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.

About Jeff Short