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Examining the "Toronto Blessing" - Chapter 9
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The "Toronto Blessing"

A Theological Examination of the Roots, Teaching and Manifestations, and Connection Between the Faith Movement and the Vineyard Church

By Stephen Sizer

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CHAPTER 9: THE MARKS OF THE CULTS

Since some of the roots of the Toronto Movement run deep into heretical and cultic teaching it is pertinent to examine in more detail some of the characteristics common to cults generally. How are we to cope with the plethora of cults and parasitic groups which are at work in the world and even infiltrating and feeding off the Christian Church, with their strange and heretical doctrines? We cannot ignore their devastating effect in sowing confusion and leading many astray. The Bible specifically warns that this would happen (Acts 20:28-31), and more so as the time of the Lord's return draws near (1 Timothy 4:1).

There are a number of helpful books which expose the errors of the more well known and established cults, such as the Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses, but these books soon become out of date as the cults continue to proliferate and diversify. There simply is not the time to become familiar with every new cult in order to refute its false teaching. Nor is such an approach advisable. The Scriptures are clear in warning that we should have nothing to do with false teaching (Romans 16:17; 1 Timothy 4:7).

There is a better way. Every cult is guilty of one or more specific doctrinal errors. Once you know what the Bible teaches about these typical errors, you will know what is basically wrong with a cult, however rational and convincing its claims may be. Becoming aware of the "marks" of a cult will enable us to discern error, and may save others from being led astray. If a religious view bears one or more of the following marks, it does not merit further investigation and can be dismissed as another gospel, not the faith of Christ. Our primary responsibility therefore is not to be experts on the cults, but on the Word of God, so familiar with the truth that we will know error when we meet it. In a desire to keep this chapter brief, I have avoided giving examples of the ways in which specific cults display these marks. My desire instead is that you examine these marks with reference to what the Scriptures teach. So as you work through this chapter, please have your Bible open, and turn to the Scripture references quoted, because it is there that our authority and resources lie in refuting error. Before we examine these marks, lets consider why cults seem to prosper and attempt a working definition.

9.1 WHY DO CULTS PROSPER?

There are at least four reasons why the cults prosper. They do so because of a spiritual vacuum, immaturity, subversion and pride.

9.1.1 Spiritual Vacuum (John 3:19-21)

The cults exist and prosper because there is a spiritual vacuum or thirst in us all, which only God can satisfy. But because of our innate rebellion against God, there is an inherent reluctance to accept our spiritual condition and return to God in the way He has prescribed.

One of the chief reasons people refuse to accept the gospel is because of the way it ruthlessly illuminates the human condition and commands repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Such people are then susceptible to any deceiving lie that confirms the step they have taken away from the true light of the Word of God. It is only through repentance of sin and faith in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ, who died in our place to take away our sin, that we can come to know God and experience His love and forgiveness forever (John 10:10; 14:6; 17:3)

These truths have been revealed exclusively, fully and finally in the Scriptures (Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

9.1.2 Spiritual Immaturity (1 Peter 2:1-3)

Young and immature Christians are particularly vulnerable to the influence of cults, since their understanding of the Scriptures, and of the work of God in their lives will be limited (1 Corinthians 3:1-3). Nothing is more important than spiritual growth in the life of new-born Christians. They are called upon to "crave pure spiritual milk so that by it you may grow up" (1 Peter 2:2). The key to Christian maturity is the understanding and application of the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

The knowledge of sound doctrine comes through the illumination of the Word of God by the Holy Spirit. This is the means by which we are thoroughly equipped for every good work, and is also the surest defence against the influence of the cults.

9.1.3 Spiritual Subversion (Galatians 1:6-9)

The cults offer alternative but counterfeit prescriptions which go beyond the Scriptures, ignoring, twisting the meaning of, adding to, reinterpreting or flatly contradicting that which is plainly taught in the Bible. Our generation is particularly vulnerable because it is essentially existential, that is, focused on subjective experience rather than on objective truth. The cults appeal to and exploit the human desire for experiences which appear new, unusual or exciting as well as the desire to belong to a peer group.

For many, Christianity, especially when it is portrayed as an institution, is seen as cold and formal, undynamic and irrelevant. This is a travesty of the living relationship which God intends. Christianity should not be thought of in terms of a stone wall beyond which we cannot go but rather the highest spiritual mountain top beyond which it is downhill which ever way a person goes. There is nothing greater, nothing higher, and certainly nothing more magnificent than the mountain top of divine revelation found in Scripture through the Lord Jesus Christ. The cults on the other hand offer pathways which lead away from God and downward to hell. One cult expert put it this way,

    "To move beyond that mountain top in the pursuit of something better is to lose oneself in the crags and crevices of the slopes that fall away from real Christianity. And beyond the crevices of heresy are the fever swamps of the cults, where the serpents and the scorpions wait. Beyond rationality is insanity, beyond medicine is poison, beyond sex is perversion, beyond fascination is addiction, beyond love is lust, beyond reality is fantasy. Just so, beyond Christianity is death, hopelessness, darkness, and heresy." (Breese, 1975:11)

Ever since the Garden of Eden, Satan has been tempting men and women to doubt and disregard the Word of God (Genesis 3;1-5). And from the very first days of the Church the travelling servants of Satan have sought to subvert Christians from true faith in Jesus Christ into a religion contrary to the Word of God. For some the tactic was the propagation of the heresy of legalism, the substitution of law for grace (Galatians 1:6-9; 4:17). For others it was the promotion of the heresy of phenomenalism, denying that the just shall live by faith, and insisting they should live by sight and experience (2 Corinthians 11:13-15; Colossians 2:18). The wolves in sheep's clothing which Paul warns of in Acts 20, continue to operate on the edges, and sometimes even at the heart of Christ's flock, and must be exposed and expelled.

9.1.4 Spiritual Pride (1 Corinthians 1:19-21)

Another reason mentioned in the New Testament for defection from Christ and involvement in false religion has to do with pride (2 Corinthians 11:3-4). Pride comes in several versions. It may appear in an exalted view of one's own spiritual maturity, intellectual capacity or indispensable abilities. Intellectual pride, for instance, has led many to regard a Biblical faith as unsophisticated or narrow and simplistic. Pride leads inevitably, however, to deception, delusion and subversion (Colossians 2:8,18). True wisdom consists in simple obedience to God through His Word (Job 28:28).

9.2 DEFINING A CULT

A cult then is a subtle but significant perversion of Biblical Christianity. It calls for belief and devotion to a religious leader or doctrine which distorts or warps an essential doctrine of historic Christianity, such as the meaning of faith, the nature of God, the person and work of Jesus Christ, to the point where truth becomes perverted into a lie. A cult is impossible to define and repudiate except against the objective and absolute standard of the plain teaching of the Bible.

    "A cult, then, is any religious movement which claims the backing of Christ or the Bible, but distorts the central message of Christianity by 1) an additional revelation, and 2) by displacing a fundamental tenet of the faith with a secondary matter." (Gordon Lewis, in Hanegraaff, 1993:43)

A cult is essentially an organised heresy. When set against the standard of the Scriptures and Biblical truth, a cult is seen to have one or more distinguishing marks which can be seen to be fatally sub-Christian.

9.3 THE MARKS OF THE CULTS

There are ten common characteristics associated with cultic teaching. Not every cult will display all ten marks. Those exhibiting only a few of these marks are no less heretical, merely more insidious and thereby more dangerous. (For sake of brevity I have omitted two other important marks of a cult, namely, financial exploitation and enslaving organisational structures. These are covered by David Breese and others).

9.3.1 Extra-Biblical Revelation

To the question of divine revelation the Scriptures are clear and unambiguous.

    "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word." (Hebrews 1:1-3)

The Bible is God's final and complete revelation, and this revelation can be supplanted by no other. It contains all things necessary for salvation and Christian maturity (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:2-4). The cults have no such commitment, believing in the necessity of their extra-biblical revelations which are held to be equal to or superior to the Bible. Virtually every cult ever spawned started from the premise that its leader or leaders had access to new revelation. All have, according to John MacArthur,

    "abandoned the tenet of Sola Scriptura and embarked on a dangerous quest for something more...The marker may read "something more" but the road to new revelation is really a path to something less. It is filled with detours, dead ends, giant chuckholes-and very little else."

This is the first and most typical characteristic of a cult in claiming for its authority some revelation apart from the clear statements of the Word of God. While most cults claim to respect the Bible, and may even recognise its divine inspiration they demonstrate greater confidence in subsequent revelations which are accorded greater authority and in effect annul the sufficiency of the Scriptures. The Bible is therefore seen as only part of the continuing revelation of God.

Sometimes this extra-biblical revelation comes in the guise of a "divinely inspired" leader, mediated through angelic visitors or a personal encounter with Jesus. Paul is unambiguous in condemning any new gospel irrespective of its source (Gal 1:6-9).

Many religions have however invested divine authority in the person of a visible individual who speaks infallibly, his words having the same or higher authority that Holy Scripture. The Lord, knowing that this would happen in the future, very clearly declares His Word, the Scriptures, to be final and un-surpassable revelation.

The Holy Spirit directed the Apostle John to categorically close the verbal revelation of God at the conclusion of the completed Scriptures. Conservative Bible scholars agree that Revelation was the last New Testament book written.

    "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book." (Revelation 22:18-19)

Some argue that this relates only to the Book of Revelation and not the close of the New Testament canon. However, in the context of all that the Bible says about Jesus being the final prophet, the Son and heir, the climax of revelation, the words of Jesus are most significant.

Our Lord gives this dire warning in the closing verses of the last confirming witness to His revelation, through the last living apostle at the conclusion of his ministry. We would do well to heed the comment of Matthew Henry, "This sanction is like a flaming sword to guard the canon of the Scripture from profane hands."

The Book of Revelation is no ordinary piece of writing. It is a sweeping analysis of history, perceived from a heavenly perspective, from the first advent of Christ, to the second. Jesus had promised that the Spirit would teach his Apostles "all things" (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit had now come and fulfilled that promise. The Apostles had communicated the authoritative and inspired Word of God. The task of revelation was finished. The Book of Revelation is therefore the last apostolic word to the Church. The Almighty Saviour, seated at God's right hand, personally declares that nothing is to be added to what has been recorded.

God's truth has come to us in a fixed and finished, historical, objective revelation, not as some ancient book, but as something living, dynamic and active, sharper than a double edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). We have therefore at the close of Scripture a dreadful curse placed upon anyone who presumes to offer a new verbal revelation from God. Failure to see Jesus Christ as the final revelation of truth is a major error and opens the church door to a multitude of heresies. We do not need further revelation, but the illumination of the Holy Spirit to apply that Word of God to our lives. We will only withstand the assault of the cults if we have a firm grip and confident knowledge of the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Are you regularly and consistently reading the Scriptures?

    "The greatest single reason for the advance of the cults in our world today is ignorance of Holy Scripture on the part of Christians. The second greatest is unwillingness on the part of the people of God to transmit divine truth by way of a testimony for Christ to others who need yet to receive salvation in Christ. (Breese, 1975:30)

9.3.2. A False Basis of Salvation

"What must I do to be saved?" cried the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:30). Deep within the human heart we are born with an unquenchable longing for eternal life. This longing for reality is the fuel which energises the growth and proliferation of the cults today. By exploiting this deep insecurity, the cults, without exception, obscure the truth and offer salvation by some other basis than that of faith in Jesus Christ.

The Bible repeatedly declares that we are saved by grace through faith in the full, final and sufficient work of Christ on the cross (John 1:12; 3:16; Acts 16:31; Rom 3:23-25, 3:28, 4:4-5; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9; I Peter 3:18). The Scriptures teach that all attempts to define salvation on any other terms, whether through laws or signs, new revelations or good works, are cursed by God (Gal 1:6-9, 3:10-11).

9.3.3 A Defective Christology

"Who is Jesus Christ?" This is the most important question a person can ever ask. Our deepest joys on earth and hope of eternal life rest upon our answer to that question. Because this is so, the primary activity of Satan must surely be to obscure as much as possible the true nature and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Satan knows that an improper or incomplete understanding of the person and work of Christ makes salvation impossible.

Early heresies such as Cerinthianism denied the humanity of Christ (John 1:14; 1 John 1:1-3; 4:1-3). Arianism denied the deity of Christ (John 1:1, 8:58). Others denied the union of his two natures in one person. Gnosticism taught that there were many spiritual levels and mediators between earth and heaven of which Jesus was merely one (Colossians 1:16, 2:3-23). Most cults today follow in one of these errors. The most insidious cults which insist on extra-biblical revelations and esoteric and mystical experiences of God are simply the children of the Gnostics.

The central doctrine of Christianity is Christology, the doctrine of the nature of the person of Jesus Christ as revealed in space-time history. Any teaching that compromises the humanity or deity of Christ and His uniqueness as the only God-man, destroys the efficacy of the atonement, the work of Christ on the cross, and thereby the basis of the gospel.

Jesus said "I am the way, the truth and the life. No once comes to the Father but by me." (John 14:6). If Jesus was not fully God and fully human, he had no authority to say so. John 1:14 tells us that Jesus was "full of truth." In John 1:18 we are told that no one has ever seen God, but the unique Son "has made Him known." Anything after the words of Jesus Christ would be anticlimactical, a decent from the mountain top of revelation. Jesus was the only one qualified to reveal to humanity the truth about God. Jesus perfectly fulfilled that mission (John 17:6-8,14).

In the closing days of the earthly ministry of Christ, he took the Apostles aside to prepare them for His departure. The narrative in John 14:7-10 is very instructive in helping us to discern the error many cults make with regard to the sufficiency of Christ's revelation of God. To comfort His disciples Jesus reminds them that through Him, they now knew the Father and had seen Him. But Philip was not satisfied. He begs for one glimpse of the Father (John 14:8) believing this would suffice. He may have felt that they had not quite got as close as Moses who got to see the back of Almighty God. If only he could have a similar experience. But notice that Jesus was clearly distressed by Philip's request.

    "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?" (John 14:9)

Philip's search for something more, a deeper revelation of God than Jesus had given was an insult to Jesus, and received a rebuke. How could a vision of God be more thrilling than to talk with God's Son? In the words of Jesus Christ we have the full revelation of the Father's will. Everything Jesus had learned from the Father, He had made known to them, and through them to us (John 15:15, 16:12-15). To believe that the revelation of Christ in Scripture is insufficient is to hold a defective Christology.

It cannot be overstated that biblical doctrine, that is, what we understand about the way God has revealed Himself in history and supremely in Jesus Christ is of vital importance in perpetuating orthodox Christianity and withstanding heresy.

9.3.4 Selective and Distorted Use of the Scriptures

Another characteristic of a cult is the selective use of the Scriptures, without due regard for their context, in order to emphasise or reinforce their own doctrines. When a group develops a theological or doctrinal interpretation that touches only minimally on the proper biblical emphasis and ignores that which is plainly taught in Scripture, it becomes a cult.

It is important to recognise that the revelation of God in Scripture is progressive. God has presented the truth of His revelation in a cumulative fashion, moving from the basic theistic concepts of the Old Testament to the final revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ. Jesus, "has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10), and His doctrine has been explained for our benefit through the Epistles. The Old Testament must therefore always be read in the light of the New Testament, and each text within its context, otherwise it becomes a pretext for error.

A major deficiency of the cults has been to failure to view the Bible as a whole. It is a grave temptation to find a verse or selection of verses in the Bible about holiness, the kingdom, law, works, faith, and make it a substitute for the whole counsel of God.

9.3.5 Presumptuous Messianic Leadership

Only Jesus Christ deserves disciples. He is the Author and Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). He alone is our High Priest (Hebrews 4:14). He alone is our Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5). The Church is the Body of Christ, of which He is the Head (Ephesians 1:22-23). To the believer, Jesus Christ is all in all (Colossians 3:11). John the Baptist has left us a commendable example in the way he constantly refused to accept the praise and adulation of the people that gathered around him, and instead, pointed them to Jesus (John 1:15,19-23, 3:27-30).

In spite of this, it is often a characteristic of cult leaders, that they claim, or are accorded, infallibility or unusual divine powers, which sometimes inspires worship among their followers. It is one of the marks of a cult that they invariably elevate the words or writings of a human leader to a messianic or infallible level. This is often associated with an inordinate awe and reverence for such leaders, who then find themselves unable to withstand the temptation to promote themselves, in order to retain their exalted image in the minds of their devoted followers.

The Christian should have no final human leader except Jesus Christ (Matthew 23:8-11). Within the Body of Christ there is to be mutual submission (Galatians 5:13; 1 Corinthians 16:16). For Christians to associate with the names of Christian leaders, or to declare themselves to be followers of a human leader is a grave error and a sign of carnality (1 Corinthians 3:3-4; 7:23).

The Christian needs no human mediator. No one has access to God other than through Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5). In Christ we are all freely welcomed to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:14-16, 10:19-22). This is at the heart of what is meant by the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9). The believer should never be subject to the presumptuous messianic leadership of anyone claiming a closer walk with God. When Paul prayed for believers, he prayed that they themselves would know the personal access and privileges available to them by virtue of their personal relationship to the Lord (Ephesians 1:15-19).

There is no need of any human mediator between the heart of the believer and the heart of God. The mark of the cult leader is that he makes himself imperative in the lives of those who have become ensnared in his web. Some do this by arrogating to themselves the position of a mediator, claiming a special intimacy with God or Jesus, through which they receive exclusive divine revelations for their followers.

True religious leaders emulate the Apostle Paul, who was careful never to press his leadership to the place where he would control the lives of others (I Corinthians 3:20-23; 2 Corinthians 1:24). Every believer possesses divine truth for themselves when they hold the Word of God in their hands. The function of true Christian leadership is to bring each child of God to the point of maturity in his understanding and application of the Scriptures whereby they can disciple others and be delivered from a perpetual dependence on any human teacher. Only Jesus Christ deserves disciples.

9.3.6 Doctrinal Ambiguity

One of the fascinating characteristics of the cults is the way in which their teaching is adapted to new situations or arguments, or simply the whims of their leaders. Scripture is clear that craftily changing doctrine is a cunning device used by those who prey on the unwary.

    "Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming." (Ephesians 4:14)

The word "doctrine" has no meaning in the fever swamps of the mind which are inhabited by the cults, for doctrine means a systematic presentation and understanding of the truth. The concept of doctrine is actually, virtually unique to historic, biblical Christianity. By contrast, what passes for doctrine in the cults is often merely a sub-rational set of disconnected thoughts and practices that only serve to confuse the mind and the emotions as well. Emotions were never intended to be an end in themselves and are totally untrustworthy as the custodians of, or criteria for, determining truth. Any religion, therefore, which deliberately by-passes rational doctrinal understanding and seeks to build upon the emotions will inevitably deceive rather than enlighten.

This "mindlessness" is a most useful device exploited by cult leaders who want their followers to set aside their minds and appeal instead to spiritual discernment, intuition, inner sight, realisation, or some other sensation to determine and authenticate truth. The "divine presence" is always justified by calling upon some higher knowledge, or deeper truth, or new revelation, anything in fact that appears superior to the plain teaching of the Word of God. Cults use these ambiguous phrases as emotional triggers couched as they are with infallible connotations which thereby justify the teaching they wish to assert. Ambiguity and obscurity is intrinsic to Satan's strategy, clarity is divine.

The Word of God, on the other hand, is very careful to avoid ambiguity. Nothing is clearer than the call in Scripture to sound doctrine and the use of the mind to understand and discern truth from error (Psalm 19:7-11; Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:17-24, 5:17; Colossians 1:21-22, 3:10; 2 Timothy 3:10). Indeed it warns,

    "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths." (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

9.3.7 An Uncertain Hope

The Scriptures offer certainty and assurance over central issues such as our forgiveness, salvation and eternal life because of the finished work of Christ on our behalf (John 3:16, 10:27-29; Ephesians 2:8-9; Colossians 1:13; 2 Timothy 1:12; 1 John 5:11-13). However the cults are careful never to do so. They place certainty in a distant and unrealisable future in order to keep people dependent, hooked to the cult. Followers are forced to live in constant fear that they have not done enough, given enough, prayed enough, witnessed enough, whatever stick the cults wish to use to keep their disciples enslaved.

Whereas Christianity sets us free, the cults, in reality, offer only bondage (John 8:32; 2 Cor 4:6; Gal 3:3, 4:1-11; Col 2:20-23). To those ensnared by the cults we have a great promise. "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:36)

9.3.8 The Claim to "Special Discoveries"

"I have found the secret". Few people are more fascinating than those who claim inside information. In every walk of life, from the world of investment to the world of religion, people have been conned out of their money, their eternal souls, or both, by those who claim special knowledge from sources of information not commonly available. In this regard the world of commerce is perhaps wiser than the Church, since it is illegal for anyone to purchase securities on the basis of "insider information". Unfortunately human nature would ignore such a spiritual law even if it existed. The careful teacher of sound doctrine is rarely as electrifying as the mysterious religious promoter.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3-4)

It is clear then, that the humble Christian who will pursue the teaching of the Bible with simplicity and godly sincerity becomes the glad recipient of the abundant provision of God for every need for time and eternity. There can be no greater promise than that we are all blessed with "every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies" (Ephesians 1:3).

It would be impossible however for the cults to survive without their mysterious experiences, special revelations, their hidden practices, their inner beliefs, unavailable to the non-member. The Christian must remember that there is no discovery in the entire universe that anyone could possibly have that is superior to their discovery of salvation in Jesus Christ. There is no higher information, no better revelation, no deeper truth. The person who turns from this, the greatest discovery, the revelation of God in Christ, to pursue the delusions of the cults is utterly foolish and deceived.

The claim to special discoveries and "repeatable-on-demand" revelations from God is the point where the cults tend to move off into the occult. Witchcraft, spiritism, and Satan worship are religious manifestations of evil which call for the incursion of the metaphysical in the realm of the physical. The Scriptures are emphatic that the mark of false teachers is their occult or "secret and destructive" beliefs.

Claims to new divine discoveries or special revelations should be subjected to the biblical rules of evidence. The fundamental characteristic of the faith of Christ is that it is based on historical fact. In communicating about the events that centred around the life, work, death, and resurrection of Christ (John 5:31, 10:25; 2 Peter 1:16; 2 Corinthians 3:12), the Scriptures insist,

    "Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." (2 Corinthians 4:2)

Luke asserts that Christ declared Himself to be alive after His crucifixion "by many infallible proofs" (Acts 1:3). Often those to whom the gospel was preached were reminded that they knew that these things were true (Acts 26:25-26). The witnesses of the facts of the gospel were declared as being alive and responsible to testify to what they had seen in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:6). Nothing is more obvious in the Scriptures than the fact that God has revealed Himself publicly in Jesus Christ, with ample proof and competent witnesses (John 20:30-31; 21:24; 1 John 1:1-3). The truth of Christianity does not depend on private knowledge or secret, unconfirmable special relationships between God and certain individuals. No Christian is required to believe that Jesus Christ has appeared to anyone since the day of the completion of the Scriptures. God rests His case on the Bible. There is no need for special new discoveries. The secret is out. The gospel is available to all.

9.3.9 Denunciation of Others

When a person declares themselves to be a "messiah" or to have found a new "truth" it is inevitable that they must denounce all other pretenders to the throne as false.

Some of the most bitter curses and imprecations in print have been made by cult leaders upon those who do not believe them and join their movements. The contrast with true Christianity is very marked. The Bible teaches that there is one Saviour, Jesus Christ, one way of salvation, through faith in His finished work on the cross. Within that wonderful circle of faith, once delivered to the saints, the Scriptures allow, however, for a great diversity of views and practice in matters not essential to the gospel (Mark 9:38-40; Philippians 1:15-18; 3:15).

True Christians are forbidden to judge one another in secondary matters (Romans 14:4,10,13) and are given liberty to be persuaded in their own minds as to how to live before the Lord (Romans 14:5). We are even told "Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes." (1 Corinthians 4:5). Instead, we are to "make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3). Indeed we are to disassociate from those who sow division and discord among true believers (Romans 16:17-18).

This does not mean we should ignore or tolerate error (Galatians 1:6-9; 1 Cor 11:1-4). There is a crucial difference between a cult leader cursing and anathematising his opponents, and a Christian critically exposing unbiblical teaching and warning others of heresy. Our motive must always be to lead people to repentance and a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 2:24-26). We are instructed to "preach the Word...teach, exhort, rebuke and encourage with great patience and careful instruction" (2 Timothy 4:2).

We must also recognise that Jesus and the Apostles used strong language specifically and personally, both to, and about false teachers (Matthew 23:15-17. 27-28, 33; Luke 11:44; John 8:44; Acts 5:3, 13:10, 23:3; Titus 1:16; 1 John 3:8, 4:3).

We are commanded to warn and watch out for false teaching (Matthew 7:15, 24:4-5, 23-26; Acts 20:28-29). Indeed we are commanded to have nothing to do with false teachers, and realise that to do so is to share in their wickedness (Romans 16:17-18; 2 Timothy 2:23; Titus 3:10; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14; 2 John 1:10-11).

We are warned that false teaching is very destructive, and indeed demonic (2 Corinthians 11:13-15; 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Thess 2:9-11; 2 Peter 2:1-22; 1 John 3:8). Ultimately we must recognise that God's wrath falls upon those who suppress the truth and that those who teach a false gospel are eternally condemned (Galatians 1:8-9; Romans 1:18-19; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).

9.3.10 Syncretism

    "To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some." (1 Corinthians 9:22)

This attitude is one we should all identify with, especially in our multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-racial society. The challenge in evangelism is to communicate the eternal truth of the Word of God in a way which overcomes the barriers of culture, prejudice and suspicion. However, within this total context, there is a line beyond which we must not go. The loving concern for spiritual reconciliation can be pressed to the point where it actually compromises the gospel of Christ.

Usually this accommodation involves down playing the uniqueness and authority of Christ, or the Word of God, to the point where Jesus is regarded as simply one of several prophets, and the Bible merely one of many sacred texts.

Syncretism describes the attempt to gather together what some would call "the best qualities" of different religious points of view into a new and more acceptable, or potentially more popular faith. It is an attempt to "synchronise" the otherwise diverse and contradictory claims of existing cults and religious groupings. It is in effect "giving people what they want to hear".

    "Syncretism...is the process of growth through coalescence of different forms of faith and worship or through accretions of tenets, rights, etc., from those religions which are being superseded." (Webster's Dictionary)

Syncretism is a favourite cultic device. While claiming to offer something "new", they almost invariably rehash existing concepts both orthodox and heretical. They offer warmed-up elements, in varying proportions, of Protestantism, Catholicism, paganism, idolatry, local fetishes, mixed up with a dose of the bizarre and what can only be described as pure fantasy, even idiocy. While we may look in astonishment at the more obvious syncretistic cults and wonder how anyone could be gullible enough to believe them, we would do well to remember that syncretism can also be a very subtle, creeping heresy, appearing in many guises, often in unexpected places, too close to home for comfort.

The unchanging and unalterable nature of the Christian message is very clearly stated in Scripture. The gospel or good news of salvation in Christ is categorically defined in the Word of God. When writing to the Corinthian church, itself already infected with heresy, the Apostle Paul said,

    "Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, That he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." (1 Cor 15:1-4)

This definition of the gospel, as in parallel passages (John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 1:26-2:5; Romans 5:6-11; 1 Peter 3:18-22) centres on the full and finished work of Christ on the cross, on our behalf - by grace, through faith, which will result in good works (Ephesians 2:8-10). Every attempt to redefine this gospel, and make it more inclusive than is plainly taught in the Bible, leads to heresy. The attempt to "synchronise" the gospel of Christ with a godless world, is a deadly virus from which no Christian institution recovers. This virus can affect us all, and become a plague which, but for the grace of God, can carry us all away.

This chapter draws heavily on a work by David Breese Know the Marks of the Cults published by Victor Books in 1986.

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