Cults ‘R’ Us
There are any number of ways that cultural confusion always walks down the aisle with relativism. Divorce, in this instance, isn’t an option. If, for instance, we all agree that there is no such thing as right and wrong, then what do we do with, say, people who like to torture animals? Or, better yet, what do you do with people who like to hijack airplanes and kill thousands of people? After all, jihad against Americans is “right to them.” How can we object, when all we object against is objecting?
The same is true theologically. Time was that even those outside the church were interested if not worried about the proliferation of various cults. But how does a nation that holds this truth as self-evident, that no religion is more or less true than another, distinguish between a religion, or a faith-group on the one hand, and a cult and cultists on the other hand?
The broader culture won’t draw the line at the doctrine of the incarnation or the Trinity. (Indeed, many inside the church won’t make that their line in the sand either. Several of the most influential “evangelicals” of the past fifteen years have denied the doctrine of the Trinity.) So where will they draw the line?
The mark of a cult, in the minds of the West in the twenty-first century, isn’t the assertion of gross error, but the gross error of assertion. Respectable religion is that religion that is held loosely, that may, if it must, assert this belief or that, so long as it does not deny any other assertion or belief. Rome gets a pass because both John Paul II and Benedictus affirm that there are many pathways to heaven, that what counts is sincerity.
The sad truth, however, is this same thinking has found a home in the church. We don’t determine something is a cult by the doctrines it affirms, but the way in which it affirms its doctrines. The distinguishing mark of the cult is authority. I know of what I speak.
A few years ago, a dear friend who had just recently joined the church where I serve entered into a conversation with the young lady serving at the local coffee shop. The young lady had been homeschooled, and was a member in good standing at a very conservative local church. The young lady asked my friend, “Where do you go to church?” He replied with great zeal, “My wife and daughter and I just became members of Saint Peter Presbyterian church in Bristol.” The joy left the young lady’s face, as she responded, “That’s a cult.”
My friend wasn’t offended, nor defensive, but he was interested in discovering where this idea came from. “Well,” he offered, “can you give me some notion of where you got that idea?” “Yes,” she answered with no hesitation, “I was over at the Sproul’s house one time. R.C. asked his wife Denise to do something…” and therein was the dramatic pause, “and she did it, right away.” This was her case against our church. Because my dear wife happily fulfilled my request, without grumbling or complaining, we are a cult.
How far we have come. Once cults were defined by a failure to submit to an objective standard. Now a cult is that place that affirms the existence of an objective standard. Which ought to help us understand the true nature of our culture’s embrace of relativism.
Relativism isn’t merely an errant philosophical understanding of epistemology and ethics. It isn’t a mere wrong turn in someone’s sincere journey looking for the truth. It isn’t a silly, yet benign, embracing of folly. It is instead a false religion. Irony of ironies, it comes with a confession of faith, and law written in stone. The confession is this, “All confessions are not true.” The law is this, “Thou shalt not affirm anything.” Failure to keep the law will bring forth at least social ostracism, and at worst, jail time. And no religion has proponents with greater evangelistic zeal. They will not stop until everyone affirms in unison that each of us constructs our own reality. They will tolerate no intolerance, except of course their own.
They are winning. Already, according to George Barna’s polls, more than 50 percent of people who describe themselves as evangelical Christians, affirm as true the claim that there is no objective truth. That number will surely climb, as the rest of us more and more get marginalized first as fundamentalists, then as extremists, and finally, as cultists. Our calling, however, isn’t to paint ourselves as reasonable. We don’t whip out our relativist credentials, and insist that we are no danger to the reigning religion. We confront the false religion. We tear down the stronghold. We take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. We do this, because we fear no man; we fear God.
Our calling is to believe this objective truth, that those who are persecuted for His name’s sake, are blessed. Our calling is to confess that name before men, not as an option, not as God-to-me, not as something true in my heart. No, we must confess that Christ is Lord over all, that He speaks all truth, and that we must obey — right away. To put it another way, we must confess before men that He is the way, not a way, the truth, not a truth, and the life.