2003 Kingdom of the Cults
Encountering the Cultist
Whenever a Christian encounters a cultist, certain primary thoughts must be paramount in his mind:
(2) the Christian must then compare these “definitions” with the various contexts of the verses upon which the cultist draws support of his doctrinal interpretations;
(3) he must define the words “interpretation,” “historic orthodoxy,” and standard doctrinal phrases such as “the new birth,” “the Atonement,” “context,” “exegesis,” “eternal judgment,” etc., so that no misunderstanding will exist when these things come under discussion, as they inevitably will;
(4) the Christian must attempt to lead the cultist to a review of the importance of properly defining terms for all important doctrines involved, particularly the doctrine of personal redemption from sin, which most cult systems define in a markedly unbiblical manner;
(5) it is the responsibility of the Christian to present a clear testimony of his own regenerative experience with Jesus Christ in terminology which has been carefully clarified regarding the necessity of such regeneration on the part of the cultist in the light of the certain reality of God’s inevitable justice.
Let it never be forgotten that cultists are experts at lifting texts out of their respective contexts without proper concern for the laws of language or the established principles of biblical interpretation. There are those of whom Peter warns us, who “wrest [the Scriptures] unto their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). This is an accurate picture of the kingdom of the cults in the realm of terminology.
Looking back over the picture of cult semantics, the following facts emerge.
2. The well-trained cultist will carefully avoid definition of terms concerning cardinal doctrines such as the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the Atonement, the bodily resurrection of our Lord, the process of salvation by grace and justification by faith. If pressed in these areas, he will redefine the terms to fit the semantic framework of orthodoxy unless he is forced to define his terms explicitly.
3. The informed Christian must seek for a point of departure, preferably the authority of the Scriptures, which can become a powerful and useful tool in the hands of the Christian, if properly exercised.
4. The concerned Christian worker must familiarize himself to some extent with the terminology of the major cult systems if he is to enjoy any measure of success in understanding the cultist’s mind when bearing a witness for Christ.
Psychological Conditioning Process
To conclude our observations in this once seldom considered area of cultic analysis, let us consider examples of how the cult systems of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, and Christian Science condition their adherents to respond to the “outside world” of unbelievers.
In the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the literature of the Watchtower is replete with examples of a psychological conditioning that elicits a definite pattern of religious reflexes in response to stimuli. As Pavlov’s dog salivated at the sound of a bell that represented food, so a true Jehovah’s Witness will spiritually and emotionally salivate whenever the Watchtower rings the conditioning bell of Russellite theology. The example that I believe best demonstrates this is taken in context from Watchtower publications and speaks for itself.
The extensive quotes following this paragraph give the historical foundation for the teaching that the Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to proclaim consistently today. All religious bodies except theirs are corrupt and of the devil. While the historical quotes are much more flowery and pretentious sounding than statements in Watchtower literature today, they express the same sentiment. For example, in a recent publication (Mankind’s Search for God, 1990), the Watchtower surveys church history and first dismisses Roman Catholicism, then Eastern orthodoxy, and even the Reformation, commenting, “Nearly all the Protestant churches subscribe to the same creeds—the Nicene, Athanasian, and Apostles’ creeds—and these profess some of the very doctrines that Catholicism has been teaching for centuries, such as the Trinity, the immortal soul, and hellfire. Such unscriptural teachings gave the people a distorted picture of God and His purpose. Rather than aid them in their search for the true God, the numerous sects and denominations that came into existence as a result of the free spirit of the Protestant Reformation have only steered people in many diverse directions” (p. 328). In fact, the book concludes, any religious body other than the Watchtower Society and its followers is the “great whore of Babylon” condemned by the apostle John and to be destroyed by the coming judgment of God (pp. 370–371). Listen to the venom historically spouted by the Watchtower:
Christendom’s pretended interest in the poor is sheer hypocrisy her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things her princes in the midst thereof are like wolves ravening the prey to shed blood and to destroy souls that they may get dishonest gain and her prophets have daubed them with untempered mortar, seeing false visions in divining lies unto them, saying thus says Jehovah when Jehovah hath not spoken the people of the land have used oppression and exercised robbery, yea they have vexed the poor and needy and have oppressed the sojourners wrongfully oh, wicked Christendom, why have you forsaken God’s clean worship? Why have you joined forces and become part of Satan’s wicked organization that oppresses the people? Why have you failed to show concern for the poor as Jehovah commands?
The little charitable help the poor get from Christendom is like the crumbs that beggar Lazarus picked up from the rich man’s table while the dog licked his ulcerous sores. Neither the crumbs nor the licking remedied the beggarly condition. Only Jehovah can effect a rescue. How comforting then for the dejected, down-trodden people of the earth to learn that there is One higher than the highest of Christendom’s moguls, yes, Jehovah the Almighty hears the cries of the half-dead ones, and in hearing He answers their prayers and sends His good Samaritans to the rescue, even the witnesses who are despised by Christendom.
Haters of God and His people are to be hated, but this does not mean that we will take any opportunity of bringing physical hurt to them in the spirit of malice or spite, for both malice and spite belong to the devil, whereas, pure hatred does not.
We must hate in the truest sense, which is to regard with extreme and active aversion, to consider as loathsome, odious, filthy, to detest. Surely any haters of God are not fit to live on His beautiful earth. The earth will be rid of the wicked, and we shall not need to lift a finger to cause physical harm to come to them, for God will attend to that, but we must have a proper perspective of these enemies. His name signifies recompense to the enemies.
Jehovah’s enemies are recognized by their intense dislike for His people and the work these are doing. For they would break it down and have all of Jehovah’s Witnesses sentenced to jail or concentration camps if they could. Not because they have anything against the Witnesses personally, but on account of their work. They publish blasphemous lies and reproach the holy name Jehovah. Do we not hate those who hate God? We cannot love those hateful enemies, for they are fit only for destruction. We utter the prayer of the Psalmist, “How long, oh God, shall the adversary reproach, shall the enemy blaspheme thy name forever? Why drawest thou back thy hand, even thy right hand? Pluck it out of thy bosom and consume them” (Psalm 74:10–11). We pray with intensity and cry out this prayer for Jehovah to delay no longer and plead that His anger be made manifest; oh Jehovah, God of hosts be not merciful to any wicked transgressors. consume them in wrath, consume them so that they shall be no more (Psalm 59:4–6, 11–13). These are the true sentiments, desires, and prayers of the righteous ones today. Are they yours how we despise the workers of iniquity and those who would tear down God’s organization! “Oh, Jehovah. Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever, yea, let them be confounded and perish that they may know that Thou alone whose name is Jehovah art the most high over all the earth” (Psalm 83:9–18).
The near neighbors of Judah have been the opposers of the Israelites right from the time when refusal was given by them to supply provisions to Israel as they journeyed to the promised land. Moab hired Baalam to curse Israel they had much contempt for Jehovah’s people and prided themselves in their own lofty city, her counterpart today being that rich, lofty city, the mighty religious organization standing for the whole of Satan’s organization. The modern-day Moabites are the professing Christians whose words and actions are as far removed from Christianity and true worship of Jehovah as Moab was removed from true worship in the covenant of Jehovah. Jehovah had warned Moab of His proposed punishment for her iniquity and opposition.
The modern-day Moabites have opposed Jehovah’s Witnesses with a hatred not born of righteousness but from the devil and against all righteousness. Their hatred for God’s true people increases as they see upon us the very plain evidence of Jehovah’s favor in the obvious disfavor they themselves are in. They put forth every effort to prevent the people of goodwill from entering the new world. They are richer than Jehovah’s Witnesses in material things and with it they have much pride and arrogance.
The modern-day Moabites will be brought low, for Jehovah has completely finished with them. Hear just a part of the punishment.
“For in this mountain will the hand of Jehovah rest and Moab shall be trodden down in his place, even as straw is trodden down in the water of the dung hill. He shall spread forth his hands in the midst thereof as he that swimmeth spreadeth forth his hands to win, but Jehovah will lay low his pride together with the craft of his hands.”
It is a sure thing that one cannot have much pride left when one is being pressed down into a manure pile, showing the utter contempt Jehovah has for modern-day Moab, keeping her wallowing in the mire of shame. “For thou has made of a city a heap, of a fortified city a ruin, a palace of strangers to be no city; it shall never be built.”
He hath put down them that dwell on high; the lofty city, he layeth it low, he layeth it low even to the ground, he bringeth it even to the dust. The foot shall tread it down, even the feet of the poor and the steps of the needy.
When this happens, what a tremendous change will take place; the tables will be turned! Brought down will be the lofty from dwelling on high as the great, high influential ones of this world to the lowest possible place imaginable, so low and degraded they can only be compared to being trampled under foot by the poor, like straw in a manure heap. Christendom’s lofty looks, boastful words, bragging tongue are her superior attitude toward the holy Word of God, her trust in idols, men and riches, such as belong to this world will not provide her with security or any safety from Jehovah’s storm and blast. They have no defense nor disgrace.
Christendom’s defenses are of no value, but Jehovah’s Witnesses have a strong city and this is something to sing about. There are millions who want a safe place and are in need of security; let them know we have a strong city! “Thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise” (Isaiah 60:18). Only God’s kingdom offers such protection and salvation, for inside the city one is safe. Those desiring salvation must make for God’s organization, and find entrance into it and remain there permanently. God has been grossly misrepresented by the clergy. If this statement is true, then that alone is proof conclusive that the clergy do not, in fact, represent God and Christ but do represent God’s enemy, the devil. If the Bible plainly proves that the doctrines they teach are wrong and their course of action is wrong, then the most that can be said in extenuation of their wrongful teachings and their wrongful course of action is that they have been misled by the evil and seductive influence of Satan, the enemy of God. If the doctrines taught and the course taken by the clergy differ from that which is declared in the Word of God, then the clergy are in no wise safe guides for the people and should no longer be followed by the people.
These doctrines originated with the devil. They have long been taught by his representatives. The clergy have been his instruments freely used to instill these false doctrines into the minds of men. Whether the clergy have willingly done so or not does not alter the fact. If they have now learned that they are wrong they should be eager to get that false thought out of the minds of the people. They do not take such a course.
The clergy have at all times posed as the representatives of God on earth. Satan overreached the minds of these clergymen and injected into their minds doctrines, which doctrines the clergy have taught the people concerning Jesus and His sacrifice. These doctrines have brought great confusion. The apostles taught the truth, but it was not long after their death until the devil found some clergyman wise in his own conceit who thought he could teach more than the inspired apostles.
The clergy are willingly or unwillingly the instruments in the hands of the god of this world, Satan, the devil, who has used them to blind the minds of the people, to prevent the people from understanding God’s great plan of salvation and reconciliation.
Is it any wonder that the usually calm and detached Stanley High, writing in the Reader’s Digest of June 1940, could state, Jehovah’s Witnesses hate everybody and try to make it mutual. Jehovah’s Witnesses make hate a religion.
The doctrines of hell and eternal punishment that stimulate fear of judgment are “unreasonable” and not in accord with the Watchtower concept of the character of God; therefore, it and the doctrine of the Trinity are satanic in origin and all must be rejected and hated as false.
What the Watchtower does in essence is attach polemic significance to certain common theological terms (Holy Trinity, deity of Christ, hell, eternal punishment, Christendom, immortal soul, etc.). Thus, every time these terms are mentioned by anyone, the reflex action on the part of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is instantaneous and hostile.
If we couple this with the Watchtower’s heavy emphasis upon the fulfillment of prophecy and a distorted eschatology, the sense of urgency they radiate about Armageddon (which they believe will solve all these problems by annihilating the clergy and all organized religion) begins to make sense and the reason for their actions becomes clear.
When dealing with the average Jehovah’s Witness, this entire pattern of preconditioning must be understood so that the Christian can avoid, where possible, direct usage of terms that will almost certainly evoke a theologically conditioned reflex and sever the lines of communication. Another important point where Jehovah’s Witnesses are concerned is the fact that an intricate part of their belief system is the conviction that Christians will always attack Jehovah’s Witnesses on a personal as well as a religious level, hence the Witnesses readily assume a martyr or persecution complex the moment any antagonism is manifested toward Russell, Rutherford, their theology, the Watchtower, or themselves. It is apparently a comfortable, somewhat heroic feeling to believe that you are standing alone against the massed forces of “the devil’s organization” (a Watchtower synonym for Christendom), and this illusion is made to seem all the more real when unthinking Christians unfortunately accommodate the Witnesses by appearing overly aggressive toward the Watchtower theology or the Witnesses personally.
In the light of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ insistence upon “pure hatred,” one wonders how they live with their own New World Translation of Matthew 5:43–44, which reads,
You heard that it was said you must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. However, I say to you: continue to love your enemies and pray for those persecuting you; that you may prove yourselves sons of your Father who is in the heavens.
The Watchtower, then, does not hesitate to accuse the clergy and Christendom of provoking all kinds of evil; in fact, they have not hesitated to suggest that Christendom encouraged and did nothing to prevent the two great world wars:
“Had Christendom chosen to do so, she could easily have prevented World Wars I and II.”
Some of the basic motivations of the Watchtower are clearly seen in stark contrast with the teachings of Holy Scripture and reveal that there is more than a spiritual disorder involved. Indeed there exist deep psychological overtones, which cannot be considered healthy in any sense of the term. Whereas Jehovah’s Witnesses are preoccupied with Armageddon, the theocracy, the end of the age, and “pure hatred,” the Mormons have quite different psychological and theological emphases.
At the very core of Mormon theology there is a tremendous emphasis upon authority as it is invested in the priesthood, rituals, and symbols presided over by the hierarchy of the Mormon Church. Mormons are taught from their earliest days that the priesthood has the key to authority, and that one of the marks which identifies the “restoration” of the true church of Jesus Christ on earth is the fact that this priesthood exists and perpetuates that authority.
A devout Mormon will wear symbolic underclothing, which perpetually reminds him of his responsibility and duties as a Mormon. When this is coupled with Mormonism’s tremendous emphasis upon baptism for the remission of sins, tithing, and voluntary missionary service, it is seen to bind its followers into a tight, homogeneous circle, escape from which, apart from severe spiritual as well as economic penalties, is virtually impossible. Every Mormon is indoctrinated with the concept that his is the true Christian religion, or to use their terms, “the restoration of Christianity to earth.” The secret rites in the Mormon temples, the rituals connected with baptism for the dead, and the secret handshakes, signs, and symbols bind the average Mormon and his family into what might be called in psychological terms the “in group.” Apart from acceptance by this group, the average Mormon can find no peace or, for that matter, community status or prestige.
Instances of discrimination against Mormons who have experienced true Christian conversion are not infrequent in Mormon-dominated areas where a man can lose his business very easily by incurring the disfavor of the Mormon Church.
The social welfare program of the Mormons is another excellent inducement to Mormons to remain faithful, since if the “breadwinner” of the family is injured, loses his job, or dies, the church undertakes the care and support of his family. So effective is this work that during the Great Depression of the 1930s, no Mormon family went hungry and no soup kitchens or bread lines disfigured the domain of Mormondom.
The Mormons also conscientiously invoke the biblical principle of helping each other. They lend to each other, work for each other, and cooperate toward the common goal of bringing “restored Christianity” to the masses of mankind. These and other forces make Mormonism a family-centered religion, which ties the faith of the church to the indissoluble bonds of family unity and loyalty. This forges an incredibly complex system of pressures and intertwining values over which is superimposed the theological structure of the Mormon Church, which stands between the average Mormon and the attainment of “exaltation” or progression to godhood. (See chapter on Mormonism for a discussion of this.)
With such great psychological, economic, and religious forces concentrated upon him, it is a courageous person indeed who shakes off these varied yokes and steps into the freedom of a genuine experience with the Son of God. But a growing number are doing just this as the Spirit of God continues to call out the church, which is Christ’s body.
Christian Science, unlike the two other cults we have considered, is neither interested in bestowing godhood on its adherents (Mormonism) nor pushing the eschatological panic button of Armageddon (Jehovah’s Witnesses).
Christian Science is an ingenious mixture of first-century Gnostic theology, eighteenth-century Hegelian philosophy, and nineteenth-century idealism woven into a redefined framework of Christian theology with an emphasis upon the healing of the body by the highly questionable practice of denying its objective material reality.
In Christian Science there is a complete separation between the objective world of physical reality (matter) and the spiritual world of supernatural existence (mind). Mrs. Eddy taught that “man as God’s idea is already saved with an everlasting salvation.”
Hence, it is unnecessary for Christian Scientists to think of themselves as sinners in need of a salvation they believe is already theirs by virtue of the fact that “man is already saved” because he is a reflection of the divine mind. However, in Christian Science there are disturbing psychological aberrations. Mrs. Eddy demanded of her followers that they abstain from any critical contact with the nonspiritual elements of the illusory material world. She forbade the reading of “obnoxious literature,” lest Christian Scientists become convinced that the physical body and its diseases, suffering, and inevitable death were real.
There is in Christian Science a subconscious repression, a conscious putting out of one’s mind certain things which are disconcerting to the entire configuration of psychological patterns of conditioning. Christian Scientists are conditioned to believe in the nonexistence of the material world even though their senses testify to its objective reality. They continually affirm that matter has no true existence, and thus, in a very real sense, entertain a type of religious schizophrenia. One side of their personality testifies to the reality of the material world and its inexorable decay, while the conditioning process of Christian Science theology hammers relentlessly to suppress this testimony and affirm that the only true reality is spiritual or mental.
In Margaret Mitchell’s classic novel Gone With the Wind, Scarlet O’Hara, the heroine, when confronted with the harsh realities of life in the wake of the Civil War, repeatedly states, “I’ll think about that tomorrow,” as if not thinking about it today would eliminate the reality of its claim at that moment.
When working with sensory data, Christian Scientists totally disassociate their religious convictions, for, if they did not, they would not continue to feed, clothe, or house their bodies. But in still another sense, they attempt to master the all-too-obvious frailties of the body by the application of a religion which denies the material reality of that body. A psychologist of the behaviorist school in one sense does the same thing. In the office he may talk about “conditioning” and may associate everything, including his home, with mechanistic psychology; however, at home he still loves his wife and children, and doesn’t respond in that same manner. This is one of the chief reasons why Christian Scientists sometimes appear to be almost immune to the conviction of personal guilt as a result of sin. Guilt implies the threat of judgment and a standard which is the basis of that judgment; hence the reality of the concept of sin, which is transgression of the law of God. Christian Scientists desperately want only a “good” world, a pleasant place full of happiness, life, love, and security. This they can have only if they deny the empirical evidence of the opposites of those concepts. In effect, they affirm the reality of “good” at the expense of the antithesis of “good,” as if by denying the existence of evil one had annihilated evil!
There can be no doubt that there is “selective perception” in the mind of the Christian Scientist, which enables him to select those things which are of a metaphysical nature, disassociate them from the sense perception of the physical world, and still maintain his idealistic philosophy and Gnostic theology. This he accomplishes by repressing or suppressing any evidence to the contrary.
By following Mrs. Eddy’s advice and avoiding what she would call “obnoxious literature,” i.e., evidence that controverts the idealism of Christian Science philosophy, Christian Scientists avoid facing the damaging data of physical reality. It is in effect an act of unconscious suppression, utilized in order to escape the data. Concluding our thoughts in this area we might say that in the kingdom of the cults we are actually seeing a mosaic of abnormal conditioned behavior patterns that express themselves in a theological framework, utilizing Christian terms perverted by redefinition and represented as “new insight,” when in truth they are only old errors with new faces. The defense mechanisms on a psychological level are apparent when one considers the background and vocabulary of the cult systems. There exists, beyond a shadow of a doubt, an abnormal behavior syndrome operating in the mentality of most cultists, which causes the cultist (in the case of Christian Scientists) to build his theological system upon a preconditioned and artificially induced criterion of evaluation, i.e., the divine mission and inspiration of Mary Baker Eddy. In the case of other cultists, the names Joseph Smith, “Pastor” Russell, Brigham Young, or any other cult authority figure could be supplied and the conditioned reflex would be virtually the same.
There are many more observations that could be made, but space will not permit. It is my hope that in observing and analyzing the facets of cult behavior patterns already discussed, the reader may obtain a deeper insight and appreciation of the psychological structure of cultism as it continues to influence a growing segment of professing Christendom, which is ill-prepared for the subtleties and dangers of such psychological and theological deviations.
The Riddle of Semantics
The problem of semantics has always played an important part in human affairs, for by its use or abuse, whichever the case may be, entire churches, thrones, and governments have been erected, sustained, or overthrown. The late George Orwell’s stirring novel 1984, in which he points out that the redefinition of common political terms can lead to slavery when it is allowed to pass unchallenged by a lethargic populace, is a classic illustration of the dangers of perverted semantics. It should be of no particular surprise to any student of world history that trick terminology is a powerful propaganda weapon. The communist dictatorship of China, which even the Russian theorists rejected as incalculably brutal and inept, dares to call itself the People’s Republic of China. As history testifies, the people have very little, if any, say in the actual operation of communism, and if democracy is to be understood as the rule of the people, the Chinese communists have canonized the greatest misnomer of all time!
Both the Chinese communists and the Russians have paid a terrible price for not defining terminology, and for listening to the siren song of Marxism without carefully studying and analyzing the atheistic collectivism through which the music came.
We must beware of similar language twisting in our own culture, as the current controversies over “politically correct” speech illustrate. In our conscientious concern not to offend or cause emotional turmoil, we talk about “a woman’s choice” instead of the willful killing of an unborn child, “revenue enhancement” instead of new taxes, and “fuel conservation” instead of speed limits. The careful Christian will thoughtfully and conscientiously learn the cult’s unique vocabularies and properly represent that cult’s beliefs in order to carry on a meaningful and significant dialogue with a cultist. Careful attention to actual cult beliefs not only ensures that Christian doctrine is not confused with cultic, but also shows the cultist that the Christian has enough concern about what the cultist believes to make an honest endeavor to understand it and represent it responsibly.
Applying this analogy to the field of cults, it is at once evident that a distinct parallel exists between the two systems. For cultism, like communism, plays a type of hypnotic music upon a semantic harp of terminological deception. And there are many who historically have followed these strains down the broad road to spiritual eternal judgment. There is a common denominator then, and it is inextricably connected with language and the precise definition of terminology. It is what we might call the key to understanding cultism.
Precisely how to utilize the key that will help unlock the jargon of cult semantics is best illustrated by the following facts, drawn from research and practical field work with cultists of every variety.
The average non-Christian cult owes its very existence to the fact that it has utilized the terminology of Christianity, has borrowed liberally from the Bible (almost always out of context), and sprinkled its format with evangelical cliches and terms wherever possible or advantageous. Up to now this has been a highly successful attempt to represent their respective systems of thought as “Christian.”
On encountering a cultist, then, always remember that you are dealing with a person who is familiar with Christian terminology, and who has carefully redefined it to fit the system of thought he or she now embraces. A concrete example of a redefinition of terms can be illustrated in the case of almost any of the Gnostic cult systems that emphasize healing and hold in common a pantheistic concept of God (Christian Science, New Thought, Unity, Christ Unity Science, Metaphysics, Religious Science, Divine Science).
In the course of numerous contacts with this type of cultist, the author has had many opportunities to see the semantic maze in full operation, and it is awesome to behold. Such a cult adherent will begin talking at length about God and Christ. He will speak especially about love, tolerance, forgiveness, the Sermon on the Mount, and, as always, the out-of-context perversion of James’ “faith without works is dead.”
It should be noted that hardly ever in their discourses will such cultists discuss the essential problem of evil, the existence of personal sin, or the necessity of the substitutionary atonement of Christ as the sole means of salvation from sin, through the agency of divine grace and the exercise of faith. In fact, they conscientiously avoid such distasteful subjects like the proverbial plague and discuss them only with great reluctance. Of course there are exceptions to this rule, but on the average it is safe to assume that reticence will characterize any exploration of these touchy issues. Both Christian Science and Unity talk of God as Trinity; but their real concept of God is a pantheistic abstraction (Life, Truth, and Love constitute the triune divine principles—Christian Science).
The historic doctrine of the Trinity is seldom, if ever, considered without careful redefinition. If the reader consults the Metaphysical Bible Dictionary, published by the Unity School of Christianity, he will see the masterpiece of redefinition for himself. For in this particular volume, Unity has redefined exhaustively many of the cardinal terms of biblical theology, much as Mary Baker Eddy did in her Glossary of Terms in the book Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures. The reader will be positively amazed to find what has happened to biblical history, the person of Adam, the concept of human sin, spiritual depravity, and eternal judgment. One thing, however, will emerge very clearly from this study: Unity may use the terminology of the Bible, but by no stretch of the imagination can the redefinition be equated with the thing itself. Another confusing aspect of non-Christian cultists’ approach to semantics is the manner in which they will surprise the Christian with voluminous quotations from no less authority than the Bible, and give the appearance of agreeing with nearly every statement the Christian makes in attempting to evangelize the cultist. Such stock phrases as “We believe that way too; we agree on this point” or the more familiar, “[Mrs. Eddy, Mr. or Mrs. Fillmore, Mr. Evans, Dr. Buchman, Joseph Smith, or Brigham Young] says exactly the same thing; we are completely in agreement.” All such tactics based upon the juggling of terms usually have the effect of frustrating the average Christian, for he is unable to put his finger on what he knows is error, and is repeatedly tantalized by seeming agreement which, as he knows, does not exist. He is therefore often forced into silence because he is unaware of what the cultist is actually doing. Often, even though he may be aware of this in a limited sense, he hesitates to plunge into a discussion for fear of ridicule because of an inadequate background or a lack of biblical information.
The solution to this perplexing problem is far from simple. The Christian must realize that for every biblical or doctrinal term he mentions, a redefinition light flashes on in the mind of the cultist, and a lightning-fast redefinition is accomplished. Realizing that the cultist will apparently agree with the doctrine under discussion while firmly disagreeing in reality with the historical and biblical concept, the Christian is on his way to dealing effectively with cult terminology. This amazing operation of terminological redefinition works very much like a word association test in psychology.
It is simple for a cultist to spiritualize and redefine the clear meaning of biblical texts and teachings so as to be in apparent harmony with the historic Christian faith. However, such a harmony is at best a surface agreement, based upon double meanings of words that cannot stand the test of biblical context, grammar, or sound exegesis. Language is, to be sure, a complex subject; all are agreed on this. But one thing is beyond dispute, and that is that in context words mean just what they say. Either we admit this or we must be prepared to surrender all the accomplishments of grammar and scholastic progress and return to writing on cave walls with charcoal sticks in the tradition of our alleged stone-age ancestors. To illustrate this point more sharply, the experience of everyday life points out the absurdity of terminological redefinitions in every way of life.
An attorney who is retained by his client must know the laws that govern trial procedure, cross-examination, and evidence. But above all else he must believe in the innocence of his client. A client who tells his attorney that he is guilty of a misdemeanor but not a felony is using the vocabulary of law. But if his attorney finds out that his client has perverted that vocabulary so that the terms are interchangeable, he will either refuse to defend him or will clarify the terminology before the court, because by definition a misdemeanor is a misdemeanor and a felony is a felony. A man who says he stole only ninety dollars (petty theft), but who really means that it was ninety dollars more or less, and in reality knows that it was in excess of five hundred dollars (grand theft), is playing a game that the law will not tolerate. He will most certainly be punished for such perversions of standard legal terms. In the realm of medicine, a doctor who announces that he will perform an open-heart operation, then proceeds in the presence of his colleagues to remove the gall bladder, and then attempts to defend his action by the claim that open-heart surgery actually means removal of the gall bladder in his vocabulary, could not practice medicine for long! Open-heart surgery is delicate repair of the heart muscle. Removal of the gall bladder is, by definition, surgery of another type. In law and in medicine, therefore, terms are what they are by definition. On the business and professional level this also holds true. But to the cultists words do not always mean what they have always meant by definition in specific context. And just as the American Bar Association will not tolerate confusion of terminology in the trial of cases, and as the American Medical Association will not tolerate redefinition of terminology in diagnostic and surgical medicine, so also the church of Jesus Christ has every right not to tolerate the gross perversions and redefinitions of historical, biblical terminology simply to accommodate a culture and a society that cannot tolerate an absolute standard or criterion of truth, even if it be revealed by God in His Word and through the true witness of His Spirit.
The major cult systems, then, change the definition of historical terms without a quibble. They answer the objections of Christian theologians with the meaningless phrase, “You interpret it your way and I’ll interpret it mine. Let’s be broad-minded. After all, one interpretation is as good as another.”
A quick survey of how cults redefine Christian terminology illustrates this important observation.
Is it any wonder, then, that orthodox Christians feel called upon to openly denounce such perversions of clearly defined and historically accepted biblical terminology, and claim that the cults have no rights—scholastically, biblically, or linguistically—to redefine biblical terms as they do?
We ought never to forget for one moment that things are what they are by definition. Any geometric figure whose circumference is pi X 2r is by definition circular. Any two figures whose congruency can be determined by the application of angle-side-angle, side-angle-side, or side-side-side is, by definition, a triangle. To expand this, we might point out that any formula that expresses hydrogen to be in two parts and oxygen to be in one is water, and hydrogen to be in two parts, sulfur in one part, and oxygen in four parts is sulfuric acid. H2O can never be H2SO4. Nor can the Atonement become atonement as the theology of the Gnostic cults (Christian Science, Unity, New Thought) explains it. It simply cannot be, if language means anything.
To spiritualize texts and doctrines or attempt to explain them away on the basis of the nebulous word “interpretation” is scholastic dishonesty, and it is not uncommonly found in leading cult literature. Cultists are destined to find out that the power of Christianity is not in its terminology but in the relationship of the individual to the historical Christ of revelation. The divine-human encounter must take place. One must become a new creation in Christ Jesus, and the emptying of Christian terminology of all its historical meanings serves only the purpose of confusion and can never vitiate the force of the gospel, which is the person of the Savior performing the historical function of redeeming the sinner by grace.
The Christ of Scripture is an eternal, divine personality who cannot be dismissed by a flip of the cultist’s redefinition switch, regardless of how deftly it is done. The average Christian will do well to remember the basic conflict of terminology that he is certain to encounter when dealing with cultists of practically every variety.
W. M. Religious InfoNet ¤ Box 456 ¤ Forest Lake, MN 55025