Volume. XXIX, No. 5
Sunday, 03 August 2014


The Truth about Error


By John A. Witmer (used with permission from Bibliotheca Sacra)

“Copyright (BSac 124:495, Jul 67, 249-253). Reprinted from Bibliotheca Sacra.”

 

A phenomenon of the contemporary religious scene is the growth of the heretical cults. Through aggressive propagandizing by means of publications—electronic media such as radio, television, phonograph records, and tapes—and personal contacts, the cults have established amazing numerical growth records. Their growth rates are the envy of the major Protestant denominations, which at present are not even keeping pace with the population expansion. The cults are growing not only in the United States, where most of them have had their start, but also throughout the world. Especially has this growth of the cults been evident in recent years in the traditional missionary areas of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The contemporary growth of the cults has been not only in numbers but also in influence and public acceptance. Modern religious liberalism accepts them all without question as manifestations of contemporary religious life. They are listed without notation of any kind in The Yearbook of American Churches and Mead’s Handbook of Denominations in the United States. A current debate among evangelical Christians centers on classifying Seventh-Day Adventism as a heretical cult or a standard Christian denomination. A leader of a cult within a decade has held a United States cabinet post as secretary. Another serves as governor of a large and strategic state and is a potential presidential candidate of a major party.  Paralleling the contemporary numerical growth of the heretical cults is their proliferation. . . . Where confusion exists error thrives. Therefore, these circumstances amply justify a discussion of the truth about error.

 

Definition of Terms

 

One of the first problems to face is that of definition of terms. At least two terms are in view—cult and sect. These terms are popularly used interchangeably as basically synonymous. I think a valid and proper distinction of meaning between them can be drawn. This distinction will be clarified in the discussion that follows.  A definition of a cult which I accept is the following from Walter Martin. He says that cults are religious groups holding “to doctrines which are pointedly contradictory to orthodox Christianity and which yet claim the distinction of tracing their origin to orthodox sources” [Walter Ralston Martin, The Rise of the Cults, pp. 11-12].  The various ethnic religions as a result are not properly classified as cults. On the other hand, this definition would classify modern religious liberalism as a cult, which I am convinced evangelical Christians should make a point of doing. Martin later condenses his definition to a religious group which represents a “major deviation from historical orthodox Christianity” [Ibid., p. 12]. Modernism or liberal Protestantism still passes the test as a cult.  Gerstner prefers to use the word sect for these heretical groups, but he is not as careful to provide a formal definition. He explains that the Roman Catholics apply the term sect to all groups other than the Church of Rome, which they view as the church. Liberals frequently apply the term sect to all groups because they feel none of them qualifies as the church. “Evangelicals,” he continues, “generally use ‘sect’ when referring to those Christian denominations not regarded as evangelical…. Those which do not hold to evangelical principles are not usually called churches at all, but sects or cults” [John H. Gerstner, The Theology of the Minor Sects, p. 9].  This is quite vague and confusing.  I prefer to follow Martin in defining a cult as he does, which is essentially how Gerstner defines a sect. I would reserve the term sect for groups representing minor deviations from historic orthodox Christianity. For example, with Gerstner, Lindsell, and many others, I would classify Seventh-Day Adventism as a cult. On the other hand, I would classify the Seventh Day Baptists, whose sole divergence from orthodox Christianity is the seventh-day doctrine, as a sect. Similarly, I classify the Jehovah’s Witnesses as a cult; but I would classify the Advent Christian Church, which is orthodox except for some deviations in eschatology, as a sect. . . . .

 

 

Doctrinal Truths about Cults

 

Somewhat bridging the areas of historical and theological truth about the cults is the fact that most of the cults are simply modern versions of ancient heresies faced by the early Christian church. The Christology of Christian Science, for example, is a modern expression of the docetic heresy the Apostle John refuted in his First Epistle (1:1–34:1–3). The Christology of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, on the other hand, is a modern form of Arianism proscribed as heretical by the Council of Nicea. The Christian Science emphasis upon the nonreality of evil, disease, and death comes from neo-Platonism, which rests in turn upon Platonic and Zoroastrian dualism with the concepts of the essential evilness of matter.  Many of the contemporary heretical cults, furthermore, are imbued with the Judaistic and/or the Gnostic spirit that was confronted and refuted primarily by the Apostle Paul. The Sabbath-keeping, the dietary laws, and the legalism of Seventh-Day Adventism, for example, reflect the Judaistic spirit. On the other hand, the emphasis upon going beyond the simplicity of the Christian faith and becoming an initiate into special truths which is found among the Jehovah’s Witnesses and also to some extent the Mormons reflect the spirit of Gnosticism.  It is also important to remember that no cult is completely wrong. By definition, a cult is a “major deviation from historical orthodox Christianity,” but elements of orthodox Christianity obviously remain. Cults represent a mixture of truth and error, and herein lies their danger. The attention of the unwary can be focussed upon the truth without realizing that it is vitiated or contradicted by the error until the poison is swallowed. Part-truthism is one of Satan’s favorite tools.

 

Practical Truths about Cults

 

A practical fact concerning many of the contemporary cults is that they have been founded by women or have women prominently connected with their leadership. Examples are Mary Baker Eddy of Christian Science, Ellen G. White of Seventh-Day Adventism, the Fox sisters of Spiritualism, Helena P. Blavatsky and Annie Besant of Theosophy, the Brooks sisters of Divine Science, and Mrs. Charles Ferguson of the School of Practical Christianity. This prominence of women in the cults is understandable in the light of the Scriptural exhortation to “let your women keep silence in the churches” (1 Cor 14:34) and the example of Paul that “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (1 Tim 2:12).  Many persons are misled by the sincerity, enthusiasm, and missionary zeal of some adherents to the cults, concluding from these external things that the system must be true. Such dedication by exponents of error should be a rebuke to complacent Christians. May God use it to goad us into consistent personal witnessing. But these traits are not essential ingredients of truth. The crew of the airship Enola Gay flew to their deaths in the middle of the Sahara Desert far beyond their home base, sincerely but mistakenly believing that the airport still lay ahead of them. Even the cults do not match the dedication and self-sacrifice of the atheistic Communists. Truth resides in content, not in attitude.  Many persons also are misled by the exemplary lives and good works of some adherents to the cults into concluding that the system must be true. Admirable as such things are, they are not essential ingredients of truth. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were good people, but He likened them to “whited sepulchres” (Matt 23:27). In this connection Paul instructs us: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.  Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness” (2 Cor 11:13–15).

 

Conclusion

 

Christians should not be dismayed by the contemporary growth and proliferation of the heretical cults. This is to be expected as the Christian church moves into the last days of its formation (cp. 1 Tim 4:1–32 Tim 3:1–82 Pet 2:1–3Jude 4810–1216–19). Furthermore, truth by its nature is singular and unitary, while error is multifarious and multitudinous. Finally, Christians can be prepared to withstand the onslaught of the cults by following Peter’s injunction to “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Pet 3:15) and John’s instructions to “believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1). This is the truth about error.

 


More Lively Hope

 

Announcements

*Kitchen Roster - Leader: Today: Bro Phil Surman. Next Lord’s Day: Bro Raphael Ng.

*ACM: All church members are requested to attend. Please come at 7:15 pm so that the ACM can start on time. If not able to attend Proxy Nomination forms are available on the foyer table.

*Please come to the August Wednesday Bible Study. Ps Ki will teach on “History of Thoughts”.

*Please note: From 3 Sept, Rev Ed Paauwe will teach “Homiletics” class for 10 weeks on Wednesday evenings. All worshippers are encouraged to attend.

*From September, meal charges for Catered Fellowship Lunch will be Adult $7, pensioner/unemployed/student $5. Child under 5 still FREE.

 

Praise & Thanksgiving

1. Journey mercies: Deaconesses Purdee Yeo (Adl) & Joyce Gong (Phuket/S’pore/Adl); Bros Samuel Ki, Elton Law & Lucas Yiew (JPN); Houston Li (Mt Gambier/Adl) & Raphael Ng (Waikerie/Adl); Sisters Marion Chan & Xiao Hui Chye (Phuket/S’pore); & others who have arrived safely at their destinations. 

2. Church activities in the past week.

3. Visitors & new worshippers.

4. God’s daily mercy, guidance & blessings.

5. Chile Missions - for God’s guidance & protection: Deaconess Purdee Yeo.

6. Granting of Scholarship: Sis Katrina Loh

 

Prayer Items

1. Health & God’s healing - Dr Gary Cohen (USA), Dr SH Tow (S’pore); Rev Edward & Sis Lehia Paauwe; Rev George van Buuren; Grandpa Ki (S’pore); Bro Colin & Sis Kathleen Creaser; Bro Len & Sis Margaret Pearson; Preacher Zhang (Sihanoukville); Bros Herbert (Dilly) Anderson (Kenya), Raymond Ang’s father (S’pore), Surish Dharmalingam (Laos), Elton Law & Kang Fun Tan (Sis Felicia’s father - S’pore); Sisters Lai Kheng Chiong, Margaret Hooper, Grace Gan’s father (healing), Queenie Lau, Choon Fong Lee (KL), Iris Surman’s brother, Corinne Teng, Susan Varadi, Susan Weng & Mavis Wong’s mother (salvation & healing); Mr Swee Liang Ng; Mr Mang Soo Ong; Bro Peng Cheong Wong; Mr Lucas Lee; Mr Tony Zhang; Mrs Maggie D’Mello (Mumbai); & others in affliction.

2. God’s strength, guidance & provision: Sis WolHee Kim & her two daughters (S Korea).

3. iSketch & Tell Studio, YouTube Ministry: Pr Hai Seng Lim.

4. Cambodia Missions - Rev Srun Chivan & Ministry (Sihanoukville); Bro Sopheak & Ministry (Kampot).

5. New Life BPC (London) - strength & encouragement for congregation; Resident Preacher Mok.

6. Laos Missions: Bro Surish Dharmalingam & Ministry

7. Starting of Providence B-P Church in northern suburbs on 10 Aug: Bro David & Sis Susan Weng. 

8. Journey mercies: Deaconess Joyce Gong (Canb/Adl); Bro Raymond Ang (JPN); Sisters Marion Chan (Adl) & Xiao Hui Chye (KL); & others travelling.

9.  Interpreters of sermon into Mandarin.

10.  Final weeks in pregnancy - for health & normal delivery: Sisters  Heng Yee Cheah (S’pore) & Tabitha Tan.

11.  PR application: Bro William Song & Sis Yashu Qin.

12. Postnatal recovery: Sis May Lau; good health & development of Mia.

13. God’s guidance & direction: Sis Xiao Hui Chye (Malaysia); Bro Youwen & Sis Cyndi Yeap in their new married life (S’pore).

14. God’s comfort & salvation - family members & relatives of loved ones killed in MH 17 crash.

15. Christians under severe persecution & expulsion in war-torn Syria & Iraq. Salvation of Moslems.

 

 

© Hope Bible-Presbyterian Church
PO Box 398, Fullarton, Adelaide, South Australia 5063