Tagged: heresy

Smoke came up out of the shaft – Revelation 9:1-12

Previously: The key to the shaft of the abyss – Revelation 9:1-12

The scripture

Rev. 9:1 – The fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from heaven to earth. The key to the shaft of the abyss was given to him. 2He opened the shaft of the abyss, and smoke came up out of the shaft like smoke from a great furnace so that the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke from the shaft. 3Then out of the smoke locusts came to the earth, and power was given to them like the power that scorpions have on the earth. 4They were told not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green plant, or any tree, but only people who do not have God’s seal on their foreheads. 5They were not permitted to kill them, but were to torment [them] for five months; their torment is like the torment caused by a scorpion when it strikes a man. 6In those days people will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them.

  7The appearance of the locusts was like horses equipped for battle. On their heads were something like gold crowns; their faces were like men’s faces; 8they had hair like women’s hair; their teeth were like lions’ teeth; 9they had chests like iron breastplates; the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots with many horses rushing into battle; 10and they had tails with stingers, like scorpions, so that with their tails they had the power to harm people for five months. 11They had as their king the angel of the abyss; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he has the name Apollyon. 12The first woe has passed. There are still two more woes to come after this. (HCSB)

Smoke came up out of the shaft

When Abaddon opens the shaft of the abyss, John records that “smoke came up out of the shaft like smoke from a great furnace so that the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke from the shaft” (v. 2). Some commentators, like Matthew Henry, see the smoke symbolically: “The devils are the powers of darkness; hell is the place of darkness. The devil carries on his designs by blinding the eyes of men, by extinguishing light and knowledge, and promoting ignorance and error. He first deceives men, and then destroys them; wretched souls follow him in the dark, or they durst not follow him” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Rev. Rev. 9:1–12).

Others who take this passage figuratively describe the smoke as heresy, or the obscuring of human civility and common decency. While Satan and his demons are behind these dark deeds, they do their work through human agents, who disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness (see 2 Cor. 11:13-15). Satan works tirelessly to blind the minds of unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel (2 Cor. 4:3-4). His kingdom is darkness and his citizens follow him blindly. Like the smoke that ascends from the shaft of the abyss, false teachings obscure the light that reveals our sin and leads us to the truth of God’s Word. There is no doubt that the thick smoke rising up from the pit may accurately depict spiritual darkness.

There are some interpreters, however, who see the smoke as a literal judgment, rising up from the earth due to a volcano or an earthquake. Just as the plagues of Egypt impacted earthly elements – water, earth, vegetation and sky – the judgments of Revelation are God’s ways of using His fallen creation to illustrate the depths of human depravity, the heights of His holiness, and the severity of His wrath.

Warren Wiersbe comments: “Jesus compared hell to a furnace of fire (Matt. 13:42, 50), an image that ought to make people stop and think before they jest about it. The smoke polluted the air and darkened the sun, which had already been darkened when the fourth trumpet sounded” (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Rev. 9:1).

One final thought: The imagery of thick, dark smoke is used in several ways in the Old Testament to illustrate God’s dealings with sinful people. Smoke accompanies the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:28). It attends God’s judgment of the nations (Isa. 34:10). And it envelopes the Lord on Mt. Sinai (Ex. 19:18). In each case, smoke is a visible manifestation of God’s power and divine purpose. He destroys wicked cities with fire and sulfur so the wicked can experience it and the righteous can witness it. He judges the nations in such a way that there can be no mistaking He is angry with sinners who rebel against Him and reject His gracious offer of forgiveness. And He delivers the law to His chosen people in such a way that they respond in terror to His holiness.

To the eye of the unbeliever, there may be no distinguishable difference between the smoke of the abyss and the smoke of Mt. Sinai. Smoke is smoke. But to the one who trusts in God’s Word, there is a distinct difference between the two. Satan uses darkness to hide his evil ways. The Lord uses it to reveal His wrath and keep sinful people from seeing Him directly, which would lead to their instant death (Ex. 33:20).

Next: Locusts came to the earth — Revelation 9:1-12

The second trumpet — Revelation 8:8-9

Previously: A third of the earth was burned up (Rev. 8:7)

The scripture

Rev. 8:8 – The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain ablaze with fire was hurled into the sea. So a third of the sea became blood, 9a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed (HCSB).

The second trumpet

This is the second of four trumpet judgments that affect natural objects, in this case the sea and the creatures who swim in it or sail upon it. The final three trumpet judgments, as we learned in the last lesson, affect men’s lives with pain, death and hell.

In this second trumpet judgment, John sees something that appears to him as a great blazing mountain plummeting into the sea, resulting in a third of the sea becoming blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea dying, and a third of the ships navigating its waters being destroyed.

Is John’s vision to be taken literally? What is this great blazing mountain? Is the sea a reference to all salty bodies of water around the world, or perhaps simply a reference to the Mediterranean Sea – or something else entirely? What are we to make of the fractional reference to “a third,” which we encountered in the first trumpet judgment? Let’s look more closely.

The second angel blew his trumpet

As a reminder, the “trumpet” each angel blows in this series of judgments is the shofar, or ram’s horn, and has special significance for Israel (see The first trumpet for more details). In this case, the sound of the shofar announces the commencement of judgment. This is an important detail that should not be overlooked.

While the Day of the Lord will come “like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2) and Jesus warns His followers to be ready at all times for the unknown day of His return (Matt. 25:13), the judgments God sends upon the world’s wicked are announced in advance. We are not told how much time elapses between the sounding of the shofar and the arrival of these torments, any more than we can say with certainty how much time we have to run for cover after a tornado siren blasts a warning. But it appears that God communicates to mankind through the angels that His mercy is drawing to a close and His hammer is about to fall. Perhaps in these final moments some will repent, although John’s record seems to indicate that the wicked prefer blasphemy to humility in the face of judgment (Rev. (9:21, 16:9b, 21b).

Something like a great mountain ablaze with fire

What is it that John sees? He writes that “something like a great mountain ablaze with fire was hurled into the sea.” He doesn’t say “a great mountain,” but “something like a great mountain,” which could mean this is a hidden symbol for his first-century readers or an attempt to describe something he has never seen before – a glimpse, perhaps, into the distant future.

Commentators offer many perspectives:

  • Some say this mountain is Satan, lifted up like a mountain in his pride, and burning with hatred for God and his people, who is cast down into the sea of humanity, where he does much harm.
  • Others say this is a heresy that does much damage to the church – the Macedonian heresy, perhaps, leveled against the deity of the Holy Spirit, or the Arian heresy against the deity of Christ. Each of these divine persons is one-third of the triune Godhead, so John’s reference to the mountain causing damage to “a third” of the sea finds its significance here.
  • Still others argue that it’s best to understand this imagery in terms of the invasion of the Roman Empire by the Goths and Vandals. Rome is fitly represented as a great mountain, as kingdoms and cities sometimes are in scripture. The “sea” in this case represents the people throughout the Roman Empire who suffer as a result of the invaders’ brutal advance on Rome. Over the course of 137 years, beginning in 410 A.D., the Goths and Vandals sack Rome five times and reportedly one-third of the people are killed.
  • W.A. Criswell writes that a modern-day fulfillment could be communism, which finds its foothold among restless people. Rather than producing liberation, it brings captivity, hardship, economic depression, despair and death.
  • Futurists like Hal Lindsay see this blazing mountain as John’s attempt to describe nuclear warheads.
  • Others interpret these verses literally. “The mountain is probably best understood as being a literal large body that fell from heaven. Since the results are literal, it is reasonable to take the judgments as literal also” (J.F. Walvoord, R.B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Rev. 8:8–9).

Whatever the proper interpretation, it’s clear that this judgment impacts many people. Satan is thought by some commentators to have taken one-third of the angelic host with him in his rebellion. Heresies that undermine any of the persons of the Triune Godhead impact the church and its ability to carry the gospel to the world. Wars involving world powers like Rome generate tremendous violence and upheaval. Worldviews that deny the reality of a Creator and Judge, like communism, result in spiritual, political and economic imprisonment. And modern technology has made it possible for a single nation to wreak havoc on much of the world.

Perhaps, as we’ve addressed in previous lessons, these verses are fulfilled in John’s day, and later in church history, and finally in the last days. Jerusalem falls in 70 A.D. and with it, formal Judaism comes to a close. The Roman Empire falls a few centuries later. Heresies do great damage to the church. Warfare causes great loss of life and damage to property and the environment. And in the last days, according to futurists, the Antichrist will lead nearly the whole world astray. In every case there is a common denominator: sin. Mankind’s rebellion against God manifests itself in political leaders who deify themselves; in church leaders who trump scripture with manmade traditions or, worse, heresies; in philosophers who rail against the idea of God and His absolute truths; and in ordinary people who prefer the praise of men to the praise of God.

Maybe we would do well not to agonize over what each symbol in Revelation means, but to look within ourselves at our fallen state and to grasp the only hope we have: Jesus. Ultimately, it will take the destruction of the entire world to purge it of sin and its consequences and to make way for new heavens and a new earth (see 2 Peter 3: 10-13).

Next: Hurled into the sea (Rev. 8:8-9)

How to Identify False Prophets

Apologetics 101: Part 8 — How can I identify false prophets?

This is session eight in a 10-part series designed to help Christians defend their faith

How to identify false prophets (audio)

How to identify false prophets (pdf)

“But I fear that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your minds may be corrupted from a complete and pure devotion to Christ. For if a person comes and preaches another Jesus, whom we did not preach, or you receive a different spirit, which you had not received, or a different gospel, which you had not accepted, you put up with it splendidly!” (2 Cor. 11:3-4 HCSB)

WolfThe words of the apostle Paul are clear: Those who are not grounded in the Word of God are subject to deceptive teachings about “another Jesus … a different spirit … a different gospel” – three distinctive markers that help us identify false prophets. Whether they are Muslim prophets like Muhammad, or self-proclaimed messiahs like the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, these false teachers invariably promote an unbiblical view of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Gospel. We will use these three markers, along with a comparative chart, to examine the teachings of Islam, Mormonism, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses in light of what God’s Word proclaims.

The Bible cautions us to beware of false messiahs, false prophets and false teachers who “disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” and promote “doctrines of demons” (see Matt. 24:24; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 4:3-4). But before we go deeper, let’s define some key terms.

Defining our terms

False religion. From a New Testament perspective, a false religion is any system of belief that opposes the central teachings of the Christian faith. While all cults of Christianity are false religions, not all false religions are cults, because not all religions claim to be Christian. Islam, for example, is a false religion but not a cult, because Islam does not claim to be Christian.

Cult. A cult is a religious organization whose members claim to be Christians, and who use the Bible and Christian terms, yet who deny the central beliefs of historical Christianity. Simply put, a cult is a counterfeit form of Christianity.

Heresy. This may be defined as a teaching strongly opposed to the doctrines of historical Christianity, for example the denial of Christ’s deity, full humanity, virgin birth, or bodily resurrection.

Sect. A sect is an otherwise orthodox group having established its own identity and teachings distinct from the group to which it belongs. In Jesus’ day for example, the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes were sects of Judaism.

Another Jesus, a different spirit, a different gospel

Every Christian can identify false belief systems by asking three important questions: 1) Who is Jesus? 2) Who is the Holy Spirit? and 3) How am I saved? As we go to the comparative chart and place the teachings of God’s Word against the teachings of Islam, Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, let’s remind ourselves of some key biblical truths that address these crucial questions.

Key truths about the real Jesus

Jesus is:

  • The eternal Son of God, without beginning or end
  • God / deity
  • Co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit
  • Virgin born
  • The God-Man / fully divine and fully human
  • Sinless in His humanity
  • Our substitute through His sacrificial death on the cross
  • Alive, having been raised physically from the dead
  • The only way of salvation
  • Seated today in heaven as our Mediator and Intercessor
  • Coming visibly and physically one day in power and great glory
  • The One who will judge all people and to whom, one day, all creatures will bow

Key truths about the real Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is:

  • The eternal Spirit, without beginning or end
  • God / deity
  • Personal (not an impersonal force)
  • Co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Son
  • The Author of Scripture
  • The One who convicts the lost of their need for Christ
  • The One who regenerates believing sinners, causing them to be made spiritually alive
  • The One who indwells, seals and sanctifies believers, and who places them positionally into the Body of Christ
  • The Giver of spiritual gifts
  • God’s down payment /guarantee of our home in heaven

Key truths about the real Gospel

  • All people are sinners
  • Sin separates us from holy God, resulting in spiritual and physical death and, ultimately, eternity apart from God in hell
  • People are incapable of saving themselves
  • Christ died on the cross for our sins and, as our Substitute, paid our sin debt in full
  • Christ was buried and rose physically from the dead
  • His finished work at Calvary conquered sin and death for us
  • As a result, salvation is by God’s grace through faith – not by works
  • Salvation is God’s gift – and everlasting, unbreakable, covenant relationship with Him

An exhortation from John the apostle

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. But every spirit who does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist; you have heard that he is coming, and he is already in the world now. You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them, because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:1-4 HCSB)

The Bible not only warns believers about false prophets; it describes them graphically as:

  • Ravaging wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15; see also Acts 20:29)
  • Deceitful workers (2 Cor. 11:13)
  • Springs without water, mists driven by a whirlwind (2 Peter 2:17)
  • Dreamers who defile their flesh, despise authority, and blaspheme glorious beings (Jude 1:8)
  • Liars (Rev. 2:2)
  • Antichrists (1 John 2:18)

How do we define a false prophet? Simply put, a false prophet is one who preaches, teaches, or foretells events contrary to the Word of God – sometimes claiming God as his or her source. As believers, we can guard our hearts from the teachings of false prophets by obeying three commands of the apostle John:

  1. Do not believe every spirit. Kenneth Wuest’s translation of 1 John 4:1 puts it this way: “Stop believing every spirit.” The term “spirit” refers to those who claim to have divine gifts for service, according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary. We should beware. Jesus warns us of miracle-working false messiahs and false prophets (Matt. 24:24). Paul says Satan masquerades as an angel of light, and his followers disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:14-5). Paul further cautions against “deceitful spirits” and “the teachings of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). And he warns that the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine, but turn aside to myths (2 Tim. 4:3-4). We should be like the Bereans who greeted Paul and Silas. Acts 17:11 says “they welcomed the message with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (emphasis mine).
  2. Test the spirits. The Word of God is the yardstick by which all truth claims must be measured. Here are a few markers. True prophets: a) Are 100 percent accurate when they speak in the Lord’s name (Deut. 18:21-2); b) Exalt God, not themselves or false gods (Deut. 13:1-4); c) Tell the whole truth, not tickle the ears (Ezek. 13:22-3; 2 Tim. 4:3-4); d) Proclaim salvation by grace through faith (Gal. 1:8-9); e) Set lifestyle examples (2 Peter 2:1-3).
  3. Know the Spirit of God. In his first epistle, John challenges the views of the “antichrists” about the identity of Jesus. The most important question Jesus ever asked – and the question upon which every person’s eternal destiny hangs – is, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15). Peter answered correctly, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” (Matt. 16:16). Believers need to know who the real Jesus is. Indeed, He is:
  • The eternal Son of God, Creator and sovereign Lord (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16-18; 2:9-10; Heb. 1:3).
  • Virgin born (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-25).
  • Full deity and full humanity in His incarnation (John 1:14).
  • Sinless Savior whose death paid our sin debt (1 Cor. 15:3-4; 2 Cor. 5:21).
  • Raised and ascended in the flesh; seated at the right hand of the Father as our Mediator and Intercessor; and returning Lord who will appear visibly and physically one day (John 14:1-3; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Tim. 2:5-6; Heb. 4:15-16; Rev. 19-22).

John’s words are simple and effective. Christians are people of faith – not a blind, ignorant faith, but a reasonable faith based on the evidence God has given us in creation, Scripture, and in the Person of His Son. While there have always been false prophets, and while there will continue to be those who fleece the flock rather than feed it, we can guard our hearts – and protect our families and our churches – from false teachings if we follow John’s commands: Don’t believe every spirit (that is, every person claiming divine gifting); test the spirits (according to Scripture); and know the Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit’s teaching about the real Jesus as revealed in the Bible).

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips

Why every Christian should reject the Watchtower’s claims: Part 1

The views of Charles Taze Russell and subsequent Jehovah’s Witness leaders regarding the doctrines of Biblical Christianity are not new; for the most part, they are recent spins on the Arian heresy of the early 4th century and other more recent heretical views. Specifically, every Christian should reject the Watchtower’s claims to be the only true church because of its numerous unbiblical views. Ten false doctrines of the Watchtower will be highlighted in this and following posts. The first three are listed in Part 1 of this study.

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JW False Doctrine 1: The Trinity denied.

What the Watchtower says:

  • “The clergy’s God is plainly not Jehovah but the ancient deity, hoary with the iniquity of the ages – Baal, the Devil Himself” (Charles Taze Russell, Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 7, p. 410).
  •  “The obvious conclusion is, therefore, that Satan is the originator of the trinity doctrine” (Let God Be True, p. 101).
  • “What comes through very clearly to an impartial reader (of the Bible) is that God alone is the Almighty, the Creator, separate and distinct from anyone else, and that Jesus, even in his prehuman existence, is also separate and distinct, a created being, subordinate to God” (“Should You Believe in the Trinity?” http://www.watchtower.org/).

What the Bible teaches:

  • Three distinct, divine persons of the Trinity are specifically mentioned in John 14:26, 15:26; 2 Corinthians 13:14; and 1 Peter 1:2). The Father, Son and Holy Spirit each is referred to as deity in Scripture (John 1:1-3, 10, 14, 10:30; Acts 5:3-4; 2 Cor. 13:13; 1 Peter 1:2).
  • The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are described as deity using similar terms: Omniscient (Matt. 9:4; Rom. 11:33; 1 Cor. 2:10); God (John 10:30; Acts 5:3-4; 1 Peter 1:2); Lord (Luke 2:11; Rom. 10:12; 2 Cor. 3:17); almighty (Gen. 17:1; Rom. 15:19; Rev. 1:8); truth (John 7:28; 1 John 5:6; Rev. 3:7);  eternal (Ps. 90:2; Micah 5:2; Heb. 9:14);  powerful (Jer. 32:17; Matt. 28:18; Luke 1:35; Rom. 15:19; Heb. 1:3; 1 Peter 1:5).

JW False Doctrine 2: Christ’s deity denied.

What the Watchtower says:

  • Jesus is the first creation of Jehovah; Jesus then made all “other” things (see Col. 1:16 in the New World Translation).
  • “… the Bible plainly states that in his prehuman existence, Jesus was a created spirit being, just as angels were spirit beings created by God…. The fact is that Jesus is not God and never claimed to be.” (Should You Believe in the Trinity? pp. 14, 20)
  • “In other words, he was the first and direct creation of Jehovah God.” (The Truth Shall Make You Free, p. 47)
  • “… Jesus was conceived by a sinless, perfect Father, Jehovah God … Jehovah took the perfect life of his only-begotten Son and transferred it from heaven to … the womb of the unmarried girl Mary … Thus God’s Son was conceived or given a start as a human creature … Jesus’ birth on earth was not an incarnation.”  (From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained, pp. 126-27; What Has Religion Done for Mankind? p. 231)
  • “… the true Scriptures speak of God’s Son, the Word, as ‘a god.’  He is a ‘mighty god,’ but not the Almighty God, who is Jehovah.”  (The Truth Shall Make You Free, p. 47)
  • JW’s say Jesus had been the archangel Michael in heaven before He came to Earth. Michael supposedly gave up his “godlike” characteristics, leaving only his “life force.” Jehovah then placed the “life force” of Michael in the womb of the virgin Mary so Jesus could be born a human being. While on Earth, the JW’s say, Jesus was a perfect man but nothing more than that. After dying on a torture stake, His humanity was annihilated; then He was raised as y an immortal spirit who returned to heaven to become once again the archangel Michael.
  • JW’s tamper with John 1:1-5 and Colossians 1:15-19 to “prove” Jesus was a created being.

What the Bible teaches:

  • Jesus is the virgin-born Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-23; Luke 1:35). He is eternal God, the Creator, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and Holy Spirit (John 1:1-3, 10, 14; 10:30; Col. 1:15-20; Phil. 2:5-11; Heb. 1:1-3).

JW False Doctrine 3: The Holy Spirit’s personhood and deity denied.

What the Watchtower says:

  • “… The holy spirit is the invisible active force of Almighty God that moves his servants to do his will.” (Let God Be True, p. 108).
  • “The Scriptures themselves unite to show that God’s holy spirit is not a person but is God’s active force by which he accomplishes his purpose and executes his will.” (Aid to Bible Understanding, p. 1543).
  • “As for the ‘Holy Spirit,’ the so-called ‘third Person of the Trinity,’ we have already seen that it is not a person, but God’s active force.”  (The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, p. 24).

What the Bible teaches:

  • The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the triune Godhead (Matt. 3:16-17, 28:19-20).
  • The Holy Spirit is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Son (Acts 5:1-11).

Next Week: More of the 10 false doctrines of the Watchtower.

Download PDFs:

Overview of the Jehovah’s Witnesses

Comparing Christianity to the Jehovah’s Witnesses

Key Mistranslations of the New World Translation

Believe Not Every Spirit: An Introduction to the Cults (1 John 4:1-4)

What is a cult?

We are defining a cult as: a religious organization whose members claim to be Christians, and who use the Bible and Christian terms, yet who deny the central beliefs of historical Christianity. Simply put, a cult is counterfeit Christianity.

The Bible cautions us to beware of false messiahs, false prophets and false teachers who “disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” and promote “doctrines of demons” (see Matt. 24:23-27; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 4:1-4).

What are some words and concepts related to the word “cult”?

False religion/false belief system. From a New Testament perspective, a false religion is any system of belief that opposes the central teachings of the Christian faith. While all cults of Christianity are false religions, not all false religions are cults, because not all religions claim to be Christian. Islam, for example, is a false religion but not a cult, because Islam does not claim to be Christian.

Occult. The occult generally is classified in three ways: 1) spiritism or spiritualism – the view that spirit is a prime element or reality, or a belief that the spirits of the dead can commune with the living, usually through a medium; 2) fortune telling or sorcery – divination by the assistance of evil spirits; and 3) magic– the use of means such as charms or spells believed to have power over natural forces. Although cults should not be confused with the occult, some cults and cult founders, such as Mormonism’s founder Joseph Smith, do engage in occultic practices.

Heresy. This may be defined as a teaching that directly opposes the essentials of the Christian faith, so that true Christians must separate themselves from those who hold to that teaching. Examples of heresy include a denial of Christ’s deity, full humanity, virgin birth, or bodily resurrection.

Sect. Within Christianity, a sect is a distinctive, persisting and separately organized group of believers who reject the established religious authorities, but who claim to adhere to the authentic elements of the faith. So the term may refer to genuinely Christian groups that have distanced themselves from established churches or denominations – and to some degree the predominant culture they represent – in order to emphasize one or more beliefs or practices they feel have been lost. Example: The International Church of Christ, which adheres to a Biblical view of God and Christ but claims to be the only movement proclaiming the true message of salvation today.

How many people are in cults?

It’s difficult to know with certainty the number of people engaged in cults because of varying definitions of the term cult. But if you consider only Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses – the two largest cults that fit our definition – the number of cult members totals nearly 20 million.

What are common characteristics of cults?

While cults vary widely in beliefs and practices, some common threads run through them, for example:

A single charismatic leader or authority figure apart from Jesus Christ.  Examples include Victor Paul Wierwille (now deceased), founder of The Way International; and the Unification Church’s Sun Myung Moon, the self-proclaimed messiah who came to complete Jesus’ failed mission.

Belief in “new” revelation, which often contradicts and always overrides previous revelations.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), for example, is led by a president who is called “prophet, seer and revelator.” He receives and passes down new revelation – such as the “new” and unscriptural revelation that humans are essentially “gods in embryo.”

Acceptance of new written authority, which either supercedes the Bible or is necessary to “properly understand” scripture.  For example, Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures is the Christian Scientist’s way to interpret the Bible.  And The Book of Mormon is one of several “inspired” writings considered authoritative by Latter-day Saints.

Changed theology, which redefines Christian terms, remakes Jesus Christ and reforms His finished work at Calvary.  Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, claim Jesus was once Michael the Archangel, a created being; and Latter-day Saints believe that men may become gods. Key theological characteristics of the cults include:

  • A denial of the Trinity.
  • A denial of salvation by grace alone through faith.
  • Denial of Jesus’ bodily resurrection.
  • Reduction of the absolute authority of Scripture.
  • Rejection of the doctrine of eternal punishment.
  • Emphasis on experience over doctrine.
  • Emphasis on direct revelations and visions from God.
  • Unhealthy fixation on the end times.
  • Over-emphasis on minor points of theology.

To boil it down, cult leaders consistently counterfeit Christianity in three ways, according to the apostle Paul: They preach “another Jesus … a different spirit … a different gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4). By masquerading as “servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:15), they twist the doctrines concerning the person and work of Christ; the Holy Spirit and the spiritual realm; and the gospel message of salvation by grace through faith, apart from human effort.

Additional Resources

Download this Powerpoint presentation:

Beloved, Believe Not Every Spirit

 

Copyright 2008 Rob Phillips