Is Christianity a Cult?

Is Christianity a Cult

We recently received questions and accusations surrounding the issue of whether Christianity is a cult? This is not a new issue because, in the first century, many claimed that the apostles were promoting a cult. So, is Christianity a cult?

How do we identify a cult? Most definitions revolve around one figurehead who dictates the actions which the cult members must follow. The cult leader gains something by the actions of those who are members of the cult. Those gains can be monetary, sexual, physical, mental, or emotional, but there are always gains for the cult leader. The methods of control in a cult can be physical or sexual rewards for joining, physical punishment for not following the rules, or psychological control by intimidation or withholding of acceptance by the group.

History is full of religious cults. So is Christianity a cult with Jesus Christ as the cult leader? We are talking about Christianity as presented in the Bible. We do not mean organizations established by humans that call themselves Christian but have practices and teachings which contradict the Bible. There are denominations and sects that we would agree are cults. They have their own book of rules apart from the Bible. They have their own leader who dictates what members do, and they maintain control of their members by techniques that contradict biblical teaching. That is not biblical Christianity. Here are some reasons why biblical Christianity is not a cult:

1) The leader of Christianity died for the members of the group and refused money, fame, or items of physical comfort.

2) The message of Jesus was to serve others, not to be served. That was what He did.

3) The message of Christianity is, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians. 2:12), not, “Do what I say or else.”

4) Members of Christianity are not removed from the world and isolated from outside influence. “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15). That is not a cloistered, isolated existence.

5) One source of information is given to Christians, and that is the Bible. It is a perfect guide for life. It is not a book of rules but a source of information on how to live successfully. (See 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and Matthew 5-7.)

6) The message of Christ was and is confirmed by immediate and long-term physical results. “By their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:16) is the challenge of Christianity. When people follow the teaching of Christ, they find peace, love, compassion, service, and freedom. No cult produces freedom in any sense.

We do not argue for someone to join “our cult.” We encourage all people to choose and live in a way that works and will bless all people. Is Christianity a cult? Absolutely not!

— John N. Clayton © 2019

Godly Love

Godly Love
The Bible describes godly love:
“God is love; and he that dwells in love dwells in God and God in him. It is through this that love has attained its perfection in us in our being fearless on the day of judgment, for we realize that our life in this world is actually His life lived in us. There is no fear in love, for love, when perfect drives out fear because fear involves punishment. If a man fears, there is something imperfect in his love.” 1 John 4:16-18

I believe that the most misunderstood word in the English language is “love.” For most of our 21st-century population, love refers to sexual activity, and more and more, the music industry fosters that idea. Young people today speak of “making love” because the sexual concept is all that they have ever heard. The Bible is unique in its presentation of what love is about. You can’t make sense of “love your enemy” (Matthew 5:43-44) or “God so loved the world” (John 3:16) if the sexual notion of love is all you understand. The whole idea of loving God cannot be comprehended by a culture that has a sexual fixation on the word love.

The Greek language is far more useful in focusing on the complexities of love. There is a sexual connection to “love” in the Greek word “eros,” but that word is never used in the Bible. When discussing a wish or want, the Greek word “thelo” is used in Mark 12:38. When talking about the love of brethren, the Greek word “phileo” is used as in 1 Peter 3:8. The word “phileo” is used to describe something material or emotional. For example, “philarguros” refers to the love of money (1 Timothy 6:10), while “philedonos” refers to the love of pleasure (2 Timothy 3:4) and “philautos” refers to the love of self (2 Timothy 3:2).

The most unique and spiritually important word for love in the New Testament is the noun “agape” and the verb form “agapao.” This is godly love—a love that values and esteems, an unselfish, serving love that has no sexual implications. This word is used 114 times in the New Testament and is described in passages like 1 John 4:7 to 5:3 and 1 John 3:16-18. The most touching example of the use of this word is in John 21:15 – 17, where Jesus keeps asking whether Peter loves Him by using the word “agapao” and Peter keeps answering with the word “phileo.”

A non-Christian cannot have or comprehend the agape type of love that Jesus expects from His followers. The teachings of Jesus are hard for many of us because we don’t have a concept of what it means to “agape” someone. Look at the passages in Matthew 5:43-44, John 15:12, Ephesians 5:25, Hebrews 1:9, and 1 John 4:12 and realize how we struggle with those teachings. God’s Spirit helps the obedient Christian, and we can learn to love spiritual things (John 3:19-21). We can build the new life described in Romans 6:4-14 and 1 John 4:15-19. John 3:16 makes perfect sense when we understand what godly love is all about.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Decline of Faith in God

Praying to God in spite of Decline of Faith in GodOne of the frustrations we face is the decline of faith in God. Along with that is the fact that many congregations and preachers don’t recognize the problem. We were encouraged to see Phil Sanders point out the problem in the November (2019) issue of The Search Light, the newsletter of SearchTV.org.

Here are some of the comments Sanders presented, and to which we say “Amen.” He pointed out the obvious fact that there are atheists who don’t believe in God. But he also noted that there are practical atheists who may or may not intellectually believe in God, but who leave no doubt by the way they live that God does not matter. He reminds us that research has shown that the “nones” are the fast-growing religious group in America today. They are the people who claim to have no religious affiliation and are, therefore, practical atheists.

Sanders also pointed out some disturbing data, including the fact that 26% of the American population has no religious affiliation, up from 17% in 2009. Those who describe themselves as Christians are 65%, down from 77% a decade ago. That trend carries across the board among churches. Congregations of the Church of Christ have lost 192,224 adherents in the past 12 years, an average of 16,000 per year. In 2018 there were 11,965 congregations of the Church of Christ in the U.S., and in 2006 there were 12,963. That is an average loss of 83 congregations per year, or one every 4.4 days. Since 1980 the decline has been 6.3%.

DOES GOD EXIST? has worked to fight this decline of faith in God since this ministry started in 1968. We help people build their faith in God, and we do it 24/7. We encourage you to go to our main website doesgodexist.org and see what we have available to help individuals and congregations. You can read all of Phil Sanders’ article at THIS LINK.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

How to Become More Spiritual

How to Become More SpiritualWe recently received a question that perhaps all of us need to consider. The questioner wanted to know how to become more spiritual. We don’t find the word “spiritual” in the Old Testament of the Bible or in the gospels. It doesn’t refer to someone walking around piously, or a person who is in constant verbal prayer to impress others. It is not a “goody two shoes” word, and in fact, it can refer to evil and Satan. Ephesians 6:12, for example, says: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against SPIRITUAL wickedness in high places.”

Vines Dictionary of Biblical Words says that the word “spiritual” refers to “Things that have their origin with God and which, therefore, are in harmony with His character.” Romans 7:14 tells us that the law is spiritual, but it could not make humans spiritual. James 2:10 points out that if you are guilty of breaking one part of the law, you are guilty of the whole law. If you get arrested for stealing, the fact that you didn’t murder anyone will not exonerate you. The only way we can become more spiritual is through the grace of God and the power of the blood of Christ. First John 1:6-10 how to become more spiritual by “walking in the light,” and having a unique relationship with God through Christ.

Much of the New Testament instruction is aimed at helping Christians become more spiritual. Galatians 6:1 talks about using whatever strength we have to help each other, and verse 2 talks about bearing each other’s burdens. We can grow in sympathy, understanding, compassion, and all that goes into being a more spiritual person. Music can help us grow spiritually. Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:13-17 talk about “spiritual songs.” Songs like “If I Have Wounded Any Soul Today” and “Trust and Obey” sung in our car as we drive or in our homes as we do our daily chores can help us. Praying to grow in spirituality is another excellent tool.

Learning and increasing in our knowledge of God and His Word can help us become stronger spiritually. Second Peter 3:18 states this directly, and 1 Peter 2:2 speaks of having a desire to grow. Ephesians 4:11-15 says that knowledge is a part of spiritual maturity, and Colossians 1:9-12 speaks of learning to know God. All of these Bible passages tell us how to become more spiritual.

Skeptics and atheists who follow “survival of the fittest” as the core foundation of their lives have no interest and no capability to be spiritual in a positive sense. “Spiritual wickedness in dark places” is well defined as “Things having their origin in Satan and which, therefore, are in harmony with his character.”
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Presenting Alternative Lifestyles to Young Children

Presenting Alternative Lifestyles to Young ChildrenWe have frequently pointed out that the teachings of Jesus Christ make it clear that we must love and respect those with whom we disagree. Matthew 5:39-48 is hard to misunderstand. We must not attempt to harm anyone, including those who might be teaching things that oppose what the Bible says. There is no excuse for those who claim to be Christians to physically attack anyone because they are a part of the LGBT movement. At the same time, we have to be concerned and vocally oppose those who promote immoral behavior, especially when it involves presenting alternative lifestyles to young children.

Recently the popular children’s show “Arthur” on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) ran an episode entitled “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone.” It featured a wedding ceremony between Mr. Ratburn and a character named Patrick. This program is funded by tax dollars and is aimed at preschool children. Disney has placed LGBT characters in the 2017 remake of Beauty and the Beast and its television cartoon series Doc McStuffins. Drag Queen events have been held in Austin, Texas, and Portland, Oregon, in programs aimed at preschool children.

LGBT leaders claim that these promotions of their lifestyles are no different than a PBS program on Christmas music, or Christmas events held in public venues. It would seem that presenting material to preschoolers about drag queens and gay marriage is far more complicated than historical stories. Since tax dollars fund PBS, and religious programming is constantly refused by the same media, it seems that promotion of the LGBT lifestyle should also be prohibited.

The bottom line is that parents need to monitor what their children are exposed to. You can’t rely on PBS or Disney to offer only factual and moral material and avoid presenting alternative lifestyles to young children.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Data from Family Research Council, October 2019 newsletter pages 1-4.

Frightening Polarization and Violence

Frightening Polarization and ViolenceFor 51 years, we have presented public programs on scientific evidence for the existence of God and the validity of the Bible. During that time, we have seen a lot of violence, going beyond verbal threats. I have had a pie thrown at me during a lecture. Someone smashed the windows of my truck with a hammer. Personal property at my home was set on fire. In a few situations, I have been shoved, pushed, or hit with a stick. Those incidents have always involved disgruntled individuals with an ax to grind who felt that I was persecuting them. In each case, the damage was minimal. Receiving threats is common for anyone who takes a strong position on God or politics. The frightening polarization and violence is a whole different matter if those threats are physically carried out.

We regularly get reports of violence against believers in God who are public about their faith and why they believe. We recently heard of a threat against Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos by Austin College professor Robert Rancho. He posted a statement that “.. I’d be ok if Betsy DeVos was sexually assaulted.” Nahweed Tahmas tells of being punched, kicked, and spat on for stating his patriotic beliefs because he is a conservative with a positive message about God. I want to emphasize that the problem is not that some people may not agree with the position of some public speakers. I don’t agree with some things these two people have presented. The problem is that we have reached the point in America today where it is acceptable to use violence when we disagree with a public speaker.

The frightening polarization and violence are being addressed by an organization called The Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia. Dealing primarily with incidents of campus violence, The Leadership Institute is organizing and recruiting people on all campuses to report abuses. While the Does God Exist? ministry does not have a political agenda, we do understand that we are all affected by the polarization of Americans that encourages militarism and physical retaliation for perceived injustices.

Years ago, I worked with a group in London, England, who were reaching the British people. They said they had arranged a public meeting for me, and they led me to platform in a city park. “Start telling your message,” they told me. As I spoke, a crowd gathered, and I wondered if I was physically safe. The group was polite, paid attention, asked good questions, and stated objections in a pleasant way.

I wonder if that could happen in America today? I suspect that in many places, it could not. A physical, political organization that encourages the use of force is not the answer. Jesus went up onto a hill, and people came to him (Matthew 5:1-2). When He had physical opposition in Nazareth, He simply passed through it and went on His way (Luke 4:16-30). We need to present our case as Jesus did, with patience, love, and consideration, not increasing the frightening polarization and violence in America today.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Hidden Messages in the Bible

Hidden Messages in the Bible - The NapkinWe have all seen dubious claims about hidden messages in the Bible. They include everything from numerology to codes with special meanings. The only place where hidden messages do unquestionably occur in the New Testament is in the book of Revelation. That book uses symbols that the Christian readers would understand, and the Romans would not. However, there are a few cases that we might call hidden messages in the Bible that Christian or Jewish readers might understand and which other readers would miss.

One such example is the description of the burial tomb of Jesus in John 20:1-9. “Then Simon Peter … went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen … as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.”

Jewish protocol was that when the master of the house was finished eating, he would wipe his mouth and face and toss the napkin aside. That action indicated that the contamination was removed from him, and the event was ended. If he folded the towel and set it in order, that was a sign that he was not finished and would return to finish the meal or whatever he had been working on.

The folded napkin and the missing body sent a strong message to Peter and the women who visited the tomb. Jesus was indicating that He would return. It was a hidden message to the followers of Jesus that the Romans would not have understood. While it was not obvious or miraculous, it could be an important hidden message to those who were about to become the apostles of Jesus Christ.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Why There Is No Demon Possession Today

Why There Is No Demon Possession TodayYesterday we pointed out that there was a reason for demon possession in the time of Christ. With God in the flesh on Earth dwelling among men (John 1:14), for humans to have a choice to reject God, there had to be a vehicle to allow that freedom. Satan offered that choice, and demon possession was the tool that allowed people not to be overpowered by the work of Jesus. We want to examine why there is no demon possession today.

There are eight reasons why we can be confident that we will never be taken over by demons and compelled to do something that violates our freedom of choice:

1. Prophecies of the work of Christ indicate an end to demons and unclean spirits. Zechariah 13:1-4 is one example. 1 John 3:8 and Colossians 2:15 tells us that Christ ended that kind of power of Satan.

2. Warnings to the Church do not include demons. There are many warnings: Acts 20:28-31, 1 Corinthians 4:14, Colossians 1:28, 2 Peter 2:1-3. Surely if demon possession were a threat, Christians would be warned about it.

3. The tools to resist Satan do not include exorcisms. Read James 4:7 and Ephesians 6:12-18. There is no mention of exorcisms in instructions to the Church.

4. Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus was “tempted in every way as are we,” but no one believes Jesus was ever demon-possessed and needed an exorcism.

5. 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that nothing we face is any different from “what is common to man.” Demon possession is not “common to man.”

6. The Bible tells us that if we trust God, He will control Satan. See Job 1:12 and 2:6. God placed limits on Satan. Romans 8:28 tells us that God can turn Satan’s best shot into something good. See 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.

7. Pictures of the judgment do not show one single case of a person being condemned because of demon possession. See John 20:31 and Matthew 25:31-46. Passages like Philippians 2:12 and 2 Timothy 2:15 show us that what we do and how we live are the key to salvation, not just being lucky enough not to become possessed by a demon.

8. The methodology of exorcisms in the Bible does not match those of exorcists today. Acts 16:18 show us a biblical exorcism – “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ, come out of her.” I have observed modern “exorcisms.” They take hours of chanting and commanding and emotional manipulation. Only those authorized by Christ could perform exorcisms. See Acts 19:13-16 and Mark 16:17.

Those are biblical reasons why there is no demon possession today. Where you spend eternity is your choice. Matthew 10:28 tells us to fear Satan, but the Bible clearly teaches it is our choice whether to obey God or not. Relying on modern shysters who use religion to take money from people and gain political control over others is an opposition to the teaching of the Bible and a destructive activity. The message of Acts 19:13-16 rings true today.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

If I Die Now, Will I Go to Heaven?

If I Die Now, Will I Go to Heaven?“If I die now, will I go to heaven?” That is a personal question and one you need to answer for yourself and no one else. What we can do is to see what the Bible says about this. Here are some points for your consideration:

GOD WANTS YOU TO BE SAVED AND GO TO HEAVEN. This is clearly stated in the Bible. It is stated clearly and plainly in 1 Timothy 2:3-4 and 2 Peter 3:9. Titus 1:2 indicates that before the creation, God intended that people would end up in heaven.

GOD WILL NOT FORCE ANYONE TO GO TO HEAVEN WHO DOES NOT WANT TO GO. Joshua 24:15 states personal choice clearly saying, “Choose you this day whom you will serve.” Judas made a choice. Thomas and Peter made a choice. (See Matthew 26:69-75 and John 20:24-29.) As long as we are alive, we have that choice available, and both Thomas and Peter changed their minds. Judas could have, but he chose not to.

THERE ARE PASSAGES THAT WARN ABOUT FALLING AWAY FROM GOD AS JUDAS DID. See 1 Corinthians 10:12, 2 Peter 1:10, Hebrews 3:12 and 4:11. All of these passages in context show that those they were written to people whose hearts were so attracted to evil that they deliberately chose to reject God. None of these passages say that God rejected people who were trying to live as God called them to live.

THE BIBLE TELLS US TO BE SURE OF HEAVEN. Read 1 John 5:13, Romans 4:8, Romans 8:1 (and include Romans 7:14-24 in your reading), 1 Corinthians 1:18, Romans 5:1, 1 John 1:5-7, and Romans 10:9-15. None of these passages say we earn heaven, and all of them indicate that even though we as Christians sin, God provides for our continuous cleansing through the blood of Christ. (“Purifies” in 1 John 1:5-7 is an active verb.)

THE BIBLE MAKES IT CLEAR THAT SALVATION IS A GIFT. Romans 6:23 and Ephesians 2:6 state it outright. We don’t earn heaven. It is a gift given to us by the grace of God. Any gift has to be accepted. God’s gift is described in Romans 6:3-23. We receive the gift by submitting to God’s workmanship as Ephesians describes it. Baptism is a gift of God, washing away our sins and allowing us to walk in the light living a new life. When we reject baptism, we reject God’s gift, and all that comes with it.

Heaven is not a goal to be reached by what we do. What we do is a result of the gift of God working in us. We urge you to obey God and thus choose to accept His gift and answer “yes” to the question, “If I die now, will I go to heaven?”
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Thomas Jefferson’s Bible

Thomas Jefferson's Bible examined in the book Doubting Thomas
Atheists and skeptics have done a good job of convincing many people that Thomas Jefferson was especially critical of the claims of Jesus being the Son of God,and that he was a closet atheist. I have heard (and repeated I am sorry to say), the claim that Jefferson’s Bible had holes all through it in which he clipped out anything he didn’t like. The story was that a good percentage of the pages of Thomas Jefferson’s Bible were missing. (I have commented that a lot of us do that mentally.) It turns out that most of what we have been told about Jefferson and his religious convictions are not true.

Mark Beliles and Jerry Newcombe wrote a book published by Morgan James in October of 2014 titled Doubting Thomas: The Religious Life and Legacy of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson did clearly state that people should be free to believe or to disbelieve in Jesus, which no thinking American can deny. That view influenced his writing of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. He also wrote, but did not publish, a work which was designed to help Indians understand the philosophy of Christianity. It was titled The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted From the Account of His Life and Doctrines as Given by Mathew, Mark, Luke and John; Being an Abridgment of the New Testament for the Use of Indians Unembarrassed with Matters of Fact or Faith Beyond the Level of Their Comprehensions. (What a title!) According to Jefferson, this work was to help the Indians benefit from the moral teachings of Jesus Christ. Jefferson stated in a letter to William Canby on September 18, 1813: “Of all the systems of morality, ancient or modern, which have come under my observation, none appear to me so pure as that of Jesus Christ.”

When Jefferson was president he regularly attended the Christian worship services held at the U.S. Capitol building. He did not exclude miracles from what is called “The Jefferson Bible.” Matthew 10:8, Luke 14:1-6, Matthew 9:18-25, Matthew 9:20-22 and Matthew 9:27-31 are all in his Bible. However, he struggled with some doctrinal issues which he called “Christology.” He had an especially hard time with the Godhead.

He was not a theologian, but he clearly was a believer. He devoted a great deal of energy and time to understanding the teachings of Jesus Christ as indicated by Thomas Jefferson’s Bible.
— John N. Clayton © 2019