By What Authority?
Ask a cult member about their faith and they will come up with a rote answer, often couched in the language of testimony. This is meant to redirect your attention away from the question, to the claims of the cult thrown in a positive light. Usually someone 'went back to the Bible,' 'had a vision,' 'felt led by God to do something,' and 'when I did the same thing I came to the same conclusions.'
Charles Russell and his Bible study group studied the Bible for themselves and found 'The Truth'. I did the same thing and discovered 'The Truth' too. Joseph Smith went into the woods and prayed and got an answer, I prayed and got my own answer. This becomes the authority for every subsequent claim and robust apologetic study is bypassed by personal knowledge/revelation.
Challenge them and they will quote their own leaders as the final authority on – everything. This leads to unquestioning loyalty and blind belief in a world view that goes untested. It can be difficult to get them to reason from the Scripture, which is twisted to their world-view when their world view should adapt to Scripture, difficult to get them to question their own assumptions, to challenge their own leaders.
This approach has them believing their doctrine is to be found in the Bible, even when it is clear that they learn it from another source altogether; for the Mormon the latest study manual, church magazines, and their 'prophets,' for the Jehovah's Witness the Watchtower and the latest study book. This can lead them to swallowing whole some incredible claims, believing the Bible and Bible scholarship backs them up. Here are five notable examples of reading back into the Bible what cult leaders have taught.
1. 'Do not be afraid little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.' Luke 12:32
This text is used by the Watchtower Society to teach that only a small number will inherit the kingdom. They are later identified as the 144,000.
This verse comes near the end of one uninterrupted statement made by Jesus to his disciples in which he bids them not to worry. Here is the familiar 'consider the lilies' teaching. It begins in verse 22, 'Then Jesus said to his disciples...do not worry...' and ends with instructions to them as to how they would go about their ministry (vv33-34) The words they use are clearly addressed to his disciples, reiterating the charge not to worry, the kingdom is theirs. This is a typical example of cults twisting Scripture.
So who inherits the kingdom? The Bible tells us that:
Believers will be in one flock under one shepherd (Jn.10:16) and are, '...fellow-citizens with God's people and members of God's household,' (Eph.4:19) that, 'Our citizenship is in heaven,' (Philp.3:20)
We are to, 'set [our] hearts on things above,' (Col.3:1) 'share in the heavenly calling' (Heb.3:1) and, 'have come to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God' (Heb.12:22) and we, 'will receive a rich welcome in the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.' (2 Pet.1:11)
Furthermore, Rev.7:9 speaks of 'a great crowd that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language...' who are they, this great crowd? Rev.5:9 speaks of Christ, with his blood, purchasing, 'men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them a kingdom and priests to serve our God...' (Rev.5:9) Where is this great crowd? John sees them, 'standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb [serving] him night and day in his temple.' (Rev.7:15)
2. 'Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets' Amos 3:7
Mormons insist this text proves that God always works through a prophet on the earth. Today, that prophet, they insist, is the head of their church. Cults always set up their own, extra-biblical, authority.
The context here is judgement. Earlier we read, 'You made the Nazirites drink wine and commanded the prophets not to prophesy. Now then, I will crush you...' (2:12) God had previously warned Israel that, because of their disobedience, he was now bringing judgement, but not before warning was given, 'through his servants the prophets.' The message here is that when God is going to move significantly in Israel he will reveal his intentions through prophets.
Furthermore, the words of the prophets are as relevant today as in the day they delivered them. The teaching of Jesus is peppered with references to prophets and the fulfilment of their prophecies. Christians today still look to the prophets and, like Jesus, see and declare the fulfilment today of God's word through prophets of old.
3. 'Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.' Mark 11:23-24
Word/Faith teachers insist this supports their claim that, anything they ask for in faith, they can have, as long as they believe. Cults are known for making fantastic claims for themselves, blessings available only to followers. What is Jesus saying here?
In the very next verse Jesus declares, 'If you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.' Clearly, forgiveness is not ours for the asking. Furthermore, Paul prayed earnestly and faithfully for healing, and if anyone might expect his prayers for healing to be answered it is Paul. Yet God didn't heal him, saying, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' (2 Cor.12:9)
Although Paul was able to heal (Acts 28:9) he couldn't heal Epaphroditus (Philip.2:25) and nor could he heal Trophitus (2 Tim.4:20)
Word/Faith teachers question the faith of believers when they fail to be healed. But if belief on the part of the sick was a condition of their being healed how do we explain those times when Jesus raised the dead (Lk.7:10-15) and healed the demon-possessed, neither of whom could exercise faith (Mt.8:28-34)?
The truth is that we must abide in him - Jn.15:7; We are not to ask with wrong motives - James 4:3; we must ask according to his will - Jn.1514. Even Jesus prayed 'if it be your will' - Mt.26:39 and so we approach God's throne with right motives, asking according to his will, abiding in him, and willing, like Jesus, to submit to the wisdom of God.
4. 'When God brings his Son into the world, he says, 'Let all God's angels worship him.'' Heb.1:6
The New World Translation of this text gives, 'and let all of God's angels do obeisance to him.' Obeisance refers to simply bowing and Witnesses insist this is not worship but giving due honour. A cult will, typically, demote Jesus in some way. Is this what the text is saying?
There are many examples of men worshipping Jesus. After the episode when Jesus walked on water we are told, 'Then those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, Truly you are the Son of God.' (Mt.14:33) Note the similarity with God's command to the angels.
After Jesus' resurrection, the disciples, 'clasped his feet and worshipped him' (Mt.28:9) Later, before he issued the great commission, 'When they saw him, they worshipped him...' (Mt.28:17)
And, of course, when John appeared the second time to the apostles and showed himself to Thomas, he said, 'Stop doubting and believe.' (Jn.20:27) A couple of verses later, Jesus said to Thomas, 'Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen [that's us] and yet have believed.' (V29)
'Thomas said to him, 'My Lord and my God.' (v28)
Jesus told his disciples, 'God is Spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.' (Jn.4:24) The word used here for 'worship' is proskuneō. The same word is used in the texts we have identified where Jesus is worshipped. It simply doesn't mean obeisance.
5.“For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’), yet for us there is but one God.” 1 Corinthians 8:5
This is a key text since it is from here Mormons argue that, although there are clearly many gods, yet Mormons only worship one God, “for to us there is but one God”.
Paul is writing here about food offered to idols not the order and population of the cosmos. The question is, should Christians buy food in the marketplace that has almost certainly been offered to some pagan “god” or other? His answer is yes because “We know that an idol is nothing at all in this world, and that there is no God but one.” (v4) In other words, these “gods” are idols and not true gods therefore they are of no consequence.
He goes on to declare, “For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth [as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”], yet for us there is but one God.” The NIV brings out the meaning very well in calling them “so-called gods”.
He does recognise that 'not everyone knows this' (v7) that is, not everyone knows these are only 'so-called gods.' He then counsels that those who know this should be sensitive towards those who “are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.” (v7)
Later he writes, 'Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak' (v9) In other words, to pay heed to these false gods is a mistake and a sign of weakness. We are free to eat, but we should be patient with those who, in their weakness, still feel there is something in it and fear to partake.
There is no substitute for careful and thorough attention to God's word in Scripture. A good working knowledge of Scripture, a solid understanding of how to find your way around the Bible, and a reading around the text for context are vital for understanding and for sharing the truth with the authority of Scripture.
This article first appeared in the September edition of the Reachout Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here and download a free 40-page Reachout Beginner’s Guide to the Cults