Saturday, 9 January 2010

Why Don’t you Mind Your Own Business?

One of the things people ask of ministry to the cults is, “Why do you do it?” There was a time when it hardly needed explaining but now, even within some parts of the church, there are those who ask whether it is really altogether Christian to challenge other religions. Somehow it doesn’t seem altogether respectable, especially in a world where, if people want a religion at all, they shop for one. I mean, you wouldn’t rummage through other people’s purchases down at the department store, identifying fashion victims, criticising colour combinations - at least not to their faces.

There are two reasons why we do it. The first, and by far the most important, is that people pin their eternal hopes on their religious choices and God has commanded that Christians should “Go into all the world telling the good news.” People concerned about eternal things need to hear eternal truths and be warned about those things that will prove ultimately false and empty.

Jude wrote of his eagerness to write about the plain Christian message being overtaken by an urgent need to sound a warning:

“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
(Jude 3-4)

The second reason is that people make important life choices based on their religious convictions. From where and how they live and vocational choices to life and death choices, people are informed by their faith.

A Mormon missionary typically gives up two years of his life between the ages of 19 and 21 years, just when his contemporaries will be forging ahead in their education and career choices. A Jehovah’s Witness will make life and death choices as he and/or his family faces major surgery while their religion forbids blood transfusions. Devout people of all religions sacrifice time and resources and make incredible sacrifices for their faith.

Not until you witness in others or experience for yourself the disappointment, confusion and pain of discovering that you sacrificed for an empty philosophy (Col.2:8) can you understand the drive to ensure that faith informed choices are fully informed choices. If a religion makes converts and keeps adherents by guarding the faith from close scrutiny, if it wins people over by manipulation and deception, if it claims to be “the way” but denies the truth about Christ who is “The Way”, then people deserve to know it. Like Jude, we love nothing more than to talk about “our common salvation” but, like Jude, we are overtaken by an urgent need to contend for the faith and appeal to other Christians to do the same, for the health of the church and for the common good of everyone concerned for eternal things.


Seth R. said...

"A Mormon missionary typically gives up two years of his life between the ages of 19 and 21 years, just when his contemporaries will be forging ahead in their education and career choices."

I think you are vastly overestimating what the typical American teenager is doing at age 19-20.

I'll take what I was doing in Japan any day of the week over what the rest of my peers were doing with those two years.

To hear them talk, you'd think that "international experience" meant a weekend getting drunk in Tijuana.

I do indeed feel so deprived to have missed out on all that time I could have been building up my World of Warcraft account. But somehow, I think I'll manage with the disappointment.

Mike Tea said...

As usual Seth, you have homed in on the heart of the issue with your usual incisive comments.

Forgive me if I am not up-to-date on what the average Mormon "youth" is doing these days while waiting for life to begin. Back in my day it was academic and/or athletic ambitions that young Mormons put on hold to serve the church. Maybe, as cynical as I am, I am still not sufficiently disillusioned and need to reduce my expectations even further.

So the "youth" of the church that conference after conference we hear are "the best in the world" are just like the rest in the world, spending their time in the local get-a-life shop.

Glad japan wasn't disappointing.

Seth R. said...

I don't expect the population of Mormons to be inherently superior to anyone else. If everyone in the LDS Church was superior, we wouldn't be fulfilling our mission of spreading the gospel to everyone in my mind.

But yes, a mission was far and away a better use of those two years at that crucial juncture in my life than anything else I could have been doing and anything I've seen other American youth doing with those two years.

Those who worship at the alter of sports and academic degrees will, no doubt find this madness.

But the things of God are always sneered at by this idolatrous generation, so "no big" in my book.

Mike Tea said...

You are right of course Seth. I am not sure what I wrote in response to your comment entirely makes sense anyway, I think I got a bit confused (more sleep needed).

But the piece was written to highlight the sacrifices people make for their religion and to encourage people not to trivialise these things. A compliment perhaps, but I leave it to you to judge for yourself.

If you believe that there is a right way to believe and a wrong then the wrong way isn't inconsequential - that was my point. That being the case, any Christian worthy of the name cannot stand by and let people make such life-changing decisions without being at least fully informed.

For myself, I despair of what the young find meaningful today. We have a few get-a-life shops in our city and, much as I appreciate hobbies and the like, this goes way beyond any hobby; it virtually defines their lives (pardon the pun)

Seth R. said...

Agreed, the addiction to, and all-consuming nature of today's recreational pastimes has always been a problem for discipleship.

I won't say that an LDS mission is the only (or even the best) way to break out of that paradigm. But it was helpful for me. No doubt other faiths have their success stories too.

Mike Tea said...

You noticed too? Where I live people are building and/or destroying virtual worlds, drinking themselves to death and laughing their socks off at their favourite, usually profane, comic while they do it.

Meanwhile, they indulge in a faux morality that can best be described as selective and incredibly unforgiving when it is invoked.

Anyway, such people, who put so much into virtual worlds and false hopes fail to understand that there are those to whom eternal things are more important and decisions are made on the basis of eternal hopes and fears and not on whether they can live closer to the pub or the model/comic shop or comedy store.

They look on with disdain, not thinking that one day it is on such things they will be judged and not on whether they built a better virtual world or died with the most toys.

Ian Matthews said...

I think the work with cults is first class and you should be commended for an excellent work here. But I struggle to completely support you as you also criticise orthodox Christians with whom you disagree (e.g. Rick Warren, Rob Bell etc). These people may deserve legitimate critique, but to do it as an anti-cult organsiation (rather than as fellow believers correcting a brother) is wrong.

Mike Tea said...

A worthy comment Ian and thanks for making it. It isn't as cut-and-dried as perhaps you might think however.

This is an anti-cult ministry and always has been but we are also Christians who are concerned about what is happening in our church. People often come to us to talk about these things because they haven't anywhere else to go and so we feel a duty and a responsibility to at least offer a forum in which things can be safely discussed.

I would also say that those of us who do act as watchmen are perhaps equipped/qualified to talk about these things. When people are concerned about movements within the church the answers invariably lie in Scripture. This ministry drives Christians back to the Word as much as, perhaps more than many.

Certainly it is true that the greatest danger to the church today is not paying too much attention to Scripture. If we can help people come back to the Word to find answers then we feel we must.

Finally, one man's orthodoxy is possibly another man's heresy. You characterise Rick Warren et al as "orthodox" but there are those who would disagree. I note you are also an admirer of Brian McClaren and he, also, has caused some controversy in the church. Now, where can people go to discuss these issues without feeling condemned or forced to conform to a view with which they disagree?

A healthy and robust exchange of views within the church has always been the norm and I am personally glad that it happens within the compass of Reachout Trust. You see, I was a mormon and there are those who would argue that Mormons are Christians and so we shouldn't evaluate and challenge their message. Who does Reachout listen to? Do we stop short of Rick Warren? or Brian McClaren? or do we stop short of Mormonism? I suppose it depends on how you define "orthodox".

Ian Matthews said...

Hi Mike

I would suggest that when looking at church history there has been a dividing line between essential orthodoxy and heresy. When the early creeds were formulated it was to deal with this exact question - what is the final dividing line between those we deal with as 'in the church' but in error, and those outside of the church.

I would argue that if someone can affirm credal essentials such as Trinity, sinfulness of humanity, the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus - then you need to deal with them on the basis of a brother in error and the scriptural mandates that dictate this. I don't mind if people see Brian MacLaren, Rick Warren, Rob Bell, John Stott, John Piper, John MacArthur, Wayne Grudem or whoever as erroneous - but they are erroneous as brothers.

That is why I think it is inappropriate for a cult ministry to treat them the same as cults.

Warm regards


Joe Blogs said...

I'm not Rob Bell does believe in the essential sinfulness of humanity, does he? And the credal statements, whilst helpful, do not necessarily explain the SIGNIFICANCE of Christ's life, death and resurrection, in terms of things like substitionary atonement (which Rob Bell would deny). In short, if Rob Bell is orthodox, then so is Thomas S. Monson in my book.