There is much talk in today's Christian community about the influence of cultist churches who profess a belief in Christ but who teach a doctrine different from what the Bible proclaims. As such, there is a growing number of Christian organizations who feel it is their duty to protect not only their followers from the false doctrines of these cults, but to warn others of the spiritual danger which these anti-Christian religions present. As many Christians see it, if there is only one way to gain salvation, any church which convinces others to believe in a different way of being saved is damning their converts to hell. Thus, many in the Christian community view themselves as the defenders of the faith, the guardians of spiritual truth and the protectors of God's word.
Because of their fervent belief in the need to bring people to a knowledge of Christ's true gift of eternal life, there is an increased effort by many churches and individual Christian organizations to counter the threat which they feel cultist religions present to the spread of God's true word. In pamphlets, books, videos, seminars and on the internet, a growing number of Christians are zealously seeking to combat the spread of heretical ideas which cultists religions teach.
Most of these attempts are two fold in purpose. The first is to demonstrate, through scriptural reference, how the doctrines other religions promote differ from what the Bible declares. This method is strictly Biblical in its approach and relies solely on explaining the orthodox, or accepted understanding of what the Bible teaches to reveal how other faiths teach an unorthodox, and therefore, an unacceptable and false view of salvation.
The second approach is more secular and intellectual in nature. It attempts to point out inconsistencies and illogic in cultist doctrines, as well as discrediting the character of those who founded or presently preside over these apostate religions. To support their allegations, they cite secular evidence, such as historical records, scientific analysis, archeological findings, and other non-Biblical sources.
Because of their firm conviction in the faith which they hold, many traditionalist, evangelical Christians feel a compelling need to save their church from what they consider to be an attack upon God and His gift to mankind. Therefore, rather than merely defending their own beliefs, they vigorously go on the offensive, taking on cultist religion with the zeal of a holy war. Their objective isn't merely to show the differences between two opposing beliefs, but to cripple and, if possible, eliminate the threat which such unorthodox churches present.
Since the Constitution of the United States allows for freedom of worship, evangelical Christians in America cannot invoke the law to force compliance to their ideas. Therefore, they must find other lawful means to achieve their purpose. One way is to aggressively teach their own people about the evils of these false religions, arming them with knowledge to defend, not only themselves, but others outside of their faith as well, thereby seeking to thwart any converting attempts by cultists. Another way is to actively seek out members of unorthodox churches and confront them with the errors within their beliefs. The stated objective for seeking out the heretic is to convince them of the falsity of their faith and save their souls from damnation. By their very nature, these encounters tend to be confrontational in tone. However, if a person is not swayed from their false ideas of salvation, the crusader often tends to consider the unrepentant sinner as being lost and moves on to rescue the next believer in false doctrines.
But this is nothing unusual. As we look at the history of Christianity, we see this very pattern being repeated many times. Before the time of Christ, the Pharisees and Sadducees felt their beliefs were identical to those which God gave Moses thousands of years before. Therefore, what they taught was the orthodox religion of their day. As such, they considered themselves defenders of the faith, the guardians of spiritual truth and the protectors of God's word.
From the time of Moses to the time of the Pharisees, there had been a number of apostate Jewish groups who preached heretical doctrines, but none was more threatening to the cherished faith of the Pharisees than that which was taught by a man named Jesus. Although Jesus quoted the same holy words of the prophets, His interpretation was different than that accepted by the wise and learned men of Judaism. The doctrine which Jesus taught seemed to contradict thousands of years of understanding and tradition. In the mind of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and elders of the church, Jesus was a heretic, and He had to be stopped from spreading His blasphemous ideas any way they could.
What frustrated the spiritual leaders was that Jesus was a smooth talker. He could talk His way out of any question they put to him. He was such a smooth talker that He mesmerized people with His message, thereby gaining a large gathering of followers. No matter what the religious leaders did, the popularity of this new prophet continued to spread and grow. Alarmed by this trend, the Jewish religious leaders had to find an effective way to stop him, even if it meant resorting to trickery, bribery, false accusations, or illegal application of the law. To them, it didn't matter how Jesus was stopped. The most important thing was protecting the true doctrine of Moses from being corrupted by the apostate teachings of heretics.
After much effort, the Jewish leaders were able to convince the civil authorities to have Jesus put to death. But no sooner had the head of the beast been removed than twelve other heads emerged to take up the cause. Even worse, the new Christians claimed that their slain leader had risen from the dead and now sat on the right hand of God in heaven! With greater vigor than ever before, Christianity began to spread more rapidly and gain greater converts after the death of Jesus than before. And to add insult to injury, the apostate "apostles" were taking their unholy ideas of a Jewish Messiah to the heathen Gentiles.
This is how Christianity was seen by the Jewish clergy in those days. They viewed this new movement as a cult. More than that, they not only considered the Christian's message as a corruption of God's word, but as a spiritual threat to their own nation, since most of the early converts were Jews. But, rather than eliminating the menace, in horror they watched it multiply with greater speed than ever before.
Intent on stopping the spread of this offensive religion, the Jews again tried arresting its leaders. When this didn't work, they granted authority to Saul of Tarsus to forcibly bind and imprison everyone who believed in the criminal, Jesus. When this effort failed, they resorted to spreading lies to the Roman authorities about the followers of Christ with the hope that strong legal punishments would halt the group's growth.
In the early stage of Christianity, it was consider the outcast religion. Its doctrines and beliefs were seen as being illogical, unorthodox, unreasonable, and strange. How dare it's leader claim He was God! How unorthodox its view that heathen Gentiles should have part in God's salvation! How illogical it was to believe that a man's death could atone for the sins of all the world! How unreasonable it was to believe in a resurrection of the body! How strange it was to eat the body and blood of a dead man! In the early stage of the church, Christianity was considered a far-out cult at a time when the Roman empire tolerated a wide variety of religious ideas.
Yet, despite every attempt to rid the world of such a religion, Christianity not only grew but prospered. To the believers in Jesus, this was seen as absolute proof of the rightness of their faith. Nothing could stop it because it was God's true church.
Nevertheless, from the time of the apostles, there were division within the church itself over various doctrines. The earliest and most notable was the belief that Gentiles needed to be circumcised. After the death of the apostles, a flood of new preachers came forth, teaching Christian doctrines that ran afoul of the duly appointed guardians of the faith - the bishops. Now the shoe was on the other foot. Instead of the Jews protecting their cherish beliefs from heresy, it was Christianity's turn to protect itself from the same fate.
In 108 AD several bishops met in the city of Smyrna to discuss how they could combat the spread of heretical ideas by unauthorized and apostate preachers of Christianity. Clement's letter to the Corinthians, Ignatius's letters to seven of the churches in Asia, the books of Justin Martyr and Iraeneus, Tertullian's many eloquent discourses, a book entitled, The Apostolic Traditions by Hippolytus (the bishop of Rome in 220 AD) were all written in an effort to thwart the spread of false doctrines within the church.
No sooner had these bishops defeated or thwarted one false idea than another would appear. There were such groups as the Gnostics, the Menandriansts, the Marcianist, the Carporcratians, the Valentinians, the Basilidians, the Saturnnilians, the Montanusist, and many others, each teaching their own brand of Christianity.
When Emperor Constantine came to power in 312 AD he proclaimed Christianity as the official state religion. Suddenly, Christianity was no longer unorthodox. It now became the accepted, authorized belief concerning God. By this time the Jews had been taken into captivity and no longer posed a threat to Christianity, however, there were still many other pagan religions that belonged to the empire. Until 320 AD, Constantine was tolerant of these other beliefs, but it was inevitable that the leaders of Christianity, who found such practices inconsistent with their views, would convince the emperor to take action against these heretic believers. From 320-330 AD Constantine used the power of his office to eliminate all religions except Christianity.
It should be noted that many people believe that instead of getting rid of paganism, Constantine merely combined it with Christianity, thereby corrupting both and creating a hybrid religion. For example, it was Constantine who declared December 25th to be the birthday of Jesus. However, that day was also the birthday of the pagan Unconquered Sun god. Constantine also instituted the celebration of Easter on what had previously been a pagan holiday.
However, such action did not remove doctrinal debate within the church. In 316, a sect of Christians known as the Donatists had a dispute with the church in North Africa concerning what kind of being Christ was. Constantine mediated the dispute and sided with the North Africans. As such, his ruling became the accept doctrine of Christianity. In 324, there was another doctrinal dispute over what constituted the trinity. Constantine convened a council (meeting) in the city of Nicaea to end the controversy. Three hundred bishops attended the meeting, which considered the argument of a group of people known as the Arians. Constantine decided against Arian's idea and the Council of Nicaea then adopted a creed or statement of belief which all Christians were obligated to accept. Arian did not agree to the wording of this creed and was excommunicated and exiled to Illyria. Thus, Christianity had once more defended the faith as they understood it and eliminated still another threat to their orthodox views concerning God.
Over time the Christian church grew in power, both in a religious sense and politically. Spreading throughout Europe, no king or monarch could rule unless he belonged to the one true universal Church, which by then was known as the Catholic Church. The Pope had the power to raise armies and sanction wars against its enemies. Thus, with a heavy hand, they suppressed any view of God which differed from their own. In a further effort to keep false doctrine from being preached in the church, the Bible itself was forbidden to be read by all except the authorized servants of the church, the priests. To insure this happened, the Bible was written in Latin, a language which was no longer used.
However, this didn't stop the heresies. In the 1100's there was a man named Cathari who began preaching an unapproved doctrine and the church moved to have him silenced. Next came a man named Waldenses who also expressed a different religious viewpoint. In both 1139 and 1179, the Lateran Council of the church gave civil rulers the power to take action against anyone preaching heresy. However, this didn't produce effective results. In 1184 Pope Lucius II proclaimed that anyone teaching heresy would be exiled, have their property confiscated and lose all their civil rights. In 1231, Pope Gregory IX issued a decree that anyone teaching false doctrine would be put to death unless they confessed and forsook their evil behavior. And even if they did confess, they still could be imprisoned for life.
When this didn't stem the tide of heresy, Pope Gregory assigned the Franciscan and Dominican Orders to be in charge of investigating and questioning (called inquistioning) anyone whom they suspected of being a heretic. Thus began the infamous Inquisition, all in an effort to make sure that the orthodox faith which the church taught was defended and protected from false teachings.
In a further effort to prevent heresy, in 1542 Pope Paul III created an official department within the church, made up of cardinals, whose sole responsibility was to maintain and defend the integrity of the faith and to examine and root out any errors or false ideas. This was originally known as the Congregation of the Holy Office, but is now called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Even dissent was squelched. Anyone who publicly spoke out against corruption among the clergy was considered a heretic. In the late 1300s a priest named John Wycliffe spoke out about misconduct he saw within the church and in 1382 he was placed under house arrest where he died. In 1414 another priest named Jan Hus was accused of following the teachings of John Wycliffe about church corruption. Because he would not fully recant his ideas, he was labeled a heretic and burned at the stake. Galileo was condemned as a heretic because he dared to theorize that the earth rotated around the sun, rather than the other way around as the church taught.
In the mid 1400s the printing press was invented and was highly criticized by the church. In 1526 an Englishman named William Tyndale translated the Bible into English and sought to have it printed but the church strenuously objected to his project. Therefore, he secretly went to Germany to have it published and then smuggled copies of it back into England.
John Foxe, an early reformer, in speaking of William Tyndale's efforts to bring the Bible to the people of England, wrote : "The bishops and prelates never rested before they had brought the king to their consent; by reason whereof, a proclamation in all haste was devised and set forth under public authority, that the Testament of Tyndale's translation was inhibited (prohibited). And not content herewith, they proceeded further, how to entangle him in their nets, and to bereave him of his life; which they brought to pass." (Foxe's Book of Martyrs, chapter XII). When the persecutions against him became obvious, Tyndale went into hiding but he was eventually found and imprisoned. At his trial he defended himself but was convicted of heresy. In 1536 he was executed by hanging, and afterwards his body was burned.
In 1517 an Augustine monk named Martin Luther became appalled by the selling of indulgences. (An indulgence by a priest forgives one of their sins. Thus some church officers were offering forgiveness in exchange for money.) When he spoke out about this and other matters against the church, in 1521 he was summoned to appear before the Diet (council) of Worms by the Emperor to answer charges of heresy. He was found guilty and was banished by the state and excommunicated by the church. If it wasn't for several German political dignitaries who gave him shelter and protection, his life would have eventually been taken.
Despite it's best efforts, the Catholic church was slowly beginning to lose ground in trying to prevent the spread of false doctrine. Before long the work of Wycliffe, Hus, Tyndale, and Luther spread to such people as Zwingli, Calvin, Knox and Foxe. Like the early Christians, these protesters (Protestants) valiantly struggled against the established, orthodox religion of their day, facing persecution, banishment, imprisonment and death simply because they dared believe in and teach something different than what the defenders of the faith said was truth.
In England, the Protestant movement faced strong opposition from both the government and the church. As such, they were forced to preach in private and continually had to remain hidden from the authorities. In 1533, King Henry broke ties with the Catholic church over having his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled and the following year he had the English Parliament declare him the Supreme Head of the Church in England.
Seeing an opportunity to reform the church from within, a group of Protestant preachers sought to influence the King to their way of thinking, but he had no desire to reform the theology of the church. The change which these reformers sought to implement was to bring the church back to the purity of the scriptures. By this they meant that the Bible was to be the standard by which everything was done. Thus they sought to purify the church of worldly involvement and make it more spiritual in nature. Although they sought diligently to convince the church leaders to follow this line of reasoning, they were criticized for their ideas and were mockingly referred to as Puritans.
In 1553 when Mary Tudor became Queen of England, the Puritan reformers hoped she would have a more receptive attitude, but this proved to be a fatal mistake. During her brief five-year reign, 277 Protestant leaders were burned to death at the stake. This earned her the title of 'Bloody Mary.' During her reign Protestant reformers fled England in droves to escape her wrath and hid themselves throughout Europe. In many ways, her reign of terror against Protestants equals that of Emperor Nero against the early Christians. Once more, the established church ruthlessly sought to silence anyone who dared teach a doctrine different than their own.
After the death of Queen Mary in 1558, her sister Elizabeth ascended the throne and stopped the persecution of Protestants. Encouraged by her actions, the English reformers returned to their homeland and sought to convince the new Queen to follow their ideas, but she saw them as being extreme and impractical, and therefore rejected their demands.
This eventually led to a split in the Puritan ranks. By 1570 a group of Puritans became convinced that the Church of England could not and would not be reformed. Therefore, they concluded that the only way to bring about reform was to start a new church in opposition to the established one. These people were called separatists, but instead of using that word, this group of Puritans called themselves Pilgrims. In 1620 the Pilgrims physically separated themselves from the Church of England by sailing across the ocean on a ship named the Mayflower to live in a new England.
In 1625 Charles I became King of England, and the Puritans again tried to bring about reform within the church, but their efforts produced very disappointing results. When Charles II came to the throne the struggle within the Church intensified but an act of Parliament was passed which required conformity to certain rules of the church which the Puritans could not in good conscience abide. Realizing the inevitable, in 1662 over 2,000 ministers and leaders in the Church of England were forced to leave. Most of them went to live in the Massachusetts Bay area of the new world.
Once in American the Puritans and Pilgrims could finally realize their dream of a purified church where even in government affairs the civil authorities must acknowledge the Word of God, and the Kingdom of Christ as being the basis for all their decisions. Under a charter from England, they started the Massachusetts Bay Company. However, before they left their homeland, the Puritans made sure all stock in the company was owned by members of their own faith. Once in America they formed an assembly called the General Court to make laws, but only Puritans could be members, and the enacted laws were in keeping with their strict puritanical beliefs. The assembly also prescribed the penalties for breaking the law, which included being publicly placed in stocks, beatings, fines and banishment.
However, the Puritans were not the only people who moved to America. Many other Protestant faiths likewise sought a home where they too could practice their beliefs without fear from reprisals. Yet despite their seeming unity in breaking away from the Catholic Church, these various groups kept to themselves and scorned those who believed differently. The Quakers, under the leadership of William Penn settled in Pennsylvania and stayed to themselves, and for good reason. The Puritans in Massachusetts considered the Quakers an apostate religion because they didn't place as much emphasis upon the Bible as the Puritans thought they should. Although the Puritans and Baptists got along for the most part, Roger Williams, who was a prominent leader of the Baptist faith, was expelled from New England by the Puritans because he denied the need for infant baptism, believed that magistrates should not conduct religions functions as part of their duties, and taught that all religions should be allow to worship, whether they be Christians, Jews, Turkish, or pagans. To the Puritans, such ideas were blasphemous and, if permitted, would have been a threat to the very foundation of their own religion. And, of course, they had no love for those who belonged to the Catholic faith.
And so the seeds of intolerance for beliefs different from their own were sown as each Protestant group set themselves up as the defenders of the faith, the guardians of spiritual truth and the protectors of God's word.
Since the Bible was the rule of law for everything the Puritans did, they especially took to heart the admonition of the apostle Peter when he warned, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil as a roaring lion walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8). Therefore, the Puritans zealously kept watch over themselves and their neighbors for even the slightest sign that Satan was working his evil among them.
In 1692, in the city of Salem, Massachusetts, the nine year old daughter of the local minister, Reverend Samuel Parris, began having unexplainable "fits". Within a short time, the blame was placed on a slave woman named Tituba, who had come from Barbados. She was accused of casting a spell upon the young girl by means of witchcraft. Under the lash of Reverend Parrish, Tituba "confessed" that there were other witches in the area who "yearned to destroy the Puritans."
With the telling of that story, Puritans throughout Massachusetts were filled with terror and quickly gathered themselves into an army intent on finding these female emissaries of the devil. And thus the infamous Salem witch hunts began with the zeal of a crusade. By the summer of that year, hundreds of women had been accused. Defenseless against even the wildest accusation, these women found themselves suddenly imprisoned with no real due process of law. The courts were comprised entirely of Puritans and the trials were conducted with great speed. Most accused women were easily found guilty, and were usually punished by public hanging until dead.
During the next 100 years, although somewhat diverse in their beliefs, Protestants, as a whole, maintained a cautiously tolerant relationship with one another. Because of this, Protestantism quickly became the dominant religion of the new land. No longer was it the despised, heretical movement by which it was once characterized. Now its views represented the established, accepted, orthodox doctrine which defined Christianity, at least in America.
The Protestants were the first to establish schools of learning, which were mostly religious in nature. It was their ideas that shaped the Constitution of the United States, and they were the ones who became the political leaders of the country. In fact, every President of the United States has been a Protestant, except one. And when that one person, John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, was merely running for president, many in the Protestant community openly expressed fears that, if he were elected, the affairs of our government would ultimately be influenced and possibly controlled by the Catholic church. As such, many Protestant faiths sought ways to make sure candidate Kennedy was defeated at the polls.
In the early 1800s a religious revival spread through the northeast section of America, with each Protestant denomination seeking to convert people to their own faith. Each church claimed that they alone taught the true doctrine of Christ, yet each taught something different than the others. It was during this time of great religious excitement that in 1820 a young boy by the name of Joseph Smith said he had a vision wherein he saw God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Of this event he wrote, "I soon found, however, that my telling the story had excited a great deal of prejudice against me among professors of religion, and was the cause of great persecution, which continued to increase; and though I was an obscure boy, only between fourteen and fifteen years of age, and my circumstances in life such as to make a boy of no consequence in the world, yet men of high standing would take notice sufficient to excite the public mind against me, and create a bitter persecution; and this was common among all the sects--all united to persecute me" (Joseph Smith History 1:22).
In 1830 when Joseph Smith established the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the mainstream Protestant churches denounced it as being of the devil. Not only was this new reform leader attacked, but so were his followers. The religious community resorted to intimidation, slander, false accusations, threats and violence to silence or remove these apostate believers. They employed every means at their disposal to apply the law and political pressure to their advantage. These Latter-day Saints, were literally driven out of Harmony, Pennsylvania, Fayette county, New York, Kirkland, Ohio, Clay County, Missiouri, and Navuoo, Illinois because of mob violence against them. On June 27, 1844 Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were shot to death by a vigilante mob.
And what brought out such anger against this new Christian movement? Simply because these people didn't follow the accepted, orthodox view which Protestants held. These Latter-day Saints believed in a living prophet to guide them, in the same way the apostles had once guided and led the early Christian church. In addition to that, this new religion accepted an additional book of scripture to the Bible, known as the Book of Mormon. It was from the name of this book that the followers of Joseph Smith were mockingly referred to as "Mormons."
More than a hundred and fifty years later, Protestantism has become less violent, but in some ways more aggressive in attacking those whom they believe teach a false doctrine of Christ. And the number of organizations and individuals who are devoted to the cause of stamping out heretical ideas has dramatically increased. As part of this effort, they now attach the sinister term "cult" to any church or group who does not accept or teach the orthodox view of salvation as defined by mainstream Protestantism. And the list of such religious cults is growing. These not only include "Mormons" but Jehovah Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, Christian Scientists, Scientologists, Unitarians, the New Age Movement, the Baha'i faith, Catholics, Masons, Muslims, and many others.
It is understandable and even somewhat commendable that people would seek to keep their traditional, cherished beliefs pure and uncorrupted. Yet one must wonder if the method some people use in achieving this lofty goal is based on the teachings of Christ. Perhaps, even here, history might provide the answer.
After the death of Jesus, the Pharisees thought their tactics has been successful in stamping out the Christian menace. However, they soon learned that it flourished even more strongly. One zealous adherent to Judaism was Saul of Tarsus. Like many of today's followers of Christianity, he didn't feel it was enough simply to defend his religious convictions. Instead, his sense of duty compelled him to go on the offensive. His attitude was one of intolerance. His goal was to force conformity to his ideas. His methods were rooted in his bias and prejudices.
However, after experiencing a heavenly vision, everything about Saul changed. Not only did he change his name and religious ideas, but so did his approach to life. As a devoted and zealous Christian, Paul no longer used the same tactics he previously had advocated so strongly. Although, after his conversion, he viewed the law of Moses, as taught by the Pharisees, to be a corrupted and apostate doctrine, yet he didn't go about breathing out threatings against the Jews as he had once done against the Christians.
Rather than attacking people for what they believed, Paul, as a Christian, went about converting people, not so much by denouncing their beliefs, but rather by explaining what he believed in and why. And when people didn't accept his words, he didn't spend his time organizing a campaign against their religious ideas. Although he did condemn their sinful acts (which he also did with Christians), he didn't view the unbeliever as his enemy. His conviction was that the preaching of the gospel alone would eventually triumph over all others ideas and philosophies of men. Even in the Christian faith there were those who attacked Paul's teachings, especially in regard to the Gentiles. Yet rather than revile his accusers, he only defended his position, (although at times he did so rather vigorously and forcefully).
The attitude of a true Christian, as exemplified by Paul, is one of defending their own faith, rather than attacking those of others. Nevertheless, there are many in the Christian community who disagree with this method of combating what they consider to be heretical, false teachings. Unfortunately, no matter how worthy their intentions may be, all too often, the methods they use to achieve their goal relies on the same tactics which in times past have only resulted in human and inhumane suffering. Indeed, whenever people are motivated by prejudice and religious intolerance that has always been the case throughout the history of Christianity.