:
In 1868 Emperor Theodore III of Ethiopia held a group of 53 European captives (30 adults and 23 children), including some missionaries, in a remote, 9,000-foot high bastion deep in the interior. Among them were a British consul and a special diplomatic emissary sent to secure the release of the prisoners. By letter, Queen Victoria pleaded in vain with Theodore to release the captives. Finally, the government ordered a full-scale military expedition from India to march into Ethiopia - not to conquer the country and make it a British colony, but simply to rescue a tiny band of civilians who had suffered in prison for more than four years.
The invasion force included 32,000 men, heavy artillery, and 44 elephants to carry the big guns. Provisions included 50,000 tons of beef and pork and 30,000 gallons of rum. Engineers built landing piers, water treatment plants, a railroad, and [a] telegraph line into the interior, plus many bridges. All of this to fight one decisive battle, after which the prisoners were released, and everyone packed up and went home.
Reapsome concludes: "Their expedition was courageous, tough, and very costly. To the British, the prize was worth the cost. When the church realizes that obedience to Jesus, and the lives of the prisoners, are worth the cost, Christians will mobilize rescue operations to bring their full power to bear on the fortresses of fear, desperation, and darkness."
The second example came to me in an article in the December 6 Los Angeles Times. Its author, historian Adam Hochschild, recently wrote an account of the Congo Free State entitled King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa. Hochschild tells the amazing story of the Congo reform movement, an unprecedented international campaign to end atrocities in central Africa committed by rapacious Belgian authorities under Leopold II who were bent on stripping the vast colony of its natural wealth and subduing its native population by any means necessary.(Due to their mind-numbing barbarity, between 1880 and 1920 the territory's population "was slashed in half," from some 20 million to 10 million.) Hochschild writes:
For a time, the outside world knew little about what was happening in the Congo. One remarkable man changed this. Edmund Dene Morel was in his mid-20s, a junior official of a British shipping line that had the monopoly on cargo traffic to and from the Congo. Every few weeks, his company sent him to the Belgian port of Antwerp to supervise the loading and unloading of ships on the Congo run. Morel noticed that vessels arrived laden with enormously valuable cargoes of ivory and rubber but returned to Africa carrying no trading goods. Instead, they ferried mainly soldiers, firearms and ammunition. With horror, he realized there could be only one possible source of all this rubber and ivory: forced labor, on a massive scale. He was right. Morel quit his job and, within a few years, became the greatest British investigative journalist of his time. A man of torrential energy, he devoted a decade of 16-hour days to putting the story of Congo rubber slavery on the world's front pages..
Morel and his fellow reformers found themselves up against a sophisticated international public-relations machine that cynically used celebrities like explorer Henry Morton Stanley to portray Leopold's rule as benign - even humanitarian; one writer has aptly likened it to "genocide with spin control." In combating these lies, the Congo reform movement "was crucial in establishing the template for the way organizations such as Amnesty International.operate today. This method includes the careful gathering and sifting of evidence; reliance on sworn testimony by eyewitnesses; the use of photographs and physical evidence to prove atrocities; and the faith that such methods of truth-telling can move large numbers of people to demand action." Morel was also a "masterful organizer," and eventually, "Everyone from the archbishop of Canterbury to U.S. university presidents joined the crusade. Between 1904 and 1913, the brutalities in the Congo were denounced at more than 1,000 mass meetings in the United States and Europe." While Hochschild readily acknowledges that, "Like most great human-rights agitators, the Congo reformers.did not quickly accomplish their aims..Nonetheless, it was the first time that millions of people in the United States and Europe concerned themselves with the fate of people in Africa" - and the Congo reform movement became the catalyst for human-rights efforts worldwide.
.that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.2 Timothy 2:26
In both these cases, the parallels to the mission of the Centers are striking:
First, the captives are worth reaching - and they can be reached! But unless our commitment is equal to the challenge (John 15:13), we cannot hope to succeed.
Second, the deception that holds people captive - and keeps would-be rescuers from acting - can only be countered by a bold, persistent proclamation of the truth (John 8:32).
Today, Joseph Smith, Charles Taze Russell, Mary Baker Eddy, Moses David, and L. Ron Hubbard enslave their spiritual victims from beyond the grave, and a host of celebrity spinmeisters sustains their evil cause through clever public relations. But the reality behind the marketing is stark: Over a million are ensnared by the Watchtower system in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The Mormon church is doubling in size worldwide every fifteen years - expanding by 963 percent in Africa alone between 1978 and 1993 (compared to just 82 percent in the U.S.). Countless lives are held in other spiritual prisons large and small, and the number of captives increases daily. To fully grasp the magnitude of our task, we must think not only of the millions now in bondage, but of the generations ahead. As E.D. Morel saw so clearly, such knowledge brings responsibility (Prov. 24:11-12).
From Eurasia to Latin America, the Centers are equipping Christians for the task. This outreach is still the only one of its kind. And it's making a difference.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus came to us in what must have seemed, to many, a "mission impossible." We are the fruit of that sacrificial outpouring of His love. We are His fellow-workers - if we are but willing to count the cost.
...see to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, "I am the Christ," and mislead many. Matthew 24:4b-5
It's November 18th. To most people, today seems much like any other day.
But not to me.
Twenty years ago, I awoke with a disbelieving world to the news that an unspeakable crime had occurred in the jungles of Guyana. The bodies of 91 2 men, women, and children lay scattered across the compound at Jonestown - the culmination of one Disciples of Christ minister's demented quest for control.
The Peoples Temple awoke the modern world to the destructive power of cultism. But it was far from the most deadly pseudo-Christian cult.so far. That distinction belongs to the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of false messiah Hong Xiuquan, who proclaimed himself Jesus' younger brother. His religious experiment cost upward of 20 million Chinese citizens their lives between 845 and 864.
- If Aum Shinrikyo didn't match that level of devastation, it wasn't for lack of trying.
What does the future hold? Thanks to increasingly cheap technology, loose governmental controls, and millennial anxiety, we can expect worse things ahead. Epidemiologist and bio-terrorism expert Michael Osterholm recently told the PBS series Frontline:
The goal of the millennium cults is to see civilization end in the year 2000, and to take us to the next level. If you want to effectively do in large numbers of people in a very cost-effective way, biological agents are the obvious answer. Our information would suggest that in fact that is a primary weapon that is being sought out by a number of different millennialist cults.
The Branch Davidian disaster. The Solar Temple murder-suicides. Heaven's Gate. As ghastly as these and a host of similar tragedies are, they obscure the fact that the true damage caused by cults goes beyond mere physical carnage.
For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Matthew 24:25
Indeed, the greatest threat before us is a spiritual one. Last year, as he surveyed the challenges facing Christians in the coming century, Billy Graham wrote that "The twenty-first century may also be a time of closing doors and increasing religious polarization in some parts of the world. It may be a time when nations that have historically been Christian not only abandon their Christian roots completely (as has already happened in some parts of Europe), but increasingly become the targets of aggressive proselytizing by Non-Christian cults and religions." Indeed, if the elect cannot be deceived by false prophets and counterfeit gospels (as some still naïvely believe), then much of the New Testament ceases to make sense.
How can such tragedies happen?
In their book Cults: What Parents Should Know, the American Family Foundation explains that cult membership is the result of two interacting forces:
1. the tactics the cult uses to recruit, convert, acculturate, and hold members, and
2. the personal vulnerability of the potential recruit
Read the apostle Paul's second letter to the Corinthians. To his dismay, these believers were being seduced by spiritual charlatans and impostors. Why? Simply put, they had suspended - or simply neglected to develop - their critical thinking (11 :3-4). They were easily misled by outward appearances (11:13-15). And, having emboldened these "deceitful workers" by their passivity, the Corinthians were subjecting themselves to blatant abuse: "For you bear with anyone if he enslaves you, if he devours you, if he takes advantage of you, if he exalts himself, if he hits you in the face" (11:20).
As Paul later wrote in his second epistle to Timothy (4:1-5), Christians must be careful not to let shallow appetites and naïve impulses govern their choice of spiritual leaders or dictate their doctrinal diet. For once we do, we open ourselves to exploitation and have no guarantee of where it will all end up.
We dare not lose sight of one of the most important lessons of Jonestown: cults do their harm one life at a time, via a process blending persuasion with compromise. As syndicated columnist Stephanie Salter recently wrote,
For most of the past 20 years, the public attention has centered on Jones. The others who died in Guyana became a nameless mass, posthumously represented by grotesque photographs of poisoned, bloated bodies.
Such dehumanization.not only profanes the inherent sanctity of each Peoples Temple member's life, but dangerously deludes the rest of us. If we believe that Jones was a wacko and that everyone who followed him was too, we'll miss any chance we have to learn from Jonestown, to acquire tools that can help us discern the false prophet from the true servant of God.
"It wasn't simply that something went wrong along the way with Peoples Temple," [one of the victims' relatives] said. "The seeds of destruction were always there amid all the positive stuff. It was more like an escalation of compromise. They kept cutting corners until they were so compromised, they really were different. By the time they got to Guyana, they thought the end justified even the most extreme means."
Jones's mainline denomination turned a blind eye to his abuses and excesses. His followers focused on what seemed to match their ideals while rationalizing away the increasingly degrading and unbiblical aspects of life in the movement. They put their critical thinking in neutral when it threatened their wish-fulfillment. And, like the proverbial frog in the kettle, by the time they were nearly cooked, it was too late.
You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. John 8:32
The antidote to deception is discernment. Discernment is about knowing the truth. And the Centers are working to equip Christian leaders and lay believers in the developing world for discernment, the defense of the faith, and cult evangelism.
Right now the infamous "Boston Church of Christ" movement is setting up shop in Cuba. Mormonism is growing in Ukraine and Armenia. And as Russians face the bleakest winter in years amid rising crime, poverty, and food shortages, many are turning in desperation to the occult for hope.
With your help, we can make a difference.
When's the last time a lie made you really angry?
I can answer that question without much difficulty - James 1:20 notwithstanding.
It was when I read the January 21,2002 feature article on Mormonism in The New Yorker ("Lives of the Saints" by Lawrence Wright). Early on, Wright describes his personal interview with Mormon church president Gordon B. Hinckley at the cult's headquarters in Salt Lake City, recording this exchange:
In the Mormon scheme, every person is a potential divinity. The adage "As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be" expresses the Mormon belief that God was once a human being, with a wife and children. But Hinckley did not seem interested in discussing matters of theology. When I asked him to characterize God's connubial relationship, he replied, "We don't speculate on that a lot. Brigham Young said if you went to Heaven and saw God it would be Adam and Eve. I don't know what he meant by that." Pointing to a grim-faced portrait of the Lion of the Lord, as Young was called, he said, "There he is, right there. I'm not going to worry about what he said about those things."
I asked whether Mormon theology was a form of polytheism.
"I don't have the remotest idea what you mean," he said impatiently.
Let that sink in.
According to any Mormon missionary you'll meet, one of the marks of the "true church" is that its president is a living "prophet, seer, and revelator" - the supreme "mouthpiece of God on earth." As the cult's official Gospel Principles manual puts it: "How fortunate are the Latter-day Saints! We know that God communicates to the Church through his prophet..A prophet is a man called by God to be his representative on earth. When a prophet speaks for God, it is as if God were speaking..We are blessed in this insecure world to have a prophet through whom the Lord reveals his will" (pp. 47, 50).
One is left to wonder why a man claiming to possess such responsibilities would feign ignorance or evade such an important question.
Evidently taken aback by Hinckley's response, Wright patiently reminds him of what "polytheism" means:
"More than one god."
"Yes, but that's a very loose term..I wouldn't describe us as polytheistic."
No? In the words of the classic manual Mormon Doctrine by the late Bruce R. McConkie (one of the cult's apostles), "there is an infinite number of holy personages, drawn from worlds without number, who have passed on to exaltation and are thus gods." Or, as Orson Pratt (another Mormon apostle) so memorably stated in the Journal of Discourses, "If we should take a million of worlds like this and number their particles, we should find that there are more Gods than there are particles of matter in those worlds."
Even after nearly 25 years in this field, I was genuinely outraged that Mormonism's "Prophet" would so casually brush off a direct question about so important a matter - as though it were annoyingly irrelevant, or as though it were not his job (as the ultimate spiritual authority on this planet) to know such things! But worst of all, Hinckley claims to lead the one and only church of Jesus Christ, even while arrogantly thumbing his nose at the Bible and its standard of truth (cf. Isaiah 43:10, Deuteronomy 18:20).
As the Olympics unfold in the coming weeks, and as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings for multiplied millions via television under the majestic Wasatch mountains, remember: The Mormon church is a non-Christian, polytheistic cult, led by a deceiver.
And remember to pray - for these Games have worldwide, spiritual implications. This fact, of course, is not lost on the Mormons; as Matthew Engel, a journalist for Britain's Guardian newspaper wrote,
These will be the Mormon Games. And as with Barcelona and Sydney, the setting will linger in the collective memory long after we have all forgotten who won the ice dancing. If it all goes well, it will be Utah's triumph. That means a Mormon triumph. And that means next time a well-scrubbed young man with a . smile comes to your door and asks, very politely, if you might be interested in a chat about religion, it will be just a little bit harder to slam the door in his face.
In fact, some 60,000 Mormon missionaries worldwide are hoping just that.
Our response to Mormonism - and to the countless other cults that plague the church and deceive the seeking - must be global. We must not only take the Good News to the lost, but we must equip the church in developing nations where God's people are the most vulnerable to cultic assault.
.since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.Hebrews 12:28
I want to say something about grief and anger, thanksgiving and sacrifice.
Last Friday I saw something that made me want to weep. It was the photograph of a young woman I've never met. Her name is Bonnie.
She graduated from Moody Bible Institute, signed up with Operation Mobilization, and went with her husband to Lebanon to serve with the Christian & Missionary Alliance.
On Thursday, November 21, Bonnie was found lying face down in a pool of blood at the door of the clinic where she showed the love of Christ to Muslim women by helping them have healthy babies. Her life was taken by three bullets from an assassin's gun.
Apart from Bonnie's kind and joyful expression in the photographs, something else made me sad - and angry. If the account in the November 22 New York Times is correct, Bonnie and her missionary colleagues were under fire from Christian leaders in their city who wanted them to, in effect, shut up about Jesus because their witness made life complicated (cf. Acts 5:27-32). The local Catholic archbishop told the Times that Bonnie had been warned: "We told her she might be vulnerable to insults or even being hit and she answered that she would consider it an honor." Bonnie now enjoys the highest honor of all in the presence of our Lord. The November 25 Times reports the words of Bonnie's husband, Garry, at the memorial service held just three days after her death:
He said he understood how some people might consider his wife's death a "waste." But he said he would never see it that way because they had come to Lebanon to spread the love and hope of knowing Jesus.
"This is a message worth laying down our lives for," he said, before dissolving into sobs that spread though the crowd.
I ended my day beside my family, watching Through Gates of Splendor, the moving story of how Jim Elliot and four other missionaries paid the ultimate price for their witness in the jungles of Ecuador in 1956. Midway through the film the phone rang. It was a courageous Christian calling from Latin America who has had to move his family to safety after sustained threats by a truly dangerous cult.
The day these things no longer provoke me is the day I turn in my resignation.
All of this underscores the fact that we are not our own; we have been brought with a price (1 Cor. 6:20, 7:23). And even though you and I may not be looking down the barrel of an assassin's gun today, or facing the spears of jungle tribesmen, we're serving the very same Savior and called to the very same cause that cost the lives of Bonnie Witherall, Jim Elliot, and countless other martyred saints. And we'd better not forget it.
Bear these things in mind as you pray with us for this year's evangelistic outreach to spiritists on December 7-8. The outreach will again take place - despite the pending legal action by Umbandistas against Joaquim de Andrade of CFAR Brazil. They still intend to silence him and others who want to spread the gospel, but they will not succeed. And though I can't tell you more now, pray for us as Centers in Europe respond to new threats from a major cultic group that would still their voices.
And what is it all for? You know the answer: The changed lives you make possible through your partnership, as seen in this moving letter just received from Budapest:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Thank you very much for financially supporting CFAR Hungary. The work of the Lord here is simple and great: He seeks the lost, brings back the scattered, binds up the broken, and strengthens the sick. Christians are equipped to remain on the narrow way and to help others to enter by the narrow gate. More and more people are found by Him who once were lost in the religious jungle. Hungary is a little country of 10 million people, yet the number of new religious movements has grown from a dozen to over two hundred within the last ten years. And even today, CFAR Hungary is the only Christian apologetics ministry, and I am the only one working full time. That is a huge burden, knowing what a small potato I am. But again, thank you very, very much for helping me to be faithful to the call, to show the real face of Jesus to present and former cult members.
In Him who is able:
Andrá³ SzalaiDirector, CFAR Hungary
We are committed to expanding the impact of this unique ministry as God provides the necessary means.
We invite you to join hands and hearts with us.
The god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, so that thet cannot see the light of the glory of Christ,who is the image of God. 2 Corinthians 4:4
Question: Who would willingly suffer for a lie?
Answer: Countless sincere and dedicated Jehovah's Witnesses, persecuted by the atheistic Soviet empire while sacrificing themselves for a counterfeit hope.
On my desk are the latest editions of the Jehovah's Witness magazines The Watchtower and Awake! Each features the life story of a man who endured long years of misery for his obedience to the Watchtower Society; each story represents those of many, many others.
Lembit Toom, raised in a Lutheran home, became a JW in 1944 and was sent from Estonia to a slave-labor camp above the Arctic Circle. Mikhail Savitskii, perplexed by the seeming cruelty of a Greek Catholic priest in his Ukrainian village, became a Witness, too; he was shipped with thousands of other JWs in cattle cars to a prison 7,000 miles away in Russia's Far East as punishment for refusing military service. And though these two survived, not a few of their companions paid with their lives for obeying "Judge" J.F. Rutherford and his Watchtower cronies in Brooklyn, NY. Toom, Savitskii, and their families suffered decades of deprivation and abuse in order to smuggle and study scarce Watchtower "Bible literature," always seeking new opportunities to spread the cult's Christ-denying message among those whom the Watchtower approvingly calls "sheeplike people." Ironically, the Soviets' policy of relocating Witnesses actually helped spread the movement across vast regions, planting the seeds for the cult's future expansion.
In 1946, there were barely 5,000 Jehovah's Witnesses in the Soviet Union under Stalin; a full quarter-century later, that number had only risen to 10,000. But anxiety over the anticipated end of the world, stoked by Watchtower literature, caused that number to leap to 22,633 between 1972 and 1975 - a figure which remained nearly stagnant for ten years after the "end" didn't come. Yet the cult's tenacity in the face of repression won it admirers - and converts - and once the Soviet empire collapsed, Witness growth skyrocketed:
Between 1991 and 1997, Jehovah's Witnesses in the former Soviet Union grew at the amazing rate of about 30% per year, tripling in size. If they continue at this pace for the next six years, there will be half a million active Witnesses there, spending 150 million hours per year spreading the Watchtower message. The Watchtower Society already boasts of being the "fifth-largest Christian group in Russia," where it grew by 17% last year (and by 15% in neighboring Ukraine). And the damage from the Watchtower's growth in the former Soviet Union extends well beyond its own membership: Jehovah's Witnesses distribute nearly 5,000 tons a year of literature in Russia alone - literature which insidiously undermines trust in the Trinity, the biblical Jesus, and a host of core Christian doctrines, thus inoculating untold numbers of people against the gospel, even if they don't become JWs themselves.
Barring an unlikely government clampdown, prospects for continued Witness expansion appear fantastic. Historically, the cult thrives on fear of the future, and few open societies have as much to fear as Russia and its neighbors. In Russia, serious crime rose nearly 18% in the first nine months of 1998; roughly half of the country's children are underdeveloped mentally and physically due to malnourishment; huge numbers of government workers have gone for months without wages; and last year the number of Russians living in poverty rose to 30% of the population. In this climate of despair, people freed from communist tyranny are being tempted by tyranny of another kind - through Watchtower promises of a future life of plenty "in paradise on earth." As he now openly serves the Watchtower Society, Lembit Toom exults: "Surely, as we consider the marvelous growth in the numbers of those worshiping Jehovah, we are convinced that the suffering we have experienced has not been in vain." What a cruel tragedy!
Question: What can we do? Is the solution to legally ban the Watchtower organization, as an angry association of cultists' parents is clumsily attempting to do in Moscow? Is it to spread fear and hatred of Jehovah's Witnesses through mockery and slander, as the Soviet authorities did?
Answer: We must boldly speak the truth - in love (Eph. 4:14-15) - in order to equip the church of Jesus Christ and to reach out to the growing numbers of precious men, women, and children who have been taken captive by the lies of the Watchtower Society!
Those who oppose.[we] must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will." 2 Timothy 2:25-26
It is the cry of my heart that this year, more people will leave the Watchtower cult than ever before. We must reach out to Witnesses in confidence and compassion "so that by all possible means [we] might save some" (1 Cor. 9:22), trusting in the power of Christ to break the chains of deception. Too many have lived - and died - for a lie.
Last week I watched the World Trade Center collapse on live television. None of us can - or should - ever forget the horror of that moment, or its implications for the future of the free world.
In the days that followed, as the reality of America's new war on terrorism sank in, I was struck by the many parallels between that conflict and the Church's spiritual struggle against cultism - or the lack thereof. As President George W. Bush has so bluntly stated, America's battle against terrorism is a war unlike other wars; we must alter our assumptions accordingly. And as we consider the spiritual battle thrust upon us by the cults, we would do well to reflect on the following similarities:
Most of us have haven't realized how extensive the danger is - and how high the stakes are.
As in the war on terrorism, this is not a mere test of wills, but a true "clash of civilizations" - the kingdom of darkness vs. the Kingdom of Light. Many spiritual counterfeits hope to one day cripple or conquer the Body of Christ (or biblical Christianity), and their leaders have said so.
There is no single human "enemy" - the war must be fought against multiple foes, on multiple fronts, often with a surprising variety of methods.
Confronting Scientology with the gospel requires different strategies (and entails different risks) than does Christian Science. Approaches that work with Mormons won't necessarily win Moonies.
Our opponents' identities are not always clear.
They often use different names in different places, disguising their true affiliations. (The Children of God/Family cult is but one example.)
Our opponents' footsoldiers have been surprisingly successful in infiltrating our territory - and are often aided by those we might consider our friends.
When evangelical spokesmen like Jerry Falwell give credibility to Rev. Sun Myung Moon, or black pastors join hands with Moon in mass marriages and projects like this month's "Family Flag Day," the cause of Christ suffers genuine harm.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, unsuspecting Christians in Africa, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union are easily taken in by cultic groups offering heretical "Bible study" materials and other harmful "helps."
Unconventional warfare calls for superior intelligence capabilities.
I cannot overstate the importance of "apologetics research," much of which requires us to monitor the strategy, tactics, and internal communications of cultic movements.
Our opponents' cause thrives on disinformation.
At their worst, cult leaders misrepresent what the Gospel teaches and callously convince their followers that the Church is basically evil and worthy of destruction. For example, Mormonism teaches that God has condemns all Christian churches as "apostate," and the Watchtower cult denounces "Christendom" (including your church and mine) as headed for history's ash heap. We must oppose such lies with truth.
We face a difficult balancing act - namely, overcoming the threat without alienating the people we hope to make our allies.
America's military strategists are rightly concerned about "collateral damage" - that is, violence unintentionally done to noncombatants in the course of defeating the true enemy. Similarly, none of us has the right to combat cultism by wounding with sensationalism and caricature, as some countercult apologists have done (to their shame). Such tactics harden cultists' hearts and undermine the credibility of Christians who reach out responsibly with the gospel.
Nevertheless, there are dramatic dissimilarities that we dare not overlook:
First, we war not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12).
The weapons of our warfare are spiritual (2 Corinthians 10:4-5), and placing false confidence in carnal wisdom and weaponry will ultimately set back our cause.
Second, the casualties of this spiritual conflict are seldom visible to the natural eye.
Rarely is there a demolished landmark, or images of corpses piled high, to be seared into our memories. Instead, the spiritual toll taken by cultism is in the millions - but how few mourn the victims!
Third, in most cases, our opponents' footsoldiers profess to wish us no harm, but trust that the counterfeit hope they offer will bring us life and happiness.
Be sure to remember this the next time a dedicated Mormon or Jehovah's Witness appears unexpectedly at your doorstep.
And finally, our mission is not to capture and destroy the enemy's footsoldiers, but to make them our beloved brothers and sisters!
At the dawn of the 21st century, the church has yet to take seriously the threat represented by the cultic movements spreading across the world. But as well as Christians may know a handful of hostile groups, many other enemy organizations thrive in little-noticed lands, their spiritual violence seldom opposed by those of us in the West who have the spiritual and material resources to intervene on behalf of the weak.
In the aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster and the assault on the Pentagon, most of us realize how serious future attacks on our nation could be. When will the Church awaken to the danger of cults to this - and the next - generation? Jonestown seems very far away; even the horrors of Aum's poison gas assault, the Solar Temple suicides, Heaven's Gate, and the Uganda massacre fade easily from memory. What catastrophe is needed to stir us to action?
My intention is not to oversimplify a profoundly serious matter; instead, I hope to remind you, as I have been reminded during these dreadful days, of the seriousness of the conflict we face: a conflict which will require much of us if we commit ourselves to it wholeheartedly - and for which we will pay an even more terrible cost if we neglect it.
We are at war! Is your arsenal rusty and covered with a fine layer of dust? Are you prepared to grasp God's Word in combat (Eph. 6:17), believing it to be sharper than any earthly sword (Heb. 4:12)? And are you willing to render aid to God's people in the developing world who face myriad deceivers with such meager means?
The threat is all too easy to ignore. There are many ways in which we can respond, to God's glory and the building up of His kingdom. The question is, will we?
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves." Matthew 23:15
As I turned the page, the smiling faces of a clean-cut family of four beamed up at me. Above them appear the inviting words, "Can You Serve in a FOREIGN FIELD?" On the next page, Tom, a pioneer missionary to tribes in the Amazon jungle, explains: "After preaching full-time for 13 years in the United States, my wife and I felt that we needed a new challenge. We're happier than we've ever been before; it's truly a wonderful way of life." After several more pages of enthusiastic reports from other happy missionaries about their converts and the satisfying success of their work, the article concludes that "perhaps you too can experience the joy of serving on a foreign field."
If you're a Jehovah's Witness, that is.
The article described above appears in the October 5, 999 edition of The Watchtower magazine, and the cult's call for each of its millions of members to serve ever more sacrificially is virtually ceaseless. Though the movement doesn't release statistics on its foreign missionaries, last year nearly 700,000 JWs around the world (some as young as nine years old!) committed enough extra hours of proselytizing each month to be rated as "pioneers."
"Nineteen new missions opened around the world - in just six weeks!" Is this a praise report from World Vision, Campus Crusade, or the Southern Baptist convention? No. This headline leaps from the pages of The Auditor, "The Monthly Journal of Scientology," which celebrates the sect's burst of expansion in Nigeria, Finland, Russia, Hungary, Fiji, and Italy. And the story doesn't end there: the next edition of The Auditor describes an emotional moment at a May 9th rally of Scientologists "from all over the Americas":
When the President of the Church of Scientology, Mr. Heber Jentzsch, announced the massive project which had just completed the translations and printing of Dianetics in 52 languages, he told the audience:
"And with those 6.3 million words, we have just increased the planetary coverage of Book One to over 80% of the world's population. Which is to say, nearly 5 billion people now have Book One available in their native language."
And the audience jumped to its feet cheering as huge displays of the new books Mr. Jentzsch had just announced filled the stage.
The latest issue of International Scientology News features articles and photos of L. Ron Hubbard's disciples eagerly sharing their faith in Rwanda, Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Kosovo, the Philippines, Turkey, and India. Why are they so driven?
In the words of the editors: "It doesn't have to take a long time to achieve the Aims of Scientology on this planet. And factually, we don't have a long time. Only Scientology can salvage mankind. And we are the ones who can provide it."
But the call to missionary service is being heard - and heeded - by the Mormons as well. The August 28 issue of the LDS Church News boasts that "One word describes the Church's missionary work during the past century - success." The cult takes particular pride in the fact that in just two decades their full-time missionary force has virtually doubled, from some 30,000 to 60,000. And they know just who to target: As Thomas S. Monson of the cult's First Presidency reminded a gathering of 1 31 new Mormon mission presidents in June, missionaries are to seek out vulnerable people in transition - "people who have recently moved or who have lost a loved one or had a birth in the family."
Not to be outdone, the cultic "Boston Movement" of Kip McKean (also known as the International Churches of Christ or ICC) now claims 358 churches in 55 countries, with a combined Sunday attendance of nearly 200,000. McKean's followers consider him a man comparable to Moses or Martin Luther, raised up to launch "God's modern-day movement" (i.e., one true church), which is "defining Christianity for the nations." Reflecting on their 20 years of aggressive missionary work, the ICC editors write in LA Story:
The USSR has fragmented into 5 nations, and strong churches of [ICC] disciples led by nationals exist in all of those nations and Mongolia. Incredibly, the Moscow Church has an attendance of 3,635 and its daughter church in Kiev, Ukraine has an attendance of 4,085. Seven churches meet in China. Eastern Europe is being evangelized. Churches meet in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Apartheid is dead, and a strong multiracial church with an attendance of nearly 4,000 meets in Johannesburg. One year from now there will be [ICC] disciples in every nation of the Middle East.
This, then, is "the flip side" of the Great Commission - the worldwide missionary thrust of the cults and heretical movements - and most Christians are barely aware of it. By God's grace and your prayers, the Centers have begun to make an impact in some of the least-served countries and cultures where cults are attacking the Body of Christ and making merchandise of the lost. One of our fundamental purposes is to alert God's people to the growing danger this threat presents.
And you can make a difference in this battle - right where you live.