Alfred Place Baptist Church

11:16-21 The Cult of the Heavy Shepherds

2 Corinthians 11:16-21 “I repeat: Let no-one take me for a fool. But if you do, then receive me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face. To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!”

What was happening in Corinth was that a Christian sect or even a cult was developing in the congregation. This little group was in the process of breaking away from the church under some dynamic leaders. The outstanding characteristic of this gang was their boasting. What blessings they had come to know! What experiences of God they had had! They had gone higher and deeper than any could imagine possible. Were there claims to visions, or raptures, or healings, or ecstasies, or feelings of the nearness of God? It seems likely that these were their claims. What mighty deliverances they had known. Their whole lives had been revolutionised, they said, since they had come into this special knowledge. “Look at our spiritual designer labels!” How breathlessly exciting was their life, and they bragged to everyone about their blessings.

Where do cults start? They generally start in the heart of evangelicalism, in gospel churches not unacquainted with the teaching of the apostle Paul. Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church, was reared in a Presbyterian home. Jim Jones, founder of the People’s Temple, at one time attended a Nazarene church; later he pastored an interdenominational church and a Disciples of Christ congregation. Moses David (David Berg), founder of the Children of God, is the son of evangelical parents. He actually served as a minister in a Christian and Missionary Alliance church, and was involved for a time in a Christian television ministry. Victor Paul Wierwille, founder of ‘The Way’, came out of the Reformed Church where he had served as a pastor in a number of active congregations. Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the Christian Scientists, and Charles Taze Russel, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, were both raised in markedly Christian homes and churches.

So from the time of the apostles until today, cults have been started by members of congregations which professed to believe in the inspired writings of Paul. The cults are not “them”. No! Many of “them” used to be “us”, and the question I must ask us today is whether some of “us” one day will become “them”? It is not impossible.

The Lord Jesus once felt it necessary to warn a group of his disciples, “if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible” (Mk. 13 21&22). So in Corinth a religious group had started secretly to meet together on the fringes of the church led by these men whom Paul calls “super-apostles” (v.5). Their aim was to take over the whole congregation. To do that they needed to discredit the apostle Paul, and they were in the process of doing this, claiming, through their own self-appointed apostles, to have the authority of Christ for what they were believing and doing.

We cannot dismiss such a phenomenon as totally remote from anything we will ever experience in our own lives. Don’t you believe that this is irrelevant. Don’t think you are unique, as someone utterly incapable of any susceptibility to sectarian deception. The Lord Jesus says to you, “Reckon on it!” Be on guard! It may be your favourite preacher who is leading you astray! How will you recognise these errorists? They will not wear uniforms, buttons, armbands, or headbands to announce that they have another Jesus, a different spirit, a different gospel. That’s why I admire the openness of the Hare Krishna group, dressed in their saffron robes, their heads shaved, shuffling along the streets in a group beating drums and cymbals and chanting. They are immediately recognisable as members of another religion. I wish them no harm. It is a free country. I worship a better Lord. The Mormons too are generally upstanding young men and by their clothes and badges they say, “We are not ashamed to be Mormons.” I like them as men, though I do not agree at all with their understanding of the Bible. I have to grudgingly admire the persistence of the so-called Jehovah’s Witnesses as they ring my doorbell with their literature. They stand by what they believe.

So we can readily define certain groups by their activities and even appearance. They are up front. Some are much more sensationalist than the Hare Krishna folk, and it is easy for us to focus on bizarre behaviour and dismiss them with a shrug. But generally speaking those with cultist tendencies don’t set out with any trace difference from anyone here, neither do they sound very different. In other words, they don’t pour forth a stream of weird teaching. Most of the time they say nothing outrageous at all. Paul has written, “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness” (vv 14&15). The Lord Jesus himself has warned us, “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:15). What you generally meet in the heretic, says Jesus, is a fellow sheep.

Their fruits are the key to their danger. What are the fruits of these men? It is fascinating to see how Paul describes them here. The most damning analysis in the entire New Testament of the behaviour of cultists is found in verse 20. Paul does not evaluate them theologically here. He does that elsewhere with the Judaizers in his letter to the Galatians, and morally as he explains to Timothy how men will behave in the last times. Here Paul is giving more of a sociological definition, that is, he is emphasising the common sectarian characteristics such as authoritarian leadership patterns, and the manipulative and totalistic demands which cult leaders make on their followers. A New Testament definition of a cultist is someone who in the name of Christianity – see the exact words of Paul in the twentieth verse – “enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face.” Let’s examine this strange fruit, the actual behaviour of these false religionists.

i] They enslave people.

If you join a cult you are going to end up a slave. Make no mistake about that. That is the goal of every cult, and that is why there is a huge turnover of people who join for a while and then escape. “This is sheer slavery,” they think to themselves, and quit. Parents will not need to enlist some cult-busting group to kidnap their daughter from the group. The child will come to see the bondage she is in. So, will your first contact with members of a cult be of a cowed broken people with manacles on their hands, and irons on their legs? Will you hear in an adjoining room the sound of the lash and the shriek of the beaten slave? No, you wont. Let a woman called Jeannie Mills, a former member of the Jim Jones cult and a survivor of the Jonestown massacre, tell you what she first discovered: “When you meet the friendliest people you have ever known, who introduce you to the most loving group of people you’ve encountered, and you find the leader to be the most inspired, caring, compassionate, and understanding person you have ever met, and then you learn that the cause of the group is something you never dared hope could be accomplished, and if all of this sounds too good to be true – it probably is too good to be true! Don’t give up your education, your hopes, and ambitions to follow a rainbow.”

She did not meet obvious slaves, she met angels of light, people who gave visitors and inquirers an overwhelming sense of acceptance, belonging and significance. That is the pattern. Here are people who are interested in you; they flatter you and feed you and touch you and hug you. To them you have become the most exciting person in the whole world. How different your staid church back home compared to this! But the end of it all is your slavery.

What is this slavery? They will demand your total commitment to ‘the organisation.’ The longer you stay you will become increasingly isolated from your family, old friends, newspapers, TV and CDs. You will be subject to intense persuasion by members of the group. You will not be left alone to collect and recover your thoughts. Your resistance may be broken down by long meetings and extended work hours as you sell literature or religious knick-knacks on the streets. You will dress in the same style as everyone else to suppress individuality. Complex games will be played for the purpose of creating a sense of dependence on the rule-giving leader. You will be conditioned to stop thinking and to accept without question the revelations and teaching of the group. Your independence and self-respect will be broken down through being persuaded to share your innermost secrets with the group. One man said, “They pushed me into saying that I lusted after my little daughter. Their idea was that only when you recognised your total depravity could you let Jesus go to work.” You may even be given inadequate food so that your physical resistance is broken down and you become more vulnerable to suggestion. Any negative thoughts or the slightest criticism of the group or its leader is said to be soul-threatening. Anyone who leaves the group is warned about the terrible consequences. You will sing and sing and sing the group’s own songs until rational thought processes are blocked. The leader is increasingly pumped up in authority and influence. All the group accept without question his revelations and interpretations, while every religious leader outside the group is said to be satanic, or at best, deceived by an evil conspiracy. You have now entered a state of bondage. You think of nothing but your involvement with the movement and the demands of its leader. Like a fly you have moved into the web and the spider coming. Soon the height of religious maturity will be for you to know before anyone else around you what he said in his Bible Study last Thursday night in Ontario.

The cult has become everything. Your enslaved mind can think of nothing but its activities. This is not surprising when the organisation itself is represented as synonymous with the Kingdom of God. So, the Jehovah’s Witnesses pressurise their followers into an irrational neglect of natural and family responsibilities, in order to serve the cause. In every one of their Kingdom Halls, all over the UK, on each Sunday, the same study material is being taught, and the same literature bought and sold. The same is true of Christian Science meetings, and virtually every cult.

Dave Breese points out, “The Christian has been delivered from all such nonsense. He knows that the word ‘loyalty’ is only applicable in a final sense to our relationship with Jesus Christ himself. The devotion that Christians have for one another is in loving response to the indwelling Holy Spirit, not submission to an enslaving external organisation. It is a truism that the less truth a movement represents, the more highly it must organise. Truth has its own magnetism producing loyalty. The absence of truth makes necessary the application the bonds of fear” (Dave Breese, “Know the Marks of a Cult”, Victor Books, Wheaton, 1975, p.102). So the first mark of the cult is that it enslaves people.

ii] They exploit people

In other words, the cults devour your time, your gifts, your energy and your goods. You are their meal. They feed off you. Consider the words of God to the false prophets who lived at the time of Ezekiel: “‘Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool, and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.”‘” (Ez. 34:2-4).

What examples those false shepherds had – Moses, David, Samuel, Elijah – true prophets, but they did not follow those men. They were unfaithful and self-seeking pastors. Think of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. The Saviour looked bleakly at them and said, “They devour widow’s houses … Such men will be punished most severely” (Mark 12:40). These ultra religious men sponged on widows, sometimes offering to arbitrate at time of financial dispute and always in their own favour, pressurising these lonely women to leave their money to themselves. It is a practice that still goes on. There is a fascinating chapter in Father Chiniquy’s book, “Fifty Years in the Church of Rome” describing life in North America in the middle of the nineteenth century. It is suggestively entitled, “The Priest, Purgatory and the Poor Widow’s Cow.”

Harold L. Bussell was the Dean of Chapel of Gordon College in Massachusetts. He says, “I counseled one young woman and over a period of time uncovered difficulties making decisions, troubles with severe depression, doubts concerning her faith, and an inability to cope with life. She related to me her background: raised in a prominent Evangelical church, knew the Scriptures, led Bible studies, had introduced many friends to Jesus Christ. But then her problems began. Her family became involved in an Evangelical community with cultic leanings. They were not alone in their decision, as many members of their church, including the pastor, joined the questionable group. They sold their homes. They dropped close friends. Eventually children were separated from their parents, and reared by ‘more spiritual’ parents. In group sessions, individuals were pressured publicly to confess attitudes, sexual fantasies and past sins. For this young woman, these years were full of confusion, pain and hurts that caused her journey back to stability to be long and treacherous” (Harold L. Bussell, “Unholy Devotion,” Zondervan, 1983, p.14, single quotes mine).

But it is an almost universal characteristic of a cult that it has an insatiable financial appetite. The key to wealth, devotees are told, is to give more money to the cult, that is, to plant so-called ‘seed-faith.’ That is a religious sounding way of saying, “Gimme your money.” “Give the Lord a thousand and he will give you ten thousand.” Good psychology, bad theology. Serve the Lord for absolutely nothing at all, but the honour of being Christ’s servant. The way to the healing of your terminally ill daughter is to give money to the healer. “Isn’t she worth it?” penniless parents from the Third World are cruelly asked by millionaire speakers. To be delivered from centuries of purgatory you buy indulgences or you pay for masses to be said. “Don’t you want your mother out of purgatory?” The fires of hell are also dangled before these slaves for not giving larger amounts of money to the cause. In the financial pressures of the cult you may be asked to hand over all you possess to the leadership, or to give to them all you earn from selling literature each day. They will give you pocket money as a dependent minor. Tithing is but the beginning of the demands made upon you. The stories are legion of wives and children being brought to exhaustion because of the head of the family giving so much to the leaders. He has become their slave, rather than the servant and head of his own family: “If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (I Tim. 5:8).

Exploitation is of course bigger than the realm of finance. It can be subtle and it can sound very ‘spiritual.’ A friend was having a solid period of closeness to the Lord and then one day, after a service, his minister began to talk to him. “How is it going?” he asked him. “Fine,” he said. But that wasn’t the answer the minister wanted. He put his hand on my friend’s shoulder and he said to him, “How is it really going?” Suddenly my friend felt guilty. He wasn’t being serious enough, nor examining his spiritual state as he should have been. He began to think he was such a superficial person for enjoying life that day. Then the minister said to him, “Your cold is getting to you, isn’t it?” Well, it wasn’t, but he was having pressures put on him to look for a number of things that were wrong and inform his minister. That pastor had become an expert at playing the game of one-upmanship. He had come to believe that that was what being a pastor was all about, making people pay homage to your insights and concerns. Pastoring was probing. There are people in church who think that their pastor knows more about them than they know about themselves. That is far from true. Such gentle persistent interrogation is another kind of exploitation.

iii] They take advantage of people

Paul is talking about controlling people, having them in your power. The word is sometimes used of snaring a bird or catching a fish. In John’s gospel, chapter 9 there is the classic example of religious leaders seeking to control a man. There was a man in Jerusalem who had been born blind, and the Lord Jesus healed him on the Sabbath day. The Pharisees immediately sought to investigate the matter. Notice the way they sought to keep a tight control over this man (cp. Walt Chantry’s essay, “Caution in Church Discipline” in the book “Shepherding God’s Flock”, Sprinkle Publications, 1988).

a) As this had been done outside of their control they interviewed the man in an atmosphere of intimidation. It is apparent that the witnesses they summoned testified under fear. The tone of voice of the Pharisees, the sense of menace in their questioning could have been enough. They expected complete agreement from the common people in their own condemnation of Jesus. Anyone who took a different approach would be thrown out of the synagogue. So the natural joy of the blind man’s parents was immediately quenched by this threat. They must toe the Pharisees’ line concerning – of all men – the One who had given light and health to their dear boy, or they were in trouble, even though they had been faithful members of this congregation all their lives. No matter if they had never caused any trouble in the assembly. They must agree with the rulers’ attitude to Jesus, or else the most severe measure would be brought against them. People like that had to be controlled!

b) Again, they took advantage of them by cruelly dividing family and friends. They called on family members to testify in hope of using their words against the man born blind and against the Lord. Through the tactics of the Pharisees the parents were pressured into abandoning their boy. In all those early bewildering days of his seeing everything for the first time, when he most needed them, they were forced into estranging themselves from him. What consequences would that have had on their relationship? What a blow to their family solidarity that parents were forced to abandon both their son and the Man who had given the best of all gifts to him! These rulers were using private conversations and confidential family information to justify their disciplining Jesus and the boy. There were no grounds for their acting as they did. If there is secret sin in the life of church members the Lord will bring it to light without an inquisition gang out there busily drilling for it.

c) Again, the use of lengthy sessions to break a suspect or to establish his guilt is another evidence of extreme control. Very often the Pharisees turned over the story of this man’s healing. They were determined that their interpretation of the events would be believed by all the synagogue as the right one. They were certain that Jesus of Nazareth was a sinner. So they reviewed the whole event, and made cold statements, and pressed down on the seeing man, harassing him. The man eventually had enough of this. He was provoked by their relentless questions and he became ironic: “I have told you already, and you do not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to be his disciples too?” (v.27). The Pharisees snapped and hurled insults at him, but he grew in stature. He spoke up boldly for Jesus and rebuked them. Then they thought they had him! The provoked response was used by his inquisitors as evidence that his heart attitude has been wrong all the time!

d) Again, the synagogue leaders grew so indignant that a mere member would question them. “How dare you lecture us?” (v.34). “At the beginning the Pharisees were searching for grounds to accuse Jesus and the beneficiary of his work. In the end the issue was this man’s daring to stand in opposition to them. A subtle shift had taken place. No longer was discipline used to oppose heresy and scandalous immorality. Discipline was now employed as a defence of the officers and their reputation. Now no sin was considered more grievous than that of criticizing the synagogue’s leaders, no matter how valid that criticism might be. They had become paranoid, believing that nothing threatened the church more than a challenge to their authority, no matter how much that authority was being misused” (Walter Chantry).

e) Again, the Pharisees relentlessly persecuted the one who disagreed with their opinion and policy. “When the healed man dared to grow more insistent in spite of their pressure, and when he refused to concede to their unfair position, he was driven from their fellowship. Severe measures of discipline were employed for entirely insufficient reasons. Although no heresy or shocking sin was found in the man, the ultimate measures of exclusion and social ostracism were employed against him” (Walter Chantry).

Those five marks of abusive people control were witnessed by the Lord Jesus Christ. Tyranny was used as the corrective to a joyful response to the work of the Lord.

iv] They put themselves forward

Literally, they ‘lifted themselves up’ in a superior way. There was an infamous man in the early church named Diotrephes. How is he described? “He loves to be first” (3 John 9&10). Not only did he refuse to welcome the brothers, but, “He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.” Diotrephes was a tyrant. He ruled the church with an iron hand, but the sad reality was that many were happy to have a ‘strong leader’, or they would have dispensed with him long ago, without the need of the apostle John writing about him. There are two strong forces pulling at the human heart, one is the desire to be another’s pope, and the other is the desire to have someone as your pope.

The mark of every cult is that it elevates to a divine level some human figure. A sinner who is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh is invested with divine authority and honours. The Roman Catholics have their Pope. The Baha’is have their Bahulah. The Mormons had their Joseph Smith, and the Unification Church have their Mr. Moon. The Exclusive Brethren had their Mr. Jim Taylor. Either by their personal charisma, or the power of their propaganda, these self-styled messiahs succeed in imposing their will and stamping their name on their devotees in a remarkable way, until they become indispensable to people’s faith. They say, “My people need me, and, bless them, they can have me … at a price.” By cunningly promoting an image of humility they succeed in dominating totally their followers.

Examples of such religious leaders abound. Little wonder that men have taken them as role models for what a successful minister really is, a man of power. Such men have begun to believe their own promotion. They have stamped their names on everything in the church. They have pushed themselves to becoming utterly indispensable to the faith of their followers. They have an, “Aw, shucks, I’m just an ordinary guy” posture, which they conjoin to their names in lights over the giant building and starry-eyed followers all over the place who pronounce their names with a sigh! How many such ‘great men’ of the Old Testament had the briefest era of greatness and then died fools. The stories of Noah, and Gideon, and Samson, and Solomon and other more recent men of religious history are the stories of humanity in its saddest, truest forms. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and no attempt at deification by others or self-deification will make it different. Do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not!

Hear this description of how one woman came under the spell of such an evil man. “In 26 years she had never heard anyone talk like this man. The first time she heard him speak, she was convinced that he was a real prophet. His deep-set eyes searched his listeners, and when they met hers, she felt that he was looking right through the doubts and cynicism she had brought to the meeting.

“He seemed to speak with authority. He didn’t merely quote the Bible – as did so many pastors she had heard – he seemed to be quoting God Himself. That very first night he told them of a revelation he had received about the future of the secularized, prostituted church of America. He told the group that God had spoken to him, revealing an amazing end time scenario. ‘Don’t doubt God,’ he had said. ‘Those who do shall not see what God has revealed to those who trust.’

“This religious leader offered direction, not compromise. He had the courage to call sin ‘sin.’ He didn’t pull any punches. He told the group it was not possible to sit on the fence, with one foot in the world and one in the kingdom of God. In one meeting after another he described a new age that would dawn after God had judged the commercialized church. ‘Follow me,’ he said. ‘Together we’ll see God do miracles the like of which have not been seen since the days of Christ.’

“To show their trust in his oversight, the group members were told to call him ‘Father.’ He was the one who made the group decisions, and they became entirely dependent upon him. Before long they were afraid to turn back. Those who left the group were said to have returned to the kingdom of Satan. This man offered religious leadership.”

But what was happening? “Somewhere the switch was made to tyranny. Jesus had made it clear that no man deserves the title of spiritual father or teacher (Matthew 23:8,9), but this man seemed oblivious to that truth. Instead of leading by example, he led by intimidation. Instead of showing the gentleness of the Spirit, he was brash and demanding. Instead of being careful not to go beyond the Bible, he mixed his own opinions with Scripture. Instead of helping his members grow in personal maturity and discernment, he encouraged them to regress into childlike dependence on him. Instead of recognizing that God provides many leaders for his church, he claimed to have the sole authority to speak in behalf of God. Instead of teaching his group about the concept of the priesthood of all believers, he retained the roles of prophet, priest, and king for himself. Instead of sacrificing his own interests in behalf of the group, he used them to feed his insatiable appetite for admiration. Yes, it appeared that he was offering reliable spiritual leadership, but he was offering religious tyranny instead” (Martin R. De Haan II, “What About Those Dangerous Religious Groups” 1986 Radio Bible Class, Grand Rapids, Michigan, pp. 15&16). This would have been precisely the kind of influence the super-apostles were having in Corinth.

v] They slap you in the face

How wonderfully blunt Paul is. The verb found here is used of flaying the skin of an animal. Paul uses it when he remarks how seriously he takes the task of mortifying remaining sin. He is not someone with an imaginary drum and drumsticks ‘beating the air’, but he is spiritually and really pummeling indwelling sin and keeping it in subjection (I Cor. 9:22). By using this verb ‘to strike’ Paul might be referring to an actual incident in the church at Corinth long remembered when one of these ‘super-apostles’ actually hit someone in rage. Or perhaps Paul is thinking of the general way in which these leaders humiliated their followers.

There is the warning the Paul gives to Timothy about church overseers that they must not be violent (I Tim. 3:3). There is a fascinating example of this recorded in Canticles 5:7. Did this incident really happen? It might have. Or is it to be understood not literally but allegorically? What is described for us is this: it was late at night, and the Shulamite was going up and down the streets of the city seeking her Beloved whom she had offended, and plaintively she is calling to him. Then, she says, “The watchmen found me as they made their rounds in the city. They beat me, they bruised me; they took away my cloak, those watchmen of the walls!” They made no inquiry as to who she was and why she was out alone at that late hour. They jumped to the conclusion that she was a woman of ill repute on some mischievous errand, and they treated her accordingly. They hit her, bruising her, and seizing her cloak, but she, like Joseph, left it in their hands, and escaped into the darkness.

It was their duty to be on guard and watch for thieves and invaders. That was their vocation, to keep the city while its inhabitants slept, and sound an alarm if any danger appeared. They were performing their duty with zeal, but theirs was untempered zeal. Their heavy handed policing was focused upon a harmless, heartbroken young woman searching for the husband she had petulantly repulsed and caused to go from her presence. It is no new thing for the loyal subjects of the King to be misrepresented and roughly treated by those who are Zion’s guardians. They discourage instead of encourage. They heap injury onto insult.

There is another example of godly Hannah praying silently in the temple, her lips moving but no sounds coming forth. Eli the priest spotted her and he snarled at her, “How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine.” (I Sam. 1:14). How nobly and gently she protested her innocence: “…I was pouring out my soul to the LORD … I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief” (I Sam.1:15&16). It is too easy for any preacher to jump to hasty conclusions about people’s downcast eyes, and frowns, and bowed heads as they glance down from the pulpit at them in a sermon. They are probably not expressing their disagreement or boredom with us at all. Our hearers have been stirred to think by what they have heard. We can too frequently make errors of judgment about the motives and actions of people who are under our oversight. The best thing a preacher ever does is to apologise to those whom he thinks he has wronged.

There is a violence, unaccompanied by repentance, just below the surface of self-appointed religious leaders. Jesus did not say that in sheep’s clothing there would be sheep. “Wolves!” he said, that tear and destroy. There is danger, let it be very plain, if you come under the influence of cult leaders. There are threats and intimidation. If the Pharisees murdered the Lord Jesus by crucifixion, and stoned young Stephen to death, then why, when we read the history of the church, should we be surprised at the stake and the gibbet, the rack and the thumbscrews, and hanging, drawing and quartering blameless people? Such machinery of violence was set up by ecclesiastical authorities. Think of what has happened within the memory of many of us, on November 18, 1978, in a cleared-out patch of Guyanese jungle, when the Reverend Jim Jones ordered the 911 members of his flock to kill themselves by drinking a cyanide poison, and they did. Have there not been other smaller examples since that time in Switzerland, Uganda, the USA, and Japan? Don’t you think that whenever there is the abuse of children and women, and the psychological manipulation of men, all done in the name of God, that physical violence resulting in bloodshed and death is just around the corner? The false teachers flay you, says Paul. I was speaking to a man last year, who had publicly disagreed with the leader of their denomination, and a few weeks later, when he returned to his manse he found all his furniture on the front lawn, the locks on his house all changed, and his wife weeping sitting in one of the chairs in the garden. The elders had been sent in and he was evacuated from his home. That happened in the UK. Violence is very near the surface in a sect.

I want to say two more things and then I’ll be done:

1. YOU CAN BE COMPLETELY DELIVERED FROM THE CULTS AND THE HEAVY SHEPHERDS.

Many have! If you or your parents have come under the pernicious sway of such men and movements then you can be delivered, and have an undamaged useful future in an ordinary limping congregation of saved sinners like ours. Let me give you an example of one such man and his salvation. He says this:

“I was born into a family that had been dominated by a powerful religious group for three generations. My personal beliefs in the group were confirmed while I was a young man. I held a number of important positions in this group’s church, including several key teaching posts. I studied its doctrines continuously, reading all of its literature I could – some of it several times. I guess you could say I was thoroughly indoctrinated. Its beliefs and laws were the dominant force in my life. But I was not at peace.

“When my wife and I visited some friends, I saw a book about our group lying on their coffee table. Because my host was a high official in an organisation reputed to have connections with our religious group, I was curious about it. When I began to leaf through the book, however, I found out that it was a piece of bluntly written literature exposing the lives of the leaders of our group and its doctrinal inconsistencies. I was shocked, yet I was fascinated by what I read. I wanted to find out more.

“A few months later, I happened to park my car in front of a Christian bookstore. Remembering the book I had read earlier, I went inside to see if I could purchase a copy. They didn’t have that book, but they had many others. (I was supposed to find them in a section labeled “cults.”) I purchased several, took them home, and began to read. I was dismayed and angered by the things I discovered. When I showed the books to my wife, she became upset with me and told me they were from Satan.

“About that time I came in contact with a group of people who had left our beliefs to follow Christ. At their suggestion, I purchased a commentary and began to study the Bible. I was amazed at what I discovered. I was profoundly influenced by Luke 10:27, “Jesus said, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'” Proverbs 14:12, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death,” and many other passages. The shortcomings of my group’s teachings became glaringly obvious when compared to the Bible. I began to read about the false prophets in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil;” 1 John 4:1 “Dear friends do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world;” and Deuteronomy 18:20 “But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.”

“I wept as I read. I thought honestly about our group’s founder. I realised that he had neither lived nor died as a prophet. I recalled some of his wild claims, and his boast that he had accomplished what the apostles Paul, John, Peter, and the Lord could not do. I saw him as a far greater deceiver than someone like Jim Jones ever was. Most wonderful of all, I found the answers I had been searching for in the Bible. I trusted in Jesus Christ as my Saviour and I was finally free! When I asked that my name be removed from the church records, the trouble began. I came home one day and found all my belongings on the front lawn. My friends from the group said that I was demon-possessed, and my wife divorced me.

“Now, for the first time in my life, I have new life in Christ and true freedom. My search is over. In the Bible I found what I had been looking for all along.” This man can be you! There is no need why you should not be delivered from the post traumatic stress of a cultic experience. Men and women like that man are found in our congregation. They have been sweetly and completely from such cults and sects. They are not ex-anythings. They are the humble servants of the Lord Jesus and our brothers and sisters.

2. WE CAN BE KEPT AS A PEOPLE FROM BECOMING A “SUPER-CHURCH.”

We don’t need super-apostles, and we don’t need “super-churches.” Four truths believed and loved will deliver us from becoming a cult (cp., “Shepherding God’s Flock”, pp. 116-120).

i] The Lordship of Christ.

Ultimately we do not answer to any man for out attitude and our actions. Paul said, “But to me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court … but the one who examines me is the Lord” (I Cor. 4:3&4). We naturally desire human approval, and ministers, as much as any Christians, dread the censure of fellow believers. But for us Christ’s approbation is the great object. What a deliverance that is from the enslaving influence of the hopes and fears which spring from an exaggerated estimation of the good opinion of men. Christ is the Lord, and the one who judges us is the Saviour who has died for us on Golgotha. To him we shall answer in that tremendous day.

ii] The Priesthood of All Believers.

How God has used this truth through the history of the church to deliver his people from spiritual tyranny. We have a great High Priest by whom we can immediately come into the presence of God. Our heavenly Father has, through his Son Jesus Christ, made all believers – men and women, children and the elderly, slaves and masters – priests unto God. We can come into his presence and worship and love him. We can leave his presence and take his message to the world around us. God himself gives each Christian the authority and blessing to do that. Each of us can exercise the gifts God has given to us, and, having bowed to the Lord of hosts, need never bow the knee to human spiritual overlords. Over-dependence on powerful men produces passivity. Subjection to their dictates leads to unwarranted control. Slavery to the precepts of men creates gospel hypocrites who know how to keep the rules and stay on the good side of their slave masters. Firm submission to the lordship of Christ brings true freedom and lives of usefulness.

iii] The Blessedness of Divine Adoption.

We may all, as mere believers, run eagerly into God’s presence and cry to him Abba Father! Every Christian has that filial spirit. We are no longer slaves but adopted sons and joint heirs with Christ. Every single Christian on the same level exactly. No super-Christians at all. We are all sons positionally and dispositionally. The Spirit of adoption enables us to serve God and do what his pleasing to our dear Father in heaven. What religious man has the right to bring Christ’s freedmen back under bondage again? Let us sound an alarm at the first signs of a yoke of bondage being placed on the necks of the robust children of the King!

iv] The Example of our Good Shepherd.

See how patient was the Lord Jesus with his disciples. His whole ministry was clothed in divine power. He raised the dead, cleansed the leper, and when he spoke the winds and waves obeyed him. But in the New Testament our great Leader is revealed to be tender, courteous, forgiving, and a servant. He was never bossy or overbearing. His yoke was easy and his burden was light. He sought out the victim of the heavy-handed authoritarian Pharisees. He comforted that man interrogated by the Pharisees whose sight he had restored. He spoke such tenderness to the woman who had been caught in adultery, though telling her to go and sin no more. His authority enhanced the purity and growth of others. He never used them for his own ends. He fed the multitudes; they never fed him. He sought to lift the burdens from the weary and heavy-laden and to prevent such burdens being placed on the lives of those who followed him. That is the example the Lord gives to every under shepherd.

The gift of preachers and elders, the provision of godly oversight, is Christ’s personal expression of his love for his people. Every Christian needs a shepherd. Christ has so made us, and has provided these men for us all. Such pastors must speak to men’s consciences, and men will obey them, but only in so far as their own private judgment agrees that what they are receiving is there in the Bible. The sceptre the preacher wields is God’s Word. To wield God’s sceptre is nothing more than to teach the Bible to every man in the sight of God. But it is the saddest Christian life to be taught what is in the Bible and to respond by saying, “Oh, that is your opinion!” That is the first step in loosing anyone’s links to a gospel church and his heading away in the direction of a cult. It all begins when a man begin to be restless and distrusts historic Christian teaching concerning the plain meaning of the good news of Jesus Christ.

24th February 2002 GEOFF THOMAS