Friday, 29 July 2011

Equipping the Cults to deal With the Church–6 Anatomy of a Cult

Jesus' attitude to the lost is summed up perfectly in John 3:17, a verse perhaps not as familiar as the one preceding it: “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through him.” (NASB)

In any and every aspect of the Christian life it has become commonplace to ask, “What would Jesus do?” But how does this text work out and what would Jesus do in relation to the cults? Did Jesus meet and interact with any cults?

People usually think of the Pharisees here but, while they certainly did display classic cultic characteristics – such as a strong legalism, judgementalism, controlling leadership, adding to the Law – it is well to remember that the Pharisees were part of the orthodox religion of the day.

We see the same in today's church, where a particular group may be a little legalistic, judgemental and disapproving, may make past tradition into a creed for today and so forth. But this does not disqualify such a group from the wider body of Christ.

Anatomy of a Cult

Jesus met a cult when he met the Samaritans. As we look at the history of the Samaritans we build up a profile of the typical cult, identify the characteristics to look for, and the pitfalls as well as the opportunities in witnessing.

2 Kings 17:21-23 - Here we find the roots of the Samaritan culture and people. These verses are an overview of what happened to Israel after the reign of Solomon. From the death of Solomon Israel was ruled by kings who compromised.

The situation is described more fully in 1 Kings 12. Here the kingdom is divided under the rule of Solomon's son, Rehoboam. The northern kingdom is ruled by Jeroboam who, fearing that Israelites travelling to Jerusalem for the temple and Jewish festivals might turn back to Rehoboam, built altars and established worship in his own kingdom:

“So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, "You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt."

And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan.

Then this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one.

He also made temples on high places and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not of the Levites.

And Jeroboam appointed a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month like the feast that was in Judah, and he offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he made. And he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places that he had made.

He went up to the altar that he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, in the month that he had devised from his own heart. And he instituted a feast for the people of- Israel and went up to the altar to make offerings. (1 Kings 12:28-33)

Power and Control

Cults, and cultic churches, are not about truth but about power. Like Jeroboam, their concern is controlling and holding onto their constituency. There is usually a power centre, just like Shechem or Bethel in the story of Jeroboam, and a figure who sets up alternative worship, feasts and special days “devised from [their] own hearts.”

They create their own centres of worship

The identify another focus of worship

They establish their own methods of worship.

Some things develop, evolve with time in a church. Mode of dress, language and idiom, types of activities, organisation but there is always a sense of continuity with the past, of tradition. But the cult makes a clean break with the past. What has gone before is invariably swept aside to make way for the new. It is revealing to compare this attitude with that of Jesus who said, “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them” (Mt.5:17) Going on to give the Sermon on the Mount Jesus reinforces what has gone before.

Ad Hoc Development

2 Kings 17:7-20 - Eventually Israel was taken into captivity by Assyria, a permanent exile.

2 Kings 17:24-41 - We go on to read that Samaria was resettled with foreigners (2 \kings 17:24), a strategy of the Assyrian king who would exile conquered people's in foreign lands. These were punished by God for not fearing him (2 Kings 17:25-26) but the king of Assyria had a solution (2 Kings 17:27-28) and brought back one of the priests exiled from Israel. This, however, was no solution because “Every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places that the Samaritans had made, every nation in the cities in which they lived. (2 Kings 17:29) and they ended up with a corrupt mixture of Israelite and foreign gods and abominable practices that were a sin before God.

When exiles returned to rebuild Jerusalem, as recorded in Ezra (4:1-3), these were the people who came down to Jerusalem and offered to help. But they were rejected and so set out to discourage those who had returned (Ezra 4:4).

As with the Samaritans the ideas and practices of a cult are often developed in an ad hoc fashion. Improvised solutions to local problems build up to a confusing collection of contradictory teachings and ideas. Future generations face the challenge of making sense of doctrines and practices that cannot be reconciled because they were never developed with any plan in mind. Like the Samaritans members can end up with their own version of the cult built around some basic central ideas.

The Ezra Strategy

As with the Samaritans at the time of Ezra, cults sometimes attempt to be accepted as part of the orthodox religion. When we reject these overtures we are simply doing what Ezra and the people did in keeping our orthodoxy free of confusing and deceptive ideas that would ultimately hinder the work of God.

By the time of Jesus the Samaritans were a mix of races with a questionable history and questionable and unorthodox practices. They rejected much of the revelation of God, their scriptures were restricted to the five books of Moses and they disputed the true place of worship with the Jews in Jerusalem. They had even built a rival temple on mount Gezirim, about 400BC, which the Jews destroyed in 128BC.

The Samaritans were leftovers from the Northern Jewish kingdom who had intermarried with foreigners after the chiefs and nobles were taken into exile in 722BC” (John Piper)

  • Temple on Mount Gezirim

  • Rejected OT except selections from Moses

  • Mixture of truth and error

This was a cult and we can learn a great deal from Jesus and his encounter with the woman of Samaria.

The Samaritan Woman John 4

John 4:9-15 Jesus offers “the gift of water” but she can’t see past her immediate circumstances. Her view of the world is circumscribed and limited but Jesus perseveres. In the same way the cult member can't initially see past their own world-view. Don’t give up on people too soon.

John 4:16-18 Why does Jesus reveal her sin? (John 3:20) We can’t, as Jesus, read people’s hearts but we can and must bring people by way of the Cross and the gospel message is always the same – man has sinned and God calls us to repentance. Romans 7 is helpful here as Paul describes the human plight in Rom.7: 7-25 (esp. Rom.7:19-20)

John 4:19-20 The universal response to conviction is avoidance, changing the subject, talking a little religion. Jesus patiently uses the opportunity to talk about truth. Where we worship is not as important as how and who we worship. We mustn't be side-tracked by discussion of relatively minor issues.

John 4:21-24 Jesus points out that Samaritan knowledge of God is deficient and their worship, therefore, deficient, so he deals now with the error (v22) We mustn't be afraid to correct error.

He brings out three things in this conversation:

  • Sin blinds us and we must allow Him to deal with our sin and recognise this problem for others

  • Religion, per se, is no good if we have the wrong God and come to Him the wrong way and we must be prepared to demonstrate the right way

  • As witnesses we must understand why people’s understanding is so deficient and show patience and persevere in our witnessing, using God’s priorities

Where else do we find Samaritans?

We find them in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) and of the faith and gratitude of a leper (Luke 17:11-19). You can see why the Pharisees hated Jesus when he compared them unfavourably with Samaritans! Paul writes about those who obey the law for conscience sake (Romans 2:14-15) and people from all sorts of backgrounds can and do work good works.

This doesn't mean they don't need saving or correcting; the “Good” Samaritan needed Jesus too. It does mean that we should value them for who they are as we seek to bring them into the good of what God has for all who turn to him in faith and stop trusting in their own good works.

How would you feel if it was the parable of the Good Mormon? Or the thankful JW? Are you grateful for such people in the world even as you seek to evangelise them? Conversely, do you allow their good conduct to blind you to the problems in their faith and does this stop you witnessing? Can you love and value them and share boldly the gospel truth?

Previously: If These are Christians

The Problem with the Church
The Problem with Anti-cult Ministry

The Dos and Dont's

The Myth of the Killer Text

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Are we Putting Mormonism in a Box?

Should we reconsider our use of the word “cult” in describing the Mormon faith? Michael Otterson, head of public relations at the Mormon Church thinks we should, complaining that “it’s a neat, shorthand and rather lazy way of putting a whole group into a box.”

Two Mormon candidates for high office are running in the 2012 US elections and, writing in the Washington Post, Otterson warns, “I have a message to political journalists who over the course of the current campaign may be tempted to throw out this nasty word with abandon. Expect to be challenged.”

He does raise some good points, such as the fact that Googling “Mormons” and “cult” is no more helpful than Googling “Evangelicals” and “cult”, “Methodists” and “cult” or “Manchester United” and “cult”. And it is certainly true that the word is a neat shorthand and lazy way of dealing with a group for some in some contexts. But is it right to characterise the word as lazy, indiscriminate and all-too-convenient in its every usage?

Defining “Cult”

How do we define “cult?” Otterson goes to that fount of all wisdom and truth, Wikipedia, and finds the very convenient definition “cult” as a pejorative term insisting that respectable folk (academia) don't use it, preferring the more neutral “new religious movement.” The implication, of course, is that only the uneducated and/or ill-informed and prejudiced use the word and only because they are too lazy to engage with the real issues. But what are the real issues?

In ministry “cult” is used, not in a lazy way, but in a specific way, not indiscriminately but thoughtfully. The dictionary definition of “cult” is:

1a a system of religious beliefs and ritual, or the body of adherents of one: the cult of the Virgin Mary b a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious, or the body of adherents of one 2 (often before a noun) great devotion, often regarded as a fad, to a person, idea, or thing, or a group showing such devotion. (Penguin English Dictionary)

Dr Martin Lloyd-Jones defines it thus:

A heretic is a man who is a professed Christian but who goes wrong with regard to some particular doctrine.

A cult is not Christian at all, but a counterfeit of Christianity.

Apostasy is when the general body of Christian doctrine was held but there were certain things which rendered it null and void.

In the cults this general body of doctrine is not held at all.

“Cult” as it is used in ministry appeals to these definitions, a faith or movement wherein the general body of Christian doctrine is not held, a counterfeit of the truth as described in Gal.1:6-9.

There is a long-established body of teaching and any body of believers purporting to be worthy of the title “Christian” will have its teachings closely examined and compared with this received biblical doctrine, preserved and transmitted down the ages. So there is an established truth and a test (2 Cor.13:5; 1 Jn.4:1) or plumb line by which any truth claim is tested. Those that fail the test are to be named and the name we use, according to carefully considered definitions, is “cult.”

People in Glasshouses

Some examples of this approach are to be found in Mormon history.

Joseph Smith, founder and first president of the Mormon Church, insisted that the churches of Christendom had become completely apostate and that Mormonism was the restoration of those truths lost in apostasy. Apostasy is the most serious charge one can level against any church but Smith did not pull his punches in describing apostate Christendom. He described the church and its creeds as an abomination in God's sight and Christian believers as corrupt and hypocritical (Joseph Smith-History 1:19)

John Taylor, third president of the Mormon Church declared, “We talk about Christianity, but it is a perfect pack of nonsense...Myself and hundreds of the Elders around me have seen its pomp, parade and glory; and what is it? It is a sounding brass and a tinkling symbol; it is as corrupt as hell; and the Devil could not invent a better engine to spread his work than the Christianity of the nineteenth century.” (Journal of Discourses, vol.6, p. 167)

More recently Mormon apostle Bruce R McConkie described the Catholic Church as “the mother of harlots” (cf Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 13:6-8) and the Protestant churches as “the harlot daughters which broke off from the great and abominable church”, apostate churches. (Mormon Doctrine, 1958 ed. Pp314-315)

It all seems rather harsh but at least it is honest! Christians, believing themselves guardians of “the faith once for all delivered to the Saints” (Jude 1:3), testing all things (1 Thess.5:21) contend for that faith (Jude 1:3) calling false worship a cult. So Mormons once took up a position that clearly distinguished them from other churches, calling those churches, without exception, apostate, abominable, corrupt, and insisting they were harbingers of a message of apostasy and restoration. This is most clearly demonstrated in the Book of Mormon which declares,

Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.” (1 Nephi 14:10)

“Creedal Christianity” as a pejorative term

Anxious not to be seen as a complainer Otterson writes,

Lest anyone think I am unduly thin-skinned, it’s the insult implicit in the word “cult” that I am objecting to, not the reasonable point that some Christians are indeed uncomfortable with aspects of Latter-day Saint theology. Of course they are. I am equally uncomfortable with some aspects of traditional, orthodox Christianity, which was the very issue that gave rise to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the first place. Such differences, however, should be examined thoughtfully, reasonably and respectfully in any national conversation about a particular faith. And they should be examined alongside the enormous doctrinal and practical similarities between these different branches of Christendom.”

But he has sneaked into the post, perhaps unconsciously, significant dismissive comments about Christian churches today. In describing this conversation he is anxious we should have he suggests we address, “Why Latter-day Saints consider themselves New Testament Christians, rather than creedal Christians whose doctrines were formalized in the centuries following the foundation of Christianity.”

Mormon watchers will be familiar with the term “creedal Christianity.” It has entered Mormon-speak recently like a trend, a fad, an idea of the moment, a cultic piece of terminology designed to be pejorative of Christian churches in that it implicitly claims that “creedal churches” are, by nature, not authentic in the same way as the “restoration church.”.

Underlying this is the fundamental claim of Mormonism, that Christian churches derive their doctrine from later, non-authoritative church councils and the creeds they produced, while the Mormon Church derives from the Bible and is a restoration of the original New Testament model of church. This neat little trick simply postulates what is still in dispute and is yet to be proven. Mormons do it a lot.

There are reasons why Mormonism is a cult and there are reasons why Mormons regard other churches apostate and life was much easier on both sides of this divide when Mormons were happy to declare themselves neither catholic, nor protestant but uniquely a restoration church. Times have changed as Mormons run for office and seek respectability and acceptance in the wider society of churches that they once rejected as “a perfect pack of nonsense.”

Unwilling as Michael Otterson is to hear it, Christians will continue to highlight the stark differences between Mormon teachings and historical biblical doctrine and American voters will continue to have the opportunity to vote on all the issues and not just the ones these candidates and their supporters are comfortable talking about.

Recommended reading:

When Salt Lake City Calls is an excellent commentary on this issue

Mormonism 101 by McKeever and Johnson is a good introduction to Mormonism

The Mormon Mirage by Latayne C Scott is a very good study

Inside Mormonism by Isaiah Bennett is a good study from the Catholic perspective

Monday, 18 July 2011

Equipping the Cults to Deal with the Church–5 The Myth of the Killer Text

Last time we looked at some of the dos and don’ts of witnessing to the cults and now we come to the myth of the killer text. “What do you say to a Mormon/JW?” I often get asked this question and my reply is always, “There is no killer text you know.” “I know that”, is the reply, “but what do you say?”

It’s a question that troubles me because it betrays a lack of understanding and poor preparation. It isn’t as simple as dropping some text into a conversation, standing back and waiting for a reaction. It involves relationship, understanding, preparation and patience and there are no short cuts.
Why Texts Don’t ‘Work’
The question about that killer text also reveals a certain attitude to preparation and learning. Some see learning as something that is done by rote, an accumulation of handy texts that can be brought out and used on appropriate occasions. These cold, hard texts are to be marshalled when ‘opportunity’ presents itself and are expected to do all the work that preparation, patience and understanding are meant to do.

When the texts ‘don’t work’, or worse, are forgotten in a moment of crisis, the Christian is driven back to his books to relearn what he thought he knew better or to glean more texts that might prove more effective; or he just gives up, declaring that it is “a waste of time talking to these people.”
The Map is Not the Territory
Of course, we all start by collecting texts and the ideas behind them but true learning is not so much a map to help us find our way, as a personal familiarity with the territory that helps us confidently negotiate the terrain and helps us find our own way on the subject. We are then not just thinking other’s thoughts after them but finding our own thoughts and giving them form with our own voice to express them.

Using the ‘three handy texts’ method when we go to the door, or out into the world, and encounter witnessing opportunities we leave the book on the shelf and rely on the little we remember; but how much do we remember? When we have drawn our own map of faith and understanding, based on our reading but comprised of our own discoveries, thoughts and development, we have that with us wherever we go.

It is simply the way we look at and find our way around the world. It remains familiar because it is the way we think about things and not what we remember imperfectly of how others see them. The map helpfully provided by others is not the territory and we need to know the territory. This is what prepares us to think clearly and critically about faith claims.
My Territory, My Thoughts
When a man has his own thoughts he is always prepared. Even when he meets something new he is less likely to be caught unprepared because, although he hasn’t thoughts specific to what he encounters, he does have a familiarity with the territory and a familiar process of thought which can be applied.

Being familiar with the territory I need not be apprehensive about what I might meet, or fearful of what I might forget, since what knowledge I have is mine, After all, issues of faith, especially the Christian faith, are my territory and I do think about my Christian faith and I know my way around.
The clearest insight, the greatest revelation of God is Jesus Christ and God’s plan is plainly set before us in the Bible. It is focussed on the Cross of Calvary, and is lived out in the community of faith that is the Christian Church; the quest for “spirituality” finds its goal in the Christian message and we already know that.

It is not a question, then, of judging the comparative qualities and benefits, failings and challenges of respective groups but of putting each group we come across up to the light of the gospel and judging them by God’s revealed truth. It is not so much a case of being expert in the error but of being proficient in the truth against which any error must be judged.
So What do you say?
First I chat and get to know them. If and when an opportunity comes up to talk about my faith, either in something they bring up if they try to witness to me, or in some opportunity I see I tend to see it in stages and consider myself as having succeeded if any stage is successfully negotiated:
  1. I get into a conversation about them. What do you say to a Mormon? You say, “Hello. How are you?” I don’t understand why some people think that being a Christian witness gives them the right to ignore the normal rules of human intercourse. You wouldn’t speak to your neighbours the way I hear some people talk to a Mormon they have never met before.
  2. I tell them I am a Christian. Not in an accusative fashion as though challenging them to make something of it but simply declaring that I see the world through Christian eyes.
  3. I get them to talk about what they believe, rather than telling them what they believe. Even when you are right in your understanding it is well to get them to articulate their beliefs because it can be advantageous because: a) They can’t deny it if they have said it; b) they have heard themselves say it and that is important; c) they may say it in a way that gives you fresh insight and opportunity.
  4. I get to share in more detail what I believe; confidently negotiating the terrain because I have walked here before many times and I have my own map. I am leading them through my faith world not just telling them things.
I work from number 1 to number 4 and with each step I consider myself as having succeeded more and more. Most people work from number 4 to number 1 and with each step consider themselves as having failed more and more.

I always try and take the shortest route to the Cross, which is not always short – trying to avoid minor issue - listening and then trying to bring the conversation back to what I consider needs to be addressed.
helpful texts not killer texts
I have simple texts memorised but I never expect them to be "killer texts" because such texts do not exist. I do expect them to throw out a challenge, to use them confidently and expect them to stick. An obvious one for a JW would be John 20:28 ("My Lord and my God"). One I use for Mormons is John 5:24 because it challenges their view of salvation as being achieved by a mixture of faith and works.
1 John 5:13 works alongside this very well. I also have some texts about the nature of God because their view of God is so unbiblical. I don’t throw these texts out as though they are truth bombs that will explode to devastating effect. Rather, they form an integral part of the discussion that move the conversation along in a direction I already know and anticipate.

Of course, these encounters can be brief so I use my knowledge appropriately, sometimes having the luxury of time to develop a theme, sometimes only being able to share a few appropriate words. But if I move from 1 to 4 then I will never have failed if only because I have shared with them my Christian conviction and shown them Christian charity in taking the time to speak to them.

It is important not to always expect to talk about your own favourite subjects. Instead I find out what is important to them and try and speak to that because that is where there will be the greatest challenge and the best opportunity.

Finally, this reflects my aspirations and does not describe how I always conduct myself. We are all human and it makes no sense to despair because we have not yet attained all that God has for us.

Previously: If These are Christians

The Problem with the Church
The Problem with Anti-cult Ministry

The Dos and Dont's

Next: Anatomy of a Cult

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Equipping the Cults to Deal With the Church–4 What Can Christians do? (the dos and don’ts)

So far we have seen how Christians often fail to see past their preconceptions and judgements when dealing with cults, how the church is often ill-prepared to meet the challenge of the cults, and that anti-cult ministry is sometimes regarded as an inconvenient reminder to the church that it has a responsibility to contend for the faith.

Yet a basic approach to witnessing is not difficult. A little preparation, some understanding and a sure faith in Christ can make anyone an effective witness to the cults.


This starts before you open the door.

  • Know your own faith. Confidence in your Christian faith is the best preparation for witnessing.
  • Know something about the belief system of the group. You don’t have to be an expert, you just need to know who your dealing with and that’s not hard.
  • Know your position in Christ. Every believer is secure in Christ and need not be fearful of meeting the Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness on your doorstep.
  • Make sure can share own faith. Have something to say and know how you will say it.
  • Make a list of the groups you are likely to meet. Spend an evening researching them. Its not hard to pay attention to the people you are most likely to meet and learn a thing or two.
  • Be aware of reality of Ephesians 6 – ‘the armour of God.’


You’re not trying to make something happen, that is the work of the Spirit. You’re simply sharing, plainly and honestly, the gospel truth.

Live your faith - what you are speaks louder than what you say.

Establish the Bible as your source of authority.

Define your terms.

Stick to key teachings & don’t be side tracked (1 Cor.2:2).

Show love for them and maintain  respect for the message (1 Peter 3:15)

What not to do

  1. Do not panic or react. Some Christians think that if they fail in any way they have really blown it and so don’t even try. Others cannot stand to hear some of what cultists routinely say and wish to jump in and correct them as a matter of urgency. Either way you close the door on an excellent opportunity. If you have nothing else to share you have your testimony.
  2. Do not exchange insults. If you get to know these people, you often find that they do not fit the stereotype picture many have of cultists. Insulting them is the same as shouting at foreigners in the foolish belief that they will understand better.
  3. Do not feel obliged to talk if it is truly inconvenient. Tell them your busy and arrange for them to call back, perhaps at a time when you can have someone with you.
  4. Do not be afraid to say that you don’t know. There are things they do not know and they often get asked questions on which they have to do some research. Say you don’t know and offer to find out.
  5. Do not do anything you are too uncomfortable doing. We all can feel a little on the spot when people call and that should not put us off talking to people. However, you are not obliged to meet them on your own, have them in your house if you don’t want to, go to their meetings or take lots of literature.
  6. Do not try to win the argument, try to win the person.

What to do

  1. Do listen. You win the right to be heard by first listening.
  2. Do seek to understand. They get so many people who slam doors in their faces, misrepresent them, caricature them and abuse them that if you listen and seek to do some genuine bridge building you will touch their hearts.
  3. Know your facts – do not waffle, exaggerate or make things up!
  4. Do ask Questions. Turn your remarks and counter-arguments into questions if you can do so the onus is on them to think and respond rather than listen and react.
  5. Have literature ready. They will expect you to take theirs; it is reasonable to expect them to take yours in exchange. May not happen with the Jehovah's Witness.
  6. Know what to do next if they respond. They have a game plan and know how to proceed if you show interest and will invite you to church or set up a study programme, or both. Be prepared.
  7. Have a back up in someone who knows more than you or literature with which you are familiar that can fill the same role.
  8. Go to church and be involved - otherwise you will be the blind leading the blind. Your credibility is shot if you show them what is wrong with their church and then tell them that you do not attend church because your church is hopeless.
  9. Read your Bible. You do not have to be an expert but you should know the basics and more familiar passages.
  10. Know what you believe and why. The gospel is mystical but it is also logical and can be explained in terms of logical and philosophical sense.
  11. Have a prepared script. “When someone comes to the door I will say this and do these things.” That way you will not have to come up with answers on the spot as so many seem to feel they should. God can be in your plans as well as in their execution. Know what you want to do in the time you have – do not spend 2 hours on ‘irrelevancies’ and then have no time for the ‘essentials.’
  12. Tell them you are a Christian. Some like to feign credulity because they think it helps. No good comes from being “found out,” and they will work it out for themselves a lot faster than you think.

Previously: If These are Christians

The Problem with the Church

The Problem with Anti-cult Ministry

Next:: The Myth of the Killer Text

Coming Up: Anatomy of a Cult

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Equipping the Cults to Deal With the Church – 3 The Problem With Anti-cult Ministry

The universe next door

Actually, there are a series of problems with so-called “anti-cult” ministry. The first is that it is so foreign. To paraphrase the opening lines of LP Hartley’s book The Go-Between, “The cults are a foreign country: they do things differently there.”  It is like stepping into a parallel universe. James Sire refers to it, in the title of his book, as “The Universe Next Door”.

When the local church is dealing with a foreign land and culture it typically throws its weight behind some missionary organisation. It might have one or two people who feel called to foreign parts, people for whom it will pray and to whom it will send funds and encouragement periodically.

Their pictures will be put on a notice board, alongside a map showing their location and newsletters will be read to the congregation. Some youth might be sent out for two or three weeks experience but otherwise foreign mission needn’t disturb the church’s comfortable, middle-class existence.

However, when the foreign country is a cult the church can’t simply “send” because this foreign country isn’t abroad so much as abroad in the land. Having a few people dedicated to the work doesn’t cut it because the cult comes to your neighbourhood, to your own door!

This is shockingly uncomfortable and so the church largely ignores the problem, adopting a policy of keeping as healthy a distance as possible in the circumstances. Since that distance cannot be maintained geographically it is maintained ideologically. Cults are dubbed dangerous and subversive and members condemned as culpable and beyond the pale.

There is no need therefore, let alone any imperative to prepare thoughtfully, witness intelligently and reach out lovingly. After all, we have decided that it is too dangerous and they are too far beyond talking to.

The Christian Pedant; How Embarrassing!

Thank goodness for people in “anti-cult” ministries! However, there is a problem even here. People working in “anti-cult” ministry are often embarrassingly emphatic about what they believe and this does not sit well with the modern, middle class Western church. These people draw the church’s attention to the uncomfortable issues surrounding truth and error, doctrine and teaching. They inconveniently insist that the church has a responsibility to guard the deposit of faith.


The church often sees this as unreasonable pedantry and blush in its presence and wishes these people would go away or at least like good cobblers stick to their last; become a picture on a notice board; be thankful for the occasional hand out. Those in the ministry wish the church would live up to its responsibilities and actually learn to reach out to cult members not react to them.

Too many preach victory on a Sunday singing, “The Battle Belongs to the Lord”, then hide in the bathroom on a Monday when the Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness calls. They preach grace on a Sunday and sing, “Just as I am, with not one single plea”, and on Monday stand at the door berating the Mormon for not being fit for human company let alone the company of Christians, much less the company of God. They harangue him as we might the devil himself.

What the former cultist needs

The new believer coming out of a cult faces challenges of her own. He has made a huge decision, the magnitude of which the Christian surely fails to appreciate. he has left behind friends, often relations, has changed loyalties, lost status perhaps, reputation and standing in the community that, until recently, was his world. He comes with a mixture of excitement about the Good News of Jesus Christ, questions and understandable doubts about his decisions, and hope for the future.

The best advice the new believer can have is to spend the next few years establishing firm Christian foundations. This is so vital and yet the new believer, perhaps flattered by invitations to ‘share your testimony’, is often tempted to throw himself into “ministry” and help others come out

He doesn’t need this right now and it won’t help him become a fully born again Christian, with a knowledge of Christ that will take him through life. Much needs to be unlearned and much to be learned and the best place to learn is not the public platform.

The Christian attitude to the former cultist so often re-enforces this ill-advised ambition as the former Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness finds he has to prove his bona fides to everyone he meets by taking every opportunity to tell his story, publicly reject his past and work against his former friends. He is cast into the role of an “ex-Mormon/Jehovah’s Witness” and is forever known by what he was and not by what he has become or what he is becoming in Christ.

What good is it if a man claims to have faith?

To put his roots down and establish a firm Christian foundation he needs to be welcomed and encouraged as would any other convert, lock, stock and misconceptions. His views and contributions need not be constantly treated with suspicion. When he struggles with issues, disagrees with people or otherwise proves increasingly comfortable in his new found freedom it shouldn’t automatically be attributed to his background for which Christians, all-too-often, and all-too-often inappropriately “make allowances”.

If he speaks warmly of his old friends and associates he need not be treated with suspicion, as though he were an unrehabilitated cultist. His old friends were probably very nice people and, in light of the role his new Christian friends have thrust on him, he might be missing just a little his old friends who simply accepted him and gave him status.

The bottom line is that it takes joined up church and grown up Christianity to make it possible for a former Jehovah’s Witness/Mormon to find a home amongst Christians and too many Christians, leaders included, are less than mature and all too autarchic. We ‘believe’ in the doctrine and sing with gusto the songs but need to realise that ‘faith without works is dead’. With James, I say, ‘show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do’.

If you truly believe in victory don’t go to the door in fear.

If you believe in grace don’t go to the door in judgement.

Otherwise don’t open the door because you will only make things worse.

Previously: If These are Christians

The Problem with the Church

Next: What are the Dos and Don’ts?

Coming up: The Myth of the Killer Text