What sets the Bible apart, if anything? Peter, a friend of Jesus and a pastor in the early church wrote, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eye-witnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16)
Have no idols, the second command, clarifies the first. To have other gods before God is idolatry. An idol can be ANYTHING that takes the place of God in your life. ANYTHING that demands your devotion and where you seek your security and significance. ANYTHING you treasure instead of God.
It could be the sex idol. You know you’re serving this god when you demand sex – when you want it, how you want it and you’re angry when you don’t get it. You’re even willing to hire an escort, watch porno or swing with someone else’s wife.
The work idol demands that we spend all our daylight hours in the office and only see our children on weekends
The money idol demands that your happiness is caught up with the JSE.
The leisure idol allows you to worship Jesus at church only when the weather on Sundays is too windy to go the beach or not wet enough to stay in bed.
The worship of the acceptance idol calls for your Facebook status to be changed every hour and it is also because of the worship of this idol that girlfriends allow boyfriends to take naked photos of them.
Of course there are also religious idols like my right-doctrine idol or my moral-record idol, and even my ministry-achievement idol.
The media calls you to worship these and other idols by “worship-calling”, known also as advertising.
So, do you worship Jesus alone, or some other idol? Do you strive to keep the first two commandments?
Have you been to a braaivleis (South African BBQ) recently? Did you come home depressed because of the compulsive grumblers? I did. Too much corruption in the government! Too much unemployment! Too much crime! The petrol price. The schools. The youth. The weather! You name the subject, it gets grumbled about. Perhaps even more seriously, we grumble privately to ourselves: Life is so unfair. My salary is too low. If only God would… Grumble, grumble, grumble. Grumbling should be declared our national hobby! What astounds me is that Christians are often the biggest grumblers.
God, through the prophet Haggai in the Old Testament, lashed out at his people for decorating their own home while the temple (God’s symbolic home) in Jerusalem was lying in ruins. God’s people had returned from 70 years in exile and their houses were in a mess and no doubt needed some attention. Yet, by the time of Haggai’s prophecy, God’s people had been back 19 years from exile and the temple remained unbuilt.
The excuse was that the timing was not quite right for the rebuilding (Haggai 1:2). Interestingly, the people did have time to decorate and beautify their own homes (1:4). The reason for this, according to God, was that the people did not fear or revere the LORD Almighty (1:12), nor did they live for his pleasure or honour (1:8). In other words, God’s people didn’t think much of God and were living for their own entertainment and comfort. As a result, their experienced lack of pleasing and judgment. Four times in the book of Haggai God says to his people, “What’s up with this, consider what you do!” God called for his people to make temple building their priority.
I bet that if you had to ask one of Haggai’s audience where God was on their priority list, they would have said that of course in first place. But actions speak louder than words.
God says to us too: “What’s up with this?”
So how do you know if you’re in a cult?
2. Lots of legalism
Your church will have rules and regulations for your dress code, your activities, your finances, your time, your possessions and your relationships (including who you are permitted to marry. They will dictate to you who to see, what to do, what the right thing to say is and how to say it. Various degrees of control can be experienced, from subtle manipulation to blatant ordering. Obviously this is dangerous because in the process the gospel of God’s free grace in Jesus is distorted: No longer just Jesus, now Jesus plus obedience to our rules. Oh yes, I almost forgot, the rules don’t always apply to the leader!
3. Leaders are full of pride and have an unteachable spirit
Normally in cults the leader becomes untouchable by anyone. He is accountable to God only and everyone must obey what he says like it is God’s words.
4. Extra revelation from God
Cults regularly claim they that god has appeared to their leader and revealed a new message. It might be Joseph Smith of the Mormon “church”; pastor Apollo C. Quiboloy of the kingdom of Jesus Christ; David Koresh of the Branch Davidians; or your local minister who God appeared to last week. Time and again the new revelations refer to the end of the world and how the earthquake in China is a sign.
5. The only true church
If you ever hear something like this, “We are the only ones who are right. If you are not one of us, then you are destined for hell. We alone have the truth, so you must join us to be saved“, then RUN!
Don’t fall for it
The way to make sure you don’t join a cult is to scrutinise the statement(s) of faith any particular church you are thinking of joining. Friendliness and good music are nice, but not the main criteria when looking for a church. Check that the church has a statement of faith where their core beliefs and values are spelt out. Ensure that the preaching is from the bible, in line with their faith-statements, to judge whether they have kept THE faith.