What is a Cult?

In our recent study of false teaching, (False Teaching) we spent some time talking about cults. One thing to understand is that the word “cult” doesn’t always have the negative connotation we tend to attach to it. It can be used as a technical, theological term which simply means religious practices and beliefs. In that sense, our church rituals such as the liturgy, communion, baptism, the creeds, and so on, are all part of our cult.

Mostly, though, when we describe a group as a cult, it’s because we consider their beliefs and behavior to be unacceptable and possibly dangerous. Here are three characteristics that describe this type of cult:

  1. There is a hierarchy with a leader who demands absolute loyalty
  2. There is a narrow set of beliefs which must be strictly followed
  3. A cult claims the existence of extra biblical revelation (usually received by the leader/s)

Some modern examples of cults are: Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists, and Mormons. None of these groups are truly Christian, although they often claim to be. They all have incorrect views about the nature and attributes of God (especially the trinity and Jesus). They use texts which are not the Bible (book of Mormon, for example) or which have been taken from the Bible but altered (Jehovah’s Witnesses).

Your best defense against cults? Study the Bible. Know the creeds and understand them. Be a Berean.

 Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Acts 17:11

For more about studying the Bible see:

The Greatest Bible Study

What Helps You Study?

Is the Bible Your Companion?

Teach A Friend About Christ

The person who combines her natural abilities to teach and lead others becomes a Christian leader. For most of us that means simply living out our calling in the families, workplaces, and congregations where God has placed us. Martin Luther said, “people who quietly do their jobs, tend their children, run the farms, fix shoes, cut hair and teach the children are the glue that holds the world together.” Each of us is called, each of us is chosen, each of us is gifted and entrusted with the task of transforming our little portion of the world. God promises that if we are rooted in Him, we will bear fruit.

Think of the disciples: a couple of uneducated fishermen, one particularly inclined to speak without thinking; a hotheaded zealot; a despised tax collector; an introvert or two that we never learn much about. Yet, when they began to preach and teach, “people were astonished and took note that these men had been with Jesus.” We are not so different. When we work as if everything depends upon us, and pray as if everything depends upon the Lord, He will transform our natural talents into extraordinary spiritual gifts.

That doesn’t mean we won’t have doubts or feel inadequate. Years ago, I worked with a young woman named Vanessa. In the natural course of things, we shared what we did outside of the office, the things that were important to us. I often talked about my faith and my church. Vanessa shared that she and her husband came from different religious traditions and so they seldom went to church at all. They hadn’t found a place that worked for both of them. One day, out of the blue, I invited Vanessa to my church. I know it was the prompting of the Holy Spirit, because it had never occurred to me to do that. Immediately I felt uncomfortable. Now Vanessa would think I was some kind of pushy, religious nut and back away from our friendship. Well, it wasn’t that bad — but Vanessa didn’t come to church with me that week. A year later, after she changed jobs, I ran into her and she said, “I think I’d like to visit your church now.” She did, and in time she, her husband and her children were all baptized and confirmed. When her mother died, Vanessa told me how much being part of a caring Christian community meant to her during that difficult time.

As Christians, don’t we want everyone to experience that comfort and caring, whenever, however they need it? If we see a movie that excites us, we’re quick to say, “It’s great, you must go see it!” If we share Christ in the same natural and enthusiastic way, people will notice and some of them will change. Like the boy in the story of the loaves and fishes, when we offer our gift, however small, to Jesus, He will take it and use it to bless many.

I’m not done yet ….

For more about evangelism see:

Introverted Evangelism

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Evangelism

Mercy Ministry & Evangelism — Fanning the Flame CD

I Wish You Peace

It hasn’t been a peaceful year. We’ve been anxious and worried about many things –our health, politics, the state of the world. It’s been said that only God can make a bad man good, and that’s true. I’d liked to add to that statement here at the end of 2021 and say, only God can give a worried man (or woman) peace. I wish all of our readers peace in the New Year.

“‘These things we write unto you, that your joy may be full.’ What is fullness of joy but peace? Peace is the privilege of those who are ‘filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.’ ‘Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee.’ It is peace, springing from trust and innocence, and then overflowing in love towards all around him. He who is anxious thinks of himself, is suspicious of danger, speaks hurriedly, and has no time for the interests of others. He who lives in peace is at leisure, wherever his lot is cast.” John Henry Newman

For more about peace see:

Quiet and Peaceable Lives:

Keeping the Peace

Pursue Peace

False Teaching in the Church

In our class about false teaching, we learned there that there are two main ways the church falls into error today. These are not associated with a particular denomination, but one or the other can be observed in any number of church traditions.

The first is legalism. Some churches may require adherence to laws that are impossible to keep. (This is the same problem that the Jewish people faced.) When this kind of error is present, it often leads to the church either diluting the law, to make it easier, or inventing new rules that are easier to keep, but not biblical.

The second way churches can go astray is by espousing antinominanism. This is a big word which basically means that the law is no longer of use to Christians because it has been superseded by the gospel. In this case our behavior really doesn’t matter.

Lutherans, of course would say we need a balance between law and gospel. Both are necessary, neither should dominate. We must teach the law in order to see that we are sinful people who can’t save ourselves. We must teach the gospel to understand that through the sacrifice (once and for all) of Jesus we are saved saints of God. We will never be able to keep the law perfectly, but good works are our response of gratitude to the One who loved and saved us.

What is False Teaching?

Our weekday Bible study has been discussing various false teaching– but what is that? How can it be defined? Well, we started out by reviewing the things that are essential to the Christian faith. You might say these are core values, and the basics are found in the Creeds– the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed.

  1. Revelation, both general (things everyone can see and be aware of, as the complexity of nature) and specific (the Bible).
  2. God is the starting place for truth–everything must be tested against His Word.
  3. Man was created in God’s image, to relate to God.
  4. Sin. Man sinned and that sin became part of us.
  5. Christ is the perfect teacher and our atoning sacrifice.
  6. Salvation is by grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone, through Christ alone, for the glory of God.
  7. Eternity. Christ will redeem us, there will be judgement and God’s chosen people will live with Him forever.

False teaching always says Scripture can’t be trusted, at least not alone. However, God’s Word is a clear and sufficient guide. It has three functions: as a curb (keeping us in the right path), a mirror (revealing our sin) and a ruler (a guide with which to compare ourselves).

All of us, and all denominations are sometimes guilty of false teaching. That is why the apostle John advises us:

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1

In order to do this, we must know the Scriptures well and be ready to contend for the faith by describing our beliefs.

… in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 1 Peter 3:15

For more about false teaching see:

False Teaching

False Piety

False Piety #2

What Martin Luther said about Christmas

‘Oh, we poor people that we should be so cold and indifferent to this great joy that has been given us. For this is indeed the greatest gift, which far exceeds all else that God has created. Yet we believe so sluggishly, even though the angels proclaim and preach and sing, and their lovely song sums up the whole Christian faith, for ‘Glory to God in the highest’ is the very heart of worship.”

Martin Luther

For more Luther quotes about Christmas see:

Martin Luther on Christmas #2

Martin Luther on Christmas

Life’s Companion by Christina Baldwin–Book Review

If you love writing in a journal, or want to develop the discipline of spiritual writing, this book is an excellent place to hone your skills or just get started. However, be advised that it is not exclusively Christian. In an effort to appeal to more people, the author uses terms like “the sacred”, “the universe” and “errors”. To adapt the suggestions to my worldview, I would simply substitute “God”, “Jesus”, “sin”.

That being said, this book is chock full of good questions and suggestions for journaling. Each chapter is, in effect, two chapters. The pages on the right comprise on essay on the topic being discussed, with examples from the life of the author. The pages on the left include quotes, examples from the journals of others, and questions to use for journaling. I used the book by reading all the right hand essay first, then reading the left side and journaling with some of the questions. Doing one chapter completely each day became part of my early morning devotional time.

Some of the topics covered are:

*How to write a spiritual journal

*Writing your spiritual history

*Dreams and intuition

*Rituals

*Love, forgiveness, trust and acceptance

*Paying attention

This is not an exhaustive list. If you’re interested in journaling, you will surely find some things that speak to you and your spiritual journey.

VERDICT: 4 STARS. I found it helpful and would recommend it.

For more about journaling see these posts:

Joan’s (Jumbled) Journal

H.E.A.R.

SPURGEON JOURNAL – A Review

The Art of Prayer Journals

Vineyard Via de Cristo — Some History

I am part of a lay movement in the Lutheran Church called Via de Cristo, as are a number of the ladies who have been authors on this blog. I recently came across a talk my husband had given at the inception of Vineyard Via de Cristo (https://www.vineyardviadecristo.org) — this group broke off from another Via de Cristo group called Rainbow (now Living Stones) in order to expand the movement geographically. Via de Cristo holds retreats for Christian men and women with the goal of helping them learn to be leaders in their home congregations.

Today is one of those happy/sad movements that punctuate our lives as individuals, as we leave the Rainbow Via de Cristo community in order to form a new group. For those of us who are parents, we vividly remember the passages of our children as they started school, or graduated from school– as we watched their confirmations or saw them go off to their first proms. All of these were times when we were filled with happiness and pride in their progress and sadness in knowing things would never be the same.

Those happy/sad feelings are on both sides of the situation, of course. No matter how interesting or challenging or invigorating new circumstances may seem, we always feel some concern, some anxiety, when we leave the security of the known for the insecurity of the future. We’re steeping out and counting on what went before to be the foundation and strength we need to carry on.

For more about change see:

Life Changes

How the Reformation Changed the Environment

Fanning the Flame #10 Continued … Creating a Culture for Change

to be continued ….

A Definition of Forgiveness

I came across this description of forgiveness in a book I’ve been reading, and I found it very helpful. Maybe you will, too Since the book isn’t specifically Christian, I’ve added my own words in bold to include my theological perspective..

Forgiveness is the act of admitting we are like other people.(we’re sinners). We are prone to make mistakes (sin) that cause confusion, inflict pain, and miscommunicate our intentions. We are the recipients of those human errors (sin) and the perpetrators (sinners). There is no way we can avoid hurting others or being hurt by others (sinning), because that is the nature of our imperfection (original sin). The only choice we have is to reconcile ourselves to our own flaws (sin) and the flaws (sin) of other people, or withdraw from the community (the church). If we choose to withdraw, we withdraw both from our humanness and from our connection to the sacred (God). Adapted from Life’s Companion by Christina Baldwin

This leads me to another thought, why do we go to such lengths to avoid the word, sin? It seems to be the one unacceptable word in our culture today. I guess that’s a topic for another post.

For more on forgiveness see:

A World Without Forgiveness

The Opportunity of Forgiveness

Forgiveness: It Does a Body Good

The Trinity

Last month I wrote a couple of posts about our class on the attributes of God. If you don’t remember them, here are the links:

The Attributes of God

The Attributes of God part 2

In the final lesson of that class we discussed the trinity. No study of God is complete without addressing this doctrine which is the foundation on which the Christian church rests. Although the word “trinity” is never used in the Bible, there are a number of references to the three-fold nature of God. The one cited most often is in the book of Mark:

“At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”” Mark 1:9-11

We see here three names and 3 actions: Jesus is baptized, God speaks, and the Spirit descends.

After the death and resurrection of Christ many heresies about the trinity arose. Here’s a brief synopsis of some of the more prevalent misconceptions:

  1. Modalism — the three persons of the trinity have separate functions: creator (the Father), redeemer (Jesus) and comforter (the Spirit). In fact, all three persons are involved in every function.
  2. Subordinationism–the Spirit and Jesus are subordinate to the Father.
  3. Tritheism–the three persons are separate and are in effect three Gods

Many analogies have been used to try and explain the mystery of the Trinity. It has been likened to water, steam and ice, which all have the same chemical makeup; a triangle which has 3 sides but is one triangle; or the clover, three leaves but one plant.

To combat different false teachings in the early church, a number of ecumenical councils were convened. At the first Council of Nicaea (325) the doctrine of the Trinity was addressed and defined in the Nicaean Creed. If you’re a Lutheran, you probably recite this almost every week during the worship service. Don’t skip over this lightly! Repeating and understanding the creeds helps us to remember exactly what we believe.

False teaching is still out there, alive and well. Often it sounds good and makes sense to our limited understanding. So know what you believe and why, starting with the Trinity.

For more about the Trinity see:

John Donne on the Trinity

An Image of the Trinity

Lutherans Explain the Trinity