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

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