REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE TO STUDY CULTS


INTRODUCTION


    At the 101st Annual Conference of the Bible Fellowship Church, in response to a petition by the Faith Bible Fellowship Church of Fleetwood, a committee was formed to investigate what the Bible Fellowship response should be toward the ever growing number of cults.

    The following is a compilation of our research.  It consists of four major segments: a definition of the term "cult", the general characteristics of a cult, the Biblical condemnation of false teachers, and our response towards cults, II Peter 2:1-22 has been used throughout this study as our text.


I. DEFINITION OF A CULT


    According to the dictionary a cult is: "a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies; a group or sect bound together by devotion to or veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc; a religion that is considered or held to be false or unorthodox, or its members; a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols" (Random House Dictionary; 1973, pg. 353).

    In conservative circles a cult is recognized as a pseudo religious group which claims authorization by Christ and the Bible, but distorts both.

    Walter Martin, a noted authority in this field, defines a cult in the following fashion:

         A cult, then, is a group of people polarized around someone's interpretation of the Bible and is characterized by major deviations from orthodox Christianity relative to the cardinal doctrines of the Christianfaith, particularly the fact that God became man in Jesus Christ (Walter Martin, The Rise of Cults, p. 12).


II. GENERAL CHARACTERISITICS OF A CULT


    Realizing that there is a great proliferation of cults in our society today and that these same cults are extremely deceptive; it behooves us to know their general characteristics.

    The first noted characteristic is the employment of "new truth".  II Peter 2:1 states: "But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who secretly shall bring in destructive heresies..."

    There are two important aspects of this verse as it relates to new truth.  The first is that fact that it states these false teachers will bring in destructive heresies.  The word for heresies is literally "dogma" or "opinion".  They will be teaching as authoritative that which is merely their own opinion.

    The FAITH and ORDER of the Bible Fellowship Church states:

         The Holy Scriptures, both Old and New Testament, are the inspired, infallible Word of God, a Divine revelation, the original writings of which were verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit.  They are the supreme and final authority of faith and conduct. (Article I).

 

    Being the supreme and final authority of faith and conduct, orthodox Christianity holds to the truth that the revelation of God is complete and that no new truth is now being revealed by God (Rev. 22:18; Prov. 30:6).  Many cults promote the idea that God has revealed something new and special to them.  This "revelation" usually comes in the form of statements that contradict all previous revelation.  Most cults will accept the Word of God as truth until passages of contradiction appear.  When that occurs, the "new revelation" of the cult always supersedes the established revelation of the Scripture.

    The second aspect of II Peter 2:1 is the idea that false teachers bring their opinions in "secretly".  This means that they are smuggled in or taught in such a way as to appear to be Orthodox.

    Many cults' doctrines declarations may seem harmless at first glance.  In the articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Later Day Saints we read: "We believe the Bible to be the Word of God as far as it is translated correctly". (Article 8).  This statement should automatically raise the red flags of discerning believers.  The article goes on to state: "We also believe the Book of Mormon to be the Word of God".

    This new truth may take the form of a claim to exclusive ability to understand revelation correctly.  Rev. Sun Myung Moon states: "We are the only people who truly understand the heart of Jesus, the anguish of Jesus, and the hope of Jesus". (The Way of the World, Rev. Sun Myung Moon Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, Vol. VIII, No. 4, April 1976).

    This new truth may also take the form of a claim to exclusive ability to interpret Scripture.  It is under this pretense that Herbert Armstrong claims that all previous interpretations of Scripture were based on pagan reasoning and custom. (The Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong, Pasadena: Ambassador College Press, 1967, p. 294ff).  This opens the door to personal interpretation by leaders of cultic groups which are almost always taken without any regard for the context involved.

    Another characteristic of new truth comes from the addition of "sacred writings" by cult founders.  The Jehovah Witnesses have the writings of Charles Taze Russell and Judge Rutherford, the Christian Scientists have Mary Ann Morse Baker Glover Patterson Eddy, etc.

    In II Peter 2:3 it states with "feigned words" or made up words they will exploit you.  This aspect of authority is a crucial factor in recognizing a cult.

    Closely related to the ideas of new truth is false prophecy.  The claim to truth is often accompanied by a calm to prophecy.  One of the most exacting ways to classify a movement as a cult is to investigate their prophesies.  Scripture tells us that unless a prophet is 100% accurate, he is a false prophet.

    In 1967, H.W. Armstrong predicted that in four years there would be drought, famine and disease which would take millions of lives.  It did not happen.  Of course the best known cult for false prophecies is the Jehovah Witness.  The pattern was established by their founder, C.T. Russell, who predicted the end of the world in 1914.

    The second general characteristic of a cult is its false teaching concerning Christ.  II Peter 2:1 states: "But there were false prophets also among the people even as there shall be false teachers among you, who shall bring in destructive heresies. even denying the Lord that brought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction".

    From the church's inception, the person of Christ has been the cornerstone of its teachings.  There is no question more fundamental than "what think ye of Christ?"  It is with regard to this question that the cults fail the test.  The next few paragraphs will serve to exemplify this crucial point.

    The first example is that of the "Jehovah Witness".  They claim Jesus Christ is "a god" but not God Himself.  (Understanding The Cults, McDowell, pg. 58).  Their claim includes Christ as the "Chief Son of God" and that he is a created being who manifested himself as Michael the Archangel before the incarnation.  They also claim that Jesus was the spirit-brother of Lucifer in his pre-existent state.

    The Mormons state:

         Jesus Christ is Jehovah, the first-born among the spirit children of Elohim, to whom all others are juniors.

         He is unique in that he is the offspring of an immortal, or resurrected and glorified, Father.  He was the executive of the Father, Elohim, in the work of creation.

         He is greater than the Holy Spirit, which is subject unto him, but His Father is greater than He. (The Articles of Faith, Talmage, pp. 471f. Doctrine and Convenants 76:24.  Doctrines of Salvation, Joseph F. Smith, I. pg. 18).

 

    Another example of a group with faulty Christology is that of the Theosophy people.  They teach the following:

         Jesus gave to the world fragments of teaching of value as basis for world religion, as did men like Buddah, Confucius, Pythagoras, etc...at a certain stage in the career of Jesus, the latter was taken possession of by the great teacher, the Bodhisattva of eastern tradition.  (Hugh Shearman, Modern Theosoph, 1952, pp. 201f).

 

    In Matthew 16:13 Jesus said, "Who do men say that I, the Son of man am?" The response of the Apostle Peter is noteworthy:  "Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God". True Christianity has as its cornerstone the person of Christ - the Biblical Christ.

    The third general characteristic of a cult is its concept concerning Salvation.

         II Peter 2:20: "For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, they are again entangled

    in it, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than that beginning".

 

    The central idea of salvation in most of the cults revolves around the concept of salvation by works instead of grace through faith.  In the Humanist Manifesto II, Section #18, we read, "no deity will save us; we must save ourselves". H.W. Armstrong exemplifies this:

         Salvation, then is a process!  But how the God of this world would blind your eyes to that!  He tries to deceive you into thinking all there is to it is just 'accept Christ' with 'no work - and presto - change you are pronounced 'saved'.  But the Bible reveals that none is yet saved". (H.W.  Armstrong, Why Were You Born?, pg. 11).

 

    To the Rosicrusian Fellowship, heaven is attained only through suffering, silence, thought and eventually the reincarnation wheel.

    The fourth general characteristic of a cult is the commercialization of religion resulting in financial exploitation. In continuing our study of II Peter 2 we read in verse 3, And through covetousness shall they, with feigned words, make merchandise of you..." A literal translation might read: "And in covetousness with made up words they will exploit you. Also, verse 13 describes the false teachers as revealing with their own deceivings while they feast among you.  The word translated revealing means to live in luxury.

    The cultic leader uses his influence over his disciples to build a gigantic empire for himself.  One such leader among the many is Guru Maharaj Ji of the Divine Light Mission.  The 'Perfect Master' himself sits in a half-million dollar estate in the United States with a passion for automobiles.  He has a fleet of Mercedes-Benz, a Lotus Sports Car, motorcycles, etc.

         He allows himself to be treated with pomp & ceremony and lives in luxury, yet calls upon his followersto deny themselves and follow him.  As his own press officer has said: 'Guru Maharaj Ji lives on giftsgiven to him by his followers.  And they want him to live well'.  No matter how his devotees seek to rationalize this basic incon sistency, however, it bears no comparison with Jesus, who himself having little in the way of earthly possessions, invited his followers to be like Him, and to take up their cross daily and follow him. (The Challenge of The Cults, Maurice C. Burrell, Baker, 1981, pg. 85f).

 

    II Peter 2 depicts the false teacher as motivated by greed.  Verse 15 reads: "Who have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness". The profit that is made by cultic leaders through the exploitation of their followers is truly amazing.  Some organizations such as the Moonies require their followers to sell all their possessions and to give them to the cult.  In addition quotas are set for the raising of funds through selling flowers and other paraphernalia or receiving contributions at a rate of a minimum of $100 a day.

    Other organizations raise their funds through entry fees, dues or seminars.  E.S.T. functions by a seminar method being led by William Erhart.  in 1963 Erhart claimed to have an "enlightenment experience" which prompted him to search for religious existential disciplines for truth.  Erhart holds seminars to instruct people in this enlightenment and over 250,000 people have paid more than 50 million dollars for this experience.  Presently the EST income is approximately one million dollars a month. (The New Cults, pg. 106-108).

    The fifth general characteristic of a cult is its enslaving organizational structure.  II Peter speaks to this issue with the following words: "Promising freedom to them, while they themselves are slaves of corruption.  For by whom anyone is defeat to this one he has been enslaved".

         The promoters of the cults obey no such rules as

         Scripture lays down for leaders.  Indeed, they know

         that their success is directly dependent upon their         ability to trap followers into a permanent entanglement.    This association is almost invariably formed

         with the bonds of fear.  The leader's preaching,

         teaching, and efforts are dedicated, not to the

         production of individual competence and freedom on

         the part of his followers, but to create dependence.

         The leaders of the cults are working to promote, not

         liberty, but slavery.  Thus an almost universal          characteristic of the cults is the creation of a

         monolithic merciless, and entangling organizational

         structure.  To them the purpose of a religious

         organization is not that it becomes a living segment

         of the body of Christ but a personally exploitable

         syndicate (Know The Marks of the Cults. David Breese,

         Victor Books 1975, pg. 97f).

    Perhaps no cult leader illustrates more graphically the enslavement of his followers than Jim Jones.  Not only did he have them enslaved financially and emotionally but physically as well.  His followers were carted off the Ghiana when they manifested discontent and eventually lost their lives by committing suicide or being murdered.

    The irony is the fact that these false teachers "promise freedom" to their followers.  Often the tactic is to prey upon college campuses where students are both inquisitive and also dissatisfied; wanting to be free from the "oppressions" of home, government, or school administration.  Sometimes the freedom they desire is from moral restraint.  The cultic leader holds out for those individuals a promise of freedom only to bring them into the greatest bondage they have ever known.

    These then are the basic characteristic of a cult:

         1. Employment of "new truth"

         2. False teaching concerning Christ

         3. Faulty concept of salvation

         4. Commercialization of religion resulting in

            financial exploitation

         5. Enslaving organization structure

    Thus, when investigating a particular group these six questions may prove to be very helpful.

         1. What is their source of authority?

         2. What is their belief about the Truine God?

         3. How are they saved?

         4. Did they make any prophesies that have not come       true?

         5. What is the organizational structure?

         6. How do they handle their finances?

    Not all cults will embrace all these features.  Beware of the cult which sounds fairly evangelical and yet clings to some of these features.  The sure mark of a cult is what it does with the person of Jesus Christ.

         Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the       spirits to see whether they are from God; because many        false prophets have gone out into the world.  By this

         you know the Spirit of God; every spirit that confesses

         that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God;      and every Spirit that does not confess Jesus is not          from God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist,

         of which you have heard that it is coming, and not it

         is already in the world. I John 4:1-3


III. THE BIBLICAL CONDEMNATION OF FALSE TEACHERS


    The II Peter passage not only displays the general characteristics of false teachers and their teachings, but also the condemnation of these very individuals.  Without a doubt, they are on their way to destruction!  Peter mentions six aspects of judgement that await those who have exchanged the truth for a life.

    First, they are bringing swift destruction upon themselves (vs. 1).  The wages of sin is always death.  Those who walk after the lust of the flesh (v. 2) are destined for destruction.  As Christians we do not revel in this fact, but we do recognize and accept it.  The Apostle Paul shared this with the Philippian believers (3:18f): " I...tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ; whose end is destruct It is only by God's grace we are not going to the same end.

    This 'destruction', the opposite of the 'new life' found in Jesus Christ, which they bring upon themselves, is 'swift'.  It will not tarry but is close at hand.

    Second, their judgement from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep (vs. 3).  Again Peter shares a direct statement about their impending judgement and imminent destruction.  His language is vivid and precise.  God is not idle, sleeping, nor oblivious to their exploitation and deceptiveness.It is the false teachers who sleep the sleep of their own security, while appearing undisturbed in activity and work.  God knows many will follow their destructive ways (vs. 2). Judgement and destruction are on the way.

    Third, the false teachers are doomed (vs. 4-11).  Peter at this point approaches the condemnation of the false teachers with specific Biblical evidence and does so in rhetorical fashion.

    1. The Angels (vs 4): If God did not spare the angels who originally sinned (Gen. 6:1-4; Jude 6), but threw them into Hell and placed them in pits of darkness, in order to be reserved for judgement, do you not think He will bring the same kind of judgement upon false teachers who are leading others astray?

    The usual words translated "hell" in the New Testament is either "Hades" or "Gehenna", but on this occasion Peter employs the word "Tartarus", which in Greek mythology refers to the lowest and most terrible hell.  In the Biblical context it pictures the part of hell in which the severest punishment is administered.

    2. The Ancient World (vs. 5): If God did not spare the ancient world but allowed it to be destroyed by a flood (although he saved Noah and seven other righteous people), do you not think He will bring false teachers to destruction?

    3. Sodom and Gomorrha (vs. 6-8): If God condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha to destruction and reduced them to ashes (delivering Lot due to his righteousness), do you not think H will bring that same type of destruction to the false teachers who have led others astray with false teachings?

    4. Day of Judgement (vs. 9): Peter answers these three questions as he comes to his summation statement: "The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgement".

    From this particular verse we notice the two major points of Peter's illustrations which are (1) that God can deliver the godly from temptation (as with Noah and Lot) and (2) the Lord reserves punishment for the unjust (as with those who perished in the flood and at Sodom and Gomorrha).

    Fourth, they "will utterly perish in their own corruption" (vs. 12).  To utterly perish means to spoil entirely or to completely destroy.  The word corruption contains the same meaning as perish.  Peter could not have used any stronger language.  Since they have been sowing destruction they will reap destruction.

    Fifth, they "will receive the wages of unrighteousness" (vs. 13).  Peter is emphasizing the same statement of destruction as Paul does in Romans 6:22, but he uses different vocabulary.

    Sixth, they will receive "the gloom of darkness" forever (vs. 17).  This expression refers to the place where the angels that sinned (see 2:4) are found.  This gloom of darkness is reserved for false teachers and prophets.  Darkness is Scripture speaks of the life that is characterized by sin.  Paul instructs us to "lay aside the deeds of darkness" (Romans 13:12), and elsewhere asks the question: "What partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with the darkness"?

(II Corinthians 6:14).


IV. RESPONSE TOWARD THE CULTS


    The Biblical directive found in I Peter 3:15 states that we should "be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you..."  Therefore it is imperative that we take positive action regarding the cults.

    The following two-fold attack is a starting point:

    1. We need to be aware not only of the existence of cults but also scrutinize "religious" organizations in light of the cults so that we may readily identify them and not be taken in by their doctrinal error whether it be obvious or subtle.

    2. We need to persistently warn our fellow believers concerning the errors of the cults.  This will require us to sharpen our ability to defend the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which includes both Biblical content and effective methodology.

    3. We need to view people involved in the cults as objects of God's love with the expressed desire to evangelize them and have them come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

    The Study Committee on Cults consisting of: Chairman, David A. Thomann; Secretary, Daniel P. Allen; Albert J. Dommel, Calvin T. Reed and petitioning church representative Norman Reed submits the following resolution:

    WHEREAS the FAITH & ORDER of the Bible Fellowship Church clearly states the Biblical truth concerning the authority of the Scriptures, the Diety of Christ and salvation by grace through faith; and

    WHEREAS the primary cultic doctrines err in relationship to the Biblical truth concerning the authority of the Scriptures, the Diety of Christ and salvation by grace through faith; and

    WHEREAS there is adequate cretera to differentiate between the Biblical truth and cultic error found in the above mentioned articles (ARTICLE #I, IV, XII) of the FAITH & ORDER of the Bible

Fellowship Church; and

    WHEREAS this position paper is consistent with the Biblical truths related in the Articles of Faith of the FAITH & ORDER of the Bible Fellowship Church; and

    WHEREAS this paper seeks to further delineate the characteristics of a cult and formulates what the response of the Bible Fellowship Church should be toward cults; Be it therefore

    RESOLVED: that the "Study Paper on Cults" be adopted by the 102nd Annual Conference as a position paper of the Bible Fellowship Church on the subject of cults.