Approaching Hard Cases

To approach secularists, cultists and occultists, we must first differentiate them more completely than we have done so far. This is imperative because we cannot approach everyone in exactly the same way.

But how are we to decide if we are dealing with a secularist? a cultist? an occultist? What if we are talking to people who are eclectic—that is, people who have taken parts and pieces from one or more of our three groups? Our first step is to identify the distinguishing marks of each group.

Identifying the Secularists

Secularists, broadly speaking, are those who believe that God—if He exists at all—is far away and irrelevant to man kind's problems. For our discussion, I want to identify three classes of secularists: atheists, agnostics and what I call practical atheists.

" Atheists are defined as people who deny the existence of God. Madeline Murray O'Hair is the spokesperson of one group of atheists in America. She maintains that belief in God is dangerous and the root of all kinds of evil.

" Agnostics are people who say they do not know if God exists. Many agnostics argue from the philosophical position that since God cannot be proven to exist, nobody knows if He does. For evangelistic purposes agnostics may be treated as atheists.

" Practical atheists, by my definition, are those who profess some level of faith in God, but act as though God is far from them. One example of such people are the Unitarian! Universalists. Many Unitarians refer to themselves as deists, that is, people who say God created the universe but has now withdrawn from it.

Most practical atheists are the ones we think of as worldly. They want little to do with God. "It's O.K. for you," they will say, "but it isn't for me." They may be pursuing a lifestyle they know is far from godly. Even if they say, "Sure, I believe in God," they often live as though He were irrelevant. The point is, regardless of their theological profession, their lives are ordered around the belief that God is absent. That, for practical purposes, equals the atheistic position.

Another example of a practical atheist is the liberal Christian. By that I mean the professing Christian for whom God has become distant. I have talked to pastors of mainline Christian churches who are unsure of the deity of Christ, who would not refer to the blood of Christ as meaningful and who rarely consult the Bible for inspiration or guidance. Whenever I am approached by a woman after one of my seminars who begins the conversation with, "My husband is a Christian, but he doesn't want anything to do with the Church. . . ." I begin to guess she is talking about a man who has decided that God is irrelevant. This person may profess a faith in God, but it is a dead faith. The Bible says, "Faith without works is dead" (James 2:20).

Faith is not some mental assertion of the past; it is a living, dynamic relationship with God. With it, one is saved; without it, one is not saved. Any person for whom God is a distant intellectual concept does not have saving faith: "Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6).

Identifying the Occultists

The bane of mankind is pagan religion. From the first the devil has seized upon the selfishness in the heart of fallen mankind. The Bible persistently explains the wickedness of human nature, points out the penalty for sin and offers redemption through the sacrifice of Christ. The devil, on the other hand, says nothing is wrong with human nature. It is basically good. In fact, it is basically godly. All that is required is to learn unholy secret mystical knowledge and man can become a supreme human entity and, eventually, a god or one with God.

When I use the word mysticism in this context I mean the attempts to elevate the soul to sublime heights through secret information, ritual, obedience or extremes of sacrifice. This kind of unholy mysticism is typical of the occultist. In Hinduism, man attempts through religious practice to escape the wheel of death and rebirth; in the most lurid pagan religions, the devotee trades his soul for wealth, power or fleshly gratification; in all cases, the occultist gives himself to the study and practice of a spiritual methodology designed to empower and exalt himself.

Occultism, as I mentioned earlier, began in Babylon and spread throughout the earth. God overcame the heathen in the Promised Land and established Israel. After the incarnation of Christ, Christianity defeated paganism for a season in the Western world but later paganism threatened the Church on many fronts. In the disenchantment of materialism following World War II, idealistic Western youth welcomed Eastern mysticism in the teachings of various gurus. Earlier waves of Eastern religion had penetrated the Church in the liberalism of the Enlightenment (and indirectly in Freemasonry) and in the Theosophical and Christian Science movements of the nineteenth century.

The secularist is identified by his disinterest in God; the occultist is identified by his obsession and fascination with the spiritual world.

The occultist sees Jesus as peripheral. Jesus may be an Ascended Master or a great teacher, but He is one of many expressions of God. Ultimately all occultists believe Jesus is merely a man who possessed information and spiritual power that anyone may possess who applies himself to the study and ritual of the occult.

The cultist, on the other hand, places Jesus (though an unbiblical Jesus) at the center of his faith.

Identifying the Cultists

The word cult refers to a subgroup. It is not necessarily a negative word. The so-called "heavy metal" cult simply identifies a group of people who center their attention on a specific brand of music. A personality cult centers around a personality.

For the broader Christian Church, however, the word cult has a more negative connotation. It is used to describe one of numerous groups that hover around the true Church, that use the term Christian but preach a different gospel, spirit or Jesus. (See 2 Corinthians 11:4.) In that sense, the Church often assigns the word cult to a particular sect.

Perhaps at this point, a proper definition of the term "Christian Church" is in order. The Church is the name Jesus uses for those who are His own by faith. The Church is the organization made up of all who have become Christians—both those now living and those dead. The "one true Church" can only, in the final analysis, be identified by Christ Himself. He knows those who have become His through faith. We cannot see into a person's heart.

In the context of this understanding of the word Church, many attempts have been made to set up guidelines to identify cults. Cults are usually formed around a strong personality; they are usually authoritarian and they often introduce extrabiblical teaching as Scripture. Sometimes they overemphasize a legitimate Christian doctrine or practice; this generally obscures the larger view of Christ and His redemptive work.

Cults are numerous, can vary widely from each other, may subscribe to many correct doctrines and often use Christian terms. All this, plus the fact that new ones spring up constantly, makes them difficult to classify. We will discuss general categories of identification later in chapters 12 and 13.

There is, however, one central characteristic of cults that I would like to mention here.

It is true that the Bible allows for diversity in the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:4—6, 12—27), but one area is inviolate: that is, the divine nature of Jesus Christ. From the earliest days of the Church, the apostles and elders understood that any internal attack on the Church or deviation from her beliefs centered on this issue.

The central declaration of the Church is "Jesus is Lord." Anything that diminishes His deity is a threat to the Church. In unhealthy subgroups of Christianity, Jesus is retained as head of the Church without being fully God. The early Christian councils focused on forming theological statements to stress that Jesus is both fully God and fully man. Wherever that understanding has slipped—when Jesus' full divinity has been doctrinally jettisoned—the result is spiritual poverty and eventual separation from the Body of Christ.

It is this separation that, in the final analysis, identifies the cults. The ultimate sin of heresy is found in the root meaning of the word heresy: "a splitting." Heresy about who Jesus is breaks Christian fellowship. Don't mistake that breaking as the act of the orthodox Church. The heretics leave the Church. In retrospect, the Church identifies them and recognizes their departure:

Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour.

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us. 1 John 2:18—19

The cults ultimately refuse the clear Bible teaching that Jesus Christ is God incarnate—God come in the flesh (see John 1:1, 14; 1 John 4:1—3). By understanding the real, biblical nature of Jesus Christ, we will be able to spot the counterfeit. As a young Christian, I visited a college town in Montana on business. In a restaurant I noticed a group of young people having a Bible discussion at a nearby table. As I heard Bible terms and phrases, I assumed these were Christian brothers. Since I was alone in town I thought they might direct me to a Bible study or church service. When I approached them they were friendly and invited me to join them. At first I was pleased with my good fortune in finding "brothers" so quickly. But after a few minutes I began to hear things that troubled me. It dawned on me finally that they did not believe in the Trinity. That doctrine was, they said, an invention of Constantine and unbiblical.

It turned out that these young people were members of The Way International, which is viewed by evangelical Christians as a cult. I knew nothing of The Way, but within moments of encountering their doctrine I knew something was wrong. Fortunately, I had studied the nature of God from a biblical perspective before this encounter. Unfortunately, I was not well enough prepared to affect their thinking. Still, I am glad I was informed enough to avoid being trapped in a theological position that could only have stunted my early Christian growth.

Tactics for the Encounter

Once God has led us into dialogue with a hard case and once we have decided to attempt to witness to him, we need to have a plan in mind. It helps to consider the following points:

1. Is my heart right in this matter?

2. Can I enhance the setting for the discussion?

3. Am I prepared to give an answer for the hope I have?

Is my heart condition right?

We can never check our motives too often. If we find our selves motivated by anything other than compassion for the soul of our friend, we need to get right before God before we proceed. If I am angry, for example, then I should either get control of myself or avoid the conversation.

Can I improve the setting of the conversation?

Nothing, I find, hinders communication more than having people present who are not helpful. I am often accosted by people after a seminar meeting. Many times a crowd gathers. This is usually not a good setting for a discussion. In the first place, it is much more difficult to be objective if you are being observed. Nobody wants to look bad in front of an audience. Recently a very gentle Mormon bishop talked to me after a meeting. As soon as I sensed his spiritual meekness, I excused myself from the others, led him to a side room and there had a fruitful conversation.

One way to control the setting is to set up an appointment for later. If I find myself in an uncomfortable setting, I will say something like, "I want to continue this discussion, but this isn't a good time for me. Could we set up an appointment?" Then press for a time and a place. When you do that, it is good to make sure you know who will be coming to the appointment. If you are witnessing to a Latter-day Saint, for example, you might be surprised when he shows up with a couple of missionaries who are spoiling for a fight. If that is going to happen, you might want to know about it in advance. To determine this you simply ask, "Will you be coming by yourself?"

By controlling the setting, you can arrive at the meeting with materials that may enhance the discussion. Often these kinds of discussions turn into a number of teaching meetings. (I met with a Moonie missionary for two years before she accepted Christ.)

Am I prepared to give an answer for the hope I have?

You will, of course, never be as prepared as you want to be. We will always feel somewhat inadequate. But we need to begin somewhere. Nothing develops witnessing skills more than actually witnessing. We need to remember that the Holy Spirit will accompany us. He will recall passages of Scripture we didn't know we knew. How many times have I heard Christians say, when describing such encounters, "The Lord led me through the conversation"?

But there will be times when you are in over your head and you know it. At such times honesty is essential—and effective. It's never wrong to say, "I can't answer your questions, but I will do some research. Let's talk again." It may be helpful to give the individual a book or tape. A number of ministries work hard to create books, tracts and audio and videotapes that we can hand to someone and let the material do its work. Ed Decker and I joined together to produce the video "The Mormon Dilemma" expressly so people could hand it to a Mormon and say, "Look at this and tell me what's wrong with it."

Strategy for the Encounter

Our strategy is simply to identify our candidate and present him with information that will undermine the effect of the philosophical lie he has believed. The rest of this book is a compilation of material to help you encounter hard cases. Each section gives you specific information that, within the context of your own personality, will be useful in winning secularists, occultists and cultists.

We will be examining each of the three great groups of spiritual counterfeits in detail. For now, let me make three statements:

1. We confront the secularists with evidence against the theory of evolution. The secularist is trying to operate within a world view that excludes God or reduces Him to a minimal, practical role. The secularist world is basically a material (non-spiritual) world. We want, therefore, to weaken the foundation of materialism by combating the theory of evolution, which teaches there is no spiritual creation. Our hope is that he will then be forced to consider at least a theistic world view, which acknowledges God but believes Him to be separated from the world. From a new foundation of theism, the presentation of the Gospel of Christ becomes possible.

2. We confront the occultist's message, "Everything is God," with a demonstration of the uniqueness and supremacy of Jesus Christ. We expose the inadequacy of occultic ritual and ceremony to address mankind's sin.

3. We confront the cultist's erroneous explanation of the nature of God with scriptural evidence for the deity of Christ. The cultist already uses the Bible in one form or another but he has undermined its authority with additional scripture or the rev elation of the cult's prophet. Nevertheless, the Bible can be used. None of the cults effectively eradicates the influence of the Bible.

We must always remember we are combating error with truth, but the error has set up a prejudice against the truth. Hard cases are skeptical of evangelical Christians. They often feel threatened by us.

Let me illustrate our strategy with two stories. Imagine the hard case as living out his life on a luxury liner. That ship represents his world view, his philosophy or religion, and he believes it is safe. Now imagine the Bible-believing Christian rowing up to him in a lifeboat. The hard case looks with disdain at the lifeboat. Why should he leave his elegantly crafted ship to get into the lifeboat? He will not, unless he has good reason to do so. In order to get him off the liner we must take him below decks and show him the holes below the water line. Only when he sees his ship will not save him will he be interested in getting into our simple little boat.

A second example. When I was a young man I bought four recapped tires for my car. Later a friend told me they were no good. He suggested I get rid of them and buy some new ones. But they looked good to me; they had plenty of tread and the car handled well with them. On a trip from California to Wyoming, however, every one of the tires lost its tread. It is a true wonder I wasn't killed.

That's what we are up against with someone who has believed a false doctrine. He doesn't believe it is a good idea. He doesn't want another to replace it. The only way I could have been spared the near disaster of having my tires disintegrate would have been to take my tires off my car, put them on a bench and examine them closely. Only then could I have seen the flaws. That is exactly what the apologist must do to win someone who is riding on dangerous spiritual tires.

Sales and Management

We need to remember we are in sales and God is in management. Only God, by His Spirit, can convert people to Himself. We are just messengers. Our job is not to get people saved, but to preach the Gospel as inventively and intelligently as we can.

Secularism, occultism and cultism have this in common:

They were devised by Satan as alternatives to the Gospel. The devil spread his lies from the Garden of Eden, through Babylon, up the Indus Valley, through medieval Europe. He infiltrated the Church with Neoplatonism in Enlightenment Europe to secularize the Church. He seduced the ignorant quasi-Christian founders of the great American cults in the spawning ground of New England. Today he has resurrected Eastern paganism in America in the New Age movement as Hinduism bathes us with the occult.

I believe it is vital for us to get a picture of these satanic streams that form the mighty three-headed river of secular ism, cultism and occultism. The Bible says we are not to be ignorant of the devil's wiles (2 Corinthians 2:11). Only if we have at least a passing familiarity with the history of evil can we recognize the devil's latest attacks. There is "nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Those who are unfamiliar with history are doomed to repeat it.

For those reasons, now that we are beginning to become familiar with the three-headed monster, I want to review its development in the next chapter. My own experience tells me the only way we can recognize and categorize the error that binds those we encounter is to be thoroughly familiar with the basics.

That came home to me graphically recently when I received a call from a Mormon elder's quorum president who said he had read one of my books. He said he had questions about his faith. Had I not known what to ask I might have treated the whole conversation as an opportunity to explain to him the deficiencies of Mormonism. That would have been a mistake, for his biggest problem was not Mormonism; it was secularism! I asked him what he thought about Jesus Christ.

"I'm very confused. I really don't know."

"Well, what do you know about God?"

"I don't even know if He exists," the man replied.

Now that is an amazing piece of information! I was glad I had not plunged ahead into a discussion of Mormonism. Remember: "Those who come to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." Anyone who does not believe in God is a secularist. So I asked him if he was an evolutionist.

"Absolutely," he replied. "I teach high school physics." I knew I was on the right track. I began a dialogue with him about evolution.

In order to fix these challenging concepts in your mind, the next chapter will give you an overview of the history of the progress of evil philosophy.