In 1939, American journalist Virginia Cowles went to Russia. Two years later, she wrote about what she saw in Looking For Trouble.
After a few days of trying in vain to get Russians to talk with her, Cowles found out why they were afraid. Stalin had just killed untold millions of his own people for what he called anti-Communistic actions. Some of those actions were nothing more than studying a foreign language or befriending a foreigner. Consequently, people were afraid to speak to any stranger.
Cowles then gives us her analysis of life in that sad country:
The chief distinction between man and animal is the critical faculty of the human mind. In the Soviet Union–just as in Germany–the critical faculty was carefully exterminated, so that the mass might sweat out their existence as uncomplainingly as oxen, obedient to the tyranny of the day. Truth was a lost word. Minds were doped with distorted information until they became so sluggish they had not even the power to protest against their miserable conditions. The ‘Pravda’ never tired of revealing to its readers the iniquities of the outside world, always pointing (out) how blessed were the people of the Soviet Union.
This is precisely how religous cults operate. They cannot stand for their people to think for themselves, have independent opinions, or ask troublesome questions. Dissension is treated as rebellion and rebellion gets you ousted.
By the word “cult,” I do not mean bad people. In fact, personally, in using the word I don’t mean all those off-beat groups that appear on the religious landscape from time to time. By “cult,” I mean variations of Christianity that claim they and they alone have the truth and all the rest of us are either deceived or deceitful.
The two groups that qualify more than any others in my mind are the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Naming those two will not endear me to some people, but I feel it’s necessary.
Watchman Fellowship is an outstanding organization which seeks to inform people about modern cults. Their website is www.watchman.org. I recommend them highly.
That ministry says on their blog, “Cults have shifted their theological point of authority away from God’s full and final written word, the Bible, to their own unique, self-promoting opinions about the Bible.”
These groups take one of three positions regarding the Bible, according to WF.
–1) The Bible is merely a good book. Groups taking this line include Hare Krishna and Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church.
–2) The Bible is the Word of God but has mistakes. The Mormons (Church of Latter-Day Saints or LDS) and Christian Science take this position.
–3) The Bible is completely true and accurate, but only our group has the correct interpretation. Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Unity School of Christianity fall into this group.
The primary thing to bear in mind about cults is this: each one has a central authority that sets all the rules, interprets the Bible, and allows no deviation from its “revelations.”
No independent thought. No criticism of its leadership. No dissent, no questioning, and certainly no sense of humor.
I recall when the Brooklyn headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses ruled against the open-book studying and teaching of the Bible. Until then, members could gather in Kingdom Halls and study the Bible for themselves. But from that moment on, only official materials could be read with the Scriptures and counted on for the proper interpretation.
I’ve had more than a few run-ins with both groups–Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons–over the years. Nothing about it was fun. I’ve read the books of Christian writers with their insights and principles for witnessing to members of these movements, but I always came away feeling I had failed the members of the sects and done a poor job of representing the Truth of Christ.
I have stories. And scars.
As a seminary student and pastor of a small church on a Louisiana bayou, I learned that two children who had started attending our church lived in that house on the highway. So one evening, a deacon and I called on the family. The father welcomed us in and proceeded to inform us he was a backslidden Jehovah’s Witness. For reasons long forgotten, he had fallen out of favor and had been ousted. But he could argue circles around me. I was so green and completely unacquainted with his religion.
That sent me to the library to start learning. The next time, I determined, I would be ready.
I was far from ready.
Several years later, a man in our town told me his teenage son was being pulled into the Jehovah’s Witnesses. He asked if I would talk to the boy. We set up a meeting for the next Monday night at my church.
It was a set-up all right. And I was the patsy.
The man and his son were accompanied by the leader of the local Jehovah’s Witnesses hall and an apprentice or two. In no way was I expecting or prepared for this. I know now, I should have ended it right there and called off the meeting.
But I was young and naive, and eager to have an honest discussion on doctrine.
The JW leader put on a show before his underlings. He gloated like a young Mussolini whenever he spotted an area where I had to say “I don’t know.” He flaunted his arrogance with a smirk, and left me speechless. To say he was cruel would be understating it.
One does not forget such an experience.
I have no further memory of anything coming out of that little confrontation other than a complete revulsion in my soul ever since for such people. Looking back, I wonder whether the man and his son were more revolted by my ignorance or by their leader’s arrogance. Both were pretty overwhelming.
Over the years since, I have made an in-depth study of both Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormonism. I’m certainly no expert on either. I have found, however, that they share a disdain for one another. And no wonder, since they use so many of the same tactics: door-to-door work, we-alone-have-the-truth, the Bible-is-true-only-as-we-interpret-it, and policies are set by a small group of men who alone receive revelations from the Almighty. Everyone else is expected to tow the party line and leave their eternal destinies in the hands of the authorities.
As with Communist Russia, these groups exist only by squelching dissent. Raise embarrassing questions and you’ll get a come-to-Jesus (as we say) visit from your superiors. Question the authority and your standing is quickly in trouble.
There is a certain security in belonging to such a religion. It keeps you from having to think. Your salvation and eternal destiny are in the hands of other people.
If you like that sort of thing, that those are the religions for you, I suppose.
But mark it down in big letters: such cults will always have mass defections from people who were sucked in and then found out that they were expected to leave their critical faculties (their brains!) at the door.
The bad thing about those who leave such cults, I have sometimes found, is that many have been forever poisoned against belonging to a normal Christian church.
I’m remembering a woman in North Carolina who came to me for counsel. She, along with a million other Jehovah Witnesses I was told, had become disillusioned with JW when it’s prediction of Jesus’ return in 1975 failed and had left that religion. This is not to say, however, that she or any of the others started to conventional Christian churches. The JW poison forever taints any possibilities of worshiping with normal Christians. And that is beyond sad.
At Judgement, there is going to be some tough accounting. It’s not only the Hitlers and Stalins who have a lot to account for when they stand before the Almighty. The leaders of the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are in deep trouble.
Remember you heard it here.
One woman’s story
Kate has given me permission to tell of her experience with the Mormons. She grew up in a town where I pastored for many years, and we regularly connnect on Facebook.
She grew up Episcopalian. “I had no idea who Jesus was.” In college, “I went the Methodist route, but still didn’t connect.” She married Brad, they moved to another city, and one day the LDS missionaries knocked on the door. “At the time, they were a nice diversion for me.”
Brad was violent and abusive and Kate felt safe with the elders. “We became close friends, which is actually frowned on between male missionaries and female investigators.” She says, “When they were teaching the lessons, I thought they were crazy.”
“Even thought I did not have a connection with God at the time,” Kate explains, “I did have enough biblical foundation to know their teachings were out of line with that.”
So why did she join the Mormon church? “I felt pressured and I felt guilty because they were friends and needed this to happen. I remember being offended when they put me with other women to learn from. I wanted to hang out with the two elders and no one else. So joining was not about the doctrine at all.”
Kate was baptized in the Mormon ward on Mother’s Day of 1990. “I just never could accept the LDS faith, though. It was bizarre to me. I thought they were wonderful and delightful people, but doctrinally off the wall.”
“As strange as this seems, even though I wasn’t saved and did not have a relationship with Christ, I knew they were wrong. But I was so desperate to escape my bad marriage to Brad. The violence at home escalated over time. I cannot tell you how many times the missionaries would take me to the emergency room or comfort me when I went to their apartment with black eyes, cuts, bruises, or bloody lips.”
“Brad left me in 1990 over a private conversation I had with the LDS missionaries. I told them something about my marriage and they called him. He was humiliated I had discussed our life with them, so he beat me again. This time he left me for dead, cleaned out the house, and moved out. I felt completely betrayed by the missionaries.”
“After I was released from the hospital, we set up a meeting with the Mormon bishop. He warned me to have a sweet spirit when I came in. He said if I had a spirit of dissension, Satan would enter the room with me.”
“The young missionaries told the bishop that they knew what was best for me and that God had told them to call my husband.”
Kate says, “That might have worked had Brad been a member of the church and not a sadistic lunatic.”
Eventually, Kate moved back home. Her mother rejected her. “You made your own bed, now lie in it.” From there, she moved to Florida.
There, Kate re-connected with the Mormon church. It was all she knew.
Eventually, a member of the ward who was a psychiatrist had her committed to a padded cell in a strait jacket. That’s when she moved once more.
In her new town, she met a guy. He said, “I’d love to date you but there’s something you need to know. I’m a Christian.”
“He brought over a Bible, some tacos, and a Keith Green CD (still my fav). He said, ‘Start reading in Matthew and call me after you get through John.’”
Long story short–and there is much more to Kate’s saga–the Lord used the witness of this friend to penetrate her heart and get her straight.
At a particularly low point when she thought about jumping off a bridge, God reminded Kate of Psalm 68:5 (A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, is God in His holy habitation). “It just blew my mind.”
“I said out loud to the Lord, ‘I will be your child if you will be my Father, but if you aren’t real, then I’m coming back to this bridge and I will jump off it and I don’t want you to stop me.’”
That did it.
“I had an overwhelming sense of peace right then, went home, burned all my ac/dc, black sabbath, secular music and said, ‘I trust you to provide what will help me grow as a Christian.’”
Two days later, at a get-together of Christians, Kate heard the testimony of a young woman who told how Jesus saved her from a life of drugs and partying.
Kate says, “I prayed the sinners prayer right then on their deck and started going to church.”
She wrote the LDS church, demanding that they remove her name from their rolls. “It only took them 8 years. I just got the letter that I have been officially removed. As for how I feel about the church right now, I still think they are lovely wonderful people. I live in a western city which is nothing short of little Salt Lake. I have many friends still in the church, but their doctrine is absolutely and totally incorrect and I don’t mind being quite vocal about it.”
“Their doctrine is dangerous,” Kate says, “I don’t allow them to pray with me or to pray anywhere in front of me or on my property. They are not praying to the same God I am. I know Mormon doctrine well. I have the Book of Mormon here, the pearl of Great Price, Doctrine and Covenants and I know them well.”
Kate says, “A Mormon will tell you in a heartbeat if you try and quote that last verse of the Bible (not to add to the Word of God) that Revelation was not meant to be the last book in the Bible. However, they don’t have much to say when I tell them that the God of Creation, the One who spoke this world into existence, He would know what order His Holy Word was supposed to be in.”
“I am extremely opinionated about the Mormon church, even angry about it sometimes. I pray every day for this deception to fall like a house of cards.”
Kate is one of the Lord’s jewels. We rejoice in what the Lord has done in her and for the person she is in the process of becoming.
If you know of people who have been drawn into one of these dead-end religions, keep interceding with the Lord for them. Faith is the victory.
Hey Joe – for 6 years I was the National consultant on Mormonism for the Interfaith Witness Department in the Evangelism section at the old HMB. Our office had files of letters with such stories. When the new NAMB killed my sub department I saw to it Watchman Fellowship got most of the library. It was the largest library on LDS outside of Utah.
Great addition to our discussion, Mike. Thank you.