Monday, October 19, 2020

If We Are Wrong About Ravi Zacharias Would We Be Wrong About Jesus And The Apostles?

             The last few years of Ravi Zacharias were turbulent. His integrity and his godly character were questioned!

            He who spent most of his life defending Historic Christianity had to defend the veracity of his own life, which he never failed to proclaim as being nothing short of godly. Today, in a very regrettable turn of events, we are forced to defend Historic Christianity from the atheists, who are citing Ravi’s life as evidence against the character of Jesus Christ and the Apostles.

            The atheist slogan against Historic Christianity is this, “Christians, if you can be wrong about Ravi Zacharias, why can’t you be wrong about Paul, Matthew, Mark Luke, John, or even Jesus?”


THE ALLEGATIONS

            Let us first be aware of the allegations against Ravi Zacharias. Here’s a succinct summary:

            Exaggerated academic credentials: Ravi claimed he was a ‘Professor at Oxford.’1 But he was not. When Ravi was questioned, he issued a written statement affirming he was never a professor at Oxford, “…And while I have lectured at Wycliffe Hall, I am not and have never been a professor at the University of Oxford.”2

            More controversy hovers around the prefix of ‘Dr.’ before his name, but Ravi affirmed he had not earned a doctorate degree, “I have never earned a doctoral degree and was never enrolled at the University of Oxford or the University of Cambridge.”3

            Sexting Allegations: A Canadian woman was reported to have sent her nude pictures to Ravi. Ravi, allegedly, according to this woman, continued his online conversation with her.

            However, Ravi, when he was alive, in a statement to Christianity Today, denied an extended online conversation with this woman, “Then, last year, she shockingly sent me extremely inappropriate pictures of herself unsolicited. I clearly instructed her to stop contacting me in any form; I blocked her messages, and I resolved to terminate all contact with her.”4

            Sexual Perversions: After Ravi passed on, Christianity Today reported the allegations of three women who worked for Ravi Zacharias at the massage spa, he co-owned. They alleged that Ravi harassed them sexually for about five years, “Three women who worked at the businesses, located in a strip mall in the Atlanta suburbs, told Christianity Today that Ravi Zacharias touched them inappropriately, exposed himself, and masturbated during regular treatments over a period of about five years. His business partner said he regrets not stopping Zacharias and sent an apology text to one of the victims this month.

            RZIM denies the claims, saying in a statement to CT that the charges of sexual misconduct “do not in any way comport with the man we knew for decades.” The organization has hired a law firm “with experience investigating such matters” to look into the allegations, which date back at least 10 years. RZIM declined to answer any further questions about the inquiry.”5


TRUTH MATTERS

            Even if we are to let go of the allegations against inflated academic credentials (because it happens most of the time with many leaders), we cannot ignore the allegations of online sexting and the alleged sexual harassment of three or more women at the spas Ravi co-owned.

            As Ravi himself often said, Truth matters.

            RZIM and C&MA (the ministry that ordained Ravi Zacharias) are conducting parallel investigations into the allegations. However, some people wonder if truth would ever be revealed to us:6

Even now, after revelation of shocking sexual abuse and harassment allegations by massage therapists at spas Zacharias co-owned, RZIM seems bent on denial. Though RZIM has hired a firm to investigate the spa allegations, what’s telling is RZIM’s recent statement, labeling the accusations “false.”

So, before the results of any independent investigation, RZIM apparently has made up its mind. It’s likely, then, that RZIM’s “investigation” will not be an attempt to discover the truth, but rather a ruse to justify a foregone conclusion.

The law firm RZIM hired for the investigation, Miller & Martin, is telling, as well. The firm has been accused of fraud and appears to have little expertise in sexual harassment and abuse cases.

But what’s most concerning is that Miller & Martin promotes itself as an expert in “crisis management.” On its website, the firm states that its crisis management team “aggressively pursues avoidance” and helps “limit” the amount that a crisis “damage(s) a client’s brand.”

This is not a firm that an organization committed to truth and transparency would hire for its “independent” investigation.

            The truth does matter.

            But would we ever know the truth?

            I don’t know.


AT RISK

            Two groups of people are at risk. They need our prayers.

            Ravi’s family: With this alleged scandal out in the mainstream media, Ravi’s family, especially his grandchildren, could catch flak from our unforgiving society. May God protect them from emotional trauma and from all harms and danger.

            Ravi’s victims: If the said allegations are true, then Ravi’s victims need our prayer too. After all, they are also made in God’s image. Victims of sexual harassment need divine healing. Every single victim needs our prayers.


DEBUNKING ATHEISTS

            So atheists, upon surveying the allegations against Ravi Zacharias, throw a seed of doubt into the minds of naïve Christians. They ask, “Christians, if you can be wrong about Ravi Zacharias, why can’t you be wrong about Paul, Matthew, Mark Luke, John, or even Jesus?”

            To cast aspersions on the characters of Paul, Matthew, Mark Luke, John, or even Jesus based on the life of Ravi Zacharias is thoughtless and reckless on many counts. Let us consider two reasons as to why atheists’ contention is fictitious, deceptive and misleading.

            Mere Allegations: The sexting and sexual harassment allegations are mere allegations. Nothing is certain. Unless there is concrete evidence, Ravi stays in the clear. He remains innocent until proven guilty.

            If Ravi is not proven guilty, he cannot be the cause of casting aspersions on the characters of Jesus Christ and the Apostles.

            Logically Fallacious: To doubt the characters of Jesus and the Apostles based on Ravi’s sin is ‘Bad Reasoning.’

            It is bad reasoning to say that there are allegations against Ravi, so we should investigate the characters of the Apostles. (Even if Ravi Zacharias is found guilty of immoral acts, one cannot doubt or suspect the characters of the Apostles or Jesus Christ.)

            To say that Ravi Zacharias is an adulterer, so his leader(s) would also be adulterers is not an adequate premise. It is plausible that the leader(s) would not be adulterers even though Ravi was one.

            A father need not be an adulterer, even if his son were to be one.

             If one or more followers of a particular leader practice adultery, then the leader cannot be doubted for adultery. The leader can only be doubted for adultery if his behavior leads to such a suspicion. Even if his/her behavior is suspicious, the leader is not an adulterer unless he confesses or is proven (with concrete evidence) to be an adulterer.  

            Without any concrete evidence, the judiciary would not entertain a plea to investigate the President or the Prime Minister or the King because one or more of their followers are practicing one or more immoral practices. It would be dim-witted to assume the leader to be guilty of the sin(s) practiced by the followers.


 BIBLICALLY SPEAKING

            The Bible categorically teaches that all men are sinners.

            This is not to say that all men are adulterers. Adultery is one of the many sins listed in the Bible. But no man can claim to be sinless and perfect (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:10; 1 John 1:8). If Apostle Paul claimed to be the worst sinner (1 Timothy 1:15), it is a given that Ravi or you or me or any Christian are indeed sinners because we are vulnerable to sins. 

            I do not for even a moment think that Ravi ever claimed to be sinless. But, on more than one occasion, he claimed to be faithful to his wife Margie at all times.

            If Ravi was unfaithful to Margie and if he had practiced adultery, then he would receive from God what is due to him, for God knows what Ravi did.


THE CONCLUSION

            Let not this set a precedent for us to assume that all Christian leaders are adulterers or corrupt. (Of course, there are corrupt Christian leaders who deserve to be banished from their positions.)

            Although not one man can claim to be sinless, each one can reflect Christ to the best of his abilities. No Christian leader can be perfectly godly or perfectly Christlike, but they can be good and trustworthy. So let’s continue to trust our leaders, who have been appointed by God.

            Many of us would have loved, enjoyed, and learned much from Ravi Zacharias’ sermons and speeches. Let us continue to do so despite the apparent slur on his integrity.

            I have no connections with RZIM, but I still say that if you have been supporting RZIM, continue to do so if the Lord so leads you to. Remember that you give to God primarily (Cf. 1 Chronicles 29:14; 2 Corinthians 9:10-15). Man is a sheer recipient of your gifts to God.


Endnotes:

1https://www.wthrockmorton.com/2018/08/21/blast-from-the-past-ravi-zacharias-made-himself-a-professor-at-oxford/

& https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmTPxgGuA7Q&feature=youtu.be&ab_channel=C.S.LewisInstitute; watch the clip at 52:40.

2https://www.wthrockmorton.com/category/ravi-zacharias/

3Ibid.

4https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2017/december/ravi-zacharias-sexting-extortion-lawsuit-doctorate-bio-rzim.html

5https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/september/ravi-zacharias-sexual-harassment-rzim-spa-massage-investiga.html

6https://julieroys.com/ravi-zacharias-allegations-highlight-secrecy-cover-up-at-rzim/

Websites last accessed on 19th October 2020. 


Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Don't Say This To A Suffering Person

            Living amidst a pandemic is challenging. Every second or third person we may encounter may be suffering.

            Comforting a suffering soul is not simple. Not all of us can comfort a suffering soul. Sometimes what we say may have the opposite effect of comfort.  

            So let’s see what not to say and what to say to a person in pain and misery.

DON’TS

            The Bible advises us to not speak mindlessly (James 1:19).

            I am there for you always: While uttering words of comfort we may say, “I am there for you always. Count on me.” Let us not say this and then not contact the suffering soul or disregard them when the suffering person contacts us.

            I’ll always pray for you: This is a serious commitment we are getting into when we utter these words. Let us not say this and not communicate to the sufferer for an extended period.

            It may be acceptable if we pray diligently for this person but remain out of contact. But the alternate – to not pray – is to be dishonest.

            There is greater dishonesty: To say we are praying for him when we are actually not praying for him.

            This is an exhibition of travesty: To merely pray or wish the sufferer well when God has placed us in a position of being a greater help to them (Cf. James 2:15-17).

            To not alleviate the financial needs of a suffering soul is a classic example. To not use our authority to help a jobless person get a job is another example.

            When ministering to a suffering soul, it is better to not speak much. Instead, let us listen and offer our shoulders for them to cry on.

            Do not dismiss the feelings of a suffering soul:1 [Emphasis Mine]

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when someone tells you bad news is to deny you heard anything troubling…Changing the subject, making jokes or coming up with reasons why the problem isn’t a problem cut off communication and tell the sufferer that it’s not all right to express sorrow.

Comments like “Don’t worry,” “Don’t cry,” “Cheer up,” “It could be worse,” “It’s not that bad,” “Everything will be fine” and “Look at the bright side” can do the same thing.

When you respond in these ways, you are in effect casting aside the sufferers’ concerns and telling them you’re not interested in hearing about their struggles. This can leave them feeling unheard, misunderstood or deserted. They may feel as though they’re being corrected for feeling the way they do. Their burden becomes heavier, not lighter.

Part of the problem is thinking that when we’re facing trials, we must always put on a cheery façade, even if we’re hurting. But Ecclesiastes 3:4 says there’s “a time to weep.” It’s okay to admit we’re in pain.

Those who are hurting need you to accept their feelings and acknowledge what they’re going through. Reassure them that their concerns are valid. Allow them to be sad, grieve or cry when they’re with you. Don’t expect them to pretend that everything is normal just so you can feel more comfortable.

            Here’s more of what not to say:2 [Emphasis Mine]

1) Do not say: “It could be worse.”

…We have some odd ways of cheering each other up.

The comment is accurate—everything could be worse. We suffer and then, along with the suffering, have a comforter who says it could be worse.

Such a comment is utterly thoughtless. God himself would never say or sanction it. God does not compare our present suffering to anyone else’s or to worst-case scenarios. Ever. If we hear friends do this in their own suffering, it does not give us the right to chime in. Instead, it might be a time to warn them.

“Yes, your suffering might not seem as severe as _______, but God doesn’t compare your sufferings to others.”

If we make such comparisons, we might be tempted not to speak of the suffering from our hearts to the Lord because we would consider it whining, which it certainly is not.

So even though things could be worse, that is never an appropriate thing to say to others or to let others say about their situation. God is not dismissive of our hardships, and neither should we be.

2) Do not say: “What is God teaching you through this?” Or, “God will work this together for good.”

Those platitudes are biblical in that God does teach us in our suffering, and he is working all things together for good (Rom. 8:28). We agree with C. S. Lewis when he writes that pain is God’s megaphone to arouse a deaf world. But these kinds of comments have hurt so many people; let’s agree that we will never say them.

Consider a few of the possible problems with this and other poorly timed misuses of biblical passages:

Such responses circumvent compassion. Will you have compassion if someone is being “taught a lesson”? Not likely.

Such responses tend to be condescending, as in, “I wonder when you will finally get it.”

Such responses suggest that suffering is a solvable riddle. God has something specific in mind, and we have to guess what it is. Welcome to a cosmic game of Twenty Questions, and we’d better get the right answer soon; otherwise, the suffering will continue.

Such responses suggest that we have done something to unleash the suffering.

Such responses undercut God’s call to all suffering people: “Trust me.”

In our attempts to help, we can over-interpret suffering. We search for clues to God’s ways, as if suffering were a scavenger hunt. Get to the end, with the right answers, and God will take away the pain. Meanwhile, the quest for answers is misguided from the start and will end badly. Suffering is not an intellectual matter that needs answers; it is highly personal: Can I trust him? Does he hear? Suffering is a relational matter, and it is a time to speak honestly to the Lord and remember that the fullest revelation he gives of himself is through Jesus Christ, the suffering servant. Only when we look to Jesus can we know that God’s love and our suffering can coexist.

3) Do not say: “If you need anything, please call me, anytime.”

This heads in a better direction; it is not quite a platitude. However, this common and kind comment reveals that we do not really know the person. Sufferers usually don’t know what they want or need, and they won’t call you. The comment is the equivalent of, “I’ve said something nice, now see ya later.” It gives no real thought to the sufferer’s needs and circumstances, and the suffering person knows it.

       Please do not be Super-Spiritual or judgmental. Read point (2) again.

DO’S  

         Let’s be connected to the suffering person. Call them at least once a week. Visit them.

        Pray with them. Listen to them. Let us offer our shoulders for them to cry on. 

        Offer them help. Every suffering person needs help. Alleviate their financial and other needs, if any.

         Here’s a very valuable piece of advice as to what to do while ministering to a suffering person:3

When a friend is suffering, rather than offering “help” that actually hurts, keep these three principles in mind:

1. Sit and listen. Having someone listen as I pour out my heart has helped me more than any words ever have. I just want someone to be there. To weep with me. To say she is sorry things are so hard. To not expect me to have perfect theology. To let me rant. What an amazing gift it is not to feel judged by every word I utter in desperation.

2. Make specific offers to help. Concrete offers are the easiest to accept. Statements like: “I’d like to bring a meal next week. Would Tuesday work or would you prefer another day?” Or “I’m about to go to the grocery store. What can I get you?”

3. Stay in touch. Pray. Write notes. Call or visit. Text. Send little reminders that we’re not forgotten.

All of us have let our friends down in their struggles. And all of us have been hurt or disappointed by our friends in our own grief. We cannot perfectly comfort someone else, and we don’t need to “fix” our friends. Instead, let’s sit with our suffering friends. Cry with them. Support them as they grieve. They need grace to heal.

Remember, our suffering friends don’t need a savior. They already have one . . . and so do we.

Endnotes:

1https://lifehopeandtruth.com/relationships/communication/what-not-to-say-suffering/

2https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/explore-the-bible/3-things-not-to-say-when-someone-is-suffering.html

3https://www.todayschristianwoman.com/articles/2015/january-week-4/what-not-to-say-to-someone-whos-suffering.html

Websites last accessed on 30th September 2020


Friday, September 4, 2020

Cult Watch: Emperor Emmanuel Church

 

            Naïve Christians, especially from the Roman Catholic Church, are being lured into joining the Emperor Emmanuel Church. This group is located at Muriyad in Thrissur district of Kerala state, India. It is also known as ‘Zion.’

            Is Emperor Emmanuel Church a cult? Let us examine a few facts.

About

            Zion or Emperor Emmanuel Church is significantly established. They exist in India and other countries.

            This excerpt is from their website:1

Zion is the little flock that believes that Jesus Christ has come again in flesh, his true name is Emmanuel and that he will transfigure and take them to the Eternal City in the New Earth…Zion believes that God the Father will come to visit them and when He comes, they will become like Him and so they eagerly wait for Him…Emperor Emmanuel Church is located at Muriyad in Thrissur district of Kerala state, India. This Church consists of 80 local fellowships in Kerala as well as other states such as Karnataka, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Delhi, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Puducherry, etc. Emperor Emmanuel has overseas fellowships in places like Australia, the UK, the USA, Ireland, Italy and the Gulf countries such as Dubai, Qatar, Bahrain, etc.

            Zion was pioneered by Mr. Roy Joseph aka Joseph Ponnara. (Emphasis Mine).

            Catholic apologist, Michael Prabhu has published pertinent information about Zion on his website. This excerpt provides significant details about Joseph Ponnara:2

Emperor Emmanuel is a charismatic-style, rabidly anti-Catholic doomsday cult whose centre is in Muriyad, near Irinjalakuda in Kerala. It is also known as "Zion". Its founder and leader is one Joseph Ponnara, a former drawing teacher in a school in Erattayar where he was active in the Catholic charismatic renewal. He started his activities in Thodupuzha in Kerala in 2000, calling his centre the "Embassy of Emperor Emmanuel", before moving to Muriyad in 2005 and renaming it "Zion".

Apparently, he lacks an academic background, theological formation as well as Biblical scholarship. His knowledge of English is insufficient for him to preach in any language other than Malayalam, so he depends on a translator. His only credentials are his personal interpretations of Scripture and what he claims are revelations from the Father and the Holy Mother [Mary]. Of course, he claims having discernment and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Ponnara is the cult’s sole preacher and teacher. Two priests have joined the cult. One, the elderly Fr. Joseph Ayyankoil, left the Vincentians [which runs the retreat centre at Potta and the Divine Retreat Centre at Muringoor, both of which are situated just a few minutes drive from "Zion"] in 2005. The other is a young Irinjalakuda diocesan priest Fr. Roby…

A three-storey concrete Noah’s ark is under construction at "Zion". Here, they are preparing for the Second Coming of Jesus.

But this Jesus is not the Jesus that other Christians know. Neither is the Second Coming the one that either Catholics or the fundamentalist Protestants teach.

Cultish Characteristics

            A closer observation of Zion through a cursory reading of their own website reveals the following cultish characteristics:

            A. Zion proclaims a “New Jesus” – a Jesus who has already come to earth for the second time, “Zion is a community that believes in Jesus Christ who took flesh from Holy Mother, was born two thousand years ago, preached the Kingdom of God, died on the cross, rose from the dead, and who procured forgiveness of sin for the children of God. Having received the salvation he gave 2000 years ago, this flock called Zion waits for him as a savior. Zion is the little flock that believes that Jesus Christ has come again in flesh, his true name is Emmanuel and that he will transfigure and take them to the Eternal City in the New Earth.” (Emphasis Mine).3

            In another article on their website entitled “Jesus Christ: The Savior,” Zion teaches, “Behold, Jesus Christ has come again in flesh on this earth now! Today, he is called by the Name Emmanuel, the only Name of the Son of God that God revealed to Prophet Isaiah more than 2700 years ago. The Second Coming of Jesus Christ and his Glorious Manifestation are not one and the same event, but two distinct events. Even though both these events take place in the End Times, there is a time gap between these two events. The Second Coming of Jesus Christ is his Coming in flesh from Heaven to this earth in the End Times. But the Glorious Manifestation of Emmanuel is the revelation of the Son of God in all glory after living on this earth for a period of time.

            We are now living in the time period between the Second Coming and Glorious Manifestation of the Son of God, Emmanuel.” (Emphasis Mine).4

            B. Zion has a non-biblical source of authority. In an article about Jesus on Zion’s website, Zion alludes to the non-biblical authority, “This article is not based on worldly knowledge or any human philosophy or thought. Instead, it is solely based on the knowledge that comes from faith and Divine Wisdom.” (Emphasis Mine).5

            C. Zion rejects all churches subscribing to historical biblical Christianity when it teaches that all churches will be destroyed, “Emmanuel, the Son of God, is Going to Annihilate all Churches (1 Cor. 15/24)”6

            D. Zion subscribes to a new interpretation of the Bible.

            For instance, 1 Corinthians 15:24 says, “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.” (RSV).

            Zion interprets this verse as the destruction of all churches subscribing to historical biblical Christianity. This is an incorrect interpretation of this verse.

            The correct and contextual interpretation of this verse is that Christ would destroy all rule, authority, and power that opposes HIM.

            Interestingly, by teaching a new Jesus, Zion stands opposed to the Jesus Christ of the Bible. Thus, when Christ would destroy everything that opposes HIM, HE would also destroy Zion (but HE would not destroy the churches subscribing to Historic Christianity). Sadly, the adherents of Zion do not understand this stark truth.  

            Intriguingly, Zion’s own website reveals these Cultish characteristics. 

Belief

            Michael Prabhu reports that Zion believes and teaches the following:7

1. Jesus has already come on earth in the flesh, born of a virgin. His name is Emmanuel and not Jesus.

2. The name of the Father is Jesus. The Father has a physical body of flesh and blood. So, too, does the Holy Spirit. Melchizedek, the priest, and the king of Genesis 14 is the Holy Spirit.

3. The Blessed Virgin Mary, or Holy Mother as they call her, is co-eternal with the Father and was present at the creation of the world. Ponnara taught that Mary is to be worshipped.

4. While not attempting to hide the fact that they are not Catholic, and while teaching that the Catholic Church is the agent of Satan, they say the rosary, hear people’s private confessions, and celebrate Mass among other things. However, all of these are very different from what Catholics are familiar with.

5. The cult’s followers believe that the end of the world is imminent, that Jesus is already here and so are some of the prophets of the Old Testament, that they will turn up at "Zion", the Father will be there too, that only a pre-ordained 144,000 will be saved from annihilation, and that the 144,000 will only be those who accept the "Zion" gospel preached by Ponnara who is apparently, though he doesn’t say it in so many words, one of those prophets.

Conclusion

            Is Emperor Emmanuel Church a cult?

            This post offers adequate information with which you can arrive at your own conclusion.

            Their own website reveals stark cultish characteristics [about Zion]. Their beliefs, if what’s documented is factual, are also cultish.

            So, beware!

Endnotes:

1https://www.emperoremmanuel.org/page.php?slug=about_content

2http://www.ephesians-511.net/results.php?q=joseph+ponnara (A word document in this website search entitled “EMPEROR EMMANUEL A DANGEROUS DOOMSDAY CULT” offers this information.)

3https://www.emperoremmanuel.org/page.php?slug=about_content

4https://www.emperoremmanuel.org/page.php?slug=temp_four_content&id=291

5Ibid.

6https://www.emperoremmanuel.org/page.php?slug=temp_four_content&id=123

7http://www.ephesians-511.net/results.php?q=joseph+ponnara (A word document in this website search entitled “EMPEROR EMMANUEL A DANGEROUS DOOMSDAY CULT” offers this information.)

Websites last accessed on 4th September 2020.


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Cult Watch: Definition, Modus Operandi and Characteristics

 

            Cults are aggressively deceiving God’s people.

            A cult is a perversion, a distortion of historical Christianity and/or a rejection of the historic teachings of the Christian church, says Josh McDowell. He also cites Walter Martin’s (a Baptist minister and a counter-cultist) definition of a cult: 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.1

            Christians are seduced by cult groups for several reasons:2

            (1) They are ignorant of the Bible (Christian doctrines) because they have not diligently read the Bible and the church they attend does not faithfully teach the Bible.

            (2) Christians do not know why they believe in what they believe.

            (3) Most cults brainwash their followers by telling them what to believe, how to behave and what to think.

            (4) Cults always emphasize their followers to depend upon the group or the leader of the group for their emotional stability so much so that any member of the cult shall not dare disobey the leadership of the cult.

            (5) Cults will devour people going through crisis in their life by offering them love, acceptance and direction.

            (6) Cults provide seemingly authoritative answers to man’s basic questions: Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?

            It is not the stupid people who join cults. “People who join cults are not stupid, weird, crazy, weak-willed, or neurotic. Most cult members are of above-average intelligence, well adjusted, adaptable, and perhaps a bit idealistic,” says an article in the Apologetics Index.3

            Cults can be identified by the following characteristics:4

            A. New Truth: Many cults promote the false idea that God has revealed something special to them. This is usually truth that has never before been revealed and supersedes and contradicts all previous revelations.

            B. New Interpretations of the Bible: Some cults believe that they alone have the key to interpreting the mysteries in the Bible. The Scriptures are their only acknowledged source of authority, but they are interpreted unreasonably and in a way different from that of orthodox Christianity.

            C. A Non-Biblical Source of Authority: Some cults have sacred writings or a source of authority that supersedes the Bible.

            D. Another Jesus: A common characteristic found in cults is false teaching about the person of Jesus Christ in the light of historical biblical Christianity.

            E. Rejection of Orthodox Christianity: Many cultic groups launch a frontal assault on historical Christianity. One common allegation is that the church (subscribing to historical Christianity) has departed from the true faith.

            F. Double-Talk: Some cultic groups will say one thing publicly but internally believe in something totally different.

            G. Non-Biblical Teaching on the Nature of God (Trinity): Cults will usually teach an inadequate view of the Trinity or they will deny the blessed Trinity. Thus they will have a perverted view of the nature of God.

            H. Changing Theology: Cult doctrines are continually in a state of flux and have no sure foundation on which to anchor their hope. Adherents of a particular cult will learn a doctrine only to find that doctrine later changed or contradicted by further revelation.

            I. Strong Leadership: Cults are usually led by strong and central leader figures who consider themselves as messengers of God with unique access to the Almighty. Since the leader pretends to have such a special relationship with God, he/she can dictate the theology and behavior of the cult.

            J. Salvation by Works: One teaching that will be totally absent from all 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. On the contrary, 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.

            K. False Prophecy: Another feature of the cults is they often promulgate false prophecy. They make bold predictions of future events, supposedly revealed by the inspiration of God. When these predictions do not come to pass, these leaders are exposed as false prophets.

            Some famous cults are:

            1. The Church of the Latter Day Saints (The Mormon Church).

            2.  The Unification Church.

            3. Christian Science.

            4. The Way International.

            5. The Worldwide Church.

            6. The Jehovah’s Witnesses (Watchtower Bible and Tract Society).

            Overcoming cults is possible if we know the truth. Learn how to and how not to interpret the Bible.

            Identifying an error is impossible if we do not know the truth, “…develop an intellectual depth to your biblical study. J. P. Moreland argues that two of the great Christian cults were started on the heels of the great American revivals.17 Because many of these new Christians didn’t know their Bibles very well, they were easily captured by the false teaching of these cult groups. Paul predicted that the false teachers in Ephesus would actually arise from within the church itself (Acts 20:29-30). Therefore, in the modern church, we need to learn how to interpret and read our Bibles with clarity in order to combat false teaching like this… when we have been steeped in the word of God, we become more effective at identifying counterfeit Christianity,” says an article in Xenos.org.5 

            Last but not the least; let us never forget the teachings of the Bible that motivates us to be aware of the cults amongst us in order to reject them.

            “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.” ( 1 John 4:1, NIV).

            “But examine all things; hold fast to what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21, NET).

            “For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted…For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.” (2 Corinthians 11: 4, 13-15, NASB).

            Stay away from the cults. Remain in the Lord Jesus. Amen.  

            

Endnotes:

1Josh McDowell & Don Stewart, Handbook of Today’s Religions, p17.

2Josh McDowell & Don Stewart, Handbook of Today’s Religions, p18-19.

3https://www.apologeticsindex.org/265-who-joins-cults-and-why

4Josh McDowell & Don Stewart, Handbook of Today’s Religions, p20-25.

5https://www.xenos.org/essays/what-cult

Websites last accessed on 2nd September 2020.


Friday, August 7, 2020

When Hope Hurts

             The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel increased in brightness. Hope gradually increased in anticipation of finally being healed and delivered after years of horrendous suffering. But alas! Just when the light seemed to be the brightest, the light died. Darkness eclipsed light. Life returned to its customary condition – being in darkness – filled with pain and misery.

            This could be the plight of a person physically ailing for years. The ailing soul’s hope could have been greatly increased when the surgeon assured healing through a final surgery. Alas, that surgery failed too. Suffering in ailment became the typical condition for this soul.

            Hope, which was as bright as a full moon’s light, was brutally eclipsed by evil’s shadow.

            This could be the plight of a jobless soul whose latest endeavor may have offered the greatest hope and then his hope was brutally nuked when the greatest prospect of reemployment deluded him again.  

            This could be the plight of numerous individuals and families living in utter misery and pain.

            Hope loomed large, and then suddenly, when hope disappeared, hopelessness became a constant companion to the suffering soul.

            There are instances when the word hope may appear to be the greatest cuss word in the dictionary of one’s life. This would certainly resonate with those living in utter misery for years together.

            This is not to say that those living under such despicable circumstances rebel against God. No, that’s not the case always.

            In fact, those living in utter misery could be devoted disciples of the Lord Jesus because of their constant dependence on HIM and HIM alone.  

            But when it comes to hope, they could choose to be pessimistic rather than being optimistic. Does this mean they lack faith that God would deliver them from their horrendous misery? That’s an incorrect understanding of a suffering soul as well.

            In order to understand the faith of the one who is in utter pain for several years/decades, watch out for the peace that remains in him (cf. Romans 8:6). If the person in pain has the peace of God both inside and outside his home, then his faith is in the right place – in the Lord Jesus.

            Even if the suffering soul is unhappy, irritable, angry, and reclusive, do not misjudge them. Their faith in Christ could still be strong, but they may genuinely be angry with their fellow Christians, who may have abandoned the suffering soul.

            These children of God may have lost their faith in their fellow Christians, but not their faith in the Triune God.

            So would a suffering soul, after years of suffering, lose faith? Would they believe that God would not deliver them?

            They could very well believe that it may not be in God’s will to deliver them. Christ did not heal every sick person at the pool called Bethesda, HE healed only one. Thus they know that it is not God’s bounden prerogative to save and heal any and everyone.

            If it is God’s bounden prerogative to heal and save everyone, people would flock to God for material benefits such as health, wealth, sanity, and success. But God will not grant material blessings to everyone seeking them. In fact, the Bible teaches that we are to primarily seek the spiritual. When we seek the spiritual, the material blessings will follow (cf. Matthew 6:33).

            Is it possible to pray for healing, but not hope for healing? If an ailing person does not hope for healing, then does it allude to his faithlessness?

            Job remarked that he does not have the strength to hope (Job 6:11). It is true! The suffering soul needs strength to hope, but when their mind loses its strength, then their hope begins to fade. However, their prayers need not cease.

            For years, these suffering souls would have hoped and longed for healing and deliverance. But all the years of hoping would have been in vain.

            It is one thing to hope for healing and not to receive healing. But it could be catastrophic to hope for healing but only to receive greater adversity. When you hope for suffering to cease, you are not in the frame of mind to receive more pain and misery. It is at this very moment that hope hurts.

            Job experienced this situation, so he groaned, “Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness. The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me.” (Job 30:26-27, NIV).

            When we experience such a situation we tend to think that God allows a situation wherein our hope could be uprooted. Job said, “He tears me down on every side till I am gone; he uproots my hope like a tree.” (Job 19:10, NIV; cf. Job 14:19).

            You will understand this only if you have experienced horrendous suffering for years together. Only then would you empathize with Job’s words, ““My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and they come to an end without hope…” (Job 7:6, NIV).

            There are situations when hope could hurt us!

            Hope that God would deliver us may fade from our lives, but the faith in God’s existence and HIS power will remain. We learn this from Job’s life when he uttered these glorious words while in utmost suffering, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27, NIV).

            Are the Christian churches geared to minister to these suffering souls? You know the answer.

            I am moderately pessimistic.

            Churches may disappoint us, but the Lord Jesus never would. Run into HIS outstretched arms. You will receive divine comfort and peace (Matthew 11:28).

            When you encounter a suffering soul, do not judge. Rather prayerfully encourage and comfort the individual and the family in Christ. Amen.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Is Water Baptism A Necessary Condition For Being Filled With The Holy Spirit?

            Acts 2:38 says, “Peter said to them, “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (NET). After reading this verse we cannot help but think if baptism is a condition for being filled with the Holy Spirit.

            Before we go any further, let us understand the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers from the Old and the New Testament.

            Old Testament:

                        Giving of Prophecy (Ezekiel 2:2; cf. 8:3, 11:1,24; 1 Samuel 10:6 etc.).

                        Artisanship: Construction & Furnishing of the Tabernacle (Exodus 31:1-6).

                        Administration (Genesis 41:38; Deuteronomy 34:9).

                        Extraordinary Strength (Judges 14:19).

                        National Leadership (1 Samuel 10:10, 16:13).

                        Spiritual Life of the Israelites (Nehemiah 9:20; Psalm 51:11, 143:10; Isaiah 63:10).  

                        Produces fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2-5).

                        Brings forth justice, righteousness, and peace (Isaiah 32:15-20).

                        Devotion to the Lord (Isaiah 44:3-5; Ezekiel 36:26-28).

                        Furthermore, the Old Testament witness to the Holy Spirit anticipates a future wherein the ministry of the Holy Spirit would be more complete both in the lives of Jesus and his believers (Isaiah 11:1-5, 42:1-4, 61:1-3; Joel 2:28-29).

            New Testament:

                        In the New Testament, the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Lord Jesus was significant. But we will not examine this aspect of the work of the Holy Spirit because we are focusing on the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. So the Holy Spirit, in the believer, does the following:

                        Conversion, which includes repentance and accepting the work and promises of Christ (John 16:8-11).

                        Regeneration - the miraculous transformation of the individual (John 3:3,5-6).

                        Being witnesses for Christ (Acts 1:8).

                        Guidance, Counsel & Teaching the believer (John 14:16-17,26, 16:13-14).

                        Intercession for the believers (Romans 8:26-27).

                        Produces Sanctification (Romans 8).

                        Imparts Spiritual Gifts (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Peter 4:11).

            When we observe the diverse works of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the believers, how can we not but deeply desire for an overwhelming presence of the Holy Spirit in us? If we, until this very moment, have not deeply desired for the ever-increasing presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, let us do so now.

Is Water Baptism A Prerequisite?

           The Bible is replete with instances of believers being filled with the Holy Spirit (continually being filled with the Holy Spirit for increased sanctification). But is water baptism a prerequisite for being filled with the Holy Spirit?

            Let’s examine a few verses that do not stipulate water baptism as a condition to be filled with the Holy Spirit:

            1. John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit even before he was born (Luke 1:15).

            2. The followers of Jesus were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:31), and there’s no mention of baptism here. If these followers were the 5000 who believed in Jesus (Acts 4:4), then it is reasonable to believe that the filling of the Holy Spirit happened before their baptism.

            3. In a more explicit scenario, the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit even before they were baptized (Acts 10: 44-48).

            4. Apostle Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit before he was baptized (Acts 9:17-18).

            Since there are explicit references in the Bible for water baptism not being a condition for believers to be filled with the Holy Spirit, we conclude that believers could be filled with the Holy Spirit even if they're not baptized.


Disclaimer: The intent of this article is not to assert that water baptism is unnecessary in a believer’s life. Water baptism is necessary, but it is not a condition to be fulfilled for the believer to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Similarly, the author believes that water baptism is not a necessary condition for a believer’s salvation.