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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.
Sunday, November 30, 2014
Heresies — those deviations from essential Christian doctrine — were painstakingly refuted in the early years of the church. But today, some of those same heresies have reappeared, only using new labels or a different forms. Join us in this new podcast series where Lenny outlines how many of the "new religious movements" that crop up are actually regurgitations of old, deadly errors.
Saturday, April 12, 2014
What is Christian Science? How does it relate to historic Christianity? In this video, Lenny reviews a bit of the history and beliefs of Mary Baker Eddy and the Church of Christ, Scientist. Drawing parallels to the ancient heresy of Gnosticism, Lenny show why Christian Science is really a wolf in sheep's clothing.
Friday, August 02, 2013
The nature of God, like the nature of mammals, is what defines God. The Christian God has a certain nature; there are essential attributes that make the God of Christianity God. If one teaches that God has different attributes, you are no longer talking about the God of Christianity and therefore you no longer teaching Christianity. You are teaching something fundamentally different.
In my last two posts, I've begun to explain some identifying characteristics of any religious movement that could be defined as a cult of Christianity. While the word cult immediately evokes mind control or armed compounds, it's more formal definition much more broad. As I've explained before, the word is used to express the idea of being seduced away from the historic Christian faith. That is really the third marker of cult of Christianity: it is any sect that claims to be Christian but teaches a denial of one or more of the essential doctrines that make Christianity what it is.
What are some of the essential doctrines of Christianity? Well here are a few:
- The nature of God: Christianity defines God as one being in three persons. Jehovah's Witnesses teach that God is one person and Mormons claim that God is multiple beings. Christian Science also denies the Trinity, with Eddy writing "The theory of three persons in one God (that is, a personal Trinity or Tri-unity) suggests polytheism, rather than the one ever-present I AM."
- The nature of Christ: Jehovah's Witnesses deny the deity of Jesus, claiming He's a created being. Mormons hold that Jesus was the physical offspring of Elohim and a spirit brother of all humans. In Christian Science, "Jesus Christ is not God, as Jesus himself declared, but is the Son of God."
- The nature of salvation: Salvation is wholly accomplished by Christ on the cross. However the Book of Mormon teaches that "it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do."  The Watchtower teaches that Jesus' death paid the ransom only for sin inherited from Adam, but believers' names won't be committed to the Book of Life until they pass the test of loyalty. Christian Science teaches ""One sacrifice, however great, is insufficient to pay the debt of sin. The atonement requires constant self-immolation on the sinner's part."
Heresy used to be a more serious charge as people understood that by changing any essential doctrine also changes the nature of the belief. It would be like claiming to be a fish but not having gills. For while these movements may look Christian on the outside, their nature shows they are not what they claim to be.
 Eddy, Ibid. 361. <http://christianscience.com/read-online/science-and-health/(chapter)/chapter-xi-some-objections-answered#anchor.1.11>
 Smith, Joseph, Jr. The Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1948. Print. 92.
 McClane, Joe. "Understanding the Jehovah's Witness Teaching of the Ransom Sacrifice and the Atonement." Accessed online at http://www.joemcclane.com/ROB/ransom.pdf> 8/2/2013
 Eddy, Ibid. 23. < http://christianscience.com/read-online/science-and-health/(chapter)/chapter-ii-atonement-and-eucharist#anchor.1.2 >
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Today, I'd like to look at the second sign of a cult—a new revelation from God that becomes the authoritative source for understanding Him and His word. This is a natural corollary to the first sign. Since these sects claim that historic Christianity has been duped, they need to provide their followers with some type of new filter or new revelation in order to "set things right" again. Sometimes, this appears as an entire new set of Scriptures. Joseph Smith offered his Book of Mormon as "another testament of Jesus Christ" Smith claimed it is "the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book."1 Along with the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price, Smith offered an entirely new set of scriptures to his followers. He claimed that the Bible text had been lost or changed,2 and he took it upon himself to provide a new translation, a project he did not finish before his death.
Many other sects rely on the bible as the source of scripture, but make the claim that one cannot understand the truths therein without their special insight. Mary Baker Eddy produced Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures claiming to have "rediscovered the healing principle of Jesus and his disciples, lost since the early Christian era."3
The Jehovah's Witnesses continue to make this claim with their production of The Watchtower and Awake! magazines. In fact, the September 15 1910 edition of the Watchtower made this famous claim:
"If the six volumes of Scripture Studies are practically the Bible, topically arranged with Bible proof texts given, we might not improperly name them the Bible in arranged form. That is to say, they are not merely comments on the Bible but they are practically the Bible itself… people cannot see the divine plan in studying the Bible by itself, we see that if anyone lays the Scripture Studies aside and ignores them and goes to the Bible alone.. within two years he goes into darkness. On the other hand, if he has read the Scripture Studies with their references, and has not read a page of the Bible, as such, he would be in the light after two years, because he would have the light of the scriptures."4
If it's new, it's not true.When the Apostle Paul heard that the church he planted in Galatia was falling for one of these charming preachers teaching a new doctrine, he wrote them a letter and made his concerns known in no uncertain terms:
"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed!" (Gal 1:6-9)Paul uses the strongest language possible to say that the idea of new doctrine, no matter the source, is not really something new, but something false! He says that such teachers should be accursed, using a term reserved for those to whom the most severe judgments apply.
Ultimately, this concept of a new scripture or a new interpretive scheme is a big red flag that what these sects offer is not to be followed. Jesus said that scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35) and even the gates of hell could not prevail against His true church (Matt. 16:18). So why should we believe that His teachings have been lost? If the claims of these new revelators are true, then they contradict Jesus Himself!
Peter tells us that "no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." He then warns that "there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction" (2 Pet. 1:20-2:1). Cults deny Jesus by denying His word is sufficient in itself. Such denials do not lead to life but to the destruction of those who would hold them.
2. "The Scriptures Are Available to Us Today." Gospel Principles, (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 2011). 44-46. Accessed online at http://www.lds.org/manual/gospel-principles/chapter-10-scriptures?lang=eng
3. Martin, Walter. The Kingdom of the Cults. (Minneapolis:Bethany House Pub. 1997) 264.
4. Martin, Ibid. 87
Monday, July 29, 2013
Today, there are more groups than ever claiming to follow the real teachings of Jesus. Some claim that Jesus' teachings have been forgotten or corrupted and they have come to restore the true faith. Could this be? How can someone quickly and accurately identify false sects from true ones? Are there markers to identify these ‘ravenous wolves' who seek to devour the people?
False religious sects that claim Christian teachings seem to follow a pattern that has three common traits:
- They have a charismatic leader who claims to have unique authority to speak on God's behalf.
- They offer some type of heretofore "secret" or exclusive revelation now being made public.
- They deny one or more of the essential doctrines (nature of God, nature of Christ, atonement, way of salvation, Christ's promised coming) that have always identified Christianity.
#1—A charismatic leader who claims to have unique authority to speak on God's behalf.The first sign of a false sect is each has a leader who teaches with a bold authority, claiming to have the authority to speak on God's behalf. Mormon founder Joseph Smith claimed to be a prophet from God and said that all Christian denominations were wrong and "all their creeds were an abomination in his sight." The Christian Science church says that its founder, Mary Baker Eddy, "saw herself as having discovered the spiritual science behind Jesus' healing works." In 1917, the Watchtower magazine claimed that Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah's Witnesses movement, was the "faithful and discreet slave" that is spoken of in Jesus' parable in Matthew 24. The Watchtower organization continues to claim only they fulfill this role even to this day.
The idea of God revealing some new doctrine to a single individual is antithetical to the New Testament. Paul warns Timothy of this sign in 1 Timothy 1:6-7 when he writes, "Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions ." Notice how Paul describes these leaders as making confident assertions, but they really have no understanding.
In his first epistle, John writes, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes… that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full." Here, John says that he and the other writers of the New Testament were reporting eyewitness events. John and Matthew were eyewitnesses themselves while Mark and Luke reported the eyewitness testimony of others. Paul claims to get his instruction from Jesus directly also (Gal. 1:6) and his writings are confirmed as authoritative by Peter (2 Pet. 3:15-16).
The model displayed in the New Testament contrasts that of the single person providing a new revelation. As the church is forming, we don't see one man independently claim to have God's "inside track", but the apostles as a group were given authority by Jesus to teach others about Him. Jesus promised this very authority and insight to the apostles when He told them:
"However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you." (John 16:12-15)
Jesus said the Holy Spirit will come upon all the apostles so they can authoritatively teach on Jesus' behalf. Even when matters of discernment or controversy come, we never see only one man proclaim a new teaching from God, but the apostles gather together, as in Acts 15, to discuss the matter and bring forth a full consensus.
The sign of one man claiming some unique revelation from God heretofore undiscovered is a clear hallmark of one who doesn't have the truth. The believers in Galatia fell for such a charismatic speaker, an action that made Paul write to them using the strongest possible language: "As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed" (Gal 1:9).
The essentials of Christianity are well-established. Anyone, no matter how charming or persuasive, who asks you to believe something different is distorting the teachings of the Bible and is leading others to death rather than to eternal life.
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