Knocking on Your Door

If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed:
~ 2 John 1:10

What are we opening the door to?

I‘ve had cultists at my door. I’ve had conversations with them on the front porch. I’ve had cultists come up to me in public places, like the gas pump. Doctrine and practice varies from group to group, but nearly all seem to have certain foundations in common.

If you have talked much with cultists, you know that talking with them can be frustrating for an evangelical Christian who holds to historic orthodox Christianity. They use the same or similar terms that you do, but you soon realize those terms differ in meaning coming from them. Some claim to be a part of Christianity and can certainly sound like it in some ways. Some even use the Bible to a certain extent.

The term cult can be offensive and some have sought out other designations, but there’s no need for such quibbling. Classically, a cult is a religious group or movement whose views on the nature and being of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and consequently their views on the gospel are inconsistent or contradictory to the sixty-six books of God-inspired, written revelation. Various groups may differ in how or where they contradict the Bible, but have in common that they contradict it. They may have any number of problems beyond this, but this is the foundational error they tend to have in common.

A Question of Authority

This brings us to the crucial foundational issue we Christians have with cultic groups. The issue is authority. By authority I mean, who or what is the ultimate determiner of what we should believe, teach, and practice. For historic orthodox Christianity, the Bible is the supreme and final authority of all faith and practice. The Bible is the revelation of God written down by men who were inspired by God and complete in sixty-six books.

What does it mean for the Bible to be the supreme and final authority for all faith and practice? The Bible is God’s self-revelation, which is necessary because he is the Creator and we are the created. The distinction between Creator and creature is such that we could never come to the knowledge of God without him revealing himself to us. This means the Bible is the sole authority for the knowledge of God and not our thoughts, feelings, or experiences. This also means that nothing outside the closed canon of written Scripture informs our understanding of God in his nature and being and what he requires from the people he created.

Orthodox Christians hold the Bible as such and clash with cultists at this foundational level because, no matter how much they may refer to the Bible, cults recognize authorities outside of the closed canon of written Scripture. Most cults trace back to a founder who was a charismatic leader and self-styled prophet who claimed to receive further revelation. Their revelations may have been oral or written, but those groups are following supposed revelations beyond the closed canon of written Scripture, which also tends to reinterpret that Scripture. Cults recognize an authority beyond the true prophets and apostles who God inspired to write what we have in the sixty-six books.

Closer Than You Think

In this context, it is easy to understand why those conversations can be frustrating. Orthodox Christians reject authorities and revelations outside of the closed canon of written Scripture, and that is why it is so concerning that those same Christians will allow it in other contexts. Let me explain.

Preachers who would oppose cultists for appealing to authorities outside the closed canon of written Scripture will in turn allow it in the pulpit. Even in small, conservative Baptist churches that have orthodox confessions of faith regarding Scripture, the gospel, sovereign grace, the local church, etc. will regularly have the preacher preach “what God laid on his heart.” Preachers get in pulpits and say God gave them the sermon they are about to preach, God told them to preach this or that, God spoke to them in a dream or vision to give them a sermon, or they have a direct or inspired message from God to preach.

If a preacher is preaching a message that was given to him in some of the above such ways from God, even if he uses the Bible to support what he is saying, he is informing the doctrine and practice of the congregation by something outside the closed canon of written Scripture. You will find eerily similar proclamations from the founders of cultic groups. That same preacher would oppose a cultist for believing and teaching something outside of the closed canon of written Scripture, as he should. However, he will get in his own pulpit or the conference pulpit and bring a message that he plainly says originated outside of the closed canon of written Scripture while he was meditating, sleeping, driving, working, or doing something else.

If the Bible and history have taught us anything, it is that going beyond the closed canon of written Scripture always leads to error. It may take a generation or two to become full blown heresy, but it will get there. I don’t understand why a preacher would reject such from a cultist but allow such in the pulpit. I don’t understand why church members are allowing such in the pulpit. I don’t understand why somebody isn’t asking where in the closed canon of written Scripture are messages outside of it promised, expected, or condoned. Why is the preacher’s dreams and visions allowed, but not those of the cult prophet? Why are we opening that door?

Stand on the Rock

Christians are concerned about cultists and how to reach them, as we should be. The goal should never be to win an argument, but a soul. The problem many Christians and churches have is that while attempting to evangelize the cultist, they stand on the same shifting sand of outside authorities with them. The real need of the hour is to stand on the rock of the closed canon of written Scripture. The Bible as the sole rule of faith and practice cannot simply be an article of faith. It must be the absolute commitment of our hearts before God and the only rock on which we will stand. Don’t be satisfied to be descending into the quicksand at a slower rate than the cultist you’re trying to save.

Piping Hot and Served Daily

Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
~ James 3:5

A stack of hot takes and the syrup, oh so good.

A hot word has dropped on your ear. What should you do? You heard that somebody said or did something, somewhere, sometime. In other words, someone spilled the piping hot tea. What do you do with that? You have options—ignore it, speak about it to somebody, speak about it to a group of somebodies, like in a church, post about it online in specific language, post about it online in vague language, or go directly to the person and ask about it. I realize that last option is so extreme it’s seldom exercised but just know it’s in the toolbox.

Social media have given us an unprecedented ability to speak out early and often about anything and everything. Our words can reach the uttermost parts of the earth and the International Space Station in seconds. Such ability is powerful and very new. People have adapted quickly to using it. In our new age, people can speak about things and also think they should speak about everything. It’s as if we’ve been endowed with the inalienable right to speak about everything by the creators of the internet. To hear something is to feel the obligation that we must say something. Should we say something? How do we decide?

I want to try to keep this as general as possible, because a host of factors affects what you might do with or about something you’ve heard. I also want to focus on speaking out publicly about what you’ve heard someone said or did. I want to take a flowchart approach to walk through this biblically. If we consider the biblical principles of justice, we find a sure guide to when is a time to speak and when is a time to keep silent.

Mere Information

All statements come irreducibly to one of two conditions—true or false. I realize words can be true or false in different ways. Something can be partly true, where some information is accurate and some is not. Something could simply be a mistake and, though false, not malicious. I don’t want to get all knotted up in those variations. Distilled to the essence, words are either true or false. This is the best starting point because we cannot get any further back of it.

I can’t possibly cover all variations so we are going to consider the two primary conditions of true and false. So you have received information and the statement is either true of false. Let’s begin.

Condition 1: The Statement is True

The first condition means that you have heard a report of something someone said or did. This doesn’t mean it’s a word-for-word quote, but that it is an accurate representation of the facts. The person(s) in question really did say or do as reported. Remember you are receiving second-hand information, at best. You have been told by someone that someone else said or did something. Old covenant law required the truthfulness of a report to be established with the accused given opportunity to speak to his own case (Deuteronomy 19:17-19), which principle is a continued expectation of righteous judgment in the New Testament (Matthew 18:16; 1 Timothy 5:19). Hearsay was inadmissible (Leviticus 5:1). Failure to establish the truthfulness of a report is to be unjust, a gossiper (Leviticus 19:16; Psalms 15:3; Proverbs 11:13; 20:19, 27; 1 Timothy 5:13; 1 Peter 4:5), and perhaps an unrighteous witness (Exodus 23:1). In common law, we refer to that as due process.

Next, we must consider if the meaning of the report is understood. Let’s say a friend comes to you after church and says, “I just heard the pastor tell the deacon, ‘Get out of here.'” This is an accurate report of what was said, but what does it mean? From this brief report, you might conclude the pastor was angry with the deacon and maybe they had been arguing. You would easily come to that conclusion if the friend delivered the report with a concerned look and tone. However, the friend didn’t know, or tell you, that the pastor and the deacon had been joking around and the pastor laughingly told him, “Get out of here.” If words and actions are reported accurately but the meaning is misunderstood, then there has been a misrepresentation. Misrepresentation can be unintentional and would be folly (Proverbs 18:2, 13, 17). Intentional misrepresentation is a false witness (Exodus 20:16; Proverbs 25:18). This goes back to the need to establish truthfulness.

Accurately understood words and actions have to be evaluated according to Scripture. Do they agree or contradict Scripture? If they agree, you commend them, and if they contradict, you condemn them. Now we are ready for one last consideration before we speak to the report: is it your business or place to speak to it? If it is your business or place to speak to it, you are being faithful to do so (Galatians 6:1; Titus 3:10; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; 1 Thessalonians 5:14). If it isn’t your business or place to speak to it, you should hold your peace and not be a busybody in other men’s affairs (Proverbs 11:13; 17:9; 1 Peter 4:15).

Condition 2: The Statement is False

The second condition is a false report. The statement you heard is not true. In the case of a false report, the teller either knows it’s false or doesn’t know it’s false. If the informer doesn’t know it is false, he is sharing gossip and slandering someone. He may not have malicious intent, but his carelessness marks him a fool (Proverbs 18:2, 13, 17). You take part in his folly by sharing it and add fuel to a destructive fire (Proverbs 26:20-21). If someone knowingly shares a false report, he is a liar, deliberate slanderer, and sower of discord (Proverbs 6:16-19). Speaking to it in this case makes you participate in his sins. It means you are putting your hand in to raise a false report (Exodus 23:1).

Conclusion

The truthfulness of a report is not enough of itself to justify to your speaking to it publicly, but established truthfulness is absolutely required if speaking to it publicly. Further, we should remember our words should always be governed by wisdom as taught extensively in the book of Proverbs. I will end with a short dose of wisdom for our words in a list I have adapted from Kidner’s Proverbs commentary.

  1. Words are powerful for good or bad (Proverbs 12:18; 16:24; 18:21; 29:5).
  2. Words are cheap, easily manipulated, but cannot change reality (Proverbs 14:23; 24:12; 26:23-28; 29:19).
  3. Words should be honest and few (10:19; 16:13; 17:28; 24:24-26).
  4. Words should be thoughtful and well considered (Proverbs 10:20; 15:2, 23, 28; 16:1; 25:11).
  5. Words should be calm and calming (Proverbs 15:1; 17:27; 18:13, 17; 25:15).

De Los Muertos

Ye are the children of the LORD your God: ye shall not cut yourselves, nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead.
~ Deuteronomy 14:1

… and other oddities

November 1 is the well-known Mexican holiday, The Day of the Dead. Customs may vary throughout Mexico, but generally it is a celebration of the dead. People build ofrendas in their homes to place pictures or some possessions of their deceased relatives. They may have flowers or burn candles on these altars. People gather around the graves of their deceased and eat meals featuring the favorite foods and drinks of the departed, and leave portions for them as well. They pray to and for their dead, dance in the streets, and calaveras are everywhere.

The holiday is typically associated with the Catholic holidays, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. However, the Catholic influence on such practices is more come lately, as the roots these observances go back much further to the pre-hispanic, indigenous peoples of Mexico. Odd beliefs, customs, and practices concerning the dead go even further back in the roots of paganism.

Pagan Roots and Fruits

We first encounter observances pertaining to the dead in the Bible among the Canaanites. The old covenant law gave specific warnings to Israel, forbidding them from taking up the pagan practices of the nations around them (Leviticus 19:26-31; 21:5; Deuteronomy 14:1; 18:9-14; 26:12-15). We find there prohibitions against such as making offerings to or for the dead, body modifications for the dead, eating the blood to gain power of the dead, and consulting with diviners and such to communicate with the dead in order to learn the future or gain special knowledge outside of God’s natural revelation in creation or special revelation in his word.

Of course, the Jews of Israel were not impervious to these cultic practices concerning the dead. A perusal of the prophets finds the nation condemned for such things as offering their children in the fire and seeking commune with the dead (2 Kings 16:3; 17:17; 21:6; 23:10; 2 Chronicles 33:6; Isaiah 47:12; Jeremiah 7:31-32; Ezekiel 23:37-39). By the time of the intertestamental period post-exile, it wasn’t uncommon for there to be offerings for the dead and prayers to and for the dead in Israel. The inclusion of such things is one of the reasons early churches rejected the intertestamental books as apocryphal, not including them in the canon of Scripture.

Various adaptations of pagan practices concerning the dead have persisted in church history. The practice of prayers to and for the dead eventually gave rise to the doctrine of purgatory and the idea of post-mortem atonement or absolution of sins. I hope that evangelical Christians can see all these things as the abominable pagan practices they are, regardless of the sanctified language, historied traditions, good intentions, or imaginative reasoning used to support them.

A Rose of Another Name

It is good to have such hope I suppose, but Christians really seem to struggle to get a handle on paganism. We can’t seem to figure out what it is exactly. For some, all you have to do is label something as pagan and that roundly condemns all instances of it and everyone within a fifty mile radius of it. You better steer clear of any twice-removed cousins who know a guy that has a friend who might have seen it or heard of it before. Of course, that is not any species of scriptural reasoning at all. It is more like the reasoning of a sweating fundamentalist evangelist at a southern summer campmeeting. He can preach agin’ anything. All he has to do is label it worldly and then quote a verse about not loving the world, and, boom, he’s got “bible” for preaching the devil out of y’all.

Calling something pagan or claiming it has pagan roots doesn’t accomplish anything. For instance, pagans have hunted and farmed as long as pagans have existed. They typically pray to their gods before and after their harvests. Does that mean farming and hunting are pagan practices? When a Christian engages in these activities and prays to the true and only God before after the harvests, is he committing paganism?

A pagan cuts down a tree, builds a fire to warm himself and bake bread, and with the rest he makes idols to worship (Isaiah 44:9-20; Jeremiah 10:2-5)? Pagans go outside and cut flowers or other greenery to bring into their homes. They may do so with observing certain rites and believing they are inviting the spirits of their ancestors into their homes to bring them favor. When a Christian cuts down a tree, builds a fire, warms himself, or bakes bread, is he practicing paganism? When a Christian man brings home a bouquet of beautiful flowers to his wife and she puts them in a vase on the dining room table, or they otherwise adorn their home with plants of God’s creation, have they committed abominations?

Paul would say, No (1 Timothy 4:3-5). The creation of God is good and is to be received and enjoyed with thanksgiving. All things are made by God and rightly belong to him (Psalms 24:1). Paul actually quoted that verse in 1 Corinthians 10:26 where in chapters 8-10 he is showing that meat sacrificed to idols is not tainted or inherently sinful. Paul wrote that those who have true knowledge understand that and that an idol is nothing in the world (1 Corinthians 8:4). Those chapters certainly help us sort out paganism for what it is. Paganism doesn’t create or own anything. Paganism perverts and corrupts what God has created and owns to use for abominable practices. But, pagan misuse doesn’t nullify a proper use.

Secret Sauce

Getting back to praying for the dead and other such odd practices, what should we make of it? Some may be tempted to apply Paul’s argument about meat sacrificed to idols and say, “Oh, we aren’t praying for the dead like that. We are not praying like pagans do. We don’t believe in purgatory or post-death atonement. We are merely praying retroactively, knowing that God has all power and time is nothing to him.” I’m tempted to ask, What then are you praying for? What are you asking God to do, or what you asking for to happen? Stripped back to the essence, this argument claims that pagans misuse prayers for the dead and these Christians are making a right use of prayers for the dead.

That argument fails and twists Scripture. We have already considered references where such practices for the dead are condemned as pagan abominations. God doesn’t give alternatives to those practices as if there were a right way to do it. No, he says don’t do it at all because you are “the children of the LORD your God,” and you are “an holy people unto the LORD thy God” (Deuteronomy 14:1-2). When it comes to plowing a field, there is a way to plow in sin (Proverbs 21:4) and a way to plow in faith (1 Corinthians 9:10). The plowing itself is neither sinful nor righteous. Paul said the same thing about eating the meat. But, praying for the dead is only sinful. There is no right way and wrong way to do it. The whole practice is abominable.

The various strange practices for the dead are all linked by the attempt to converse with a realm that is forbidden to us living people. When Moses gave Israel the law, he made clear that the source of knowledge for them and the source of requirements for them was not hidden or secreted away is some unreachable realm so that they would have to resort to unusual means to find it out (Deuteronomy 30:11-14). What God wants us to know is given to us in his written word (Deuteronomy 29:29). To pray for the dead is to meddle with God’s domain that is his alone. Our prayers are to be made to God alone and not after the manner of pagans (Matthew 6:5-13), and they are to be made for the people living in our time (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Well, Actually

We all struggle at times to distinguish wrong from right. When it comes to oraciones por los muertos, prayers for the dead, no struggle is required. It’s actually pagan. It’s actually wrong.

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