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)
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.
In Acts 17.1-15 Paul deals with and destroys 9 popular myths that we are prone to believe:
1. Religiosity can save you
If religiosity could save anyone, it would have been first century Jewish people. Many lived in Gentile cities and held fast to their traditions and distinctives. It is interesting to note that Paul went to these religious types first to tell them about Jesus (v1). Jesus saves, not religion.
2. The Old Testament is irrelevant
Paul explained from the Old Testament scriptures that Jesus was the promised king (v2). The OT people, practises and prophecies prepare us for Jesus and elsewhere in the New Testament Paul explained that the OT was written for Christians (Romans 15.4). The whole bible is God’s word to us.
3. Christianity is an irrational leap of faith
Many of our friends equate believe in Jesus with belief in unicorns. However, v2 tells us that Paul reasoned, explained and proved that Jesus was the promised king. Christianity is a rational, logical, historically-verifiable belief in a supernatural God.
This past Friday was especially good. We remembered specifically Jesus’ death to secure our ultimate good. For the first time ever I preached from the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament. What was I smoking you may ask? What drew me to Leviticus was the recent popular denial of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice to appease the wrath of God. Jesus is seen as an enlightened teacher from the realm of light, or a good moral example for our children to follow or even the ultimate chinese ying-yang who restores balance to the universe.