Cults are nothing new. In every age there are unorthodox or spurious religions that are usually associated in their beginning with a leader who claims a special revelation and are characterized by denials of and deviations from Christianity.

One of the strange signs of our time is that many beliefs long held by cultists but repudiated by the Christian Church are now becoming popular and respectable. Basic to this change is a departure from faith in some of the clear teachings of the Bible and the substitution of human speculation for divine revelation.

The Apostle Paul speaks of a time when men will appear “who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth,” a time when “evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived” (2 Tim. 3:7, 13).

Paul is not being unduly severe. He is speaking of eternal issues and of those who would subvert them to their own ends.

As we look at the moral and spiritual decline of our time, the violence, delinquency, pornography, sex obsession, dishonesty, and general disregard for the laws of a holy God, we are inclined to think that these external manifestations of human depravity are supreme examples of sin.

This is not so. In the practice of medicine the acme of wrong is not disease itself but the refusal to use an available curative agent or operative procedure.

In the theological world man’s greatest sin is to ignore, subvert, or deny God’s provision for lost men. As Satan is pictured plucking up the good seed and sowing tares in its place, so at times we find the simple truths of God’s redeeming love and grace removed and replaced by man-devised ideas.

A stone is no substitute for bread, nor a scorpion for a fish; evasions cannot substitute for doctrines having to do with man’s need of salvation and God’s provision for that need.

For years the major denominations rejected the cults and clearly denounced their errors. Now in many places the devious doctrines of the cultists have been received into the framework of the Church and made a part of its teaching. This charge is not based on idle speculation. One has but to look at the literature of non-Christian cults such as Christian Science, Unity, and Jehovah’s Witnesses to see what is happening. Their denial of the doctrine of the Trinity, for instance, is now being publicly proclaimed by some prominent bishops and theologians.

When one reads some of the high-flown twaddle expounded by the cults, such as “Individualize yourself in the highest by affirming that in Spirit and in Truth you are all that God is” (Fillmore, a spokesman for Unity), one is reminded of certain unintelligible phrases current in respectable Protestant circles. “Wholly Other,” “Ground of Being,” “Ultimate Reality,” “Demythologizing”—the list of words and phrases that effectively hide truth or distort its meaning seems endless.

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For decades the doctrines of the Russellites, now known as Jehovah’s Witnesses, were rejected in orthodox circles. Now the teachings of this cult having to do with hell (“the idea is Satanic, not of God”) have been embraced by many in the Church. These same cultists teach that the Resurrection did not occur. Now they have their counterparts within historic Protestantism.

The Christian Scientists’ concept of sin finds an echo among those who explain away the reality of sin or excuse it as the result of unfortunate circumstances over which the victim has had no control. It is popular in our day to blame our parents or our environment for the manifestations of sin in our lives. This is done by cultists and also by some liberal theologians.

The cults and liberal theological thought have many things in common. In part they center in the belief that God’s revelation in Scriptures is not final.

The cultists generally contend that they accept the Bible and its teachings, but they proceed to add to it through alleged special revelations to their founders. Christian Science adds to the Bible Mary Baker Eddy’s book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. In this Mrs. Eddy says, “The Bible has been my only textbook,” and goes on to reinterpret the Bible to her way of thinking. The Mormons add The Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrine and Covenants, all of which reinterpret the Scriptures. Jehovah’s Witnesses, founded by Charles Taze Russell, agree that it is better to leave the Bible unread provided one reads Russell’s comments on the Bible, than to read the Bible and leave his comments unread. So it has ever been.

The theological liberal also accepts “in principle” the inspiration and authority of the Holy Scriptures but with reservations that permit interpretations in direct conflict with the Word. One student at a large theological seminary recently said, “For a while 1 thought my professor in theology was making frequent references in class to the Apostle Paul, only to find that he was talking about Paul Tillich.”

The gradual erosion of absolutes in doctrine and their replacement by relativistic interpretations has opened the way for cultism to pose as intellectual Christianity.

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This is not to attack intellectualism, nor to say that some involved in interpretation of scriptural truth in abstract terms are not Christians. But, as the pilferer of a five-dollar bill from the till cannot condemn the cashier who has taken a thousand dollars, so Christian leaders who have compromised in their own faith find it difficult to take an unequivocal stand for the inerrancy of the Scriptures.

Moral Rearmament, now completely dissociated from the Christian movement, never had its roots in true Christianity, for from the beginning it eschewed both doctrine and biblical authority. Now within the Church there is a form of syncretism that plays down Christian distinctives for the sake of an outward unity. This movement is growing in areas where organization takes precedence over the verities of the faith.

On the surface cultism and some modern theology seem irreconcilable, but underneath they have much in common. The theosophist, for instance, denies the vicarious atonement of our Lord, his unique deity, the Trinity, the authority of the Bible, and the doctrine of eternal punishment, How close this is to the views of many respected philosophers who claim the name of Christ!

That cultists and many respected theological personalities have parallel thrusts is not so strange as it might seem at first. For both have cut free the anchor of divine revelation and embarked on the sea of human speculation. Both are unwilling to accept the finality of God’s revelation in Christ. Both are anxious to deny what cannot be denied, or to supplement what needs no addition.

In each case there is the desire to make Christianity respectable and credible. But what is needed is simple faith in those things already so clearly revealed.

This is written, not to condemn, but to enlighten—to show that the relation between many of the once-despised cults and much to be found in liberal Christianity is uncomfortably close. Some may never have realized how far they have departed from the faith.

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