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

No comments: