"There are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:7-8 NASB). The Epistle to the Galatians is given to warn believers against human alteration of the divine message. The Apostle Paul elsewhere told about those who would come and preach "another Jesus whom we have not preached," or proclaim "a different gospel which you have not accepted" (2 Cor. 11:4 NASB). Any who would enter heaven should take notice of this warning.
Deceptive teaching can come from "false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ" or "servants of righteousness" (2 Cor. 11:13-15 NASB). Some of these deceive others and some are themselves deceived about the truth (2 Tim. 3:13). The Lord Jesus said to beware of false prophets "who come to you in sheep's clothing" (Matt. 7:15). We must judge religious teachers or systems as to what they believe about two major subjects: the way of salvation and the identity of Jesus Christ.
Systems of Christian Faith
Originally all believers in Christ were unified. Organizational aspects grew and spirituality declined. Control was centralized under various bishops and patriarchs with headquarters in such cities as Rome and Constantinople. Church and state merged and Christianity became an "official religion." The Roman Empire divided into Eastern and Western branches and the church also divided along these lines. The modern "Orthodox" denominations (Greek, Russian, Syrian, and Serbian) come from the Eastern branch. The Roman Catholic Church comes from the Western branch. In both branches the gospel message has been obscured by rituals and priestcraft. The Reformation Movement in the 16th century split off many believers from the Catholic Church who felt it had become corrupt and unbiblical. From this movement came the various Protestant groups we know today. These have continued to grow and subdivide into many denominations. The greatest influence among these groups during the past one hundred years has been liberalism. Leaders of this movement have redefined verbal inspiration and the authority of the Bible. Often they have denied the deity of Christ and personal salvation by the shed blood of Jesus alone. Social and political action dominate their thinking. Millions of true believers have left liberal church systems because their leadership and seminaries have departed from the faith. This apostasy is prophesied for the end times (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1-9; Matt. 24:11). Its appearance has encouraged the formation of independent Bible churches.
Cultic Forms of Christian Faith
The term "cult" has come into use during the past fifty years to describe heretical groups, neither Protestant nor Catholic. Cults usually claim the authority of God and the Bible but distort the gospel message or the doctrine of God. Two typical examples are the Watch-tower Society, calling themselves Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, called Mormons. These groups have millions of followers world-wide. Cults do not work with any groups of believers outside their own organizations. They call people to be part of their systems rather than call unbelievers to personal commitment to Christ. They are aggressive, fast-growing, and spiritually dangerous. Truth is cleverly mixed with error. Anyone poorly grounded in the Bible is an easy target for a cultist with a complicated organization of Bible verses, twisted in a doctrinally deceiving way.
David Breese has identified certain marks of cults.5 Not every group has each feature.
Extra-Biblical Writings. Special revelation from God is claimed. This may include writings which claim to interpret authoritatively or replace the Scriptures.
Salvation By Works. Cults cannot refrain from adding to belief in the Gospel as God's way of saving people. Baptism, rituals, good works, and faithfulness to the organization are typical additions which become necessary to the salvation they teach.
Unsure Salvation. People are kept working at various things which they are taught to believe are necessary to retain salvation.
False Leaders. Often the leader becomes the center of the movement, not the Lord Jesus. The writings of these leaders become as authoritative as the Bible. They claim to have unique understanding of the truth of God above other mortals.
Doctrinal Confusion. To one who knows the Scriptures, cultic doctrinal ideas are a confused tangle. One thing is evident: Their teachings do not harmonize with the entire Bible.
Special Discoveries. The leaders pretend to have been given new and exclusive insight into truth never available before. By these insights the Bible really can be understood, they say.
Another Jesus. To the false teacher, Jesus may be less than God, a half-god, a god who was only a man or an angel, a spiritistic medium, one of many great prophets or an ideal man. He is accepted as anything but God in the flesh.
Distorted Emphasis. There is often a repetition of certain ideas rather than a balanced diet of the whole counsel of God. It is also evident that neither Jesus Christ nor the Gospel is the center.
Organizational Control. The strongest cults exercise a powerful influence over all their members. This includes direction of their personal lives, the materials they study, and even where they live. This direction comes from a centralized, dominating headquarters.
Making Money. Cult leaders or organizations often enrich themselves at the expense of the people by having members sell literature or other materials. They raise huge amounts of money, which flow back to headquarters.
Absorbing Contradition. New cults rarely originate anything. They take pieces of old systems and combine them in new ways for popular appeal. These combinations involve elements totally at variance with Bible truth.
Defending the Core of Christian Faith
One cannot and need not refute every detail of a false system. It is necessary, however, to counteract any departure from the central core of Biblical salvation teaching. This core may be summarized under three headings. This should be closely compared with the teachings of any group. Unless people correctly understand and believe these central truths, they are in danger of losing their souls eternally.
The Saving Message. The Gospel or Good News is defined in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. That Gospel centers in the cross and the One who died there for us (1 Cor. 1:17-18). People are saved and sealed by the Spirit when they believe that message (Eph. 1:13). Any addition by works or rituals as a way of gaining heaven is under a divine curse (Gal. 3:10-14). We do not gain salvation by works (Eph. 2:8-9). In God's eyes no other gospel exists.
The Saving Person. Jesus Christ alone is the way of salvation (John 14:6). To have Him is to have salvation (1 John 5:12). Only the one who has received Him as Lord and Savior is authorized as being a child of God. Christ is the central person of the gospel message and His blood alone cleanses from sin (1 John 1:7). He is God the Son, the Word of God (John 1:1, 14) and directly called God (John 20:28; Rom. 9:5; 1 John 5:20; Heb. 1:8). He is the First and Last (Rev. 1:8, 17; 22:12-13; Isa. 44:6). He has the divine title "I am" (John 8:24, 58). If we do not accept this He says we will die in our sins. He is the only one by whom we can be saved (Acts 4:12; 1 John 5:12). Those who deny the Master are false prophets (2 Pet. 2:1).
The Saving God. The God of the Bible is one God (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 45:5; 1 Tim. 2:5). There are no other gods (Isa. 44:6, 8). He is a plural being as shown by the Old Testament name "Elohim" which is the plural of El, used over 2600 times. He exists in three personal distinctions called the Father, the Son, and the Spirit (Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14). Each is called God in Scripture but there remains only one God. This God is a personal spirit being (John 4:24) although He may appear in some visible form just as He did in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. These personal distinctions can and do interact with one another, as we see often in the New Testament (Matt. 3:16-17). At other times they are co-identified as one (John 14:8-9). These personal distinctions within the one God are equal, eternal, and unchanging in essence.
Bringing the Misled to Christian Faith
Hundreds of thousands of souls have been delivered from erroneous religious systems to become children of God. Yet persuading anyone to leave a religious system that has a strong grip is not easy. It requires the inner help of the Spirit of God and prayer that the Lord open spiritually blinded eyes. It calls for knowledge of the errors of the cultic system. Great care, tact, and patience are needed in dealing with them personally.
Some basic principles that should apply in dealing with anyone entrapped in a false system include:
Be Pleasant And Courteous. Why be offensive and harsh?
Build A Bridge Of Communication. Use informal general conversations. Show an interest in them as persons.
Take The Position that you both seek truth in the area of knowing God. Try to avoid the appearance of arguing "my religion against your religion."
Listen Attentively to them and try to find a common ground, such as a conviction that the Bible is God's Word.
Ask Thoughtful, Penetrating Questions rather than making sweeping statements. Questions were the method of Jesus. Take the time to study their belief thoroughly and plan your questions with the assistance of writings identifying the doctrinal errors.
Persuasion Is Your Goal, not disputing. You want to bring about a change of mind, not just tell people that they are wrong. Do not drop a complete statement of their errors upon them in one blow. That is more than they can absorb. A little at a time is the way to teach.
Personal Attacks On False Leaders Generally Are Ineffective, even counter-productive. Stay with the main issues. How can you be sure of eternal life? Who is Jesus Christ?
Think In Terms Of Those Needs Which A False System Does Not Meet. What is better than being sure of eternal life (1 John 5:12) and having all one's sins totally forgiven (Eph. 1:7)? Would they like to be free of a system which presses constantly for money, labors, and devotion in order to attain or retain salvation?
Show Confidence, but not arrogance about the way of salvation, the Word of God, and your relationship to the Lord Jesus. He greatly impressed His hearers by the authority with which He spoke (Matt. 7:28-29). Speak in such a way that it seems to others that God is speaking through you (1 Pet. 4:11). Use your personal testimony of how Christ changed your life.
Be Patient. Do not expect to dislodge a well-entrenched follower of a false system in a single session. Lay the groundwork for further talks.
Militant, well-drilled cultists, promoters, and youthful enthusiasts have swept millions into false systems. Printing presses have turned out billions of pieces of literature to advance these views. Radio has been used extensively. Cultic systems work on popular prejudices
against conventional churches. They have enjoyed tremendous success in the present unstable world. They are a mark of end-time world conditions (1 Tim. 4:1). True believers need to be informed and active in counteracting them. Cultic victims need to know Christ as Lord and Savior.
Another Gospel, Another Jesus
1. According to the following Scriptures, how do we identify false religious systems? Galatians 1:6-8
1 John 4:1-3
2 John 9
2. List the characteristics of those who teach a false religion.
1 Timothy 4:1-3 2 Peter 3:16b
2 Timothy 3:1-7 Jude 4
3. Why should we evangelize those entrapped in false religious systems (John 3:16; 2 Pet. 3:9; Jude 3)?
What cautions should be exercised when evangelizing those in false systems (Eph. 5:11;1 John 4:1; 2 John 7-11)?
4. What principles should we consider when confronting those who are guilty of doctrinal error?
2 Timothy 2:23-25
What is our goal (2 Tim. 2:25-26)?
How can you prepare yourself for reaching this goal (2 Tim. 2:15)? Be specific.
5. The root of cultic errors is a faulty concept of God. How many gods exist (Deut. 4:39; 6:4; 1 Tim. 2:5)? How does the Scripture indicate the "plurality within the unity" of the godhead (Gen. 1:26-27; Matt. 28:19)?
The Bible teaches that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all equally God and ascribes to each God's attributes and works. Match the verses listed to the appropriate Person and attribute or activity (Gen. 1:1; 17:1; Psa. 104:30; 139:7; Isa. 40:28; Jer. 23:24; Matt. 28:18, 20; John 1:1, 3; 2:19, 21; Acts 3:15; 5:3-4; Rom. 8:11; 15:19; 1 Cor. 2:11; Col. 2:3; Heb. 9:14; 2 Pet. 1:17; 1 John 3:20). Some verses may be used more than once.
FATHER SON HOIY SPIRIT
Declared to be God __________ __________ __________
Created all things __________ __________ __________
Resurrected Jesus __________ __________ __________
Omnipresent __________ __________ __________
Omniscient __________ __________ __________
Omnipotent __________ __________ __________
Eternal __________ __________ __________
7. The word "Lord" in the Old Testament is sometimes also translated "Jehovah" and refers to God Himself. Which of the following titles refer to Jehovah and which refer to Jesus?
a. "The First and the Last" (1) Isaiah 44:6______(2) Revelation 1:17______
b. "King of kings and Lord of lords" (1) Revelation 19:16______(2) Deuteronomy 10:17______
c. "Mighty God" (1) Isaiah 9:6______(2) Deuteronomy 10:17______
d. "The Judge of the nations" (1) Joel 3:12______(2) John 5:22______
e. "Savior" (1) John 4:42______(2) Isaiah 45:21-22______
f. "I AM" (1) Exodus 3:14-15______(2) John 8:24______
From the above verses, explain the relationship of Jesus to Jehovah God.
Why is it important to believe that Jesus is fully God (John 8:24; Rom. 10:9-10)?
8. False religions err in their view of man and the way of salvation. What is the condition of all men (Rom. 3:10-12, 23)?
According to 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, what is the gospel?
Why is it important that we believe the gospel (1 Cor. 15:2; 2 Thess. 1:8; Heb. 9:27; Rev. 20:11-15)?
9. By what basis is a man justified before God (Rom. 3:24, 28; 4:25; 5:1, 9)?
List the ways you think a false religious system might try to deny or distort each of these.
10. Select one of the false religious systems treated in Appendices A, B, and C. Study the system and then write a one or two page report addressing the following questions:
a. What is the system's authority?
b. How does the system contradict God's Word on the way of salvation?
c. How does the system deviate from a Biblical view of who Christ is?
d. How would you approach a person entrapped in this system? What would you start with to identify a spiritual need that their system cannot meet?
5 David Breese,
Know the Marks of Cults (Victor), 1975.