Biblical definitions of the Jonestown phenomenon.

To come to grips with the immense problem caused by cultic conversion techniques is to face a dilemma—especially if we recognize that a large proportion of converts to the newer cults come from evangelical churches. It is one thing to condemn the false teaching and practices of these movements; it is quite another to solve the enormous problems within our traditional evangelical churches that have allowed cults to develop as they have. We need not merely a cure for the disease, but a preventive medicine that will enable us to end the disease altogether.

Jonestown and other excesses should teach us a crucial lesson: that we must protect the weak, the lonely, and the peripheral members of our churches from charletans who would prey upon their ignorance and needs. To discover preventive principles, we need look no further than the Word of God. The early church was forced to defend itself against very similar tactics, and its experience provides us with answers that we can apply to our own day.

1. Jesus’ principle. In John 10 Jesus referred to wolves who would destroy and the self-centered hireling who would not protect the sheep. The first principle, then, is to examine our leaders and discern when self-interest or false teaching begins to erode their ideals. The church should never assume that a great leader will always make correct decisions. Whenever an autocratic power begins to assert itself, a church is in a dangerous situation; when it intrudes itself into the teaching ministry, the church must take direct action.

We should be aware of the number of cult leaders who have come out of evangelical ranks to become vocal in their opposition—not merely after they have declared ...

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