Reading the Fine Print
In a previous post on the harm that cult leaders like Harold Camping can cause confused Christians, I gave a brief testimony of my stint in a cult. In the comment section of this post, a reader reported to me that he had visited the cult’s website and couldn’t any evidence of their being a cult. And he’s right. On paper, or as it were on-line, everything is fine. That’s why I chose to attend their services. It wasn’t until I had been attending there for some time that I began to see that the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith was a confession that they only claimed to hold to, as I found out that the leader denies justification by grace alone through faith alone (i.e. the Gospel), says that faith is the effectual cause of justification as opposed to the instrumental cause of justification, practices what is called thought-reform/cognitive reconstruction, i.e. “brainwashing,” and emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically abused the members of his cult. In his hands, the Bible became a book where he was Moses and the people in the pews were the rebellious children of Israel. In other words, he was faultless in his own eyes. He even referenced Scripture about Christ as if it referred to himself. But you wouldn’t know that just from taking a glance at their website.
This may be the case in many churches that have a solidly orthodox confession/statement of faith, but who don’t actually believe what the contents of that confession/statement of faith. The place that I got sucked into used the 1689 London Baptist Confession as a badge of honor, a means of separating themselves from “the world” (i.e. whoever did not attend their congregation) in a self-righteous manner. All of this, again, can’t be noted just from looking at their website; I had to learn the hard way. And I thank the Lord that I did. You see, the individual professor of faith in Christ is not the sole infallible interpreter of Scripture. This is true in two ways: (i.)with respect to oneself and (ii.)with respect to one’s pastor. After leaving my spiritual life in the hands of an abusive cult leader, I learned that he was not the sole infallible interpreter of Scripture. I also learned that I was not the sole infallible interpreter of Scripture as I struggled with his heretical beliefs and how I was to effectively demonstrate their heinousness. I was forced to read my Bible more intently, more frequently, and more prayerfully. I was also forced to study theology more intently and to compare what I was reading with I knew from Scripture. And I wound up seeing how the Lord has blessed His church with teachers who have faithfully exegeted Scripture and preached the Law and the Gospel faithfully to their congregations. This was particularly encouraging, as I then understood that it is the Lord who preserves His church. He cares for His flock, feeds them, and leads them into glory.
What’s the Point of All This?
I wrote this follow up blog primarily deal with what is a real problem in many places but often goes unaddressed in the bigger ecclesiastical discussions (at least in my opinion). The problem of cults that have an external badge of orthodoxy but which preach a false Gospel, nearly deify the “pastor,” and which condone psychological, emotional, and spiritual abuse needs to be addressed for what it is. During my time of learning about cults, and learning that I was in a cult myself(!), the Lord graciously led me to some resources that helped me and my wife understand how it is that we were being abused. Below, I’ve provided a list of resources that were very helpful to my family in adding our ability to reason properly about our situation, identify the place we were sucked into for what it was/is (i.e. a cult), and gain Scriptural encouragement to leave that cult. Many cults are easily spotted; however, what is more psychologically unsettling and spiritually devastating is when a place has all the external marks of being a faithful church, and is really a place of bondage, oppression, and abuse.
If you are in a “church” and feel as though you might really be in a cult, I’d advise you to pray, ask the Lord for His guidance, and ask Him to reveal what lies hidden in the darkness. He is faithful and won’t give you a stone if you ask Him for bread. My wife and I prayed for the Lord to show us the cult leader’s heresy, and after some time the leader preached heresy pretty openly from the pulpit. Also ask the Lord for wisdom to understand His Word. And ask the Lord to lead you to commentaries that are trustworthy, sound in their theology. Don’t be afraid to question the person teaching you. If that person gets enraged (as the cult leader I confronted did), or belittles you (as the cult leader I confronted did), or refuses to answer your questions on matters that are of eternal significance (as the cult leader I confronted did), then that is enough of a warning signal to you that what you are involved in is at the least a church where the “pastor” should not be exercising spiritual authority over anyone, let alone pretending to be the shepherd over God’s flock; and at the worst, it is a cult where you must bow the knee in submission to the pope or suffer excommunication from his kingdom.
If you need help identifying whether or not you are in a cult, CARM has an excellent page that concisely breaks down the visible signs of what a cult is, as well as the spiritual and moral teachings that are universal when it comes to cults (e.g. all cults have a distorted understanding of the Gospel). In addition to CARM’s cult page, here are some resources that I found online that were a great blessing to me and my family. I hope they will help you as they helped us.
Solus Deo Gloria.
How to Identify Cults Posturing as Churches
 This distinction, although I haven’t heard many preachers talk about it, is extremely important, as it distinguishes the true Gospel from false Gospels. Faith as the instrumental cause means that faith is passive, receptive, receiving salvation; Faith as the effectual cause means that faith is rewarded with eternal life, which is completely heretical. Charles Hodge gives a concise and proper definition of the Christian understanding of faith as the instrumental cause of justification in his Systematic Theology, Vol. III, Chap. XVII, Sec. 8.4.
The common doctrine of Protestants on this subject is that faith is merely the instrumental cause of justification. It is the act of receiving and resting upon Christ, and has no other relation to the end than any other act by which a proffered good is accepted. This is clearly the doctrine of Scripture, (1.) Because we are constantly said to be justified by, or through faith. (2.) Because the faith which justifies is described as a looking, as a receiving, as a coming, as a fleeing for refuge, as a laying hold of, and as a calling upon. (3.) Because the ground to which our justification is referred, and that on which the sinner’s trust is placed, is declared to be the blood, the death, the righteousness, the obedience of Christ. (4.) Because the fact that Christ is a ransom, a sacrifice, and as such effects our salvation, of necessity supposes that the faith which interests us in the merit of his work is a simple act of trust. (5.) Because any other view of the case is inconsistent with the gratuitous nature of justification, with the honour of Christ, and with the comfort and confidence of the believer.
Standing in opposition to the Scriptural teaching on faith as the instrumental cause of justification is the view of faith as the ground of justification, or as the effectual cause of justification, which was held by the Remonstrants (i.e. Arminians). Hodge explains their position in 8.3.
According to the Remonstrants or Arminians, faith is the ground of justification. Under the Gospel God accepts our imperfect obedience including faith and springing from it, in place of the perfect obedience demanded by the law originally given to Adam. There is one passage in the Bible, or rather one form of expression, which occurs in several places, which seems to favour this view of the subject. In Romans iv. 3, it is said, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness;” and again in ver. 22 of that chapter, and in Galatians iii. 6.
Hodge then goes on to explain how the view of the Arminians/Remonstrants is unscriptural.
If this phrase be interpreted according to the analogy of such passages as Romans ii. 26, “Shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?” it does mean that faith is taken or accepted for righteousness. The Bible, however, is the word of God and therefore self-consistent. Consequently if a passage admits of one interpretation inconsistent with the teaching of the Bible in other places, and of another interpretation consistent with that teaching, we are bound to accept the latter. This rule, simple and obvious as it is, is frequently violated, not only by those who deny the inspiration of the Scriptures, but even by men professing to recognize their infallible authority. They seem to regard it as a proof of independence to make each passage mean simply what its grammatical structure and logical connection indicate, without the least regard to the analogy of Scripture. This is unreasonable.
What, therefore, Abraham believed, was that the seed of the woman, the Shiloh, the promised Redeemer of the world, was to be born of him. He believed in Christ, as his Saviour, as his righteousness, and deliverer, and therefore it was that he was accepted as righteous, not for the merit of his faith, and not on the ground of faith, or by taking faith in lieu of righteousness, but because he received and rested on Christ alone for his salvation.
(ibid., emphasis mine)