In a recent chat with someone I had only just met, the topic turned to yet another fringe cult that had somehow emerged from orthodox Christianity. As is typical in conversations like this, my new acquaintance raised questions like:
“How can they believe “X”, since the Bible clearly states that “X” is not true?”
“They are practising “Y” and Jesus definitely did not teach/approve of “Y”?
“They came out from under the covering of denomination “Z”, no wonder they are in error.”
Simply insert your favourite teaching for “X” or behaviour for “Y” or denomination for “Z” and everyone reading this post has likely had a similar conversation. But what if the problem isn’t the teaching, behaviour or group association at all? What if the problem is the cult of Christianity itself? Perhaps there is something deeper going on when the latest aberrant group goes off into the ditch.
All of the questions or points raised above have something in common in that they are addressing this issue from a completely wrong perspective. The foundational problem with them is the assumption is that the problem of cults can be solved in the intellect. If these poor deceived folks just fixed their thinking or hung around more people with right thinking then they wouldn’t drive off the road into the nearest theological ditch. Good Bible based teaching is what they need. That’ll fix them! Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
A better question is to ask yourself is, what conditions need to be present to create the fertile conditions for the cultic weed to take root? If we can understand that, perhaps steps can be taken to avoid creating the conditions, either intentionally or unwittingly, so that the cultic weed can never take root in the first place.
One of the earliest lessons I learned in my landscaping life was a simple statement from a very wise gardener – “The best way to avoid weeds in your lawn is to ensure you have healthy grass.” Seems so simple, but profound. If you focus on watering, feeding, cutting, trimming, top dressing and nurturing your lawn, seeds from nasty weeds can never get to the precious soil and take root. I’ve found this to be true in practice for every lawn I’ve ever been responsible for. What I’ve also found is that once your lawn begins to get unhealthy and weeds begin to invade, the fight is on big time. The evidence of a lost battle is painfully obvious for everyone to see. The same goes for cults. Once they are apparently flourishing, they stick out like a lawn full of massive dandelions. Getting rid of them is a massive effort.
So to continue the unhealthy lawn metaphor, what is the soil condition that invites the growth of noxious, cultic weeds and could modern Christianity have such a condition? At the risk of oversimplifying the situation, the emphatic answer is yes! However, before revealing this condition, it is important to define what I mean by the term “Christianity”. For the purposes of this post, I use the term to represent organized, institutional religion carrying the name Christianity rather than in the wider sense of all followers of Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God. In this sense, modern day “Christianity” truly is a cult. So then, on to the condition that this “cult” creates the enables the germination, establishment and rapid growth of aberrant cults.
Simply put, the soil condition that creates the inviting environment for cultic beliefs and behaviour is the need or desire for a strong and inspiring leader, preferably full of charisma, influential and a strong public speaker. Modern Christianity is full of them. Osteen, Johnson, Joyner, Vallotton, Meyer, Jakes, Bickle, Crowder, Prince…. The list goes on. I’m sure you can mentioned dozens more. Unfortunately, this desire has only been amplified by the idol worshipping wider culture around Christianity and one could argue may have been imported by it. In fact it is no different than the desire of the nation Israel back in history when they insisted on having a king “just like the nations around them”. Unfortunately, as history has shown, it is a recipe for disaster as the very nature of this idol worship prevents its removal from the environment and is the reason why resistance through the intellect is futile.
To continue the weeds in the lawn metaphor, trying to convince a cult member that their belief system is wrong, unbiblical or harmful is almost always doomed to fail because their internal thinking has already been programmed to take in what you are saying and assess the impact it will have on their relationship with the leader rather than against whatever their crazy belief may be. The soil condition of the need for an “apostolic covering”, “prophetic oversight” or “care of their pastor” vastly outweighs anything else in their universe, Trying to remove the weed of a twisted belief system while this condition is in place is pointless. Even if you somehow pull it out, unless the soil condition is changed to allow healthy grass to grow, the weed will return. Intellectual arguments with people infested with these weeds is like trying to pull dandelions from a lawn infested with them one at a time. It is possible but almost pointless. Better to deal with the underlying soil condition so that the weeds cannot grow.
So then, what is the soil condition the enables healthy grass to grow, preventing cultic weeds from taking root in our lives? Consider these words of John, one of Jesus closest friends who was addressing the issue of aberrant cults shortly after Jesus time on earth:
“I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit–just as it has taught you, remain in him.” 1 John 2:26-27 NIV
Does this mean that we should not receive teaching or instruction from others? Of course not. However, if you are dependent on it and must have another human being impart understanding to you or ensure what you believe is truth, you are already fertile ground for a cultic leader. The growth of healthy grass has and always will be dependent on one thing “remain in him” not on any other human teacher or leader.
In conclusion, it is the soil of the modern day cult of Christianity of insisting on having a leader to follow which enables cults to take root in the first place. Rather than pointing the finger at groups who have gone off into error, perhaps we need to look at our own lawn and consider what we have done to create the weed inviting soil in the first place.