World Mission Society Church of God, Mother God & Christ Ahnsahnghong – The One True Church or Cult?

** Who is Mother God? Who is Christ Ahnsahnghong? Is the WMSCOG the one true church? Is their interpretation of the Bible legit?**

 FIRST, A STATEMENT OF CONCERN

Please note: This isn’t an exercise in “I’m right” and “You’re wrong.” I’m engaging these questions on whether certain churches are teaching a distorted Gospel because Jesus Christ’s true Gospel alone saves us from eternal separation from God.  I believe what the writers of the Bible teach, which is that all people are made in God’s image and are of eternal worth to God, and neither God nor I wish to see anyone live apart from Him.

Secondly, the purpose of this article (and all articles in this series) is not to argue whether certain churches, sects, or religious groups are “cults” or not.  These articles are to inform and respond.  Whether these groups are “cults” or not, I prefer my readers to decide themselves. The following articles will be helpful:

(God From the Machine has published a book titled Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  Click here to learn more.)

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The Church of “Mother God” and “Christ Ahnsahnghong”

In the past few years, I’ve had several people share that they’d been approached by members of a church that believed in “Mother God.” Many of the encounters took place on the Rutgers University campus and in northern New Jersey. The people I know who had encounters with these people came to refer to them as the “Mother God Cult.”

Recently, I learned this “Mother God Cult” is actually the World Mission Society Church of God. If I didn’t know better, the name of the church wouldn’t have caught my attention much; I probably would’ve figured it was just another denomination I’ve never heard of before. Based on their website, the home church in South Korea appears to be simply called the Church of God. (For simplicity’s sake, I’ll just use “COG” to refer to the World Mission Society Church of God/Church of God throughout this article.)

Within the past few months, I’ve come into closer contact with the COG. A housemate of some friends started dating a girl who is a member of the COG and the housemate is now deeply involved. Shortly after, I found out a student of mine grew up in the COG and is currently a member. I learned of this because she had invited another student of mine to a COG service; he accepted, not realizing it wasn’t a traditional Christian church.

Considering all of this, I decided it was time to look deeper into the COG. Some people have provided me with links to websites criticizing the COG, mostly by former members, but I decided first, before considering what critics have to say about the COG, to let the COG speak for itself.

Before I read any criticisms of the COG, I visited the COG’s own website to see how they explained their own beliefs.  Let it be noted that at the time of the writing of this article, I’ve not looked at any other websites concerning the COG.  This article is a response strictly to the COG’s beliefs as explained on their own website: http://usa.watv.org/

 

History: Church of God

The COG started in South Korea. Here is a brief overview of their history gathered from their website:

  • 1948 – Baptism of “Christ” Ahnsahnghong “according to the prophecy of King David.”
  • 1964 – “Christ” Ahnsahnghong established the Church of God.
  • Feb. 1985 – “Christ” Ahnsahnghong “ascended” (which I assume means he died).
  • 1987 – Twenty COG churches established in Korea.
  • Late 90’s- early 2000’s – Church spreads outside of Korea to several countries, including to the USA in LA.
  • Sept. 2000 – Completed New Jerusalem Temple in Bundang-gu, Seongnam, South Korea.
  • Dec. 2000 – New York church established.
  • 2008 – One million members registered worldwide
  • 2009 – 2nd NY church established.

*Oddly, nothing in their history on their website mentions Mother God.

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Overview: Church of God’s Beliefs

The COG explains history as three 2,000-year eras with 3 saviors, a savior for each era: The Age of God the Father (Jehovah), the Age of God the Son (Jesus), and the Age of the Holy Spirit (Ahnsahnghong). Ahnsahnghong, a Korean man, was the 2nd Coming of Jesus Christ, though he has since died. Despite this, we’re now in the Age of the Holy Spirit.

According to the COG, without accepting the current savior, Ahnsahnghong, we will not have salvation. Thus, Jesus Christ is not enough: “…salvation will never be given to those who are stuck on the name of Jesus in this age.” We must accept “Christ Ahnsahnghong” for salvation in this age and pray in his name.

The COG partakes in 7 “feasts” or ritual celebrations throughout the year. All 7 of these have grounds in the Old Testament, but, according to the COG, each of them should’ve been practiced throughout all 3 ages in slightly different forms. For example, the COG has a yearly mass gathering where they partake in the “Passover,” though it appears to more closely resemble the Lord’s Supper. Other examples include the Day of First Fruits/Resurrection Day and the Feast of Weeks/Pentecost. Partaking in the COG’s version of the Passover is required for salvation.

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The COG also believes in Mother God, also called Jerusalem Mother. She is “the Second Coming Jesus’ [Ahnsahnghong’s] wife.” Jesus didn’t give his people eternal life 2,000 years ago because he was waiting for the appearance of his wife, through whom eternal life will come. God the Mother is currently living in South Korea.

In a video on the website, Mother God is shown at the New Jerusalem Temple in Korea, surrounded by many happy, well-dressed admirers. The video shows her holding their hands, walking with them, and hugging them. In a testimony, Nathan from Memphis, USA, says, “This is the place where our heavenly mother dwells, the land of prophecy, so I came here to receive the water of life that you can only receive here in Korea from God the Mother.” A female Korean teen states, “If God the Mother does not exist, there would be no happiness in the world.”

The COG website clearly teaches that eternal life can only come through Mother God.

Who is Ahnsahnghong?

God?  Christ?  Holy Spirit?  All of the above?

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The COG makes a lot of claims about Ahnsahnghong. From the COG website:

“For our salvation, God divided six thousand years into three ages : the age of the Father, the age of the Son, and the age of the Holy Spirit, and He allowed a different Savior’s name for each of these ages—the name of Jehovah in the age of the Father, the name Jesus in the age of the Son, and the name Ahnsahnghong in the age of the Holy Spirit.”

“Now we are living during the last age of the Holy Spirit. Thus, God has been administrating His plan of salvation, using the new Savior’s name, the name of the Holy Spirit-Ahnsahnghong. Salvation is only given to those who believe in the name of the Savior that God has allowed to the people living in that particular age. Because we are now living in the age of the Holy Spirit, we must receive the Holy Spirit, Ahnsahnghong, as the Savior of this age.”

“The name is Ahnsahnghong, Jesus’ new name.”

“The God in heaven is our God the Father. Just as we have a physical father on this earth, we have a spiritual Father in heaven. He is God the Father, Ahnsahnghong.”

 

JESUS’ 2nd COMING: IT AIN’T A SECRET

 *Is Ahnsahnghong the Second Coming of Jesus Christ?*

Since the COG uses the Bible extensively to explain their beliefs, I will use the Bible to critique their beliefs.

Could Ahnsahnghong possibly be the Second Coming of Jesus Christ? First, let’s look at what’s written in the Bible about Jesus’ Second Coming. The Bible writers clearly teach three facts about Jesus’ Second Coming:

(1)  Jesus will return in the same way as he left.

(2)  Jesus’ return will be visual and known by everyone.

(3)  With Jesus’ return will come the resurrection of the dead.

Let’s look at these 3 facts closer…

After Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and resurrection, he taught his disciples for 40 days and then ascended into heaven. Christians call this event “The Ascension.”

Acts 1:9-11

“And after He [Jesus] had said these things, He was lifted up while they [the disciples] were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”

Before going, Jesus had promised he would return for his believers:

John 14:1-3

“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”

In the meantime, Jesus’ disciples were to spread Jesus’ good news of salvation, bringing more and more people to salvation through Christ until he returns. (See the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20.)

As the angels say in Acts 1:11, in the same way Jesus left, he will return. It will be visual and known by all:

Luke 21:27

“Then they will see the Son of Man [Jesus] coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”

Revelation 1:7

“Behold, He [Jesus] is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.”

The bodily resurrection of the dead is a regular teaching throughout both the Old and New Testament. (See all of 1 Corinthians 15 and Matthew 22:23-33, where Jesus criticizes the Sadducees, who don’t believe in the resurrection.  He says they don’t understand Scripture or the power of God.) The resurrection will occur at the Second Coming:

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.   Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”

With Jesus’ Second Coming and the resurrection of the dead will also come the Final Judgment. (See Chapters 19-21 of Revelation.)  Depending on a person’s interpretation of  “The Millennium,” which is only taught in the Bible in Revelation 20:1-6 (even traditional, conservative Christian scholars understand it in different ways), the Final Judgment may occur at the same time as the resurrection of the dead or later, after Jesus’ Millennium reign.

Interestingly, Jesus also gives a warning when speaking of his Second Coming. He warns not to be fooled by frauds claiming to be the Second Coming of Christ:

Matthew 24:23-27

[Jesus said,] “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance. So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them. For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.”

This is particularly interesting because Jesus is saying, yes, there will be false Christs, even ones that seem real with “great signs and wonders” but don’t believe them because it’ll be clear to all when the real Christ comes because of the specific manner of his return.  Further, no one will need to tell us Christ has returned; we will know.

So, let’s recap: Jesus will return by descending from the sky to earth; everyone will clearly understand that this is Jesus; and once he returns, the dead are resurrected.

 

And So…?

Does Ahnsahnghong fulfill any of these biblical requirements of Christ’s Second Coming? In fact, does he fulfill even one of these biblical truths? How many times have false Christs appeared in history, claiming to be Jesus’ Second Coming – only to die?

There’s a very good reason why Christianity has flourished for 2,000 years: Because Jesus died but didn’t stay dead.

Moreover, when Jesus returns, he’s here to stay.

“Christ” Ahnsahnghong is dead. He’s been dead since February of 1985. He’s not coming back. He is not the Christ. He is a fraud.

NEXT: Ahnsahnghong, The Mashed-up Trinity & Mother God

**God From the Machine has published a book for evangelizing, educating, and refuting the World Mission Society Church of God titled Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  Click here to learn more.

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About (Poor) Biblical Interpretation: Responding to “Christian” Cults… or Anyone Who Misuses Scripture.

Interpreting the Bible poorly is an error made by people in all walks of life, whether they be cult members, atheists or honest Christians who don’t know better.  Here are ways not to interpret the Bible… (and a few tips on how you should…)

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Concerning Scripture

This article continues from last post, which looked at general strategies for interacting with “Christian” cult members.  Though it’s written with cult members in mind, many of these strategies will assist anyone hoping to better understand the Bible.

  • Read Part 1: How Do We Identify “Christian” Cults? What’s the Difference Between a Cult & a Denomination?
  • Read Part 2: Interacting with “Christian” Cult Members: Tips & Strategies

Use the following strategies when discussing Scripture with cult members (as well as anyone who uses Scripture incorrectly)…

  • Look at verses they quote in context.
  • Scripture interprets Scripture: Clear passages clarify ambiguous passages.
  • Don’t fuse over minor doctrine; stick to major doctrines.
  • Always bring it back to Scripture: especially the Gospel & salvation.

Let’s look at each one a little closer…

*Look at verses they quote in context.*

One of the biggest errors of nominal Christians or even dedicated Christians who have a poor understanding of the Bible is to grab random verses out of context to prove the opinions they’re promoting.  In fact, in some circles, this is the norm; any opinion can be “proved” by citing a single verse.  This is also a regular strategy with cults.  Remember, the first rule of proper interpretation: context, context, context!

If anyone (whether it’s a trusted pastor, a cult member, or the Pope) quotes a Bible verse, and if what they’re proposing the verse means doesn’t sound quite right, all you need to do is open your Bible and read the verse in context.  (The footnotes in a study Bible will help too.)  This means reading the whole section, chapter, or even book in which the verse appears.

For example, if someone claims because of Psalm 148:10 that cattle should be welcomed to worship in churches with humans, you probably should open up to Psalm 148 and read the complete Psalm (and hopefully you have a common sense understanding of the difference between poetic and literal language too).  If someone claims Christians shouldn’t eat figs because Jesus hates figs, as evident by his curse upon a fig tree, maybe you should take a moment to read the episode and figure out what Jesus was truly teaching in carrying out this action.

Yes, both examples above are absurd, but they illustrate how verses or passages can be made to mean silly things they don’t actually say.  Context, context, context!

 

*Scripture interprets Scripture.*

Cults have the tendency to grab unclear, difficult, or obscure passages from the Bible and use them as a base for their mistaken theology and fantastical doctrines.

Remember this rule of thumb: Clear passages clarify ambiguous passages.  If the one verse a cult member points to may be interpreted in a way to support their untraditional view, say, “Okay, maybe this unclear verse can be interpreted that way, but what about all these other perfectly clear passages that teach something totally different than what you’re saying…?” or “Yes, that’s a hard verse to understand, but this verse clarifies it…”

Or simply put the ball in their court: if they’re making the claim, the burden of proof is on them.  Simply say, “That’s an interesting interpretation, but where else do you see that idea in the Bible?”  For instance, if someone points to an unclear verse and claims it shows God has a wife, say, “That passage is hardly conclusive.  Where else does the Bible teach God has a wife?”  Chances are their theory will fizzle.

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*Don’t fuse over minor doctrine; stick to major doctrines.*

Cults also have the tendency of making huge deals out of minor doctrines.  Yes, Christian denominations disagree on the interpretation or practice of some minor doctrines, but often cults make their interpretation of these doctrines (often unusual takes on these doctrines as well) and obedience to them as a required means of salvation.

For example, a cult may state the only true way to be baptized is in natural flowing water with your head bowed.  To be baptized in any other way than this, they claim, means one is not saved.

Now, I’m with the Baptists on the doctrine of baptism: the Bible clearly teaches baptism is done once someone accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; it’s an outward, symbolic act to bear witness to others that the one being baptized is declaring Christ as his Lord and Savior; and, finally, “baptism” means “immersion” so those being baptized should be dunked fully in water.  Do I believe this is the correct interpretation of the biblical text and we should obey it?  Yes!  Does this mean those who accept Christ as Lord and Savior but who aren’t baptized in this exact way are unsaved?  By no means!  If someone lives all of her life in a dessert where there is not one pool of water big enough to be fully dunked in, does that mean she remains unsaved?  By no means!  Salvation comes through God’s grace and faith in Jesus Christ alone.

All that being said, don’t bother arguing with cult members over minor doctrines.  They’re often just a distraction from the big issues and the big doctrines – the essential doctrines and beliefs – which salvation does depend on (as laid out in Part 1).  Focus on the big doctrines, and if you make major progress on those or you win a cult member to Christ, then it’s time to discuss minor doctrines.

Likewise, sometimes cult members make odd claims, like saying Jesus was hung on a stake instead of a cross.  Though many of these claims can be disproved, choose your battles wisely and stay focused on the essential issues for salvation.

 

*Always bring it back to Scripture, the Gospel & Salvation.*

Always bring it back to the true Gospel of Jesus Christ and the salvation that can be received only through him.  Always bring it back to the true word of God.  The cult member may be dropping absurd claims on you like a dump truck, but stay calm.  You have the truth, so what’s there to fear?  Even if the cult member is a deft debater, just keep referring him back to Scripture, God’s true Word.  As long as you’re speaking God’s truth in love and praying for the intervention of the Holy Spirit, you can’t go wrong.

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*A Bit More About (Poor) Biblical Interpretation

 

 Some other cult (and generally poor) strategies for biblical interpretation:

  • Imposing views on the text rather than letting the text speak for itself. 

Honest biblical interpretation reads the text as it is and works to understand what the original author was trying to communicate to his original audience.  Interpretation is not: “This is what I think.  Now let me look through the Bible and find verses to support my view.”

 

  • Jumping from one part of the Bible to another with utter disregard of context to “prove” ideas, beliefs, or opinions.

We spoke about this already above in the section about reading Bible verses in context because people can make the Bible say almost anything they want if they isolate verses and take them out of context.

 

  • Inconsistent decisions on what should be taken literally or figuratively, often based on preconceived ideas.

The Bible is a work of literature.  Even an atheist would agree with that.  And this means both figurative (poetic) and literal language are used in it.

For example, psalms by nature are poetic.  Thus, when we read them, we have to be aware that non-literal, poetic language is regularly used.  Moreover, in the Gospel of John, Jesus calls himself a light, a vine, and a door.  Should we take him literally?  Like any work of literature, the reader needs to strive to understand what the author was communicating to his original audience.  We understand what to take as literal or figurative language through (once again) context, context, context.

Sometimes, it’s not so clear how figuratively or literally a verse should be taken.  When writing about things not found in our normal everyday experiences, writers often have to find creative ways to explain things.  And the Bible is filled with subject matter not within the bounds of everyday experiences.  Think about it: How do you explain with everyday language Jesus as being fully God yet fully human and one with God the Father yet different?

Yet, cults have the habit of taking verses usually taken as literal figuratively and verses usually taken as figurative literally.  The decisions are often quite random and based on preconceived beliefs.

 

  • Selective “translation” and adherence to grammar rules.

Similar to the other erroneous or dishonest strategies above, some cults have their own “translation” of the Bible, where they change words and grammar to fit their beliefs.  Because of this, be sure to refer to a legitimate Bible translation (ESV, NASB) when interacting with them.

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A Few Words on the Book of Revelation:

The closing book of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation is notoriously difficult to interpret.  Even legitimate conservative New Testament scholars break up into 4 major camps on how to understand it.  The main reason for this is that Revelation is apocalyptic literature, a style of ancient literature that is highly symbolic.

Cults almost universally seize on the ambiguity of Revelation to “prove” their views, interpreting symbols as they see fit.  (Further, many cults have an unhealthy fascination with the End Times.)

Despite these difficulties, context is (as always) the key.  There are things that can be known for certain in Revelation and certain interpretations that definitely can be eliminated.  If nothing else, be wary of anyone going to Revelation to “prove” an unusual viewpoint.

(To learn more about Revelation, read Four Views of the Book of Revelation published by Zondervan, and/or see Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.)

(To watch a great video of 3 legitimate scholars discussing/debating 3 views of Revelation, End Times, & The Millennium with John Piper, click here.)

CLOSING

In Ephesians 4:14, Paul speaks of those “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”  We need to be beacons of light to lead those upon the waves to shore.

**Two books I recommend for learning about biblical interpretation: A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible by Robert H. Stein & 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible by Robert L. Plummer.  Both books are readable to everyday Christians, not just seminary students.**

*See more recommendations below.

NEXT:  Specific “Christian” cults.

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Recommended Resources:

Biblical Interpretation:

  • A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible by Robert H. Stein
  • 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible by Robert L. Plummer.

Cults:

  • The Kingdom of the Cults by Walter Martin (Ed. Ravi Zacharias)
  • The Four Major Cults by Anthony A. Hoekema

 Highly Recommended for all Christians:

  1. How We Got the Bible by Neil Lightfoot
  2. ESV Study Bible
  3. Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem
  4. Tactics by Greg Koukl
  5. What is Biblical Theology? James M. Hamilton Jr.

OR

       According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy

General Apologetics:

  • I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek (Read my review here)
  • Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig
  • What Your Wolrdview? James N. Anderson
  • Covenantal Apologetics by K. Scott Oliphint
  • Apologetics 315 (website)

More Theology:

  • What is Reformed Theology?  R.C. Sproul
  • The Forgotten Trinity James R. White
  • Jesus, the Son of God by D.A. Carson

Podcasts (blogs, websites):

  • The Dividing Line (with James White)
  • Apologia Radio

Articles:

Of course, I hope this blog, God From the Machine, will be a resource for you as well… The following articles may be helpful in some topics that arise with cult members:

Interacting with “Christian” Cult Members: Tips & Strategies Anyone Can Do

How do you respond to friends, family, and neighbors who are involved in a church teaching a corruption of the good news of Christ? 

Last article, we defined what deems a “Christian” cult, ways to identify them, and the difference between a denomination and a cult.  (To read it, click here.)

In this article, we’ll look at some general strategies for interacting with cult members, whether they’re strangers or friends or whether they’re standing on your doorstep or sitting across from you in the lounge at work.

Below, you’ll find a checklist of general strategies for interacting with cult members.  Cut-and-paste it into a document, print it out, and hang it on your fridge as a reminder.

Underneath the checklist, we’ll look at the list more in depth (with the exception of the “Using Scripture” section.  Since that is a big subject, it’ll be the topic of the next post.)  In future articles, we’ll look at and respond to beliefs of specific cults.

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Checklist:

Interacting with Cult Members

KNOW YOUR FAITH

  • Know your Scripture!
  • Know why we can trust the Bible!
  • Know your Christian theology!
  • Study apologetics!

CHECK YOUR ATTITUDE

  •  Speak to them out of love.
  • Remember: This is a person pursuing God, & made in God’s image.
  • Be aware of your body language.
  • Don’t call their faith a “cult”!

CLARIFICATION

  • Don’t stereotype, generalize, or assume.
  • Ask them questions: Why do you believe that?  Where is that in Scripture?
  • Ask them to define their terms.

USING SCRIPTURE

  •  Look at verses they quote in context.
  • Scripture interprets Scripture: Clear passages clarify ambiguous passages.
  • Don’t fuse over minor doctrine; stick to major doctrines.
  • Always bring it back to Scripture: especially the Gospel & salvation.

STRATEGIES EVERYONE CAN DO

  •  Don’t worry about “winning the argument” — just speak truth in love.
  • “I’ll look into that for you…”
  • 10 minutes/10 minutes
  • Share your testimony & the Gospel.
  • Pray for them.
  • Invite them to church.

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A Closer Look: Interacting with Cult Members

KNOW YOUR FAITH

  • Know your Scripture!
  • Know why we can trust the Bible!
  • Know your Christian theology!
  • Study apologetics!

The tips above may seem so obvious they’re not worth stating, but sadly many Christians can’t explain – and certainly can’t defend – their faith well.  Listening to a sermon once a week isn’t going to cut it.  Resist all you want, but Christians must be readers – not just of the Bible, but of works that help us understand the Bible.

Furthermore, all Christians should be familiar with Christian theology and apologetics – the defense of the Christian faith – since often cults have their own apologetics that argue that Christianity has been corrupted and their cult holds the one true, correct version of Christianity.  Some cults train their members well in their own erroneous theology and apologetics.

Luckily, there are also plenty of websites and blogs with easy, free access, and for those of you who want to read as little as possible, there are some great Christian podcasts out there. (*See recommendations below and my article recommending Christian podcasts here.)

At the very least, I highly recommend buying a good study Bible (I recommend the ESV Study Bible) and reading up on textual criticism (the study of how the Bible has been handed down to us from the original manuscripts).  For this I recommend How We Got the Bible by Neil Lightfoot, a quick, easy but thorough read.  I also recommend picking up a copy of Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem and a book on biblical theology, the study of the Bible’s story as a whole (*See recommendations below.  Also, see my 2-minute lesson on biblical theology article here.).

At first glance, Grudem’s book is intimidating because it’s thick, but it’s extremely readable and thorough.  Even if you never tackle reading the whole thing, keep it as a reference tool.  Why do we believe Jesus is God?  It’s in there.  How did Jesus’ death atone for our sins?  It’s in there.  Wondering about the End Days or the inerrancy of Scripture?  It’s in there.

 *See a list of recommended books & resources below*

 

CHECK YOUR ATTITUDE

  •  Speak to them out of love.
  • Remember: This is a person pursuing God, & made in God’s image.
  • Be aware of your body language.
  • Don’t call their faith a “cult”!

It’s easy to get heated, defensive, and even sarcastic with cult members.  Don’t.

First, remember that you, as a follower of the true Christ and led by God’s true Scripture, have no reason to feel defensive or threatened.  Knowing what you’re talking about (as we discussed above) will give you much more confidence, but even if you feel as if you don’t have a strong grasp of the Bible or theology, you should still feel secure in your salvation and the truth of Jesus Christ.  Feeling confident and secure will keep you calm.

Always remember most of these cult members are honest, everyday people just like you, who are looking for meaning and truth in life and a relationship with God.  Sadly, false teachers and prophets have led these cult members astray.  Cult members, like all of us, are made in God’s image and have infinite worth to God, so treat them accordingly.  Also remember that you received salvation by God’s grace alone.  You didn’t earn it or deserve it.  It was only through the Holy Spirit that you were called out of darkness, so stay humble.

Be aware of your body language.  Though you may be listening silently, your body language and facial expressions speak volumes, clearly revealing what you’re thinking to the cult member.  Rolling your eyes, bursts of breath from your nostrils, raised eyebrows, smirks, and furrowed eyebrows aren’t going to open anyone up to a loving conversation.  If nothing else, remember the golden rule: treat others as you want to be treated.  Your job isn’t to berate, judge, or demean cult members; your job is to speak truth in love, praying the Holy Spirit will use this to lead them out of darkness and into God’s presence.

Finally, if you’re having a conversation with a cult member, don’t use the word “cult”!  Calling them cult members or referring to their church as a cult will accomplish nothing positive.  It’s an offensive term and, after that, any chance of an open, loving dialogue will be lost.  Remember, Christians are to speak not just truth, but truth with love (Eph. 4:15-16; 1 Cor. 13:1).

 

CLARIFICATION

  • Don’t stereotype, generalize, or assume.
  • Ask them questions: Why do you believe that?  Where is that in Scripture?
  • Ask them to define their terms.

Just like Christians don’t like it when people stereotype them or non-Christians portray their faith inaccurately, other people, of course, don’t like it either – including cult members.  Remember, the goal is to have an open, loving dialogue, not demean the other person.  Even if you know some information about their beliefs (even if you read it on this very blog!) do not assume you know anything.  Remember, the person in front of you is an individual and an image-bearer of God, just like you.

Before (lovingly) challenging them on anything, first make sure you have a clear understanding of what they believe.  Ask a lot of questions, truly listening, and echo back to them their words to check for understanding.  Saying “Correct me if I’m misunderstanding you, but you’re saying…” is a great way to show you care about what they have to say and to make sure you’re not misrepresenting their beliefs.

“Why do you believe that?” is an essential question for you to ask.  So, if the cult member says their founder is the Second Coming of Christ, simply ask this question.  Their answer will lead to other obvious questions to ask.  If the cult member makes any strange claims about what’s written in the Bible, simply ask, “Where is that in the Bible?  Can you show me?”

If you’re slick, you can also ask strategic questions that lead the person to thinking out things they may have never considered before, such as inconsistencies in their doctrine.  Greg Koukl has written a great book about how to remain friendly and non-aggressive in a discussion while still challenging the others’ beliefs called Tactics: A Game Plan For Discussing Your Christian Convictions, which I highly recommend.

Finally, this is very important: Ask them to define their terms because what they mean by a certain word or phrase may not be what you mean when you use the same words.  Just ask, “What exactly do you mean by…?”  A cult member might say he believes Jesus is divine.  Great.  Case closed, right?  Wrong.  Once you ask, “What exactly do you mean by ‘divine’?” you may find out he means Jesus is a demigod, not fully God, and then you have work to do.  A cult member might say he believes in “the Trinity” only for you to find out “the Trinity” to him means God the Father, Uncle Pete the Son, and the Holy Spirit Horse of Chief Seattle.

When interacting with cult members, your first goal is listening and collecting information.

 

USING SCRIPTURE 

  •  Look at verses they quote in context.
  • Scripture interprets Scripture: Clear passages clarify ambiguous passages.
  • Don’t fuse over minor doctrine; stick to major doctrines.
  • Always bring it back to Scripture: especially the Gospel & salvation.

*See the next blog article for “Using Scripture” *

 

STRATEGIES EVERYONE CAN DO

  •  Don’t worry about “winning the argument” — just speak truth in love.
  • “I’ll look into that for you…”
  • 10 minutes/10 minutes
  • Share your testimony & the Gospel.
  • Pray for them.
  • Invite them to church.

Finally, maybe you’re nervous about facing-off with a cult member even in a friendly manner; maybe you don’t feel confident with your way around the Bible enough to recall all the verses to dispute their claims; or maybe you’re simply an introvert who avoids disagreements at all costs.  First, let me just say that I can absolutely understand all of these reservations.  Trust me.

Studying the Bible is a lifelong endeavor, so there are always gaps in our knowledge.  (But all the more reason to work for a better grasp of biblical, theological, and apologetic knowledge.)  Further, I’ve never been one for confrontations.  I grew up doing my best to avoid any conflicts that may arise with others.  But these last tips should assist anyone, no matter how introverted and non-confrontational or inexperienced and unschooled.

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Let’s look at each one-by-one:

Don’t worry about “winning the argument” — just speak truth in love

You may not be a trained debater or apologist, but every Christian knows truth, can speak truth, and can speak that truth with love.  And remember: speaking truth is important, but actions speak loudly as well.  Don’t worry about winning an argument.  Show that you’re concerned for them and their eternal soul.  Tell them the truth lovingly and leave it at that.

 

“I’ll look into that for you…”

Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to have an open, honest discussion with a cult member, and you’re even doing a pretty good job of challenging their beliefs, but then they throw something at you that you don’t know what to make of.  More than likely, it’ll be a Bible verse you’ve never thought much about before.  There’s nothing wrong with humbly saying, “I can’t answer that for you right now, but let me get back to you.  I’ll look into it.”  Then, take a look at a good study Bible, ask your pastor about it, and do some other research.

 

10 minutes/10 minutes

This is a great strategy that shows mutual respect.  Simply tell the cult member (who may be standing on your doorstep), “I’ll gladly listen to you for ten minutes – allowing you to speak without interruption – if you then do for me the same courtesy and listen to me for ten minutes, allowing me to explain my beliefs uninterrupted.”

 

Share your testimony & the Gospel

Maybe you don’t feel deft at spitting out Bible verses verbatim from the top of your head (few do, even experienced pastors), but all Christians can (or at least should) be able to share the reason why they’re Christian and explain the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Pray for them & invite them to church

These may seem obvious, but don’t forget to do these two essential things.

Remember, we’re called to share the Gospel, but we don’t convert people; that’s the job of the Holy Spirit.  So, do your best to share the truth and love of Jesus Christ and don’t forget to pray, pray, pray for the cult members.

 

NEXT: About (Poor) Biblical Interpretation: Interacting with “Christian” Cult Members.

After that: Responding to specific beliefs of specific cults.

 How-we-got-the-bible

Recommended Resources:

A Good Place to Start:

  • How We Got the Bible by Neil Lightfoot
  • ESV Study Bible
  • Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem
  • Tactics by Greg Koukl
  • What is Biblical Theology? James M. Hamilton Jr.

OR

  •        According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy

Cults:

  • The Kingdom of the Cults by Walter Martin (Ed. Ravi Zacharias)
  • The Four Major Cults by Anthony A. Hoekema

General Apologetics:

  • I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek (Read my review here)
  • Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig
  • What Your Wolrdview? James N. Anderson
  • Covenantal Apologetics by K. Scott Oliphint
  • Apologetics 315 (website)

More Theology:

  • What is Reformed Theology?  R.C. Sproul
  • The Forgotten Trinity James R. White
  • Jesus, the Son of God by D.A. Carson

Podcasts:

  • Check out my article on recommended podcasts here.  Most podcast hosts have great websites and blogs that are also useful tools (so see the podcast article for that too).  If I were to write an updated podcast article, I’d add:
  • The Dividing Line (James White)
  • Apologia Radio

Articles:

Of course, I hope this blog, God From the Machine, will be a resource for you as well… The following articles may be helpful introductions into some of the topics covered here:

How Do We Identify “Christian” Cults? What’s the Difference Between a Cult & a Denomination?

What do the biblical writers warn about false teachers?  What is a “Christian” cult?  Are these cults new or old news?

Rorchack_cultsbooks

Warning: False Teachers & Prophets

In the New Testament, Jesus Christ warns of false teachers and prophets who will corrupt his Gospel, his good news of salvation.

For example, in Matthew 7:15, Jesus warns:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” 

Not only Jesus, but the apostle Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, gives considerable space to warning against false teachers and prophets.

In 2 Timothy 4:3-4, Paul writes:

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”

Furthermore, Peter, Jesus’ most prominent disciple of his original twelve, took time to warn against false teachers too.

In his letter 2 Peter 2:1-3, he warns:

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master [Jesus] who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.  And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.  And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.”

John, writer of the fourth Gospel, Revelation, and three letters in the New Testament, another one of Jesus’ original twelve disciples and arguably as prominent as Peter, also warns about those who corrupt the message of Jesus’ good news:

 “…do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1)

And while we’re at it, take a moment to read the letter by Jude, Jesus’ brother… Do it right now.  It’s barely one page.

So, here we have throughout the New Testament, Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, and Jude all warning against false teachers and prophets.  If Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, and Jude didn’t take corruption of God’s word lightly, neither should we.

christiansciencereadingroom

Ever see one of these? Luckily, this is a dwindling cult. Ironically, it’s neither Christian nor scientific in any way. It’s closer to types of Hinduism & Gnosticism.

What Do We Mean By “Christian” Cults? 

“Cult” isn’t necessarily a negative word, such as when used in ancient Rome or in types of Hinduism.  It can simply mean a system of religious devotion towards a specific person, god, or object.

But in modern Western society “cult” is a word no one wants to be associated with.  Today, in the West, often “cult” means a small group of people on the fringe of society who hold to some strange religious beliefs.  But sometimes these small groups of people with odd beliefs grow into large groups of people with odd beliefs.

So, let’s be clear about the intended meaning of the use of the word “cult” in this (and future) articles.

“Cult” – more specifically “Christian cult” – will refer to religious groups that have Christian origins or have borrowed from Christian beliefs but have deviated from Christianity to such an extreme that they can no longer be considered Christian.

These religious groups either deny or have changed core doctrines of Christianity so they’re not just another denomination.  Yes, there are many denominations in Christianity, but the differences between them have to do with different interpretations of minor doctrines and/or differences in their governing leadership.  Conversely, cults deny major doctrines – essential doctrines – of the Christian faith.

 

Why are they “Essential” Doctrines?

By “essential,” we mean essential for salvation from sin.  By straying from these core doctrines, the cult members don’t have salvation from sin as taught by the New Testament Scripture.  They have altered, corrupted, or denied the true Gospel of Jesus Christ by altering, corrupting, or denying God’s free gift of salvation.  Thus, peoples’ eternal souls are at stake.

Have no doubt, in using the word “cult” we’re stating that these groups are teaching – to use a term that’s no longer fashionable – heresy.  Though we believe the people in these cults are sincerely seeking relationships with God, they have been led astray by the founders and leaders of these cults, who are – to use more unfashionable language –apostates, i.e. false teachers and prophets.

But the good news is no one is beyond God’s grace – not even messed up sinners like me, you, or cult members.  That’s the good news of Jesus Christ.

Grudem

Recommended. Know your Christian doctrine — what we believe and why.

But Don’t Call Them “Cults”!

I realize what I’m writing in this section is ironic:

Though the word “cult” is used in this article (and will be used in future articles), I don’t believe we should use the word “cults” when speaking with members of “Christian” cults (such as blatantly telling someone, Your church is a cult).  As stated above, the word has such a negative connotation, the person will take offense and, after that, any chance of an open, loving dialogue will be lost.  Remember, Christians are to speak not just truth but truth with love (Eph. 4:15-16; 1 Cor. 13:1).

 

How Do We Identify “Christian” Cults?  + , – , X , /

One of my professors at SBTS, Dr. David Sills, professor of missions and anthropology, gave us a fool-proof way to understand, explain, and remember what makes a group not a denomination, but a “Christian” cult:  Use the symbols: +, — , x, /

That is:  + (Addition sign), – (Subtraction sign), x (Multiplication sign), / (Division sign)

This is what each symbol represents:

(+) Adds to the Word of God

(–) Subtracts from the Deity of Jesus Christ

(x) Multiplies the Requirements for Salvation

(/) Divides the Cult Members’ Loyalty Between the Cult Leader(s) and Christ

These are pretty straight-forward, but let’s break them down:

(+) Adds to the Word of God

Christians believe the Bible, both the Old Testament and New Testament, are God’s unique Scripture.  There are no other scriptures than these, and there is no need for any more scripture than these.  Scripture records God’s redemption of humankind from sin, and this was accomplished when God came as Jesus of Nazareth and died on a cross as the perfect, final sacrifice for the sins of the world.  Now, according to the commands of Jesus, Christians spread his Gospel and wait for his Second Coming, when he will bring the Final Judgment and restore creation.  (Take a moment and read my blog post: 2-Minute Lesson on Biblical Theology — the Progressive Revelation of God in Human History.)

Case closed.

Throughout the Bible we see that God confirms his messengers through “signs and wonders” — miracles.  The New Testament was completed in the 1st Century by Jesus’ apostles.  Any addition to God’s Word is not God’s Word, and any new “scripture” claiming to be from God is not from God.  God will not be giving any new scripture because there is no need for it.  The church “closed” the canon of Scripture for exactly this reason: so no one could claim to have written, received, or discovered new Scripture.  Likewise, to eliminate or change anything from God’s Word is corrupting God’s Word.  Additionally, any “translation” that is not faithful to the original Greek and Hebrew falls under this category.

 (–) Subtracts from the Deity of Jesus Christ 

Christians believe Jesus of Nazareth, as taught in the New Testament, is God the Son incarnate.  Primarily through Jesus’ deeds he displayed his divinity and oneness with God the Father.  In every way, Jesus is God.  He has been eternally part of the Trinitarian Godhead; he isn’t a created being.  Only by being both fully God and fully man could Jesus live a perfect, sinless life and accomplish salvation for all of humankind by his death on the cross.

To deny Jesus is anything other than God means Jesus could not accomplish salvation for all of humankind, which means salvation from sins is not possible.  Thus, to deny the divinity of Christ Jesus is to be unsaved.

Often “Christian” cults make Jesus (God the Son) less than God the Father.  Jesus is seen as a sort of demigod or an exalted angel — a being created by God.

As a related matter: Yes, the doctrine of the Trinity – the persons of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit as one God – is hard to wrap our finite, human minds around, but the Bible attests to it.  Many “Christian” cults deny the Trinity by either denying the full deity of the Son/Jesus or the Holy Spirit or both.

(x) Multiplies the Requirements for Salvation

The New Testament writers teach that salvation from sins comes only through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  When someone understands this, they repent of sins, accept this free gift, and follow Jesus Christ – God the Son – as their Lord and Savior.

Thus, no one earns salvation.  It’s a free gift from God that can only be either accepted or rejected, as with all free gifts.  Despite what many think, one doesn’t come into God’s presence by being a “good person.”  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  God’s salvation can’t be earned, and none of us deserve it.  It can only be accepted.

This is the beautiful good news of Christ Jesus – the truly unique message of Christianity that no other faith teaches.  To add anything to this simple and beautiful message of salvation is to deny the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

But cults add some sort of “works” to salvation; salvation must be gained, even if the cult holds up some version of Jesus as a savior.  The cult members must be deemed worthy of salvation through their works and close adherence to the cult’s teachings – and often its solely up to the cult’s leader(s) to deem who’s worthy of salvation or not.

(/) Divides the Cult Members’ Loyalty Between the Cult Leader(s) and Christ

Jesus Christ is the Lord and Savior of all true Christians.  God has graciously given us the Bible – the Old and New Testament – as our guide for knowing God’s will.  The Bible is also our guide for testing the teachings of the teachers of God’s Word.  If any teacher – whether pastor, priest, or pope – purposely misrepresents God’s Word, he is putting himself in the place of God; he is putting his authority above God’s.

In cults, the founder(s) and leader(s) are the final authority, not God or Jesus nor their Holy Scripture.  They claim to be the only ones who can properly interpret God’s Word, or they claim the authority to add to or alter God’s Word.  To do this, is to stand between a person seeking God and God.

Like John the Baptist, true teachers of God’s Word point their hearers to Jesus Christ.  They don’t get in the way.  They encourage their pupils to read God’s Word on their own and strive for understanding.  False teachers point not to Christ, but to themselves.  And often unquestioning loyalty is demanded.

Idol_Pig_LOTF

2 More Common Characteristics of Cults

These, also, should “raise an eyebrow” if you come across them:

The One True Church

Yes, different denominations have disagreements on minor doctrines, but they don’t usually accuse the others of being heretics and devoid of Christ’s salvation.  Cults often claim they’re God’s only true church and members of all other Christian churches are destined for damnation.

Often they claim Christianity has been corrupted some time in the past, but they have the true, restored Christianity as Jesus Christ intended it.

Secret Teachings

Jesus Christ preached in public, performed miracles in public, and both Christian doctrine and Christian churches are open to all.  There are no secrets.  Cults, on the other hand, often have secret teachings or rituals that only those indoctrinated into the cult know or are allowed to participate in – or even to witness.  Often, these are some of their stranger beliefs that they don’t want the general public to know about.

Frequently, those new to the cult purposely aren’t exposed to these stranger beliefs until they have invested themselves into the cult.

Old Heresies, New Faces

Many of the teachings of these cults are old heresies, meaning they’re nothing new.  If you look at Christian history, the early church has already faced and addressed many of the same unsound, erroneous interpretations of the Bible these modern cults promote.

“Christian” cults put peoples’ salvation through Jesus Christ into serious jeopardy.  A cult may have all or any one of the characteristics mentioned above.

NEXT:

  • General strategies for interacting with cult members.
  • Responding to the teachings of specific “Christian” cults.

Recommended Resources:

BOOKS:

  • The Kingdom of the Cults by Walter Martin (Ed. Ravi Zacharias)
  • The Four Major Cults by Anthony A. Hoekema

ONLINE:

  • www.challies.com – Excellent informative series of articles on “False Teachers” — both present and past.  A new one is posted every few weeks.  Scroll down on the page to see those written so far.
  • 3-part series on how to biblically identify, engage, & deal with false teachers by Denny Burk.
  • kingdomofthecults

    Recommended. Classic study of various cults with updates.

    FourMajorCults

    Another recommended modern classic. Out-of-print, but I found a cheap used copy online.