CULTS, ORTHODOXY, AND BIBLICAL CHRISTIANITY
BY J. L. HALL
The terms cult, orthodoxy, and biblical Christianity are rather difficult to define due to the diversity of opinions and concepts that they elicit from individuals and organizations! Many evangelicals use historic Christianity as the criterion to identify all three; that is, they contend that the creeds and confessions formulated by ecumenical councils during the fourth and fifth centuries are both the benchmark of orthodoxy and the doctrines of biblical Christianity. Using the ecumenical creeds and confessions as their standard of orthodoxy, they label any group that deviates from the creedal statements a cult. 2
The United Pentecostal Church believes that the Bible, and only the Bible, is the criterion for judging the correctness of doctrine and therefore the standard of orthodoxy, for only the Bible is infallible. The Christian church is not built upon the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant churches, or the creedal statements of any group or organization, but upon Jesus Christ and the apostles’ doctrine (I Corinthians 3:10-15; Galatians 1:8-9; Ephesians 2:19-22).
Biblical Christianity refers to the doctrines and practices revealed in the New Testament. While the Old Testament provides the theological framework, prophetic visions, and historical examples for the church, it serves only as a teacher to bring people to Christ and to the new covenant that began with the birth of the church on the Day of Pentecost.
The fundamental doctrines of the New Testament focus upon the divine authority of the Bible (II Timothy 3:16), the unity of God (I Corinthians 8:4, 6; Galatians 3:20; I Timothy 2:5), the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ (John 8:24, 58; Colossians 2:9; I Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 2:14-18), salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:20-31; Ephesians 2:8-10), water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; 22:16), the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:39; 8:17; 9:17; 10:44-47; 11:17; 19:6; Romans 8:15; Ephesians 1:13), a life free from the bondage of sin (John 8:34-36; Romans 6:1-23), evangelizing the unsaved (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8), the return of Jesus Christ (John 14:1-3; Acts 1:11; I Thessalonians 4:13-17), and the judgment of all (Revelation 20:11-15).
The New Testament teaches us that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (II Timothy 3:16). As God’s Word, the Bible is complete and without error.
The monotheism so clearly expressed in the Old Testament is also proclaimed in the New Testament (I Corinthians 8:4-6: Galatians 3:20: I Timothy 2:5: Romans 3:29-30). The one God revealed Himself as the Father, through the Son, and as the Holy Ghost, and through this revelation of Himself He redeems, reconciles, and regenerates sinners to be sons of God (II Corinthians 5:19; Galatians 4:4-7).
The New Testament proclaims that Jesus is the Son of God, but it also reveals that He is God manifested in flesh; He is both the Son of David and the Lord of David (Luke 20:41-44). He is God incarnate, the one true God, the Jehovah of the Old Testament come in the flesh (Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:3; John 8:24, 58; I Timothy 3:16). Although He was born of Mary, He is Emmanuel, God with us. He is God, the Creator of all things in heaven and earth, both visible and invisible (Matthew 1:23; John 1:10; Colossians 1:12-17). He is the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of His person (Hebrew 1:3). In Jesus Christ dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Colossians 2:9).
While His absolute deity is asserted in many ways, Jesus was also human, born of the seed of Abraham. His humanity was not merely in appearance; it was real and complete, yet He was sinless in His nature and life. In His humanity, He experienced life as others did: He matured from a child to be an adult, growing in stature, wisdom, and favor with God and men (Luke 2:52). He became weary, thirsty, hungry, and sleepy as do other men. Like others, He was tempted in all points, but unlike others, He did not yield to temptation. He prayed for others, and He prayed for Himself. The Bible tells us that God anointed Him with the Spirit and with power, and with this anointing, He “went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38).
As the Son of God, Jesus died on the cross for our sins, but God raised Him from the dead and made Him both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36) and exalted Him to sit at the right hand of God (Hebrews 10:12).
From Adam, mankind inherited a sinful nature and every person is born with this sin nature. Moreover, all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Jesus gave His life as a ransom for sinners to redeem them from the bondage and punishment of sin (Mark 10:45; I Timothy 2:6). No one can be saved by his own good works or holy lifestyle, for salvation is a gift from God, who justifies sinners “freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth to be a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness” (Romans 3:24-25, NKJV). While people were yet sinners Jesus died for them (Romans 5:8) so that they might be saved by grace through faith.
But faith is not alone; it functions with the obedience of confession and repentance of sins, water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 4:12; 10:43, 48; Romans 6:2-4), and the gift of the Holy Ghost, the seal for our redemption (II Corinthians 1:22; Galatians 3:2; Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30).
Christians are instructed not to love the world with its lusts and pride, for to live after the flesh is death (I John 2:15-17; Romans 8:6, 13). Jesus said that Christians are in the world but not of the world. Paul wrote that Christians should “cleanse ourselves of all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (II Corinthians 7:1).
Every Christian is a witness, both by a living example and by teaching the gospel to others. Christians are to go into all the world to tell every person that Jesus died as a propitiation for the sins of all mankind, and that through faith in Him they can receive forgiveness of their sins and the gift of eternal life (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 1:8; 10:43; Romans 6:23).
The hope of the church is the bodily return of Jesus Christ, for then both the dead and the living saints shall be changed from mortal to immortality, from their earthly bodies to be like Him, and then shall they ever live with Him.
Every person shall be judged by God for the things he has done in life. The saved shall enter into life everlasting, and the unsaved shall be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15).
These brief statements on the doctrines of biblical Christianity are not intended to include all teachings of the New Testament, but they are the basic and fundamental doctrines believed and taught by the apostles.
The Meaning of Orthodoxy
The word orthodoxy comes from the Greek words orthos (“right, true”) and doxa (“opinion”) meaning right belief, as opposed to heresy or heterodoxy. The word is not biblical, since it first appeared in the second century, but it expresses the idea that the revealed truth of a movement can be expressed in doctrinal statements.
One of the meanings of orthodox given in the dictionary is: “conforming to the Christian faith as formulated in the early ecumenical creeds and confessions.” This definition would apply to those who accept the early ecumenical creeds and confession as revealed truth, but for those who do not accept them as revealed truth, the creeds have only historical interest. To be true to the foundations laid by the apostles, all Christians must accept the Bible as the only revealed truth and therefore the ultimate measure of orthodoxy.
Most Christians concede that the criterion for orthodoxy should be the Bible, 3 but some writers also refer to the ecumenical creeds, confessions, and definitions as the standard of orthodoxy. 4 While they credit the Bible as truth, they use code words and phrases such as “historic Christianity,” “orthodox faith,” and “historical interpretation” to refer to the doctrinal positions established by the ecumenical councils of the fourth and fifth centuries. Knowingly or not, they ascribe to these creeds and confessions the same divine origin that cults give to their extra-biblical revelations; in other words, the principle of creedal orthodoxy is not distinguishable from the practice of cultic revelations.
Most evangelical believers cannot accept all the statements in the ecumenical creeds and confessions as orthodox and still be true to their beliefs. For example, the Nicene Creed states that baptism is for the remission of sins, but evangelicals, in general, contend that baptism does not remit sins. To maintain their doctrinal position on baptism and still be orthodox to the creed they are forced either to redefine the creedal language in an attempt to harmonize its meaning with their belief or else to change their belief to that of the creed. A third alternative is to declare that the creed is in error.
Can evangelicals believe that Mary is the mother of God? Yet this doctrine is found in the Formula of Reunion promulgated at the ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431 and in the Chalcedonian Definition formulated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
Walter Martin deviates from the Nicene Creed and other creeds and confessions promulgated in the fourth and fifth centuries by his denial of the eternal Sonship of Jesus Christ. 5 His deviation appears far more serious than the filioque clause that precipitated the split between the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity in 1054.
If evangelicals and other Protestants accept the early ecumenical creeds as orthodox, they have to defend why they do not accept the ecumenical creeds promulgated at church councils after the fifth century. Both the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church have answered this question. The Eastern Orthodox Church calls itself the Church of the Seven Councils, all held between 325 and 787. After the division with the Western church, the Orthodox churches have contended that no other ecumenical councils have been held. At the same time, they have developed a theology that allows them the opportunity to continue developing new doctrines. 6 The Roman Catholic Church still holds councils to promulgate doctrines they desire.
Why do evangelicals accept only the creeds from two centuries when the same church continued to hold ecumenical councils and decide on correct doctrine? Is it because evangelicals do not want to be associated with such doctrines as transubstantiation, papal infallibility, veneration of Mary as Queen of Heaven, infant baptism, and sacramental grace? Are not these doctrines as well as the doctrine of the Trinity a part of “historic” Christianity and the “orthodox historic” faith?
The Eastern Orthodox Church argues that it is consistent with historic Christianity and it denounces the Western churches as being unorthodox: “The Eastern church styles itself ‘orthodox,’ and condemns the Western church as heterodox for (among other things) including the filioque clause in its creed.” 7 The Roman Catholic Church denounced the Protestants as unorthodox dissenters, and the Protestant Reformers Luther and Zwingli denounced each other as unorthodox. 8 Luther considered the doctrines of the Anabaptists to be cultic, and the Pilgrim fathers felt that the Church of England was not a part of the true church. Each group then and now sets its own standards for judging what is Christian and what is non-Christian.
If a person attempts to establish orthodoxy on the basis of “the beliefs held by the majority of Christians since the church began in the first century,” 9 he may need to check the census records for the past centuries to make sure which branch of Christians had the majority, or perhaps which one has the majority today. Moreover, since a large church organization may change its opinions on its doctrinal position, his orthodoxy would need to change with them.
The only logical course is for Christians to accept biblical Christianity as the only measurement of orthodoxy, for no other gospel or doctrine is valid. This does not mean that Christians should not make statements of faith, but it does mean that the statements are not to be considered the basis of orthodoxy. Only the Bible is the infallible Word of God, and every doctrine must be judged true or false by it and it alone. If all Christians would submit to the authority of the Scriptures and not to their interpretations of the Bible, a true ecumenical climate could emerge in the Christian community.
Only a few years have passed since the world was shocked by the horrible events that brought death to more than nine hundred people in the jungles of Guyana. For weeks and months, the media showed pictures and carried stories on the tragedy, and the world came to understand the potential danger of religious-political cults to society, human lives, and spiritual values. Jonestown and its leader, Jim Jones, have become a part of our vocabulary in our understanding of cultic psychology and behavior.
It appears that only estimates can be made on the number of cults and cult members in the United States and in the world. Martin estimates in one section of his book that twenty million cult members are in the United States, 10 but in a later section he states, “There are around 60 million cultists and another 60 million Americans who dabble in the occult in the United States today.” No explanation is given for the wide difference in the two estimates. Perhaps Martin reclassified some large Christian religions and also included many other people who do not claim a religion to arrive at his later count. Other estimates are far lower. One news magazine estimated the number of cults in America in 1976 to be about one thousand and cult members to be around three million. 12
Usually classified as cults are the Eastern mystical groups, psycho-spiritual or self-improvement groups, eclectic-syncretistic groups, the occult groups, and aberrant Christian groups. 13
The New Webster’s Dictionary defines cult as “a system of religious worship, esp. with reference to its rites and ceremonies; a sect adhering to a common ideology or doctrine or leader, esp. when such adherence or devotion is based on fanatical beliefs or dogma.” The word is derived from the Latin word cultus, which means cultivate, till, worship; and therefore in a broad sense, all religious groups may be called cults.
Historically, cult merely identified dissenters from major religions, but in recent years, especially after Jonestown, the word has acquired derogatory connotations, especially among the general population. 14 While the word remains a neutral term for scholars in psychology, sociology, and anthropology, and somewhat in religion, 15 to the general public a cult conjures up images of evil shadows and despotic manipulations.
Although there are general characteristics that identify many of the cults, what is meant by a cult depends upon a person’s independent judgment. 16 Margaret Singer, a psychologist, states that the word has been applied to groups “involved in beliefs and practices just off the beat of traditional religions; to groups making exploratory excursions into non-Western philosophical practices; and to groups involving intense relationships between followers and a powerful idea or leader.” 17
The modern usage of the word cult among evangelicals probably came from The Chaos of Cults (1938) by Jan van Baalen, in which the author subjected various religious groups “to a rigorous theological critique from an evangelical perspective.” 18 During the last twenty-five years, evangelicals have generally used the word cult against those they perceive as heretical in theology. 19 Some of these writers disclaim any intent to use the term in a derogatory manner, 20 but others boldly suggest that the spirit or force behind a cult is satanic. 21
During recent years, some evangelical writers have labeled any group as a cult if its doctrine conflicts with their interpretation of orthodox Christianity: “A cult, then, is a group of people polarized around someone’s interpretation of the Bible and is characterized by major deviations from orthodox Christianity relative to the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith, particularly the fact that God became man in Jesus Christ.” 22 The “cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith” does not necessarily refer to biblical Christianity but to the doctrines formulated by early ecumenical councils and as those creeds are interpreted by the Reformed tradition. 23 Martin contends that the historic interpretation is the only valid interpretation of the Bible and to stray from the orthodox interpretation is to become a cult: “They (the cults) constitute a growing trend in Americana–a trend which is away from the established Christian churches and the historic teachings of the Bible.” 24
In their book, Understanding the Cults, Josh McDowell and Don Stewart define a cult as “a perversion, a distortion of biblical Christianity and, as such, rejects the historic teachings of the Christian church.” 25 The phrase “historic teachings of the Christian church” qualifies “biblical Christianity” to mean that form of Christianity as interpreted by the ecumenical councils and their form of Protestantism.
Another evangelical writer defines cult as “any religious group which is an offshoot of a major religion, with its own peculiar twist to the teachings of that religion; a group, in other words, which does not stand within the mainstream of orthodoxy of its parent faith but has developed dogmas of its own which are foreign to the parent faith’s original understandings.” 26 The key phrase in this definition is “mainstream of orthodoxy” for it is another code phrase for historic Christianity as interpreted by early ecumenical confessions and creeds.
This same view is subtly expressed almost as an afterthought by one writer: he urges Christians to test their “teachings and practices objectively and independently by God’s infallible Word, the Bible, and history.” 27 The added words “and history” are unnecessary if the Bible is the sole divine authority for faith. In suggesting an extra-biblical authority as the guide for orthodoxy, a person opens himself to a cultic practice.
Some definitions are so written that the author obscures his meaning behind such phrases as “orthodox faith”: “A cult may take many forms, but it is basically a religious movement which distorts or warps orthodox faith to the point where truth becomes perverted into a lie.” 28 If by “orthodox faith” the author means the doctrines expressed in the Bible, the definition would be proper; however, his failure to be specific indicates that he is probably referring to some particular set of doctrinal statements rather than the Bible itself.
One evangelical faults the cults on their interpretation of the Bible, saying that they interpret it in “a way different from that of orthodox Christianity. They (the cults] testify that the historic beliefs and interpretations of Scripture are based upon a misunderstanding of the Bible or were pagan in origin.” 29 This quote reveals more about the author than about the cults, for it is evident that he places the “historic beliefs” in the superior position to the Bible in that `’historic beliefs” set the standard for judging what are biblical doctrines.
Cults that distort biblical doctrines are of concern to Christians. Jesus warned us that there would arise false prophets and false Christs who would deceive many people (Matthew 24:5, 11). It was no surprise to the apostles when false prophets and teachers appeared in Christian communities to preach another gospel and another Jesus (Acts 20:28-30; 11 Corinthians 11:2-3; Galatians 1:6-9; 11 Peter 2:1-2). John wrote that there were many deceivers and antichrists active in his day (I John 2:18; II John 7), and Jude felt compelled to exhort Christians to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints” because ungodly men were preaching a corrupt doctrine of God’s grace and denying the Lord Jesus (Jude 3-4). Since false doctrines and antichrists appeared in the early days of the church, we can also expect them in these last days.
Although the New Testament does not use the word cult, it warns of doctrinal deviations, especially regarding the deity of Jesus Christ and the plan of salvation. Some of those who perverted the gospel in the days of the apostles probably were cultic in their behavior as well, for the biblical description of false prophets matches the leaders of cults: they distort New Testament doctrine; their motive centers on money, lust, and power over the lives of others; they use deception through empty philosophy and flattery; and they make false promises of liberty through either asceticism or antinomianism (I Timothy 4:1-3; 11 Peter 2:1-3, 12-19; Jude 4, 16).
Christians should also be concerned when the label of cult is used against groups who merely interpret some doctrine in a different Perspective from “historic” Christianity. First of all, using the label as a doctrinal propaganda weapon is not only unfair but also unchristian since the word transmits to the general public the most bizarre and extremist characteristics of cultic groups. Then the word is used today as a propaganda weapon by secularists who are urging the passing of laws to replace religious freedom with religious toleration. In an effort to disarm secularists of this propaganda weapon, the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology suggests that Christians should follow “the academic practice of calling such groups [cults] ‘new religious movements.'” 30
Recently, a few evangelicals have tried to label Oneness Pentecostal churches as cultic. 31 They justify their actions by referring to the rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity by Oneness believers. 32 To illustrate their arguments against Oneness groups, the following quotes from a book on cults by Bruce Tucker, an evangelical author, are given below.
“This common illustration (that the Trinity is like a man who is simultaneously a son, a father, and a husband] simply demonstrates a major cultic error, modalism, which says that God is one person, not three, with a variety of titles.” 33
“Three divine persons are mentioned in the Scriptures. The Scriptures also teach that God is one. In an attempt to harmonize these facts, some, especially groups called ‘Jesus Only’ churches, insist upon the solution that all three are simply one person. This is reasonable but incorrect.” 34
“Adoptionism is generally not the view of the ‘Jesus Only’ groups today, because adoptionists do not advocate a unity of the person of Christ. However, they do hold to the shifting emphasis of different facets of the Godhead.” 35 “William Marrion Branham and his present followers espouse this view [that there is one God and one person). They are an example of a larger group often identified as ‘Jesus Only’ churches. This term ‘Jesus Only’ comes from their baptismal ritual in which they baptize in the name of Jesus only, not in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” 36
“Often these ‘Jesus Only’ groups indict orthodox Christians as tritheists, believing in three gods. This is a poor rendering of the orthodox position on the Trinity. The problem with modalism, of course, is the eternal existence of three persons and their social interaction among each other.” 37
Although the Oneness view of the Godhead affirms the deity of Jesus Christ to Tucker, the failure to believe that God is a trinity is the basis for labeling the Oneness movement cultic. To him the doctrine of the Trinity is the first test of the Christian faith: “More than any other doctrine, the doctrine of the Trinity is a clear measure of cultic theology . . . a sure red light when discussing theology is the denial of the orthodoxy of the Trinity.” 38
The following quote is typical of the emphasis evangelicals place upon the Trinity: “Another characteristic of all non-Christian cults is either an inadequate view or outright denial of the Holy Trinity. The biblical doctrine of the Trinity, one God in three Persons, is usually attacked as being pagan or satanic in origin… Cults, therefore, are marked by their deviation on the doctrine of the Trinity and the nature of God.” 39
The other major conflict between most evangelicals and Oneness believers concerns the plan of salvation.
Although Oneness believers affirm that salvation is by grace through faith, most evangelicals insist that it is “faith alone” that saves a person, and their view excludes Christian baptism: “One teaching that is totally absent from all the cults is the gospel of the grace of God. No one is taught in the cults that he can be saved from eternal damnation by simply placing his faith in Jesus Christ. It is always belief in Jesus Christ and ‘do this’ or ‘follow that.’ All cults attach something to the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. It might be baptism, obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel, or something else, but it is never taught that faith in Christ alone will save anyone.” 40 Such a view makes a person wonder if the evangelicals would call the apostle Peter a cultist since he preached repentance, water baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost when the people asked him what they should do to be saved.
Cultic Behavioral Patterns
In studying the behavior pattern of cults, certain characteristics emerge. 41 While doctrines such as the deity of Jesus Christ are vital to a person’s salvation, it is social behavior that reflects the values held by a group. Social behavioral patterns of cults include the leader’s claim to be a prophet or messiah, financial exploitation of the members, mind-control manipulations to enslave members, the use of fear and intimidation as a method of control.
Many Christians do not like to discuss cult behavioral patterns because often the difference between cultic practices and Christian group behavior is one of degrees. The line between biblical principles and cult practices is often too thin to discern. Therefore, rather than taking the chance of discrediting legitimate Christian experiences or undermining proper church discipline, Christians often prefer to ignore or tolerate cultic behavior, even among groups in their organization. Church leaders, however, must attempt to provide things honest in the sight of all men, and it is better for Christians to judge themselves than to have others to judge them. For this reason, the following brief overview of possible cultic tendencies among Christians is given.
1. The problem of extra-biblical revelations is a doctrinal matter that touches a vital point in our approach to truth. The Mormons have The Book of Mormon, Doctrine, and Covenants, The Pearl of Great Price; the Moonies have The Divine Principle; the Christian Scientists have Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures; all of these extra-biblical revelations are considered equal to or greater than the Bible.
Many church groups, including Oneness Pentecostals, have used the word revelation to mean that the Spirit helps them to understand a doctrine or Bible passage. But care should be taken in the use of this term since the Bible is God’s full revelation, and any “revelation” a person may receive that does not harmonize with the Bible must be rejected. Through the Spirit, God reveals or illuminates the Word to our hearts, but He does not give new doctrinal knowledge about Himself or the world.
Using the word revelation instead of understanding or illumination opens a church group for its enemies to charge it as being cultic. For this reason, Oneness Pentecostals should exercise care in speaking of the “revelation” of the oneness of God.
Another danger occurs when a person claims to have received a “vision” or “revelation” of some future prophetic event. For example, he may claim that the Spirit revealed to him that all of the state of California will crumble into the Pacific Ocean during 1988. Since Pentecostals accept the operation of spiritual gifts, including the gift of prophecy, they need to exercise care that the Spirit and not self makes the gifts function.
2. Another cultic characteristic is a leader who claims prophetic or messianic gifts and titles. Joseph Smith is the prophet of Mormonism; Mary Baker Eddy is the prophetess for Christian Science; Jim Jones claimed to be God and wanted his followers to call him father; the followers of Sun Myung Moon view him as the messiah; William Branham claimed to be the prophet of the end time; the Catholics have the pope.
A successful minister used of God can allow himself to be elevated by people to the point that he is viewed as divinely superior to others. Ministers are anointed by God, but the anointing is to enable them to minister to the needs of others, not to become a small “deity.” By allowing others to exalt him, the minister puts himself in a dangerous position. People should respect and honor him, but if they exalt him to the role of an authoritative “prophet” or messiah, and if he begins to entertain their praise, the climate for cult behavior is set. No minister can afford to allow himself to feel superior to those he serves.
3. Many cult leaders become wealthy through their followers. A successful pastorate can provide more finances than a minister needs, and care should be taken so that money will not become his ruin. When a minister sees people in terms of money rather than as souls, he entertains a cultic motivation.
4. Using methods of fear and intimidation to control the minds and behavior of followers is common among the cults. The ultimate use of mind control is seen in the tragic events of Jonestown and People’s Temple. Loyalty is a Christian trait, but no one should be loyal to a corrupt doctrine, to a corrupt religious system, or to a corrupt minister. Christians should remember that manipulation is not the way of the Spirit, nor is the use of fear tactics the way of God. To threaten, degrade, or abuse a person in order to humiliate him is more cultic than Christian. Biblical discipline demands biblical behavior. Cultic action will not produce Christians.
Biblical Christianity is the beliefs and practices that we observe in the New Testament church. To distort the gospel or to preach another Jesus is to incur the judgment of God’s curse. The apostolic doctrines define the Christian faith, and they become the benchmark of what is orthodox and what is a cultic belief.
In terms of social behavior, cults exhibit unchristian characteristics of messianic or prophetic claims, financial exploitation, and mind control through intimidation and fear. To review these characteristics will help Oneness Pentecostals in two ways: to evangelize cult members and to avoid any cultic tendency that may emerge among them.
1. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), 289.
2. Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, Understanding the Cults (San Bernardino, California: Here’s Life Publishers, 1983), 13, 17; Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, rev. ed. (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1985), 12.
3. Dave Breese, Know the Marks of Cults (Wheaton, IL.: Victor Books, 1986), 16; The New International Dictionary of the Christian Faith, rev. ea., ed. J. D. Douglas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Corporation, 1978), 736.
4. Bruce Tucker, Twisting the Truth (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1987), 18; Martin, 12; McDowell and Stewart, 22.
5. Martin, 117.
6. Douglas, 323.
7. Elwell, 808.
8. Tucker, 17.
9. Fritz Ridenour, So What’s the Difference (Ventura, California: Regal Books, 1967), 7
10. Martin, 16.
11. Ibid., 401.
12. John Allan, Shopping for a God (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987), 12-13. Allan refers to a report in US. News and World Report that estimated the number of cults in 1976.
13. Ronald Enroth, The Lure of the Cults and New Religions (Downers Grove, IL.: Intervarsity Press, 1987), 22-35.
14. Ibid., 34.
15. Ibid., 34-35.
16. Ibid., 20.
17. Margaret Thaler Singer, “Coming Out of the Cults,” Psychology Today 12, no. 8 (January 1979): 72.
18. Elwell, 289.
20. Enroth. 35.
21. Martin, 13.
22. Walter Martin, The Rise of the Cults, 12, quoted from Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, Understanding the Cults, 17
25. McDowell and Stewart, 117.
26. Allan, 13.
27. McDowell and Stewart, 22.
28. Breese, 16.
29. McDowell and Stewart, 22.
30. Elwell, 289.
31. Robert M. Bowman, Jr., “A Biblical Critique” (Forward, Fall 1985), 27. Bowman concludes his article by calling Oneness Pentecostalism a pseudo-Christian sect and the Oneness churches cults.
32. Ibid.; Tucker, 64, 76-79, 85-88; William W. Stevens, Doctrines of the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), 122.
33. Tucker, 64.
34. Ibid., 77.
35. Ibid., 78.
36. Ibid., 86.
38. Tucker, 79.
39. McDowell and Stewart, 25-26.
40. Ibid., 27
41. The author used information from several books on cults in writing this section. Most helpful were Know the Marks of Cults by Dave Breese and The Lure of the Cults by Ronald Enroth.
By Ernest Breithaupt
It is an honor to respond to this excellent paper by Brother J. L. Hall. Brother Hall is a man of scholarship and has developed his thesis with thorough research, as would be his custom to do. The bibliography is very adequate for the length of the paper, and he has used fine discretion in the material that he has chosen to quote.
He exhibits an excellent clarity of thought in dealing with the theological positions he is exploring. He does a very fine work in delineating the difference of “orthodoxy” from biblical Christianity, showing that when people impute to their creeds and confessions divine origin they are in the same theological position as the cults with their extra-biblical revelations.
Now let us proceed to the critique. There is no defined purpose given in the beginning of the thesis. The impact of the essay would have been enhanced by a strong statement of the goals it intended to achieve through a study of the three areas to be explored. Instead, it leaves the reader to search through the essay to find why it was written.
It becomes obvious as it is read that it is written to Oneness Pentecostals who believe in biblical Christianity. It is not structured as an apology of their beliefs to the unbeliever, but the paper is written to help those with a foundation in biblical Christianity to understand the theological mistakes of Protestant “orthodoxy” and the cults.
In his conclusion the author has stated two ways that this study would help Oneness Pentecostals:
1. To evangelize cult people
2. To avoid any cultic tendency
This summation is inadequate for the scope of the study since much of it dealt with overcoming the opposition of “orthodoxy” and setting forth biblically based doctrines. A strong summation of the points covered in the thesis would have added strength to the paper, such as:
1. The Bible is the inspired Word of God and needs no other source of reference for its doctrines.
2. Protestant “orthodoxy” with its doctrine of salvation by “faith alone” (easy-believism) does not follow the Scriptures that command obedience.
3. By the Word of God we can establish that we are the church of the living God and not a cult.
4. and 5. Those already given.
Even though he has not stated it in so many words, it is evident that the author is concerned because some who call themselves orthodox have been labeling Oneness Pentecostals a cult. As the author has pointed out, the purpose of this cult label is to use a propaganda weapon. In this instance, the effort is to ostracize Oneness Pentecostals from the Christian community.
He has well served the Oneness believers to whom the paper is directed both by weakening the platform of those who would derogatorily label them and by showing that the label is a complete misnomer and does not apply. Bible-based theology does not have to be buttressed by ecumenical councils or historical practice. It stands upon its own because it is truth.
Limitations of time and space become a powerful enemy to writing a perfect paper on a broad subject. The author has written a paper in three divisions, one covering each theological group named in the title. As it is written it flows in smooth sequence. However, in the third section, there are a number of quotes from evangelical writers stating that Oneness believers are a cult. These charges include that Oneness believers do not accept the trinity, have a simplistic interpretation of Scripture, and misinterpret the grace of God. Statements based on biblical truth in the first portion of the paper answered these attacks; however, it would have added to the impact of the paper to have included refutations of these points as they were brought up, even at the expense of lengthening the paper.
We are not dismayed by some evangelicals calling us a cult. These rhetorical broadsides will never sink the true gospel ship. Neither will they stop our growth, just as their rotten eggs, tomatoes, and rocks did not stop the Pentecostal revival in the first half of this century. The true church has always prospered most when it was under attack. When they say we are a cult because we do not accept the trinity, it opens another door for us to preach and proclaim the beautiful truth of the oneness of God.
We need to defend our beliefs from the attacks of the “orthodox” and also from the label of cultism. Even though we can have revival and growth in the face of this opposition, we need to maintain our position as a Christian church before the secular world. Brother Hall has appropriately raised the issue that religious freedom and religious privilege are under attack.
To allow some to label us as outside the mainstream Christian community and in the area of cults would not be in our best interest if, at some time in the future, laws were passed that would infringe on religious liberty. We need to refute those who would be derogatory to this truth.
Let our communities and the world know that we stand on the Word of God.
I am in complete agreement with the points Brother Hall has made. He states that the Bible is the foundation of the doctrine of the United Pentecostal Church. He states that the Bible and only the Bible is the criterion for judging the correctness of doctrine. The “orthodox” who proudly point to the church fathers and their ecumenical councils are little better than the cultists who point to their prophet or charismatic founder–they are all turning to an extra-biblical source upon which to found their faith. The UPC is not founded upon any statement of faith, not even our Articles of Faith, but we are founded upon the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone. Jesus said to those who questioned Him, “Search the scriptures; for . . . they are they which testify of me.” Any other orthodoxy is not an orthodoxy. Paul said if any would preach any other gospel let him be accursed, for there is no other gospel. If the wisdom of all these pages were to be refined to their truest essence it would come out to “It’s in the Book.”
Ernest Breithaupt is superintendent of the Illinois District.
By James Roam
I will endeavor to respond briefly and simply. My remarks will consist of three areas: I will first compliment; secondly, critique; and thirdly, present some considerations.
First, let me compliment the author. It is quite easy and appropriate to praise his work. This paper has presented us with a very interesting dissertation on a subject of special importance to the Oneness movement. It is a scholarly presentation, comprehensive, well-documented, and excellent resource material for anyone interested in this subject. The clarity with which the author enables us to understand cultism deserves special appreciation.
Secondly, as to critiquing this paper, the most important point is the author’s explanation as to why some individuals or groups have considered the United Pentecostal Church a cult. He explained their contention is that any group which does not accept the creedal statements declared in ecumenical councils is a cult. Since we are a Oneness movement that does not embrace the doctrine of the trinity, we are considered by some to be a “cult” and not “orthodox.” The author explains that we believe correctness of doctrine should be judged by the only infallible historical writing and that is the Bible. This makes our Oneness doctrine truly orthodox and truly Christian.
I am especially appreciative of the author’s brief overview on the final pages of his thesis in which he points out possible cultic tendencies among Christians. The four he mentions are: (1) extra-biblical revelations, (2) leaders claiming false prophetic or messianic gifts and titles, (3) improper stewardship of funds obtained by leaders, and (4) the use of fear and intimidation to control the minds and behavior of followers.
I have only a few criticisms, and they are minor.
1. Since the title of the paper is “Cults, Orthodoxy, and Biblical Christianity” (in that order), it would have been an improvement to follow that sequence of subjects rather than to write concerning biblical Christianity first, orthodoxy second, and then cults.
2. My second criticism has to do with the broadness of the three separate though interrelated subjects. The paper would have been better had it only covered the subject of cultism as it relates to the Oneness movement.
3. The distinction between a cult and the occult could have been explained. This is confusing to some people.
4. The only other criticism I mention is that the abundance and arrangement of quotes sometimes makes it difficult to follow the point the author is attempting to make.
Thirdly, I would like to share some considerations that may be of practical value to Oneness Pentecostals.
1. Some denominations have become so committed to their nonbiblical traditional views they have labeled us a cult. Let us not become so protective of our traditions that we falsely label some as non-Christian.
2. Since the term “Jesus only” does not properly explain our understanding of the Godhead, let us consider using it only in speaking of our baptizing, which is in the name of “Jesus only.”
3. Since we know what it is like to be mislabeled, let us reconsider before calling Trinitarians “three-God people,” “tritheists,” or “the assembly of the Gods.” If we expect others to be fair in labeling us, we must not mislabel them.
4. We have been misjudged by some who have called us a cult. The judgment seat is God’s special place. Let’s consider declaring truth while letting God, the only wise Judge, make the declaration as to the salvation or lostness of others.
5. Having experienced the sting of those who would tarnish our image, let us consider the importance of our image: first, how God sees us; second, how we see ourselves; and third, our image as seen by those outside the Oneness movement. What we are perceived to be is not as important as what we are, but what we are perceived to be is very important if we intend to be in the people business and to represent the Lord Jesus Christ.
In conclusion, I want to express my appreciation to the author for providing an excellent paper that is very interesting, educational, and thought-provoking and unquestionably establishes that the United Pentecostal Church is not a cult.
J. L. Hall is the editor-in-chief of the United Pentecostal Church International. He has previously served as pastor in Oklahoma and Kansas, secretary of the Kansas District, superintendent of the Kansas District, and editor of Word Aflame Publications. He also taught in junior high school for fifteen years. J. L. Hall received his Bachelor of Arts from Friends University and his Master of Arts from Kansas Emporia State College.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS TAKEN FROM SYMPOSIUM ON ONENESS PENTECOSTALISM 1988 AND 1990, AND PUBLISHED BY WORD AFLAME PRESS, 1990, PAGES 33-62. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.