March 3, 2017

CULTS AND FALSE TEACHERS

By Caroline Enkawa
Signs & Wonders Ministry

Years ago, an article was posted on this website about Cults a few years.  The article mainly addressed a particular group or sect that have been targeting Deaf communities in this country. They are still around. Recently, something came up that forced us Messianic believers, to reconsider posting a revised version of the article again.  It is incredible how many people can be deceived, even those who are quite learned in Scriptures.

The previous article was written more out necessity than choice.  The subject of cults is still difficult to write about.  One reason the article was deleted from the website is because the definition of what constitutes a cult can be somewhat ambigious or vague, often depending on the context and on the person who uses it.

This is from the dictionary and thesaurus from an Apple computer: 
cult |kəlt|
noun
a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object: the cult of St. Olaf.
• a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister: a network of Satan-worshiping cults.
• a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing: a cult of personality surrounding the leaders.
[ usu. as modifier ] a person or thing that is popular or fashionable, especially among a particular section of society: a cult film.

cult
noun
1 a religious cult: sect, denomination, group, movement, church, persuasion, body, faction.
2 the cult of eternal youth in Hollywood: obsession with, fixation on, mania for, passion for, idolization of, devotion to, worship of, veneration of.


Believers in the body of Messiah consider the common definition of “cult” from most dictionaries pretty much “loose” or vague.  A Christian church or a Messianic congregation might be considered a cult by some, even though we who spiritually receptive to the message of the Gospel might strongly disagree.  For example, the family of a Jewish person who just converted to Christianity would call the church he joined a cult.  A young member of a religious sect would be considered “brainwashed” if he or she joined a different religion other than the one he/she grow up with.  Some people would even consider Messianic Judaism a cult.

Another reason the subject of cults is difficult to write about: the word “cult” does not appear in our Holy Scriptures, which we consider the source of all wisdom and guidance, although they have much to say about false teachers.   According to Wikipedia, the word "cult" was first used in the early 17th century, borrowed from the French language.  It is interesting to note that the word "culture" and “occult” was also derived from the same source.

Wikipedia also states, “By the late 1930s, the Christian counter cult movement began applying the term cult to what would formerly have been termed heresy.  This usage became mainstream by the 1960s, via the best-selling book, The Kingdom of the Cults,” published in 1965.  The author, Walter Martin listed the difference between most major religions, Eastern religions, New Age, Spiritism, Scientology, Theosophy, etc, including a few religions that describe themselves as a Christian denomination, such as Jehovah’s Witness and Mormonism.  Some of the differences are obvious, some are not.  For the sake of this article, we will focus on those who are not so obvious.

Today, there are essentially two major views in regard to cults, one is the Christian view, often called the “theological” perspective and another one is the non-Christian or secular view, also called the “sociological” perspective.

One reason we posted our “Statement of Faith” on our website is to be clear as to what we believe, so that people who surf and find us can believe the Holy Spirit speaks through us and therefore, they will believe us.  Anything else that contrary to the Scriptures or to our Statement constitutes “heresy” or false teaching.  If you meet someone who claims to be one of us, a Messianic believer who states something contrary to our belief, please contact us.  We will investigate the matter.

One of the most important statements, the one fact that separates us from false teachers or other cults is that we believe Yeshua (the Hebrew name for Jesus) is the Son of YHVH (the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), who was resurrected and ascended to Heaven.  This is the one fact that will pass the test of a true believer every time.  Let’s take a look at these Scriptures:

1John 2:22   Who is the liar? It is the person who denies that Yeshua is the Messiah (Christ/Anointed). Such a person is the anti-Messiah--he denies the Father and the Son. 

1 John 4:3   but every spirit that does not acknowledge Yeshua is not from YHVY. In fact this is the spirit of the anti-Messiah. 

2 John 1:7  For many deceivers have gone out into the world, people who do not acknowledge Yeshua the Messiah's coming as a human being.  Such a person is a deceiver and an anti-Messiah.

These are very strong words but it’s the truth.  They are not our own words but YHVH’s inspired sayings.  Many religions accept Yeshua as an important figure, as a great teacher or prophet, but not as the Son of the Father in Heaven sent for die for our sins. And Yeshua did warn us there will be many false prophets, false teachers, false religions and cults in these last days. Therefore, we should not be surprised when it happens.

The other point of view regarding cult is the sociological perspective.  Within the body of Messiah, there are some leaders who display “cultish” behavior or tendencies, even though they might speak the truth of Scriptures. Just because sociology is a secular field does not mean we should dismiss it.  There is value in learning how to observe human behavior and learn how to avoid the pitfalls. Listed below are 8 warning signs of leaders or groups who display “cultish” behavior or tendencies you should look for:
  1. A cult leader has no tolerance for questions or free exchange of ideas, and doesn’t encourage critical thinking.  He insists on being right and others are wrong.  His followers have “programmed” answers.  There is a difference between believing the Word of YHVH and believing blindly.  The Hebrew word for believe also means to trust.  Believers have confidence that YHVH will keep His promises and fulfill His prophecies.  We increase that confidence by studying His Scriptures independently of our leaders or teachers.  With the vast resources of the internet, it has become easier.  (On the menu above you will find links to free online Bible study tools.)
  2. A cult leader will forbid his followers in associating with others outside of the group.  He feeds the people into believing that there is no reason to leave.  I have witnessed at least on three occasions how members of a certain cult were invited to a Bible study group, wanted to go and then being told to turn around and not attend our studies. In one instance, they were right outside my door debating whether or not to come in and in the end, finally left.  Members of such cult will often feel isolated and hard to reach.
  3. A cult leader also feeds on fear, warning his followers of doomsday and conspiracies, etc.  Although our Scriptures are full of warnings and judgements to happen before the Millennial reign of peace, we are taught to look up and see our redemption, not to fear.  We trust in His promises, looking toward a bright future with eternal life.  Members of a cult, by contrast, often feel isolated from their families and long time friends and are afraid of what will come.
  4.  you have heard warnings about a particular leader, group or church, then it is most likely true.  You should investigate and pay attention to any grievances or stories of abuse about a particular leader or member of a cult.  For example, there are many people who have left a certain cult after finding the truth.  Seek the people who have left to find answers to what happened.  Listen to their grievances and stories of abuse.
  5. The followers of a cult often feel they are not “good enough” no matter what they do.  A true leader of Messiah should be thankful to others for volunteering or helping in a church activities.  Showing appreciation is the mark of a genuine leader, qualities that the faithful of Messiah should seek to emulate.
  6. Most followers of a cult have lost their sense of humor.  They seem more gloomy and fearful.  In contrast, a true follower of Messiah will often feel joy, which comes from knowing and understanding that we have been set free by the blood of Yeshua.  Worship is a mean to bring this joy to the surface.
  7. The leader of a cult will not disclose their finances to their members.  Records of income and expenses are kept private or hidden.
  8. Members of a cult often depends excessively on their leader for problem solving.
So far we have studied the theological perspective of false doctrines.  Secondly, we have learned the more sociological and psychological perspective of cults. However, during these last 10-20 years, the term “spiritual abuse” have cropped up more frequently. This term has become popular since 1991 when the breakthrough book was first published, “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church” written by two authors, David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen.

There are some surprising similarities between cultish behavior of leaders and perpetrators of “spiritual abuse.” However, spiritual abuse is somewhat more complex and subtle.  That is another topic for another day, one in which we will not dwell here. Therefore, we will list some resources:

The book, “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse" is available in most bookstores and on Amazon.  Here is a description of the book about spiritual abuse: “The authors address the dynamics in churches that can ensnare people in legalism, guilt, and begrudging service, keeping them from the grace and joy of God's kingdom. Written for both those who feel abused and those who may be causing it, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse shows how people get hooked into abusive systems, the impact of controlling leadership on a congregation, and how the abused believer can find rest and recovery.”

Free online article from Charisma magazine about spiritual abuse:
http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/32305-spiritual-abuse-christian-cults-and-controlling-ministries

We all should consider all the signs because of the growing and disturbing reports of abuses within certain churches. There are leaders have taken advantage of their Deaf members, so much so that these members have turned away from the faith.  It is a sad state of affairs when people don’t follow YHVH’s most important command to love each other and not do harm to each other.

I have been asked frequently by my friends how to turn away certain people who came at their doors inviting them to their “hall” and giving away books or brochures.  The one thing that stops them from coming back: I have told them that I disagree with their belief and doctrines.  I also never accept their materials.  I have heard stories of people trying to persuade these cult members to change.  I would not recommend it.  In most cases, it will likely not produce any results.  It is best to meet them on your terms, not when they show up uninvited at your door, when you are unprepared.

Remember Yeshua’s saying in Matthew 10:16:
 "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

Also Matthew 7:15-16
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.”

The adversary, Satan is referred as an ancient snake.  So why would Yeshua want us to be as shrewd as snakes?  Because when we study and understand the mind of a deceiver, a false teacher, knowing their fruits (their actions and their behaviors) then you would instantly recognize such a person when you meet them.  You will see through their disguise as sheep and recognize them as wolves.  Yeshua does not want us to emulate them but to recognize them and continue on our quest to stay holy and innocent like doves.

We must realize that false teachers and abusive leaders often reject part of YHVH’s instructions because of pride and stubbornness.  In 1 Samuel 15:23, the prophet Samuel recognized this behavior in King Saul and so warned him:

“Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols. So because you have rejected the command of Adonai, he has rejected you as king."

May YHVH keep you safe from harm and continue to bless and enrich your lives.  Here are more scriptures to study: Matthew: 1:18, 28:18-19, John 1:1-18, 2:18-22, 3:14-17, 3:36, 5:17-18, 5:23, 8:56-58, 10:30-38, 14:6-7, 17:2-5, Luke 24:36-53, Acts 1:11, Romans 3:23-30, 6:23, 10:3-10, 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, 15:12-23, Ephesians 2:8-9, Colossians 1:15-20, 2:9-10, 1 Thess. 4:13-18, 1Timothy 2:5-6, 3:16, Hebrews 1:1-14, 1Peter 1:2, 1John 1:8-10.  The New Covenant (New Testament) warns us more about false teachers than any other part of the Bible... but there are a few verses from the Tenach as well: Deut. 6:4, Isaiah 7:14, 43:10, 44:6-8.

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