Janet Reno, Attorney General during the Clinton presidency in the 1990’s, attempted to define a cultist after the Waco massacre at the Branch Davidian compound by stating, “A cultist is one who has a strong belief in the Bible and the second coming of Christ, who frequently attends Bible studies, who has a high level of financial giving to a Christian cause, who home-schools his children, who has accumulated survival foods, who has a strong belief in the Second Amendment, and who distrusts big government.” *
For our explanation of a cult, we’ll appeal to the late Dr Walter Martin, an acclaimed authority for nearly 40 years on major cult systems, whose definitive work, The Kingdom of the Cults, still is the go-to reference book for in-depth learning: “A cult is a group of people gathered about a specific person – or person’s misinterpretation of the Bible.” He adds that these misinterpretations, in spite of distorting the biblical truth, may contain other truths with biblical support.
A cult’s teachings oppose the historical, biblical Christian faith. Cult teachings:
- Promote man to deity
- Demote God to humanity
- Lessen or abolish sin and its effects
- Diminish the validity of the Bible
- Promote an alternative salvation
- Deny the Godhood of Jesus
- Proclaim that they’re the only true church
Two common teachings of “Christian” cults are that Jesus is not God and that salvation comes as the result of one’s works. Denying the deity of Jesus Christ allows denial of the efficacious work of His atoning death on the cross. Claiming that salvation comes through good works precludes salvation by faith in Jesus’ deity and atoning death. While claiming to be Christian, these cults deny fundamental Christian tenets and promote doctrines sufficiently off the mark, that, when believed and lived out, cause people to be lost for eternity.
As true citizens of the Kingdom of God, we may not see eye-to eye on doctrinal non-essentials. But to remove the central doctrines, the foundational beliefs, of the Christian faith, compromising the essence of Christianity, and substituting one’s own concocted teachings that contradict the Bible, makes one’s belief system non-Christian.
“Truth,” Henry St John stated, “lies within a little and certain compass, but error is immense.” And “Error is always dangerous; it cannot be harmless.” Those cults promoting that Jesus is not deity, and that salvation comes by works, traffic in immense, eternally dangerous error.
Regarding the deity of Jesus: “Unless one accepts the Bible as the ultimate and incontrovertible authority – traditionally defined in theological words as inerrant and infallible – the door stands wide open to the world of smorgasbord Jesus-ologies. Stated simply, where the Bible is reinterpreted, Jesus is reinvented. The Bible is very clear in the content of what it says about Jesus; the question is whether we accept that content as truth. We should be ashamed of giving in even just a little to scholars who think they can put God Incarnate into their own little boxes tied shut with politically correct ribbons. Such scholarship is cleverly disguised unbelief. If Jesus is not Who He said He is, then we lose little by not believing. If, however, He is the Savior and Lord of heaven, not to respond is to lose everything. The only way to be sure is to examine the Scriptures: study what Jesus said about Himself.” **
Regarding salvation through belief in the sacrificial death of Jesus: “I’m going to heaven and I believe I’m going by the blood of Christ. That’s not popular preaching but I’ll tell you it’s all the way through the Bible. And I may be the last fellow on earth who preaches it, but I’m going to preach it because it’s the only way we’re going to get there,” stated Billy Graham.
Every cult, belief system, and worldview that denies the truths of the Gospel is false and leads followers away from the Living God of the Bible. As witnesses to that Gospel, our testimony must be true and our prayers must be that those deceived by errors will see through the lies and be drawn to the truth of salvation through faith in the Son of God. May we each be ready to give an answer, for error is never harmless. May God give each of us the spirit of love, power, and clear thinking as we take advantage of every opportunity to share His Truth with those who need to hear.
*American Missionary Fellowship News March 1995
**Focal Point Winter 1996
Acts 8:1&4 “…And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the Word.”
Great persecution scattered Christians out of Jerusalem, and wherever they settled, they began to witness of the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. Verse one tells us that these were not the apostles, but were “you and me” type Christians – those who heard the Gospel, gave their hearts and lives to the Lord, and told others about Him. Wherever they ran into someone, they talked about their Savior and Lord.
Albert Barnes stated that “It should be the great object of all Christians to make the Savior known. By our lives, conversation, and entreaties, we should speak to dying sinners that they be reconciled to God.”
How many of us carry photos of our spouse, children, grandchildren, and pets with us? How difficult is it to draw a conversation around to our spouse, kids, grandkids, or pets? Not hard at all! It’s easy! Love makes it easy. Right?
And because we love the Lord, and have a God-given responsibility to spread the Gospel, it shouldn’t be hard to go about sharing Jesus. We just have to open the door. Just sow a seed….
So how do we go about it? Let’s look at some examples in Scripture.
- Jesus, at the well, said to the Samaritan woman, “Give me a drink.” Then He proceeded to tell her that He was Messiah.
- Philip said to the Ethiopian, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” And starting right there in Isaiah, the Old Testament, he proclaimed Jesus as Savior.
- Paul, in Athens, said, “That ‘Unknown God’ you have an altar for, I know Him and can tell you about Him!”
Each witness started where his audience was and went from there to the heart of the Gospel. You and I can do that, too. Where do we go during our day that we have opportunity to speak to someone of Jesus?
Walmart is a great place to strike up conversations.
- Buying dog food? Ask the person in the aisle with you what kind of pet they have. Great door opener. Don’t leave before asking if they know Jesus.
- Picking up a prescription? Strike up a conversation with the person in line behind you. Illness often opens people to your expressions of sympathy and kindness. Promise to pray for the person. Tell them that Jesus heals. Ask if they have a relationship with Him.
- Express gratitude to the soldier in uniform for service to our country. Ask if he loves the Lord.
- Does the woman in line ahead of you have a child in the cart seat? Start your conversation there. Let her know your church has a great children’s program and you’d be happy to see them there. Jesus loves children; the Bible tells us so! Find out if she knows that personally.
- Is the clerk wearing an engagement ring? Extend your good wishes and hope that they will be as happy as you and your spouse are. And let her know that Jesus is at the Center of your marriage and He wants to be the Center of hers, too.
When you’re in the doctor’s office, offer Jesus as the One on Whom we cast our cares for He cares for us. He’s the Friend you can tell your troubles to. Tell how prayer really works.
When you’re waiting for your car to be serviced at Grease Monkey, and someone comments about the nice day, agree, and give God the glory. It opens the door to ask about their walk with Him.
When you see a fish emblem on a car, ask about their relationship with the Lord. If they’re not attending church right now, invite them to yours!
At the park with your kids? Talk to them about their little ones, and find out if they need Jesus.
You can’t beat a hospital waiting room for reaching out with the comfort of Jesus to those who are concerned about a loved one or in trouble themselves.
All these approaches can work; I’ll vouch for that. And love makes the conversations easy. I can vouch for that, too. We love Jesus, and we love people. Hey! This works! Find out what works for you. Be gentle and be wise. And share the Love of your life with someone who needs to hear the good news of your Savior.
Don’t be afraid of fielding a question you don’t know how to answer. A fail-safe fall-back in this situation is to hand the person the church’s card. “Call my pastor. He’ll know how to answer your question. And he cares.” Make sure the service schedules are on the card. And point them out. With an invitation to attend.
As you prepare to run errands or keep an appointment, pray the Lord will open an opportunity for you to speak to someone about Him. And then wade in at every opening. If it goes no further than general conversation in which you speak of the Lord, you’ve done well. We never know how God will use our friendly smile, kind words, our mention of Him, or our church invitation and card for the good of a soul.
Albert Barnes put it like this: “Straightforward, humble Christian conversation is far more acceptable to strangers than we commonly suppose. Alone, approached kindly, most are willing to talk to you.”
Max Lucado said, “Never underestimate the power of a seed.”
It’s a joy to speak of Jesus with someone who knows Him. It is unspeakable joy to speak of Jesus to someone who doesn’t know Him and could come to a saving knowledge in Him because God used you as a vessel to work through. Eternity does not “await”: Eternity starts with the first breath God breathes into our lungs. What a privilege we have to change someone’s eternity! And more than a privilege – we are under orders: “Go, therefore,” and affect eternity for those within our reach. Head out with purpose.
Matthew Henry wrote, “Of those of whom we know nothing else, we know this – that they have souls.” Never-dying souls bound for eternity somewhere. May God use you and me to bring them to Him as we go about telling the good news right where we find people who need to hear.
“The Truth is the very essence of the Gospel. It is the crux of every battle we face”.*
Every purveyor of false doctrine attempts to reshape Truth into truth as he or she perceives it and wants to present it, and then, of necessity, it becomes false. Non-Truth. It is here, on this battleground, that we are to meet the spiritually lost at their point of need – with the Truth of the Gospel. The hope within us. We point people to the Bible in their search for the Answer to their spiritual dilemmas.
Our invitation: Scrutamini Scripturas – Let’s look at the Scriptures.
And we draw, we don’t push. We invite. Winsomeness wins the day, and the heart, the Lord willing. John Wesley stated that the way to a man’s heart is through his mind. Evangelism is a delightfully sincere mixture of living it and sharing it – the Gospel Truth. How powerful is the impression one receives from a man or woman who lovingly disciples others into the Kingdom of God through personal example and wise presentation of the Scriptures.
We Christians have only one foundation for our feet and our beliefs – the infallible, Holy Word of God. Living like Jesus is the most powerful way to prove what we believe and where we stand. Our daily lives give voice to our witness. Are we faithful? Do we live what we say we believe? Are we like Jesus at home? On the job? Behind the wheel? In every area of our lives 24 hours a day? Every day? Are we giving credible witness to the power of a risen Savior residing and at work in our lives, proving that what we say we believe we really do believe, these Scriptures – and that it works, this Truth?
As we hold forth this Gospel Truth to those entangled in the hypocrisies and heresies of false doctrines, God’s Truth must penetrate and permeate our very being so as to give authenticity to our words of testimony. We must ring true to those conditioned by hearing clanging falsehoods. Our witness must linger in the minds of those we speak to with a haunting holiness they’re not accustomed to considering. This requires correspondence between what we say, what we live, and the reality of the Gospel Truth.
Truth may be received (our goal), rejected, or ignored, but never reinvented (the goal of false doctrines). Truth will ever be Truth: the same yesterday, today, and forever. Just as Jesus. For He is Truth. And timidity is not the hallmark of those who know the God of Truth. We are to speak the Truth in love through the power of the Holy Spirit and trust the Lord to work in the minds of those to whom we have opportunity to witness.
When we’re asked a question about Truth that we can’t answer, we should respond with the promise to find out. Scrutamini Scripturas – Let’s look at the Scriptures! We must not let the specter of not knowing something or how to perfectly explain an issue cause us to retreat from the battlefield. Rather we prepare to the best of our ability by being in the Word and prayer daily, then proceed to bring together God and the people in need of Him.
Freedom of religion doesn’t mean that every religion will free us from the bondages of sin. Indeed, most religions bring bondage most deceitful, as they promise freedom but bring slavery of the worst sort. For what can be worse than the belief, falsely but tightly held, that one is right with God, and isn’t? We must beware being caught up in our own thing while walking among the spiritually dead as if there were no danger ahead for them. We are commissioned by Christ to seek out and pursue the lost. To snatch them from the fire. To lovingly present the Gospel Truth without wavering. As His ambassadors; His representatives; His messengers on a mission. Our invitation is ever the same: Scrutamini Scripturas – Let’s look at the Scriptures. The Gospel Truth. For herein, alone, we find true, eternal freedom.
1 Timothy 1:17
* Authors Sherrer & Garlock
To use a big word, hermeneutics is the science or art of interpretation, especially of the Scriptures. And eight rules of interpretation are used by literary, law, and theological scholars. With this stuffy introduction behind us, let’s jump right into the delight of rightly dividing the Word of Truth.
1. Rule of Definition – this rule states that the correct meanings of all words must be determined and accepted. Word definitions change as years pass. And the definition of words translated into English, or any other language, from an original language can be tricky to define with precision.
The word love is a classic example of difficult translation definition. The Greek words for love are narrow and precise in the New Testament. The English word love is broad and covers nearly everything everywhere. I love my dog. I love my family. I love my husband. I love the Lord. No distinctions here while using the same word love. But in the Greek, when defining love for a spouse, the word eros is used. When defining love for the family,phileo is used. Love for a dog uses the Greek word storge that defines love between a parent and child, or the love of an owner for his dog. Agape is used to reveal God’s love for mankind. Narrow and precise definitions.
A helpful tool in defining words in the Bible is Strong’s English/Hebrew/Greek Dictionary. You will be delightfully astounded at word meanings in Scripture as you explore definitions with this dictionary. It’s worth its price on CBD, or at your local Bible book store.
Look at the Scripture reference Genesis 35:1-4. This was a reference taught from during a Sunday School class I sat in years ago. Jacob instructs his family to get rid of their gods and idols. And their response is to take off their earrings! What was the connection? Did God see my wearing of earrings as a form of idolatry? I was genuinely puzzled. I came home and went to my Strong’s Dictionary for clarification.
Three Hebrew words were used for earrings. One meant an amulet, a charm, used to ward off evil spirits. The other two words both meant something round, a ring with a jewel for the ears. Ah. The Rule of Definition to my rescue. And my conscience is clear when I wear earrings. 🙂
2. Rule of Context – to rightly interpret the Bible, Scripture must be determined and accepted in its full context, in its full setting, in its full subject matter. Scripture agrees with itself, because the Trinity is undivided and indivisible. The Holy Spirit instructed holy men to write the Word of God, and He never contradicts Himself. The Bible, in the original languages, is inerrant – without error as the Holy Spirit gave it to the writers. Before taking off on a jag with a verse or two of Scripture out of context, follow it through the Word, search out all the references, and know exactly God meant to say in that Scripture. We save ourselves much trouble and are safe from misleadings as we make use of this interpretive Rule of Context. As we read the Word, hear it preached or presented in a class setting, God will impress us personally with His instruction or comfort. But He will never guide us in any way that isn’t consistent with Himself and His whole Word. And this leads us into the Rule of Unity.
3. Rule of Unity – accepting all Scripture as Scripture; accepting that all Scripture is in unity with, and supports, all Scripture in its entirety. The Bible is a glorious tapestry held together by the very unity of the Trinity. Tug on any topic of Scripture and follow that thread throughout the whole of Inspiration. It is tightly interwoven to provide profitability for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness that we may be perfected, supplied, and supported with all we need to know and do God’s will in this life. This Rule of Unity insures that the Rule of Context stands firm without deviation. And leads us into the Rule of Precedent.
4. Rule of Precedent – the process of comparison to determine an accurate interpretation of vague, obscure, or complex passages of Holy Writ. This rule states that when a text, standing in its context, could be interpreted in more than one way, it must conform to established fact and truth relative to the subject. In these cases, the established truth serves as precedent for the obscure or complex text. We must accept the standard of truth, and can stand spiritually and scripturally secure, interpreting within that boundary.
The Bible is a whole truth. The harder-to-understand sections agree with the whole. There are no contradictions or inconsistencies within the Trinity or the Word of God. You can count on and rest in that.
Are there Scriptures difficult to understand? Yes. Peter states that some of Paul’s writings are hard to be understood (2 Peter 3:16), and we are told of mysteries and secrets in Scripture. But Peter goes on to say that we take these out of context, or misinterpret them, to our detriment and destruction.
How much wiser to take the Word of God to God Himself and ask Him to open our understanding that we might understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45)! The Holy Spirit, the Author of the Bible, the Spirit of Truth, is also our Teacher (John 15:17&26). Take your questions and the harder-to-understand Scriptures to Him. He not only has the answer – He IS the Answer! He will open our eyes to see the wondrous things in His Word (Psalm 119:18). It’s His good pleasure to answer questions from the inquiring hearts of His dear children.
In the next writing, we’ll explore the last four rules of interpretation that complete the groundwork for rightly dividing the Word of Truth.
Rightly dividing the Word of Truth – dissecting correctly the divine message; dealing with Scripture accurately, carefully discerning each shade of meaning. “Meditate upon these things; give yourself wholly to them; that your progress may appear to all. Take heed to yourself, and unto the doctrine; continue herein: for in doing this you shall both save yourself and those who hear you” when you give answer of the hope within (1Timothy 4:15&16; 1 Peter3:15).
Blog authored by Jamie Tamez
1 Timothy 1:17