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

No comments: