Tuesday, 30 December 2008

As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God | Matthew Parris - Times Online

Here is an astonishing, and astonishingly frank and honest confession from a confirmed atheist offering unqualified support for Christian mission. I urge you to read the whole article at Times Online.

"Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

I used to avoid this truth by applauding - as you can - the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It's a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

But this doesn't fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing."

As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God | Matthew Parris - Times Online

Monday, 29 December 2008

Dear Saints - A Message of Hope

A Message of Hope for a Church under Siege (Rev.1:9-20)

As we look forward, with increasing trepidation, to a New Year it is well to remember the message of assurance and encouragement Jesus has given in his letters to the seven churches in John's Revelation. Finanical empires are falling in the city and bombs are falling in the Middle East. There is, and has been for some time, a growing disquiet among Evangelical believers that the church is under increasing attack from the forces of secularism, liberalism and opposing spiritual powers. We are aware, I hope, of the daily and shocking persecution suffered by Christians in the developing world. Daily bulletins from missions such as Barnabus Fund deliver shocking tales of brutality against people whose only crime is to trust the name of Jesus.

In the developed world, as men's hearts fail them, Christians are coming under increasing pressure to bow the knee to liberal ideologies that insist all faiths are equal and equally wrong. Freedom of speech is being attacked in the name of multiculturalism and multi-faith ideology, led by people who think the greatest virtues are niceness and getting along (see here). Christians are being taken to court and successfully prosecuted for simply evangelising and outreach ministry is being curtailed to avoid causing some imagined offence that cannot be tolerated by liberals who insist it is wrong to teach that Christians alone have it right. Ironically, in this the liberals are convinced that they alone are right. One case highlights the growing problem. MacGregor Ministries have been told that they cannot minister as they have been because it is no longer politically correct. In a statement on their new web site http://www.macgregorministries.org/ they explained:

“The Canadian Government has made it impossible for us to continue as a Christian Charity and not compromise our faith. They have shut down some 2,500 charities already over the past year for various reasons.

The government no longer allows critiques of other faiths, even if done fairly and documented thoroughly. Freedom of speech guaranteed under our Charter in Canada does not extend to charities I was bluntly told.”

I hear concerned voices and understand those concerns. There is much speculation about the times but one thing is for sure; every time is a good time if we know what to do with it and every time is a good time to turn to the Bible. That is where we find comfort, encouragement and guidance to face the times in which we live.

Towards the end of the first century Christians were entering a time of persecution. We are told that Christian worship stood in stark opposition to the cult of emperor worship; churches were being warned of coming trials; Christians had already given their lives for the faith (Rev.2:13) and John had been banished to the penal colony of Patmos – a sort of Roman Guantanamo Bay – for his missionary activity. It was there that he received his great vision of Jesus, of what is and of what was later to come to pass (Rev.1:19).

In this vision we learn three things about Jesus:

“Jesus is Lord of Glory” (Rev.1:13-17a)

In his vision John sees “one like a son of man”, Jesus’ term for himself (Mk.8:31), reflecting his humanity. But this vision showed Jesus in all his glory and divinity, wearing “a robe reaching down to his feet and a gold sash”, symbolic of his role as our high priest (Heb.4:14); having hair “white like wool” symbolic of his infinite wisdom; eyes “like blazing fire”, symbolising penetrating insight. “Out of his mouth,” we are told, “came a sharp double-edged sword”, symbolising his judgement (c.f. Heb.4:12). The one who came and shared fully in our humanity was now glorified, “with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (Jn.17:5) Is it any wonder that John “fell at his feet as though dead”?

“Jesus is Lord of Life and Death” (Rev.1:17b-18)

In a statement that is a comfort and encouragement to every Christian and the heart of the Gospel message Jesus declared:

“Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

Jesus has defeated our great enemy and now holds the keys to death, from which he will release us, and life, which he gives all those who trust in the One who sent him (Jn.5:24).

“Jesus is Lord of His Church” (Rev.1:19-20)

The seven stars he holds are probably the spirits of the churches and the lamp stands are the churches to which John is writing. Jesus holds each in his hands and, significantly, he is described as “among the lamp stands” (Rev.1:13). It is Jesus’ church and he is intimately involved with his church and all things are in his control, even though now, on Patmos, John does not see it. So with us; we see the difficulties facing the church and can lose sight of who is Lord of Glory, of Life and Death and of the Church.

John tells us that all this happened when, “On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit” (Rev.1:10). It is said that “In Patmos we suffer; in the Spirit we reign” and we need to take away from this that wonderful truth. Twice Jesus told John to “Write what you see” (Rev.1:11, 19) and I am reminded of the words of Jesus to Thomas:

“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn.20:29)

Do we believe the report of those who have seen? Do we appreciate the care with which Jesus told them to “write what you have seen” and then preserved that report for us? Do we look at these things and remember that “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn.16:33)?

These are increasingly difficult times but - Jesus is Lord!

Sunday, 21 December 2008

A Meditation and Devotional for Christmas

Reading – "Sovereign Lord, as You Have Promised...” (Luke 2:29-32)

The Promise to Eve

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Ge.3:15, c.f. Lk.2:7; Gal.4:4; Rev.12:5)

The Promise to Abraham

“Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations on earth will be blessed through him” (Ge.18:18, c.f. Mt.1:1; Lk 3:34; Gal.4:4)

The Promise to Jacob

“A star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth” (Nu.24:17, c.f. Lk 3:34; Mt.1:2)

The Promise to Judah

“The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet. Until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his” (Ge.49:10, c.f. Lk. 3:33; Mt.1:2-3)

The Promise to David

“Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this” (Is.9:7, c.f. Is.11:1-5; Mt.1:1,6)

The Promise to Bethlehem

“But you Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times” (Mic.5:2, c.f. Mt.2:1; Lk.2:4-7)

The Promise to the Virgin

“Therefore the LORD himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Emmanuel” (Is.7:14, c.f. Mt.1:18; Lk.1:26-35)

The Promise to Galilee

“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honour Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan – The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Is.9:1-2, c.f. Mt.4:12-16)

The Promise to God’s People

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers, you must listen to him” (Dt.18:15, c.f. Jn.6:14; 1:45; Ac.3:19-26)

The Promise to Sinners

“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Is.53:4-5, c.f. Mt.8:16-17; Ro.4:25; 1 Cor.15:3)

The Promise of Victory

“When you ascended on high, you led captives in your train; you received gifts from men, even from the rebellious – that you, O Lord God, might dwell there” (Ps.68:18, c.f. Lk.24:50-51; Ac.1:9)

God’s Promises are ‘Yes’ in Christ Jesus

“As surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you...was not ‘Yes’ and ‘No’, but in him it has always been ‘Yes’. For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.
He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Cor.1:18-22)

God Who keeps His Promises

Moved by the Spirit, [Simeon] went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, “as you have promised”, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, “which you have prepared in the sight of all people” a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to tour people Israel” (Lk.2:27-32)

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Equipping the Cults to Deal With the Church - 12

What Good is it if a Man Claims to Have Faith?

The bottom line is that it takes joined up church and grown up Christianity to reach out to cults and to make it possible for a former JW/Mormon to find a home amongst Christians and too many Christians, leaders included, seem to just play at it. We ‘believe’ in the doctrine and sing with gusto the songs but need to realise that ‘faith without works is dead’ (James.2:20) With James, I say, ‘show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do’ (James 2:18)

Sometimes, in our evangelistic efforts, we can lay such great store on correcting people that we can forget to value them. It is as though the person to whom we are speaking has no value until they come around to our way of thinking. It is well to remember that God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Ro.5:8). God’s response to our sinfulness and rebellion is a demonstration of love. Setting apart Christ in your heart means more than telling the woman at the well that she is wrong in her beliefs and lifestyle. It means demonstrating that she is valued by speaking to her with gentleness and respect for the Christ who died for her too.

In “witnessing to the cults” it is very easy to become combative when we mean to be challenging, condemnatory when we should be caring, judgmental when we should be gentle and respectful.

Our witnessing isn’t to make us look clever, but to make the message clear and more convincing. Remember that Jesus could have commanded angelic legions and looked mighty and triumphant if that had been God’s purpose (Matt.26:52-54). How often have I heard tales of Christians sending off a Jehovah’s Witness “with their tail between their legs”, the argument won but the Witness lost? As we marshal our legion of arguments we must ask whether we are serving the purpose of God in winning souls or serving ourselves in gaining a reputation for winning arguments. Are we sharing the good news that Christ died for sinners, the just for the unjust, or are we just breaking the bad news that our visitor is in a cult and doomed unless they get out? There is a world of difference.

We don’t witness primarily to pull down the Mormon Church or the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society but to win the Mormon or Witness at your door. Long after Jesus had returned to glory both the temple and the establishment that crucified him still stood – for a time. But already, during his ministry and following Pentecost, people were responding to the call to repent and be baptised. Individuals were being saved into the kingdom even as the machinations of Satan seemed indestructible.

Apologetics is an essential tool in our armoury, but we should remember that we do not struggle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm (Eph.6:12). This is particularly difficult for those who have been victims of deception but it is well to remember that the Mormon at your door is not the Mormon Church; the Witness is not the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. You are not tearing down strongholds but building a bridge. If we have put on Christ then, though we may burn with anger at the injustice and deception perpetrated by these organisations, we will look with love and compassion on those who are deceived.

Apologetics isn’t enough and no one can be reasoned into becoming a Christian. Apologetics can, however, remove obstacles to faith by showing that the Christian faith is not irrational. We can, with God’s help, “convince” people of so much, but more important than being convinced is being convicted. Conviction of sin is something brought by the Holy Spirit. That is why we need to pray for those to whom we witness. If we do not value them we will be less inclined to pray for them. If we value them we will speak the truth with gentleness and respect and pray that they may come to know him even as we have. Because they, like sheep, have gone astray, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of them all - if someone would but tell them the truth, in love.

If you truly believe in victory don’t go to the door in fear.

If you believe in grace don’t go to the door in judgement.

If you truly trust God then go to the door trusting that he has given you an opportunity to demonstrate assurance and share grace.

Otherwise don’t open the door because you will only make things worse.

Previous posts:
If These are Christians
The problem with the Church
The Problem with Anti-Cult Ministry
The Fear is Irrational
The Prejudice is Petulant
The ignorance is Inexcusable
The Indifference is Frightening
Christians and the Magical World-View
Ambiguity Tolerance
When They Look at the Church
What the Former Cultist Needs
What Good is it if a Man Claims to Have Faith?

Monday, 15 December 2008

Equipping the Cults to Deal With the Church - 11

What the Former Cultist Needs

In spite of all I have said, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others become Christians and the new believer coming out of a cult faces challenges of his own. He has made a huge decision, the magnitude of which the Christian surely fails to appreciate. He has left behind friends, often relations, has changed loyalties, lost status perhaps, as well as reputation and standing in the community that, until recently, was his world. He comes with a mixture of excitement about the Good News of Jesus Christ, questions and understandable doubts about his decisions and hope that they have been right.

The best advice the new believer can have is to spend the next few years establishing firm Christian foundations in his life. This is so vital and yet the new believer, perhaps flattered by invitations to ‘share your testimony’, is often tempted to throw Himself into “ministry” and help others come out. He doesn’t need this right now and it won’t help Him become a fully born again Christian, with a knowledge of Christ that will take Him through life. Much needs to be unlearned and much to be learned and the best place to learn and grow is not the public platform. There is also often a subconscious agenda behind this eagerness to minister and help others ‘come out’, i.e. it reinforces the decision he has made and proves Him right. If others agree with you it is so affirming.

The Christian attitude to the former cultist so often reinforces this ill-advised ambition as the former Mormon/JW finds he has to prove his bona fides to everyone he meets by taking every opportunity to tell his story, publicly reject his past and work against his former friends. He is cast into the role of an “ex-Mormon/JW” and is forever known by what he was and not by what he has become or what he is becoming in Christ.

To put his roots down and establish a firm Christian foundation he needs to be welcomed and encouraged as would any other convert. His views and contributions need not be constantly treated with suspicion. When he struggles with issues, disagrees with people, questions things, or otherwise proves increasingly confident in his new found freedom it shouldn’t automatically be attributed to his background for which Christians, all-too-often, and all-too-often inappropriately “make allowances”. He has simply discovered how to think about his faith, something we all need to do more.

If he speaks warmly of his old friends and associates he need not be treated with suspicion, as though he were an un-rehabilitated cultist. His old friends were probably very nice human beings and, in light of the role his new Christian friends have thrust on him, he might be missing just a tad his old friends who simply accepted him for who he was. Why can't we do that?

Previous posts:

If These are Christians
The problem with the Church
The Problem with Anti-Cult Ministry
The Fear is Irrational
The Prejudice is Petulant
The ignorance is Inexcusable
The Indifference is Frightening
Christians and the Magical World-View
Ambiguity Tolerance
When They Look at the Church

Future Posts:

What Good is it if a Man Claims to Have Faith?

Friday, 12 December 2008

Equipping the Cults to Deal With the Church - 10

When They Look at the Church

We are often so busy looking at “them” that we don’t stop and ask what they see when they look at us. Currently, when the Mormon or JW looks at the church they see the Anglican Church, the church at war with itself, or the Charismatic Church, the church in love with itself and a mix of denominations, the church divided against itself. One of the basic claims of the cult is that the traditional Christian Church is apostate as evidenced by what they see when they look at us.

Of course, this is explained in Scripture in the parable of the wheat and weeds (Mt.13:24-30) and I often find myself explaining the nature of the church to the cultist. In Ephesians we read:

"And he gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers to prepare God's people to works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Eph.4:11-14)

Now what will the church look like "until we reach a unity of the faith"? Unity is not something that falls out of heaven into our laps. It is something that develops as we give ourselves to "works of service" and apply ourselves to the apostle's teaching (Acts 2:42) "so that the body of Christ (the church) may be built up until we all reach a unity of the faith". Of course there is no room for complacency and every right thinking Christian seeks that maturity in the church. But since the church is living stones and not Portland stone, and since we are "being built into a spiritual house" there is need for grace as we become what we are destined to be.

Archbishop William Temple observed:

"What we must completely get away from is the notion that the world as it now exists is a rational whole; we must think of its unity not by the analogy of a picture, of which all parts exist at once, but by the analogy of a drama, where, if it is good enough, the full meaning of the first scene only becomes apparent with the final curtain; and we are in the middle of this. Consequently the world as we see it is strictly unintelligible. We can only have faith that it will become intelligible when the divine purpose, which is the explanation of it, is accomplished." (F. A. Iremonger, William Temple [London, 1948], p.22)

What Archbishop Temple said of the world might be said of the church in the world. It is a drama, in process, and the full meaning will indeed become apparent with the final curtain. Meanwhile we must recognise what we are in the middle of, and to what end it is taking us. That said it doesn’t help when Christians live up to the cultists worse fears by being reactionary, self-obsessed and judgemental.

Previous posts:
If These are Christians
The problem with the Church
The Problem with Anti-Cult Ministry
The Fear is Irrational
The Prejudice is Petulant
The ignorance is Inexcusable
The Indifference is Frightening
Christians and the Magical World-View
Ambiguity Tolerance

Future Posts:

What the Former Cultist Needs
What Good is it if a Man Claims to Have Faith?

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Creative Minority Report: Dictionary Removes Christian Words - A Catholic Blog: Religion, Politics, Current Events, Humor, and more.


Many words associated with Christianity have been removed from a children's dictionary in Britain. Come on! Tell me you're surprised.
Oxford University Press has excised words like "aisle," "Saint," "devil," "bishop," and "chapel" from its Junior Dictionary and replaced them with words like "blog," "interdependent" and "celebrity," says
The UK Telegraph.

As something of a dictionary enthusiast (I won't put it stronger than that, although it is something of an obsession actually) and as a sold out Bible-believing Christian I had to share this. The original blog comment is very good (please do look at it) but the subsequent posts are utterly priceless for anyone who truly appreciates the intelligent use of words and the right application of reason, and all done in the best possible taste.

I can only add that when your culture and history is being systematically removed from the dictionary that dreadful chimera multiculturalism has gone too far and turned from inclusiveness to appeasement.

Creative Minority Report: Dictionary Removes Christian Words - A Catholic Blog: Religion, Politics, Current Events, Humor, and more.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Equipping the Cults to Deal With the Church - 09

Ambiguity Tolerance

Christians know that mission is the fulfilment of the Great Commission (Mk.16:15) As Evangelicals we are especially aware of the need to share the evangel, the message of the gospel. Christians can show great resourcefulness in sharing the gospel, faithful in facing the suffering that goes with the territory (2 Tim.3:12); contending for the faith (Jude 1:3); guarding what has been entrusted to us (1 Tim.6:20). In all this suffering, contending and guarding we can become very combative, meeting those things that threaten the truth with belligerence and forgetting that we are also called upon to emulate Paul and “become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor.9:22) Commenting on this verse Leon Morris observed:

“This does not, of course, mean that his conduct was unprincipled... but where no principle was at stake he was prepared to go to extreme lengths to meet people. Personal considerations are totally submerged in the great aim of by all means saving some.” He quotes Henry Chadwick who declared that Paul “had an astonishing elasticity of mind, and flexibility in dealing with situations requiring delicate and ingenious treatment” (Tyndale NT Commentary)

Paul had what we today call a high ambiguity tolerance, the ability to respond to sudden change, unexpected outcomes, different circumstances and/or people. This is what is missing in so many Christians and its absence goes a long way in explaining the impatience of many with the cults. People are simply not prepared or equipped to meet the unexpected and adapt to circumstances and so fall back on the familiar.

When the cultist fails to meet the Christian’s comfortable expectations and to fit into the reassuringly familiar, the Christian, finding himself in unfamiliar territory, reacts with fear and panic instead of responding with confidence and love. Yet we will meet many different circumstances in our every-day lives and must be prepared to give a good account of ourselves as did Paul and many others.

Acts 2: Peter at Pentecost

When Peter stood up and spoke in Jerusalem at Pentecost he was addressing an informed audience, people to whom the promises of God were familiar touchstones of the faith. Peter could speak to them in the familiar idiom of God’s promises and their fulfilment in the story of Israel and ultimately in the sacrifice of Christ, the Son of David; “this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:16); “This is what David said...” (Acts 2:25) On that day, we are told, 3,000 were saved.

Acts 8: Phillip and the Ethiopian

In the case of Phillip and the Ethiopian we find a different scenario, in which Phillip addresses a seeking audience, one who was looking anxiously for an understanding of those things but without the background or tradition to interpret what he was reading; “Phillip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news” (Acts 8:35) As Phillip explained to the Ethiopian all that the Scripture was telling he was leading a comprehensive Bible study and a man was saved.

Acts 17: Paul in Athens

When Paul spoke in Athens his was a very different audience to that of Peter and Phillip, an unwitting audience to whom Jewish tradition, Abraham and the prophets, the promise of a Messiah meant nothing and Paul began with the most basic message of God’s work and purposes in creation; “The God who made the world and everything in it” (Acts 17:24) He was “all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” and we are told that some were saved (Acts 17:34)

In each case they took the shortest route to the Cross but it was different for each audience and they were able to meet each appropriately. That is how Christians need to approach the cultist, open and willing to adapt to circumstances not insisting that they fit into our preconceptions of how things ought to be.

Previous posts:

If These are Christians
The problem with the Church
The Problem with Anti-Cult Ministry
The Fear is Irrational
The Prejudice is Petulant
The ignorance is Inexcusable
The Indifference is Frightening
Christians and the Magical World-View

Future Posts:

When "They" Look at the Church
What the Former Cultist Needs
What Good is it if a Man Claims to Have Faith?

Friday, 5 December 2008

Equipping the Cults to Deal With the Church - 08

Christians and the Magical World-View

The growth in the influence of the Charismatic Church has in many instances had the unfortunate effect of encouraging Christians to a magical world-view. This is well illustrated by an encounter I had with some Christians preaching and witnessing in my home town. The short sermon over, the preacher sent a couple of Christians into the square to talk to people. Seeing me using a walking stick they made for me and I immediately knew what was about to happen and regretted sitting there for just that bit too long. They asked if I believed God could heal me. I said that I did and that I was a Christian.

When they offered to pray for me I politely refused simply because I knew what they were after; they wanted to effect a remarkable healing in the expectation that others in the square would be so impressed that they would want to be Christians. They were determined to pray for me but I resolutely refused and they finally moved on to do what they should have done in the first place, i.e. talk to others who were not Christians.

Another consequence of this magical world-view is that it makes Christians impatient when the simple pronouncement of truth “doesn’t work”. Some seem to expect Scripture texts to work almost as a charm. They understand that Scripture speaks with authority; that “God’s word never returns to him void” (Is.55:11) and “is living and active, sharper than a two-edged sword” (Heb.4:12) and they use it like a weapon of supernatural incantation instead of as a tool of reason and explanation. This is not to deny that conversion is a supernatural phenomenon but it does not bypass the thinking process, otherwise what on earth are people being converted to?

Saving faith is consistent with accurate knowledge and understanding. Indeed, faith can be defined in three steps; intellectual understanding, emotional approval and personal decision. It is not true that Christians are asked to emotionally commit to a message that is intellectually inadequate and the Bible makes frequent appeals to our intellectual processes and to evidences that challenge our thinking.

Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Ro.10:17). The call to faith, the message, is based on real events, evidenced by historical verities and eye-witness reports. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Christ was portrayed as crucified” (Gal.3:1). There was an empty tomb, living witnesses, names, dates, places, and an historical provenance all of which could be known intellectually.

Of course, facts alone do not make saving faith. Even the demons have a firm grasp of the facts (James 2:19). But Christians are saved because of the facts not in spite of the facts or in the absence of facts. Of course truth is revealed to the heart by the Spirit, but it is the intellect that conveys to the heart the facts to which the Spirit testifies. If there are no facts there is nothing to know, and nothing to which we can reasonably commit ourselves.

It might be argued that conversion is seldom so neat a process, personal commitment following on from emotional approval based on intellectual understanding. However, whether ours is a crisis experience or a process nevertheless intellectual content is always a substantial part of conversion. Many come to faith out of an instinctive realisation of a need for and a seeking after God only afterwards seeking intellectual order to what they have come to believe. Nevertheless, the Bible still challenges us to deal with known facts and intellectually established truth.

In light of this, no matter how immanent God is in our lives there are things that are essential in witnessing, that cannot and should not be dismissed, that we should not expect to be made redundant by supernatural feats and miracles. If we fail to recognise this simple biblical fact then we risk that “the name of God should be blasphemed among the nations because of [us]” (Ro.2:24) by confirming people’s suspicions that our message is socially irrelevant and intellectually vacuous. There are three areas on which Christians should be concentrated if we are to be good witnesses.

Social skills

Many Christians often have no more than a passing relationship with non-Christians. Apart from people at work and those with whom they do business, they spend all their time with other Christians and simply haven’t the skills to relate to people not like themselves. It is also true that too many Christians in my experience, influenced by the magical world-view, throw out any rules of courtesy and respect in their dealings with the cultist. Do you know how to talk to people?

Reasoning skills

The ability to simply reason with people with a different world-view is essential and often a helpful starting point in discussion. To have the courtesy to listen and show respect and then the skill to explain and demonstrate truth from a Christian world-view is essential. To be able to go on to apply reasoning skills to the Bible – reasoning from the Scriptures – is vital. Can you reason and reason from the Scriptures?

Bible Skills

I sometimes hear Christians say, usually in a breathless whisper, “You have to admit, they know their Bible.” I can only say that if you are impressed with the Bible knowledge of a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness it says more about your own Bible knowledge than it does about theirs. If you knew your Bible you simply wouldn’t be impressed by the schoolboy Greek of the average JW or the sketchy proof-texting of the average Mormon. Can you correctly handle the Word of Truth?

Previous posts:

If These are Christians
The problem with the Church
The Problem with Anti-Cult Ministry
The Fear is Irrational
The Prejudice is Petulant
The ignorance is Inexcusable
The Indifference is Frightening

Future Posts:

Ambiguity Tolerance
When "They" Look at the Church
What the Former Cultist Needs

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Equipping the Cults to Deal With the Church - 07

The Indifference is Frightening

I was speaking at a church in the North East of England. As always, it was by invitation and from a church concerned that the Mormons were putting up a large building and raising their profile in the area. There was talk of widespread concern but, after a day spent travelling, I was more disappointed than surprised to be met with a very small group for the day of seminars that had been planned.

After a morning of teaching we stopped for lunch and, as I stood at the lectern tidying up my papers and trying to be philosophical about the all-too-typical turnout, a man walked up to me and expressed his regret at such a poor turnout for such an important meeting. I was encouraged that at least someone understood the need to take this ministry seriously. Imagine how I felt then when he went on, “I’m afraid I can’t stay for the afternoon session because I have some sheets on the washing line and have to bring them in”, turned around and marched out of the church. I thought of the man who said:

“’I have bought a piece of ground, I must go and see it. I beg you, have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I beg you, have me excused’” (Lk.14:18-19)

It breaks my heart to say that this is indeed typical. Although many Christians and Christian leaders express real concern for the growth of cults and the effect on the local church and community, there is an inexplicable and inexcusable indifference to work with the cults. It has never been a popular work, despite the fact that people mistakenly think it exotic and thrilling; nevertheless it is astonishing that Christians seem so determinedly blind to their responsibility in doing something about it.

Sometimes it is plain laziness. I got a call from the local Christian book shop and the manager, a good friend, told me of a customer who was looking for advice on how to witness to a friend who was a Mormon. Over the phone the customer explained the situation and I asked her if she had found anything useful on the bookshelves. I knew the shop and was confident that there would have been a good selection of books. She mentioned a couple of titles and I assured her that they would be very helpful. After an awkward silence she explained that she hadn’t the time to read so much. I asked if there was anything else and she mentioned a couple of smaller volumes. Again I encouraged her to buy and use one of them but again she said she felt it was all too demanding.

Finally, I asked her if there were any booklets, perhaps something by Harold J Berry, and she said that there were. Now a booklet is not the best thing but it is at least a starting point so I recommended she read that. I could almost sense here squirm as she excused herself with explanations for why even this was just too much to ask. Some Christians are just too lazy to turn up for their friends.

Sometimes it is hubris. How often I have heard leaders say “We don’t do cults!” It is as though in their arrogance they have decided it is beneath them and perhaps that the cultist deserves all he gets. Or because they won’t admit they need help in learning what to do. I knew one pastor who refused to have me speak in his church because he felt it quite unnecessary, feeling the church should be able to deal with such things without any help. Of course, the church (which includes those involved in cult ministry by the way) should be better able to deal with the cults and that is a major part of the work, i.e. equipping the church to deal with the cults. However, it is ironic that it was his church, though a previous pastor, that had so disastrously handled a plea for help from a young Mormon man (see "If These are Christians")

There is also an irony in the fact that Christians with this attitude often preach victory on a Sunday singing, “The Battle belongs to the Lord”, then hide in the bathroom on a Monday when Jehovah’s Witnesses come to call; preach grace on a Sunday singing, “Just as I am, with not one single plea”, and on Monday stand at the door berating the Mormon for not being fit for human company let alone the company of Christians, much less the company of God, haranguing him as they might the devil himself.

Why do we do it? Why are so many Christians so apparently indifferent and uncaring?

Previous posts:
If These are Christians
The problem with the Church
The Problem with Anti-Cult Ministry
The Fear is Irrational
The Prejudice is Petulant
The ignorance is Inexcusable

Future Posts:
Christians and the Magical World-view
Ambiguity Tolerance
When "They" Look at the Church

Monday, 1 December 2008

Christian Voice - Is it the Voice of Christians?

Christian Voice describes itself as a ministry for fed-up Christians.

“Christian Voice is a ministry for those Christians who are fed up with the way things are, who have had enough of secularist politicians imposing wickedness on the rest of us and who are not satisfied with trying to get ‘Christian influence in a secular world’ because they know ‘The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein’ (Psalm 24:1). If you want instead to lift high the Crown Rights of the King of kings, you have found the right place!” (Christian Voice)

To be fed-up is to have reached the limits of tolerance or patience with somebody or something. It is an expression of exasperation and manifests in ill-considered acts motivated by pique. Such is the case, I fear, with Christian Voice.

Led by the increasingly eponymous Stephen Green, Christian Voice offers Christians an outlet for their frustration with the wickedness of the world and, of course, there is a lot about the world to get upset about – there always has been. The trouble with being fed-up is that it tends to make a person lash out indiscriminately with no strategy and little regard for the consequences. It is an example of what happens when Christians fail to understand what it is to be a Christian in a sinful world, to be Christ to sinners, to be a light in the darkness.

As an example take one of the latest “campaigns” launched by Stephen Green and Christian Voice. Peter Jones, an obscure poet (do you know of a living poet who is not obscure?), was to give a reading of his latest, controversial poetry (have you ever known an obscure poet who hasn’t tried to get attention by courting controversy?) in the Cardiff branch of the Waterstones bookstores. The controversy is Jones’ apparent determination to offend Christians with what can accurately be called blasphemous poetry, defaming the name of the Lord. Just the sort of thing to rile fed-up Christians.

Sure enough, Christian Voice began a campaign to protest the event and it was subsequently cancelled Stephen Green wrote:

‘This is a triumph for the Lord, not for us. The Lord had not even showed me what we should do at Waterstones, only that it should be Christ-like.

'Nor was I even praying for the event be cancelled. But I now know many were, and their prayers have been answered, by a mighty God. We have not even had to go down to the battleground, let alone fight (2Chr 20:17). Just the knowledge that we were on our way has put the fear of God into the opposition.

'But the fact is, we were prepared to go and do something, and it is that which I believe caused Almighty God to take our prayers seriously and perform a miracle.'

Imagine that. A public event cancelled because a group of Christians “put the fear of God” into the organisers. I thought this sort of activity was the preserve of groups like the BNP or KKK.

There followed the sort of publicity in the press and media that an obscure poet could only dream of. There was even an appearance on a Welsh current affairs programme, Dragons Eye. Then the news broke that Peter Black, Liberal Democrat Welsh Assembly Member for West Wales, had issued an invitation to the poet to hold a reading in one of the Assembly rooms in Cardiff. Christian Voice again urged its members to protest the event by writing to all and sundry having to do with Welsh Affairs – and, of course, Peter Black.

I wrote to Mr Black, although it wasn’t the scorching email perhaps envisioned by Stephen Green and, no doubt, sent by his supporters. I simply asked Mr Black what exactly prompted him to invite the poet to recite his controversial verse in such a high profile move. He replied:

"My invitation was as a direct consequence of the cancellation of the Waterstone's event following Christian Voice's protest. Below is the basic response I have been sending to most e-mails:

Thanks for your e-mail. Irrespective of the content and the quality of the poetry Patrick Jones has a right to read and publish it. The Assembly is a secular and public building and as such it is entirely appropriate that an event such as this take place there.

As a Christian myself I value the right to practice my faith in my own way and unhindered by others, equally I believe that those who do not agree with me should be able to have a similar freedom to express themselves, subject only to the law of the land. Christians and those of other beliefs should be robust enough in their faith to take such challenges in their stride without seeking to prohibit opposing views no matter how offensive they may find them. Remember that others may find your views offensive. They have no more right to silence you than you do to ban them. This is a free country. Wales or the UK must never be allowed to become a theocracy.

Just to be clear the invitation to Patrick Jones has not been made on the part of the Liberal Democrats. I am taking this initiative as an individual Assembly Member and doing so in partnership with Lorraine Barrett, who is a Labour Assembly Member. Our only regard is the right to free speech. We have no other motives."

As a Christian I am as offended as the next believer when the Lord’s name is blasphemed but far from achieving his ends, i.e. turning back the attack on Christ, Stephen Green has won an altogether larger audience, an altogether greater reputation for Peter Jones than he would have dreamed possible for an obscure poet, at an obscure poetry reading on a cold, damp winter evening, in a bookshop in Cardiff. Who knows where this will end? Peter Jones, Poet Laureate?

We must be wise, surely, in our Christian witness and protests and being fed-up does not give us licence to bully and intimidate. Whatever we think about the Peter Joneses of this world, however we might grieve over the sinfulness of society, we must remember that we are to be Christ to the lost and not Herod. We must remember that while, of course, our voices of protest must be heard, nevertheless we must be wise in choosing our battles and mustn’t simply react continuously to everything we see that upsets us. We must better understand what it means to be a Christian in a sinful world and remember that Christ suffered much more than a poetry reading, he suffered the shame of the Cross to win bad poets, as well as anyone else who believes, from their sins.

Reading Stephen Green’s web site I find much that is useful and encouraging for Christians who are determined to remain informed. However, I find a continuous spirit of contention and reaction that may well appeal to fed-up Christians but that will go on to create more encouragement to sin than repentance. Let’s be animated about sin and the establishment of the kingdom of God but let’s be wise in our witness and shrewd in choosing our battles.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Equipping the Cults to Deal With the Church - 06

The Ignorance is Inexcusable

“I get the Jehovah’s Witnesses around three or four times a year and I never know what to say to them.” I hear this often and wonder if people really think about what it sounds like. If you get visitors from the Witnesses or Mormons on a regular basis then two things should be obvious: Firstly, there is a pressing need for a strong Christian witness to them and secondly you have three or four opportunities a year to practice being that witness. It is not an excuse to declare yourself incapable but an opportunity to grow in confidence.

People often protest, “I can’t be an expert in everything”. However you only need to be informed about those groups operating in your area with the highest profile. We encourage people who are concerned about cult activity to make a list of the top five groups in their area and then read up on them. If they call at your door you have an opportunity to learn more and gain confidence in witnessing.

People who call at your door or stop you in the street don’t usually range widely in the things they want to talk about and there are certain subjects that will come up time and again. Whatever the subject you can always, with a little preparation and practice, bring them back to key gospel themes. Virtually everything you might address is central to the New Testament and fundamental to the issues dealt with in the early church.

When a JW denies Jesus’ deity you are addressing the familiar early church trinity controversy. Don’t know about it? Why not?; when a Mormon insists that we are saved by a combination of faith and works you are addressing the Judaisers controversy found throughout the New Testament letters. Couldn’t talk about it in any depth? Why not?; when a Mormon refers to the temple and growing in knowledge you are facing the Gnostic controversy that plagued the early church and was addressed by apostles and early church leaders alike. Not familiar with it?

A Christian should know and understand these things whether or not they meet a JW or Mormon ever again. They are central to what you believe and they explain why you believe it. Every mature and believing Christian should be able to explain the basics of the faith, both to themselves as an encouragement and to others as an account of the faith they are sharing.

“What do you say to a Mormon/JW?” I often get asked this question but there is no killer text you know. It’s a question that betrays a lack of understanding and poor preparation. Witnessing isn’t somehow ‘magical’. It isn’t as simple as dropping some text into a conversation, standing back and waiting for a reaction. It involves relationship, understanding, preparation and patience and there are no short cuts.

I tend to see it in stages and consider myself as having succeeded if any stage is successfully negotiated:
  1. I get into a conversation. What do you say to a JW? You say, “Hello. How are you?”
  2. I tell them I am a Christian. Not in an accusative fashion as though challenging them to make something of it but simply declaring that I see the world through Christian eyes.
  3. I get them to talk about what they believe, rather than telling them what they believe.
  4. I get to share in more detail what I believe; confidently negotiating the terrain because I have walked here before many times. I am leading them through my faith world not just telling them things.
I work from number 1 to number 4 and with each step I consider myself as having succeeded more and more. Most people work from number 4 to number 1 and with each step consider themselves as having failed more and more.

I always try and take the shortest route to the Cross, which is not always short, but I try to avoid secondary issues by listening and then trying to bring the conversation back to what I consider needs to be addressed. Of course, these encounters can be brief so I use my knowledge appropriately, sometimes having the luxury of time to develop a theme, sometimes only being able to share a few appropriate words.

But if I move from 1 to 4 then I will never have failed if only because I have shared with them my Christian conviction and shown them Christian charity in taking the time to speak to them.

It is important not to always expect to talk about your own favourite subjects. Instead I find out what is important to them and try and speak to that because that is where there will be the greatest challenge and the best opportunity. You see, it is important to speak with a person and not at them, to the person standing in front of you and not to the organisation standing behind them.

Finally, this reflects my aspirations and does not describe how I always conduct myself. We are all human and it makes no sense to despair because we have not yet attained all that God has for us.

Previous posts:
If These are Christians
The problem with the Church
The Problem with Anti-Cult Ministry
The Fear is Irrational
The Prejudce is Petulant

Future Posts:
The ignorance is Inexcusable
The Indifference is Frightening
Christians and the Magical World-view
Ambiguity Tolerance

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Equipping the Cults to Deal With the Church - 05

The Prejudice is Petulant

Everyone was milling around after the meeting when an elderly member of the congregation approached me with a tale of having Jehovah’s Witnesses at the door. He had witnessed to them but, apparently, to no avail. Frustrated, he exclaimed, “It’s a waste of time witnessing to these people Mike!” Aghast, I looked at him as if to say, “You can say that - to me?” Seeing the nonplussed look on my face he quickly said, “Oh, you are different Mike.”

I am different and that is because he knows me. Prejudice of the negative kind is the product of ignorance. When a stranger stands on your doorstep sharing views you find alarming, displaying attitudes you find irritating and calling at times you find inconvenient it’s like shutting the door on an irritatingly persistent salesman. But the situations are different as chalk and cheese. The one wants to talk about brushes while the other wants to talk about God.

I often ask people to think of who in their street or community they would wish to witness to had they an opportunity. Now imagine if that person turned up on your doorstep with a Bible and asking if you would like to talk about God. Would you expect it to be a walk in the park? Wouldn’t there be awkward questions? Wouldn’t you expect to deal with misunderstandings; to have disagreements? That is what happens when a Jehovah’s Witness calls and yet...

There is a prejudice against the cultist that is deep-seated and petulant and I think it is based on a mixture of the unreasonable fear we have already discussed and a peevish impatience with the fact that it isn’t “easy”. Like my elderly friend, most Christians just expect witnessing to “work”, the truth to be so blindingly obvious when they pronounce it and the Mormon or JW to be as impressed on hearing as to have the scales fall from his eyes. When “it doesn’t work” that way Christians convince themselves that the JW is being deliberately obdurate; then the shouting begins.


We were doing some Saturday morning outreach in a city centre church, inviting people to come in, have a coffee and take a rest from their Saturday shopping. Inevitably, some visitors were Christians from out of town in the city for the day. One man came with his family and I sat with them for a few minutes making polite Christian conversation. As people are wont to do when they find out my involvement in cult ministry, he began to regale me with his favourite story of an encounter with a Jehovah’s Witness.

He informed the hapless Witness on his doorstep that he was a local Christian pastor and went on to tell him in no uncertain terms what he thought of his religion, ending, “Now leave that Satanic Bible on the doorstep, come inside and let me tell you about Jesus!” Would it surprise you to know that the Witness turned and walked away? It surprised the pastor who shook his head and expressed his amazement at the stubborn obduracy of the average JW.

It is as though we, in our minds, put up shibboleths as tests of orthodoxy for the people we meet. We pronounce the truth and then pronounce them condemned if they do not immediately recognise and declare it their own. We need to accept that Mormons and JWs cannot ‘pronounce shibboleth’, or pass the tests we put up and we need to move on. They are not deliberately and knowingly stubborn. They do not secretly know but deliberately twist the truth. They are deceived by the god of this world and are dead in their trespasses and sins; we need to tell them the truth they do not recognise, show them the life that they don’t have, and point to a better way.

Ask yourself what do you think of the Mormon/JW standing at your door? What is the Mormon’s or JW’s position before God?

Gen.1:26-31 - The person standing there is the pinnacle of creation, made in God’s image

Gen.6:5-6 - The cause of God’s greatest sadness and regret and a broken image

Jn.3:16 - Yet the object of God’s costliest gift with the possibility of being a restored image

Do we appreciate who we are talking to? How can we so summarily judge and so easily dismiss that which God created, grieves over the most and gave the best of heaven to restore?

Previous posts:
If These are Christians
The problem with the Church
The Problem with Anti-Cult Ministry
The Fear is Irrational

Future Posts:
The Prejudice is Petulant
The ignorance is Inexcusable
The Indifference is frightening

Monday, 24 November 2008

Equipping the Cults to Deal With the Church - 04

The Fear is Irrational

There is no biblical imperative to avoid the cultist at your door but there are many who believe there is. More than one Bible teacher and preacher has fallen foul of that inexcusable misinterpretation of 2 John 10, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting.” One famous Christian writer, whose work I otherwise admire enormously, errs badly in handling this text arguing that we should go to any length to avoid any contact with such people for fear that, a) you give false teachers the impression that their doctrine is acceptable, b) you become infected by association and possible friendship and c) you lend legitimacy to their message when they call on your neighbours. This sort of “just in case” Christianity is endemic but it is weak, ineffectual and thoroughly unbiblical.

If you give false teachers the impression that their doctrine is acceptable that has more to do with conversation than association and if your witness is as ambiguous as to be a comfort to false teachers you need to have a good talk with yourself. If there is a danger of your becoming influenced by false teachers the fault lies with you for being so ill-prepared to hear and refute falsehood and perhaps you need to have a talk with your pastor. If your neighbours are in danger from your witnessing to the cultist that says more about your reputation than ever it does about the cultists or your neighbours and perhaps you need to have a word with your neighbours.

2 John 10 is not saying that you should not have a JW or Mormon into your home. The situation being addressed in this passage is that of travelling evangelists who, working in a first century community that doesn’t have access to church buildings, would routinely expect to preach their message in believers’ homes. False teachers, who presented themselves claiming as evangelists the same right to preach, should be refused and turned away. If this was being written today it would insist that you refuse such people access to your pulpit. This text has nothing to do with hospitality to the lost and bewildered among the cults and is no excuse for avoiding the responsibility to “go into all the world” (Mk.16:15) [even Samaria]; when the world comes to your door with a Bible under its arm to talk about God your every excuse has gone out the window.

Tragically, when false teachers come to the Christian’s home via mass media he or she is too often welcomed with open arms. The irony, and it is a bitter one for me, is that the very people who think they are doing their duty by Scripture in barring their homes and their society to Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are often breaking this very counsel in 2 John 10 in allowing false prophets into their pulpits and, through Christian TV, Radio and the Internet, into their homes. The Christian Church is awash with false prophets and they dare stand in summary judgement on the lost in the cults!

Of course, there are Christians who should be discouraged from associating with the cultist. Young Christians not yet used to the meat of the gospel need to be wary of unhelpful entanglements. Vulnerable Christians, the sick and the elderly who might in their weakness fall prey to wrong thinking, need to be guarded. However this is nothing to do with 2 John 10 but reflects the sensible precautions that should be taken by particular Christians in specific circumstances. The two issues are not to be conflated and 2 John 10 is not to be used as an excuse for weak “just in case” Christianity. My remarks are aimed especially at those Christians and Christian leaders I have met down the years who are mature and perfectly capable of being much more constructive in their witnessing but who fail because of such wrongheaded ideas.

It is notable that when the Jewish leaders wanted to insult Jesus and bring his name into disrepute they called him a Samaritan (John 8:48); the Samaritans were a Jewish cult. However, when Jesus travelled into Samaria, spoke to the woman at the well and stayed for several days to teach the whole community he was associating with cultists (John 4:9). When he taught his followers about the necessity of being a good neighbour he used a cultist, a Samaritan, as his example (Luke 10:33). When he taught them the virtue of thankfulness he used a Samaritan leper, a cultist outcast no less, as his example (Luke 17:16).

I do wonder whether Jesus would be happy to hear the hyperbolic and inflammatory language irresponsibly used to describe the lost in the cults who are nevertheless capable of great good and thankfulness and needful of the truth as much as anyone else.

It’s not that Christians generally don’t care so much as that they haven’t been taught how to care in this particular situation. We try and teach people how to care, how to be prepared to deal with the cults, but such efforts are frustrated when Christians are positively discouraged by ignorant and superstitious leaders from engaging with, even made to fear the Mormon or JW – “just in case.” This attitude to the cultist is a learned behaviour - we learn it from other Christians when we become Christians ourselves. We pick it up with the Bible we learn to favour, the idiom we learn to mimic and the dress code we adopt. Would we have dared behave so crassly towards our fellow human beings before we came to Christ?

Previous posts:
If These are Christians
The problem with the Church
The Problem with Anti-Cult Ministry

Future Posts:
The Prejudice is Petulant
The ignorance is Inexcusable
The Indifference is frightening

Friday, 21 November 2008

Equipping the Cults to Deal With the Church - 03

The Problem with anti-cult Ministry

The problem with anti-cult ministry is that it is so apparently foreign. To paraphrase L P Hartley, “The cults are a foreign country: they do things differently there.” It can feel like stepping into a parallel universe. James Sire refers to it in the title of his book as “The Universe Next Door”.

When the local church is dealing with an actual foreign land and culture it typically throws its weight behind some missionary organisation. It might have one or two keen individuals who feel called to foreign parts, people for whom it will pray and to whom it will send funds and encouragement. Their pictures will be put on a notice board, alongside a map, and newsletters will be read to the congregation. If the country isn’t too dangerous some of the youth might be sent out for two or three weeks experience. Otherwise foreign mission needn’t disturb the church’s comfortable, middle-class existence.

However, when the foreign country is a cult the church can’t simply “send” because this foreign country isn’t abroad so much as abroad in the land. Having a few people dedicated to the work doesn’t cut it because the cult comes to your neighbourhood, to your own door! This is shockingly uncomfortable and so the church largely ignores the problem, adopting a policy of keeping as healthy a distance as possible in the circumstances. Since that distance cannot be maintained geographically it is maintained ideologically. Cults are dubbed dangerous and subversive and members condemned as culpable and beyond the pale.

There is no need therefore, let alone any imperative to prepare thoughtfully, witness intelligently and reach out lovingly. After all, we have decided that it is too dangerous and they are too far beyond talking to. The stories I have told in previous posts (and others to come) illustrate how this attitude manifests itself to a cult member. Thank goodness for people in “anti-cult” ministries!

The problem is that people who concern themselves with the cults are often embarrassingly emphatic about what they believe needs to be done about the cults and this does not sit well with either the middle class, liberal agenda or the conservative reactionary instincts found in many parts of the church. These people draw our attention to the uncomfortable issues surrounding truth and error, doctrine and teaching, mission and outreach. They inconveniently insist that the church has a responsibility in these things and should see outreach to the cults as part of fulfilling the call to guard the deposit of faith and to go into all the world; the church often sees it as unreasonable pedantry, and blushes in its presence.

Whichever way you look at it the church wishes these people would go away or at least like good cobblers stick to their last; become a picture on a notice board; be thankful for the occasional mention in the bulletin. Those in the ministry wish the church would live up to its responsibilities and actually learn to reach out to cult members not react to them.

Anti-cult ministry is traditionally looked upon as a specialist work and those involved are looked upon as a kind of "vice squad" of the Christian world. However, this type of ministry, which seeks to uphold biblical truth, has a long and noble history and has always been at the very centre of what the church is about, saving souls and championing truth.

Paul combated the cult of Gnosticism in his day (Colossians 2: 8, 18-19) as did the apostle John (1 John 2:18-22). Church leaders frequently stood against the doctrine of salvation by works. In the first few centuries of church history the work of clearly defining the faith once delivered happened largely in response to the growth of error. Classic examples include:

EBIONISM - A second century form of Unitarianism, that denied the deity of Christ, taught law keeping, and often practised circumcision. This was a Judaistic heresy that sought to go back to the law and preserve monotheism by denying the trinity. Men and women are naturally drawn to a religious system that promises salvation by good works. A mixture of grace and works is a primary characteristic of the cults.

MONTANISM - A charismatic heresy that, like the Mormons, taught continuing revelation which carried equal weight with scripture, practised a form of blood atonement which assigned sin-atoning power to martyrdom, and encouraged a spiritual elitism, claiming to be a new breed of super-Christians.

ARIANISM - a Fourth century heresy that, like Jehovah's Witnesses, taught that Jesus was a created being, different in essence from the Father, and therefore not God.

Our society is much like the one into which the early church was born. It is international, pluralistic, where all sorts of alternative spiritual realities are made available to the seeker. Our neighbours, our friends and work colleagues are looking to luck, fortune tellers, mystics, crystals, tarots, totems, the god within, the new age to come. They are looking for certainty and assurance, hope and comfort and they are finding them in the dogmatism of a conservative Mormonism, in the doom laden message of Jehovah's Witnesses, or in the deception of post-modern syncretism. It is the role of the Christian church to be a light bearer in the darkness and confusion. It is the calling of the Christian to "contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 1:3)

Church history is replete with stories of those who contended for the faith. Our spiritual forebears fought hard for eternal truths cherished by today's believers. Tomorrows believers will inherit what we contend for today. What are we doing about it?

Previous posts:
If These are Christians

The problem with the Church

Future Posts:

The Fear Is Irrational

The Prejudice is Petulant

The ignorance is Inexcusable

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Equipping the Cults to Deal With the Church - 02

The Problem with the Church

I sometimes imagine myself having the opportunity to address church leaders from across the UK on the subject of the cults. I imagine a lively question and answer session during which a hand would go up and someone would ask the question. “How well do you think we are doing in handling the problem of the cults?” After a pause to gather my thoughts and choose my words very carefully I would reply,

“Watching the church handle the cults is rather like watching a bus crash in slow motion. You know it isn’t going to turn out well, you wish you could do something to stop it, but past experience has taught you that all you can do is be there to pick up the pieces afterwards.”

Don’t misunderstand me, there are individual Christians and churches that do reasonably well, occasionally very well, but the picture across the church in general is so inexcusably poor as to be depressing. I have been the hapless Mormon victim of such poor practice and the frustrated Christian teacher whose efforts are often confounded by the irrational fear, careless indifference, profound ignorance and inexcusable prejudices so prevalent among even mature Christians and Christian leaders.

It seems that there are two extremes of behaviour and attitude that are common and thoroughly unbiblical. The first is the one in which the cult member is regarded as having no intrinsic worth unless and until they convert. Before that happens a Mormon is prey for anyone who fancies chancing their arm at a bit of witnessing, that witnessing usually involving a lot of shouting, finger pointing, denouncing, ridiculing and ‘casting out’ like it’s a universal panacea. Of course, some find this crass approach unacceptable and are often driven to the other extreme.

The other extreme is that liberal attitude that ‘respects’ other faiths, new religions etc. such that there are no meaningful differences between them. There is no objective truth, no way to be lost, no way to be saved and no faith for which to contend. In short no light in the darkness just a crowd of people scrambling around in the failing light politely repeating, ‘after you’, ‘no, after you’ as they defer to one another all the way down to hell.

My experience of the two extremes has seen some so bent on giving the cultist a good telling that they fail to model hope and forget their responsibility for the reputation of Christ. The message is not “look and live” but “turn or burn”. Disgust and disapproval are so reassuring. They anchor our moral sentiments and feel instinctively like a moral proof. To abandon our sense of disapproval seems to have the effect of cutting at the very foundations that support our innate sense of being right. Yet, if we are to be effective witnesses for Christ then grace demands that we overcome our instincts and look at the world through the eyes of Christ.

Others, however, are so determined to nurture a good reputation (usually their own is uppermost in their thinking, “see how liberal and enlightened I am?”) that they dare not risk offence even though the Bible makes clear that the Cross is an offence to those that are dying. These take every opportunity to find the good in Mormonism, downplay differences as experimental rather than fundamental, and reinforce in Mormons the false notion that they really are part of the wider Christian community and have something positive to offer. Such an approach would have robbed me of my salvation and I do not appreciate it.

What is the answer? Surely it is in the words of Peter:

"In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander" (1 Peter 3:15-16)

Christians have a hope and it is uniquely founded upon Jesus Christ. There is one hope and one reason for that hope and there is a clear injunction to evangelise those without this hope. But it is to be done with gentleness towards others, respect for the Lord and concern for the good name of the One on whom that hope is founded.

Personally, I despair not so much of the counter-cult community that at least makes every effort to reach those lost in deceptive and destructive cults, as I do of the church in general that fails consummately to understand its responsibilities for those lost in false religions.

Previous posts:

If These are Christians

Future Posts:

The Problem With Anti-Cult Ministry

The Fear Is Irrational

The Prejudice is Petulant

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Equipping the Cults to Deal With the Church - 01

If These are Christians

The young man loiters outside the church office as though in a fog of indecision. Seeming to resolve his apparent doubts, he climbs the few steps leading up to the church building and walks purposefully through the door, not knowing what to expect when he gets inside. He finds himself confronted by a young woman, a secretary perhaps, who confidently asks him how she might help. He asks to see the pastor.

Ushered through the outer office into an inner sanctum, his resolve is already beginning to fail him. A middle-aged man sitting behind a large desk looks up and asks him what he wants. Words almost fail the young man but he manages, “I am a Mormon” immediately doubting the wisdom of such an opening as he sees a look of caution come over the pastors face. Pressing on regardless he stutters, “I want to talk about the differences between what you believe and what we believe.”

The pastor hasn’t risen from his chair, hasn’t offered his hand and nor has he offered his visitor a seat indicating that this might be a very short interview and getting shorter by the moment. “You know,” he responds dryly, “there is a vast chasm between what you believe and what we believe?” His tongue clinging to the roof of his mouth and his voice failing him, the young man says in what is almost a whisper, “Yes, I know.”

The pastor is silent and the combination of the cold welcome and his own failing nerve motivates the young man to mutter his thanks and retreat back out onto the cold pavement where, moments earlier, his resolve had seemed so strong. Where he was once confused and harboured questions about his faith he is now mortified and asking how he could possibly have believed this was a good idea.

That same young man stands on the perimeter of a Christian bookshop in the local indoor market, surreptitiously scanning a book that purports to expose the truth about “the cults”. If a pastor won’t help him understand, then he will just have to find out for himself and so he peruses the pages about Mormonism. An older man is looking over his shoulder but he is completely unaware of this man’s presence until he speaks.

“You don’t believe that rubbish?” He hears the disparaging words before turning to see the older man walking off briskly through the market. This time the young man’s nerve holds, indeed he is angry. “Who do these people think they are!” he thinks to himself. Putting down the book he rushes after the man, catching up with him at the other end of the market building. Putting his hand on the man’s shoulder, he makes the man turn to face him and demands, “Do you know me?” This has caught the older man completely off guard and he says, “No, I don’t know you.”

““Then why,” the young man demanded, “assume that I was a Mormon? I needn’t have been.”
He continued, “I am a Mormon, and want to know what exactly gives you the right to speak to me in that way when you don’t even know me?”

The older man squirms, turns and rushes off as a very angry and disappointed young man watches him go. He’s got the message; he’s fair game. “If these are Christians,” he thinks to himself, “I don’t want to be one of them!” I remained a Mormon for another ten years. When I finally became a Christian, I was convinced that it was a true miracle, and one that occurred in spite of most Christians and not because of them. That was twenty-two years ago and I have spent the best part of that time trying to equip the church to deal with the cults. I have chosen the title of this paper because I have wondered over the years whether my time would have been better and more productively spent equipping the cults to deal with the church.

Just a few years after coming to Christ my wife and I got involved with Reachout Trust and have spent the past eighteen years or so increasingly involved in cult work. For many years I have been a director and trustee and have written books and articles, given seminars at conferences and in churches, met with, spoken to and corresponded with cult members and with those Christians who are concerned with the work of reaching out to the cultist. Having recently (Summer 2008) stepped down from that official position with Reachout Trust I feel I can and should share something of my experience and my deep concern for the role of the church in that work.

Coming up:

2 The problem With the Church

3 The Problem With Anti-cult Ministry

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Seeking the Kingdom and Somewhere to Stand

The theme of Matthew’s Gospel is “Kingdom”. At its beginning we find John the Baptist declaring, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Mt.3:2). “Jesus went throughout Galilee...preaching the good news of the kingdom” (Mt.4:23). The word “Kingdom” appears 55 times and the phrase “the kingdom of heaven” 32 times. We are urged to seek it above everything else, called to enter it through repentance, informed that it is good news and promised that it belongs to the poor, the meek, the merciful and those who hunger after righteousness.

Kingdom Now!

The kingdom of God is not entirely something we look forward to in the future but can be experienced here and now as we give ourselves in obedience in him.

It is near (Mt.3:2), within us (Lk.17:21), can be seen whenever we see kingdom power in action (Mt.12:28), we have been brought into it through Christ (Col.1:13), we are in the process of receiving it (Heb.12:28) and we look forward when we enter into our full inheritance in it (Mt.25:34, 46)

We often miss the kingdom now because we are looking in the wrong places, looking to large movements, institutions and organisations. That is not to say that the kingdom is not organised or always operates outside the established church of any age. But it cannot be assumed that it is always identified with institutions. God’s kingdom can enter and quicken man’s institutions and leave them as dead as they were before God stepped in.

Kingdom in History

Too often, when we read our history we can focus our attention on those institutions that so easily impress or dismay us. Often our understanding of church history paints a picture of decline after the apostles, the Dark Ages, Medieval Catholicism, Reformation, Revivals, further decline until we seem to be just hanging on for Jesus to come back. But if we look again, seeking those things Jesus identified as kingdom characteristics, we find a more encouraging picture. There are so many examples of men and women demonstrating kingdom living in the midst of what might at first seem relentlessly dark times.

For instance, the Waldensians of the twelfth century, the Poor Men of Lyons, made the Bible available in the common language, stressed repentance and conversion, emphasised kingdom living and taught that the Christian life should be informed by the whole Bible, but especially the Sermon on the Mount. In the fifteenth century Jan Huss led a great revival in Prague. His followers were driven underground because of persecution but continued in Bohemia until they found refuge in Germany where Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf sheltered them on his estate. Later known as Moravians, they established a great missionary movement which swept across Germany, Holland, Scandinavia, France, Switzerland, America and England. It was the Moravians who preached to John Wesley on a ship bound to America and he would go on to do a work of such great magnitude through his Methodist Movement as to inspire us even today.

Kingdom Today

As we look at the church today some are encouraged by what they see as revivalism others dismayed by what they see as a moving away from kingdom priorities in apostasy. We may be discouraged by the apparent growth and success of aberrant groups teaching questionable doctrines, or we may just be confused by the many voices vying for our attention. Some people give up, sit in the back or stay away altogether. But if we are to know Jesus’ kingship in our lives we need to be sure of what are the signs of true kingdom living, and that can only be established from Scripture.

Four warning Signs

Fruit is the test, the life of Christ in his followers, and we need to be wary of judging by outward appearances. Jesus warned us against ways that seem plausible but that can lead us further from his kingdom giving us four warning signs:

1. Visible Piety: “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them...And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on street corners to be seen by men" (Mt.6:1,5)

People can, in pursuing a life of religious devotion, play religious games. In Jesus’ day men would make a great show of their charitable giving, having it announced, ostensibly to the poor. However, their ostentation in giving drew the admiration of others. Some would go to street corners or packed synagogues to pray. Their prayers would be long, eloquent and ‘worthy’, demonstrating their piety. They were looked upon as exemplars of the faith but Jesus frowned on such conduct declaring:

“When you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured of men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you...When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Mt.6:2-4, 6)

All too often today we find people conforming to a pattern that has more to do with looking good. All too often the left hand knows in some detail what the right hand is doing.

2. Material Success: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust will destroy, and where thieves can break in and steal” (Mt.6:19)

This is such a familiar theme and we are no different today than those people of Jesus’ day in all-too-often equating material success with God’s blessing, while a life of struggle and want is seen as a sure sign of God’s disfavour. It is an idea that is rife today and Jesus meets it head on with, “Don’t think this way!” Our treasure is to be in heaven and, while we are naturally concerned with how we might live day-to-day, nevertheless worrying about these things is a sign that our treasure is inappropriately banked. Bad things do happen to good people and God causes his sun to shine on the righteous and the unrighteous.

3. Exalted Authority: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Mt.7:1-2)

This is not to say that we should not judge wisely in our dealings with others but it highlights that there is a tendency among men and women to establish “authorities”, to seek exaltation above others. We see it at work, in our neighbourhoods and even in our families and it is often no different in the church. The problem becomes clear and the consequences of not paying attention to this lesson sobering when we realise that the judgement we so readily meet out to others “by authority” define the way we will be judged. Never was there a more urgent reason to “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Mt.7:12). Jesus taught an alternative, kingdom way of relating to others. We are not to judge but we are to ask, seek and knock in the way of the one who is aware of our total dependence on God for everything. We are all in the same position before God, sinners in need of grace, supplicants in need of life and wisdom.

4. False Leaders: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Mt.7:15)

It is a fact that in the church today there is a woeful lack of discernment and, both inside and outside the Christian fold, there are false prophets, those who claim to speak for God but who will only lead people astray. Jesus tells us that they can be known, not by their words, but by their fruits (Mt.7:16).

False leaders are marked by:

Public piety rather than private devotion

A concern for rather an indifference to material things

A readiness to judge anyone who asks questions

Inflated claims to speak “with authority” into the lives of the saints

Four Signs of Kingdom Now

True Leaders:

Seek the approval of God instead of men – who is important in a leader’s life?

Are concerned for the things of heaven more than things of this world – what is important in a leader’s life?

Relate to others in humility rather than authority – Does the leader lead or drive his flock?

Bear the fruit of modest devotion, heavenly assurance and a servant heart – is the leader an example to God’s people?

True citizens:

Seek to please God rather than men – who is important in your life?

Trust God and seek his kingdom and righteousness – what are your priorities?

Show their trust in prayer that looks to the king – Are you led by trends or by God?

Act in obedience to what they hear from the king – when leaders lead do you follow?

God’s kingdom is marked by:

Modest charity (Mt.6:14)

Prayer, forgiveness and fasting (Mt.6:5-18)

Kingdom priorities (Mt.6:19-24)

Complete trust in the providence of God (Mt.6:25-34)

Slowness to judge (Mt.7:1-6)

Looking to God for our every need (Mt.7:7-12)

Discernment and fruitfulness (Mt.7:15-23)

Kingdom citizens are patient in waiting for the king:

Wisdom and solid foundations allow them to know the times (Mt.7:24-29; Acts 2:42-47).

Realise that often we will see the kingdom where we might least expect it, and that can be surprising and humbling. We must determine to please God and not men; trust God and seek his righteousness in our lives; seek God in prayer and determine to be obedient to his will. These things have marked God’s kingdom in every century and generation and they mark his kingdom today; whether in a faithful remnant, or a revived multitude, God rules in and through those who seek his kingdom and righteousness. If you seek the kingdom you will find it among people like this.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

BBC NEWS | England | London | 'No God' slogans for city's buses

A "Dog in the Manger" is someone who tries to prevent another person from having or doing something which he himself does not want or cannot use. "He is a real dog in the manger - he doesn't enjoy faith in God and he is determined no one else should" The image is of a dog which lies in the hay-rack of a cow-shed, thus preventing the cattle from eating the hay that he himself cannot enjoy.

That archetypal and ill-tempered dog-in-the-manger Richard Dawkins has thrown his weight behind a bizarre campaign to place "There is Probably no God" posters on London buses. Dawkins remarked:

"This campaign to put alternative slogans on London buses will make people think - and thinking is anathema to religion."

However the Methodist Church said it thanked Professor Dawkins for encouraging a "continued interest in God".

Spirituality and discipleship officer Rev Jenny Ellis said: "This campaign will be a good thing if it gets people to engage with the deepest questions of life."

She added: "Christianity is for people who aren't afraid to think about life and meaning." Ouch!

Christianity 1 - Dawkins nil

BBC NEWS England London 'No God' slogans for city's buses

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

California approves nurse-assisted suicide

Now Arnie really is the Terminator and it isn't funny any more.

SACRAMENTO – California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has officially approved an assisted suicide measure allowing nurses to sedate, dehydrate and starve depressed or confused individuals they consider to be "terminally ill."

The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Patty Berg, a Democrat, passed the California Assembly Aug. 28, and the state Senate Aug. 20. It was signed by the governor yesterday.

The legislation, called the "Terminal Patients' Right to Know End of Life Options Act," or AB 2747, passed by a 42 to 34 vote. An Aug. 20 Senate vote of 21 to 17 ushered the measure to the governor's desk for signing.

Randy Thomasson, chief of the Campaign for Children and Families, said the legislation is dangerous and should have been vetoed by Gov. Schwarzenegger.

"AB 2747 pushes suicide through the back door at the hands of non-physicians taking advantage of depressed patients," he said in a statement. "AB 2747 cheapens the value of human life by endorsing suicide as an option."

The measure allows physician assistants and nurses to decide whether a person is "terminally ill" and deprive them of basic life-sustaining necessities such as food and water.

"Depressed patients who succumb to this pressure will be drugged unconscious and die from dehydration, usually within five to 10 days," Thomasson said. "Nothing in the bill prohibits this horror."

California approves nurse-assisted suicide