From The Editor’s Notebook: Cults, part 1

From The Editor’s Notebook

W. Ross Rainey

Capsule Comments on the Cults

Recently, a young sister in the Lord from my home assembly asked me if I would kindly visit her home on a certain afternoon. In her commendable zeal to witness to some adherents of the “Jehovah’s Witnesses” cult, she had inadvertently opened the way for them to come to her home and she wanted someone to be with her at the appointed time. I was happy to comply with her request and shortly after I arrived, three women, all devotees of this diaboliocal cult, were at the door. The women were courteous, refined, and articulate, and they put some hard questions to us, one of them centering on Mark 13:32.

Although I generally avoid “Jehovah’s Witnesses” in particular, mainly because of past encounters and many wasted hours, this experience made me realize that I was not as “up” on their teachings as I might have been at the time. This spurred me to do some reviewing, these capsule comments being the fruit of this profitable exercise.

Thus, in the next several issues of Focus I thought it might be helpful to our readers to capsulize the main teachings of some of the major cults abroad today. Possibly many of our readers are not really acquainted with the devious and deceptive doctrines of the mainline cults. For those who fall into this category, reading these articles will hopefully prove to be a practical learning experience. For others who, like the editor, have through the years gleaned some knowledge of them, these articles will prove a review of their teachings.

What is a cult? This question is the title of a reprint article by Brooks Alexander which appeared in the July-August 1979 issue of Focus. Brooks pointed out that ten or twenty years ago this question was relatively easy to answer, but that “today the guidelines have become somewhat muddied.” Suffice it to say that the origin of the word is the Latin cultus, which, broadly speaking, means any system of religious worship, ritual, or liturgy. “A secondary meaning,” writes Brooks, “which has developed in recent times designates a teaching, group, or movement which deviates from orthodoxy while claiming to represent the true faith. In this sense, a cult can be recognized by defining it in relation to some standard of orthodox belief. In the Western world, that standard has usually been one of orthodox Christianity, though in principle it could be a standard of orthodox Islam, Judaism, Zen, or witchcraft. In fact, there are ‘cults’ within all of these groups, and more. It is worth observing that when the Christian Church first appeared as such on this planet, it was technically a ‘cult’ of Judaism insofar as it differed from the dominant ‘orthodoxy’ of its day. In any event, this concept of ‘cult’ as an unorthodox deviation has prevailed until recently.”

The Lord Jesus Christ anticipated the rise of cults, heresies, and all pseudo-Christian systems in Matthew 13:24-30 and 36-43. In these verses our lord revealed the source of all false teachings — Satan (13:25, 28 & 39; see Matt. 24:11; 1 Tim. 4:1-3; 1 John 2:18).

Also, Satan’s subtlety is revealed (13:25; see 2 Cor. 11:13-15), coupled with the confirmation of his success (13:38) and the ultimate sequel to it all (13:28-30, 39-43).

The Christian’s responsibility is clearly set forth., It is not to try and root out all false teachings in the world, but rather to diligently sow the truth and seek to inform the dupes of Satan of his subtle ministry. In so doing the true Christian should have at least three things in his command: 1. a sound and thorough knowledge of the great doctrines of the Scriptures; 2. a reasonably good acquaintance with the literature and theology of the cult, or cults, he encounters; and 3. love and prayer for, as well as patience with, the person, or persons, with whom he is dealing, and this, even when he is contending for the faith.

Also, we should realize that there are three basic weaknesses in every non-Christian cult as to their theological superstructure: 1. the Trinity and deity of Christ; 2. the vicarious atonement; and 3. the bodily resurrection of Christ.

Jehovah’s Witnesses (1)

The most zealous and energetic of all the cults extant in America today (and throughout the world) is probably “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” variously called the “International Bible Students Association,” the “Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society” of Brooklyn, N.Y., or just plain “Russelism.” This formidable organization had its beginning in 1884, when its founder, “Pastor” Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916), known variously as “The Creed Smasher,” “the man who turned the hose on hell,” and “the great paraphraser,” devoted his fortune and talent to propagating his new “revelation” entitled “Millennial Dawnism.”

Russell was from a Congregationalist background and was haunted by the Bible’s pronouncement of eternal punishment. As a result, he set about denying all that the Bible taught on hell, as well as denying other cardinal Christian doctrines and launching a vigorous campaign denouncing orthodoxy and many of the historic teachings of the Christian Church.

The name “Jehovah’s Witnesses” was bestowed on the organization by Russell’s successor, Judge J. F. Rutherford, in 1931, Russell having died in 1916. Rutherford died on January 8, 1942, but had reigned with absolute authority and by his prolific writings, coast to coast radio broadcasts, and massive convention rallies he built “Jehovah’s Witnesses” into what they are today. He retained most of Russell’s teachings, though modified some and discarded others when necessary. It may be safely said that at least 90 percent of Russell’s teachings have been kept.

Where “Unitarianism” and “Christian Science” appeal to man’s intellectual pride, “Jehovah’s Witnesses” appeal to the inferiority complexes of certain types of individuals.

Walter R. Martin has stated: “These earnest souls, dissatisfied with religion and often oppressed by weakend churches and complex theological doctrines too often mouthed and seldom properly expounded, eagerly turn to Watch Tower’s flamboyant Theocracy. The ever-obliging Watch Tower then ‘simplifies’ doctrine, gives a real psychological sense of ‘belonging,’ and, at the same time, provides an opportunity to ‘strike back. at ‘creed-ism’ which the Watch Tower convinces them they have been enslaved by, and are now delivered from.”1

Some of “Jehovah’s Witnesses” chief erroneous and blasphemous teachings are as follows:

1. They do not believe in the Trinity, that is, in the three Persons of the Godhead. They infer that the devil himself originated this doctrine.

2. They deny the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, teaching that Jesus was the first “created” being.

3. They deny the bodily resurrection of Christ, asserting that He was raised an invisible spirit.

4. They deny the existence of hell, stating that hell is an invention of the devil, who will ultimately be annihilated.

5. They deny the immortality of the soul, teaching that the soul sleeps in unconsciousness at death and will never suffer in hell.

6. They claim that the Second Coming of Christ is past, teaching that it was an invisible coming, dating from 1874 and that in 1914 “the times of the Gentiles ended” (see “The Watch Tower,” 7/15/50).

7. They teach that the Lord Jesus Christ, prior to His becoming a perfect man, was actually Michael the archangel.

8. They teach that the personality of the Holy Spirit is a pagan doctrine.

9. Charles Taze Russell vigorously contended that the atonement of Christ on the cross only brought back what Adam had lost in the fall -namely, a perfect human life.

10. They claim that they are the 144,000 of Revelation 7 and 14, and that this number will reign with Christ in heaven. All others must live on the earth with the exception of the wicked who, with Satan, will be annihilated in consuming fire.

11. They claim that God began to set up His righteous theocratic kingdom on the earth in 1914, believing that all who are outside this theocratic kingdom (made up of “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” of course!) must suffer eternal annihilation.

12. They denounce all organized religion and teach that all preachers, except themselves, are frauds and imposters.

13. They discourage marriage and having children because the time is so short.

14. They do not recognize the government of any country and they refuse to salute the flag or have any part in war.

“Jehovah’s Witnesses” do not believe a soul can live apart from the body. Therefore, they teach that the primary purpose of Christ’s ransom is to give the right either not to die physically or to be restored by resurrection. Salvation, according to their teaching, is through faith in the ransom, through baptism by “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” and through proclamation of their message, together with a moral life. Of particular interest is that the Lord’s Supper is celebrated once a year only at the Passover, and only those who have the inner witness that they are members of the 144,000 elite may partake. As a movement they are probably the most authority-ridden religious body in the world. They are told by their central government what they must find in the Bible, and they may not deviate. Thus blood transfusion must be rejected as though it were banned by Scripture.2

“Jehovah’s Witnesses” have over one million active members with more than a million interested followers. Some 30 percent are found in America, 8 percent in West Germany, and 5 percent in Great Britain. Since their theology turns on the assertion that Jesus Christ is not Jehovah, it is important to note that John 12:39-41 states that He was the one whom Isaiah saw in the Temple, and Isaiah 6:5 says this was Jehovah. In Revelation 1:17 the Lord Jesus Christ describes Himself as “the First and the Last,” which is the unique title of Jehovah in Isaiah 44:6 (see 1 Pet. 2:8 with Isa. 8:13-14; Rev. 2:23 with Jer. 17:9-10) .3

It seems that few are ever delivered from the clutches of this cult. Nevertheless, their zeal and determination often put evangelical Christians to shame, and if ever there was a day when we should by our walk and talk “Preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2) and “earnestly contend for the faith” (Jude 3), it is today.

1 The Christian and the Cults, p. 30.

2 The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, pp. 527-8.

3 Ibid., p. 528.