Sunday, 26 June 2011

Equipping the Cults to Deal With the Church – 2 The Problem With the Church

so how are we doing?

I sometimes imagine myself having the opportunity to address church leaders from across the UK on the subject of the cults. I imagine a lively question and answer session during which a hand would go up and someone would ask the question. “How well do you think we are doing in handling the challenge of the cults?” After a pause to gather my thoughts I would reply,

Watching the church handle the cults is rather like watching a bus crash in slow motion. You know it isn’t going to turn out well, you wish you could do something to stop it, but past experience has taught you that all you can do is be there to pick up the pieces and deal with the casualties afterwards.”

I think of the otherwise intelligent and sensitive church leader who said, “I didn’t know what to say to the Mormons at my door so I asked to see their magic underwear.” Or the pastor who proudly related how he told a Jehovah’s Witness to “leave that satanic Bible on my doorstep and come inside so I can tell you the truth!” Or the Christian who, finding that 1 John 5:7 in the King James Bible fails to impress a Jehovah’s Witness, can’t talk about Jesus’ deity from anywhere else in the Bible. Shocking I know but not unusual.

Don’t misunderstand me, there are individual Christians and churches that do reasonably well, occasionally very well, but the picture across the church in general is inexcusably poor. I have been the hapless Mormon victim of such poor practice and as a Christian shocked by the irrational fear, careless indifference, profound ignorance and inexcusable prejudices so prevalent among even mature Christians and Christian leaders.

two ways to fail

It seems that there are two extremes, two ways to ensure failure in witnessing, that are common and thoroughly unbiblical. The first is one in which the cult member is regarded as having no intrinsic worth unless and until they convert. Before that happens a Mormon is fair prey for anyone who fancies chancing their arm at a bit of witnessing, that witnessing usually involving a lot of shouting, finger pointing, denouncing, ridiculing and ‘casting out’ as though outrage is a spiritual multi-tool.

The other extreme is that post-modernist attitude that ‘respects’ other faiths, new religions etc. such that there are no meaningful differences between them. There is no objective truth, no way to be lost, no way to be saved and no faith for which to contend. In short no light in the darkness just a crowd of people scrambling around in the failing light politely repeating, ‘after you’, ‘no, after you’ as they defer to one another all the way down to hell.

My experience of the two extremes has seen some so bent on giving the cultist a good telling that they fail to model hope and forget their responsibility for the reputation of Christ. The message is not “look and live” but “turn or burn”. Disgust and disapproval are so reassuring. They anchor our moral sentiments and feel instinctively like a moral proof. To abandon our sense of disapproval seems to have the effect of cutting at the very foundations that support our innate sense of being right. Yet, if we are to be effective witnesses for Christ then grace demands that we overcome our instincts and look at the world through the eyes of Christ.

Others, however, are so determined to nurture a good reputation before the world (usually their own is uppermost in their thinking, “see how liberal and enlightened I am?”) that they dare not risk offence even though the Bible makes clear that the Cross is an offence to those that are dying. These take every opportunity to find the good in Mormonism, downplay differences as experimental rather than fundamental, and reinforce in Mormons the false notion that they really are part of the wider Christian community and have something ultimately positive to offer. Such an approach would have robbed me of my salvation and I do not appreciate it.

The heart of the matter

What is the answer? It has been said that the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. Peter wrote:

In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (1 Peter 3:15-16)

Christians have a hope uniquely founded upon Jesus Christ. There is one hope and one reason for that hope and a clear injunction to evangelise those without hope. But it is to be done with gentleness towards others, respect for the Lord and concern for his good name. This means we daren’t compromise when sharing the one way – by grace, through faith in Christ. It also means making sure our heart attitude is Christ-like; gracious, sacrificial and intelligently compassionate.

The Cross is an offence (Gal.5:11) and foolishness to those that are perishing (1Cor.1:18) but that is not a reason to be offensive, to be foolish. If we preach the Cross that is offence enough and the hackneyed question “I am a fool for Jesus, whose fool are you?” is not a call to be foolish but a call to disregard the foolish judgement of the world as we abandon worldly loyalties and follow Jesus. In making that choice we are still to be wise in our walk and understanding (Eph.5:15-17), “trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed” (1 Tim.4:6) In these things we are to grow so that we are prepared to give a reason for the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15)

Some will still take offence, speak maliciously against our good behaviour in Christ, but if we have set apart Christ in our hearts we can be confident that no offence has been given and our conscience is clear before God and man. No one can ask more of us, for the sake of the lost we dare not ask less of ourselves.

Previously: If These are Christians

Next: The Problem with Anti-cult Ministry

Coming up: What are the Dos and Don’ts?

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