Cults, Clarity, and Compassion
People are precious. People are image-bearers of our Creator God. Sharing the life-saving message of the gospel with people can be challenging.
While telling someone about Jesus can be challenging, telling someone involved in a cult they’re on the wrong path and that Jesus is the only way to God can be downright daunting!
“In a Christian context, the definition of a cult is, specifically, “a religious group that denies one or more of the fundamentals of biblical truth.” A cult is a group that teaches doctrines that, if believed, will cause a person to remain unsaved. A cult claims to be part of a religion, yet it denies essential truth(s) of that religion. Therefore, a Christian cult will deny one or more of the fundamental truths of Christianity while still claiming to be Christian.” [source:gotquestions.org]
While in music ministry many years ago, our team was in Salt Lake City, Utah for some church meetings. One morning we spent about ninety-minutes being trained by an ex-Mormon who had become a born-again believer. After our training, our team would go do street evangelism near the Mormon temple.
Two things I remember from that training. One, he coached us to use “insider,” not “outsider” language. If we asked someone who was a Mormon if they were “Mormon,” we would reveal we were outsiders, and any further dialogue would be hampered. However, if we asked an someone who was Mormon if they were “LDS” (Latter Day Saint), we would be culturally and religiously appropriate in conversation and would reveal, at least, some semblance of understanding of Mormon culture.
The other pointed he hammered home was that in a setting like street outreach, we would not convert any Mormon on the spot. Rather, he said the goal of outreach would be to create doubt on their end about their own beliefs. Doubt that could be cast upon their belief system might be used by the Holy Spirit to lead them to a saving knowledge of the truth found in the person and work of the “biblical” Jesus.
Now I’m no authority on witnessing to people entangled in a cult. And I’ve not had a lot of experience witnessing to people in this situation. This is a massive subject and one that may be intimidating to many believers, except for those who come out of these environments, like Mormonism or Jehovah’s Witnesses.
With that said, he are a couple of basic principles that I trust will help you as you seek to minister to people in this situation or help others engage people in this situation with the true gospel message, the “truth” that sets people free.
First, people are precious to God and should be precious to us, no matter the faith system they embrace, even if that faith system is corrupt. In that vain, we must initially have compassion for people.
Second, understand when you seek to engage with someone involved in a cult, it’s important to not “attack” that individual with argumentation. Rather, share the truth in love, exposing error in the faith system, whereby you hopefully will be a vessel of the Holy Spirit, creating doubt in their own view of their faith. We can attack a faith system in order to expose error, but our attacks must never be personally directed to an individual.
It is very simple to identify a cult. Years ago, when my kids were younger, I would share with them this basic maxim: A cult, at least cult that claims to be “christian,” is in error in at least one of these three ways: It espouses a different Jesus, a different Word or a different gospel.
For example, Jehovah’s witnesses believe that Jesus is a created being, that He is not God in the flesh, divine. Mormonism has the “Book of Mormon” and “The Pearl of Great Price,” holy books ascribed as authoritative on par with the Bible by the Mormon faith. In Mormonism, these books are canonical. Additionally, both Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons believe works is the means of “salvation,” not faith. As Christians, we know we “are saved by grace through faith, and that not of ourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Lastly, like any witnessing endeavor, an informed witness will, in general, be a more effective witness. In short, know your audience. For example, in Acts 17:22-23, on Mars Hill, when Paul was witnessing to pagans and philosophers, he spoke to them in their own language, “Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you.”
In contrast, when Paul witnessed in the synagogue, it was his custom to reason with his Jewish people from the Scriptures, which they knew.
In both cases, Paul contextualized the gospel to his audience without compromising the message.
In like manner, the more we understand our audience, including those involved in a cult, the better we can communicate in ways they can understand.
An excellent resource I commend to you is the ministry of Watchman Fellowship. Dr. James Walker, himself a former Mormon turned Christian Missionary, heads up Watchman Fellowship, which specializes in reaching people involved in a cult with the gospel.
Another excellent resource is the website gotquestions.org. You can, for example, type in any religious question and they provide excellent, concise answers. For example, you might type in “What is Mormonism?” or “Jehovah’s Witnesses” – and it will link you to helpful articles.
I hope this has been a helpful introduction to a challenging topic as it relates to our christian witness.
On a personal note, as I was beginning to write this submission last week, on the same exact day I experienced something that had never before happened in my 33 years as a believer: I received a personal note in the mail from a local-to-me Jehovah’s Witness along with a Watchtower Tract.
I spent a few days pondering how I would respond, waiting on the Lord for direction. Then, I penned a personal letter in response; one page front and back (click here to read).
In so doing, I attempted to share the truth in love, showing care and concern for this gentleman. At the same time I attempted to communicate truth that I trust will be used of the Holy Spirit to create doubt in his mind. My hope is that he will seek the truth about Jesus, the New World Translation, and the biblical gospel – so as to ultimately experience salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Please pray for his salvation.
May the Lord encourage and equip you to effectively minister God’s love, grace and truth to precious people entangled in false religion – to the end that He would deliver “Robert” (name changed for publication) and many others out of darkness into the light. Amen.