By Danni Moss
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I pulled out part of the previous article, What is a Cult, to exand on it here. I wanted to dig a little deeper into the theological errors of what I consider cultic Christianity. What I am describing here are some of the theological particulars of the specific flavor of Christianity I experienced; fundamentalist Christianity specifically.
The churches of my childhood definitely have an elitist attitude that “we are the only ones with the truth,” including excluding other Christian denominations. They might admit that some other denominations had real Christians in them but “they” didn’t have the whole truth. We were the only ones who really “got” it. However, outside of the very most primitive theological basics, the god worshipped in these churches doesn’t look like the one in the Book.
Is it enough to believe that Jesus is God’s son, died for our salvation which we receive by grace through faith? These are perhaps the most central, critical theological aspects of the Christian faith and certainly not to be overlooked entirely. Paul does say that some preach Christ out of all types of erroneous motivations but at least the gospel is being presented and people are accepting Christ as their Savior. And I don’t want to diminish the importance of that.
However, we were pushed to salvation with constant violent and manipulative diatribes about how we were going to hell and God was poised to zap us. (I find it ironic, after the fact, that so much detailed graphically depicted violence of God’s judgment was acceptable in an environment that outlawed theaters, TV, movies rated anything beyond G, etc. I think the way God’s wrath is being depicted, especially to children, is nothing short of abusive.)
So salvation was motivated by fear – a completely erroneous motivation which skews the entire rest of the relationship. The Word says “God so loved…” not “God was so angry…” It also says the kindness of God leads us to repentance, not His wrath. Again, the Word says Jesus came not to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved. Where in there is the picture of an angry God with His fist raised to strike?
Oddly enough, the churches I grew up in said God’s love was expressed through His anger and judgment because His holiness demanded our perfection. But the Word says God “knows our frame” and He remembers that we are “dust” — He understands our humanity. His love is bigger than that.
The Word also says judgment will take place after death and at the end of time. God’s love is paramount during the time that is now. His love holds His judgment of mankind in reserve. Everything God has done to reach out to reconcile with mankind and His motivation for relationship with us is LOVE. I was literally shocked to realize this in my early 20s. How could I have gone to church my whole life and never heard this simple but profound basic truth that is clearly presented throughout the Word (but especially visible in the writings of John). Who wants to run to a God who is preparing to strike them and whom they know will hit them everytime they make a misstep? On the other hand, who wants to run to a God who loves us so much He was willing to give up everything of value to Him just to regain relationship with us? And how can the church have mixed this up so badly?
Salvation in these churches was free for the taking by simply repeating a scripted little mantra that had the “right” phrases. If someone assented to this “prayer” they were in, locked, sealed and secure. But the Word requires repentance – an entire life change. It says our deeds will demonstrate a life change which will reflect whether our salvation was genuine (not to be confused with deeds earning salvation; deeds reflect salvation). The Word says many will call God LORD who are not His followers – but they think they are because they think they have their theology in order and have done the “Christian” thing correctly.
At the same time, in these churches deeds are everything. Deeds are the measure of holiness. Deeds are the measure of not only maturity, but also the litmus test of the genuineness of your conversion. Christians are required to “do” or “not do” a proscribed list of things if they want to be holy – which, of course, every Christian wants to be since God can tolerate nothing less than holiness. There are a couple points of flawed reasoning in this theology.
First, the “deeds” of a true believer in Christ are not the things they do or don’t do in order to be holy. The deeds of a true believer are simply the life they live as they are in relationship with Christ, controlled and motivated by the Holy Spirit. A life in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is visibly different and noticeably powerful — but not because someone does certain things or doesn’t do certain things. This is a misunderstanding of what personal holiness is.
The Word says for us to “be holy as God is holy” but we can’t do that by following a list of behaviors that supposedly equal holiness. The only way to be holy as God is holy is to let Him, through the Holy Spirit, be holy through us. Literally be holy as God is holy because it is His holiness, not my holiness attempting to mimic His.
Also, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of how God views those who are truly His children. This subject I have written about more thoroughly elsewhere. When I get it posted to this site I’ll come back with a link. Simply put, since the Word says God cannot see the sin of those who are in Christ and since Jesus paid the full penalty for all sin, for those who accept His sacrifice, God sees us as holy already. Nothing we can do will affect that. When we choose to act in ways that are outside the control of the Holy Spirit (these can be good things just as easily as “bad” things!) we pull away from God – not the other way around. And all our actions will be sorted out in the end, with only that part of our life that was lived in Christ remaining. We will experience the natural consequences of our choices on this earth; we don’t get a free pass to act however we want. But God isn’t waiting to zap us if we don’t “do” holiness.
There is another huge mistaken understanding in these churches – mental assent (belief) is not the same thing as faith. In fact I would dare say this misunderstanding is at the root of the failure of Christianity as an institution. Belief (as in mental assent) makes religions. Christian “belief” is no different than Buddhist belief, or Muslim belief, or atheistic belief. It is just religion. Faith takes a life leap into what cannot be known or determined through mental probing or analysis – it is full, absolute commitment and abandonment to life in relationship with Christ, in Christ. (And if you really want to get into it – a subject for another article – everyone has faith. Everyone has faith in something because faith is what ultimately determines our actions where we cannot know concretely. Because we are humans – and cannot comprehend all knowledge – we all act in faith to a far greater degree than most people realize.)
Most pivotal, the purpose of salvation in the Word is restoration of relationship between God and mankind, not so we can avoid being zapped by God. Before the Fall, God walked with Adam in the garden of Eden and had a literal walking, talking friendship relationship with him. That relationship is what God wants to restore. But in the churches I grew up in there is no relationship in this sense. I never heard one word about this in 20 years in church.
“Relationship with God” meant service in the church and “doing” the list of holiness behaviors. After “salvation” as it was taught in the churches of my youth, the rest of life was to be lived in service to God – that was supposedly our purpose on this earth. This is not relationship with God by any stretch of theological imagination. “Service to God” was synonymous with “serving the church and preacher, combined with constant proselytizing efforts.” Again, this life purpose is not the one described in the Bible. Paul describes that purpose well in Phil. 3:7-14 where he says the ultimate goal is to know Christ. It is not about “doing” for God. It is about living with and in Him. If we live in Christ, the Holy Spirit will do all the doing He wants done through us.
The wonderful thing is that people in this skewed Christian environment do actually find real relationships with God – and that is not to be dismissed. But these churches, at the very least, cripple converts from day one, twisting the rest of their relationship with God and their understanding of the truth – the truth that is supposed to set them free, but instead keeps them in bondage.