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Miscellaneous cults

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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“A cult . . . 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 Christ Jesus” (Walter Martin, The Rise of the Cults).

Basic traits:

Authority figure

Extrabiblical text

Unorthodox theology, somewhat related to Christianity

General characteristics:

Presents a Jesus different from that of orthodox faith

Claims new truth

Offers new, non-orthodox interpretations of Scripture

Cites non-biblical authority source(s)

Rejects major tenets of orthodox Christianity

Generally develops a changing, often contradictory theology

Strong leadership, usually centered in a single person or group of persons

Almost always offers a salvation by works

Generally makes unsubstantiated prophetic claims

Hare Krishna: International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)

History

15 century A.D.: Chaitanya Mahaprabhu developed The Doctrines of Krishnaism from the Hindu sect of Vishnuism

Believed that Krishna is the chief God who manifested himself one time as Vishnu (opposite of classical Hinduism)

Teaches that every individual must go through reincarnation to rid himself of the debt of karma

Krishnaism made Hinduism appealing to the masses by personalizing god and our interaction with him

Came to America by means of Abhay Charan De Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in 1965

Founded ISKCON and led it until his death in 1978

Today a wealthy organization, with about 10,000 members in America

Beliefs

God: Krishna, who “creates all and enjoys all” was in the beginning

No real distinction between him and his creation

Jesus Christ is only Krishna’s son

Man: part of creation; can be absorbed into reality

Central focus: this relationship

Salvation: by self-denial and a series of works as prescribed by the cult

Eternal destiny: absorption into reality after karma is cleansed and payment made

Transcendental Meditation (The Science of Creative Intelligence)

History

Founded by Mahesh Brasad Warma, later known as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (born in India around 1910)

After graduating from Allahabad University in 1942 with a physics degree, Mahesh became the disciple of the Indian religious leader Guru Dev; he taught Mahesh a meditation technique taken from the Vedas (part of the Hindu scripture)

The Maharishi founded the Spiritual Regeneration Movement in India, 1958; came to America in 1959 and set up his organization here; today several million people in the U.S. and around the world have been taught these meditation techniques

Claims

Will improve health, self-image, productivity, intelligence, and creativity

Supposed to have no religious basis or bias

In fact, has been ruled by a New Jersey federal court to be religious in nature, and thus enjoined from use in public schools (Civil Action No. 76-341)

Maharishi claims that TM will make everyone “infallible,” and derides the use of logic and rational investigation

Beliefs

God: a “supreme being,” identified with nature, who dwells in the heart of every person

Jesus Christ never suffered or could suffer; the theology of atonement is a misunderstanding of the life of Christ

Man: in his true nature, the impersonal God

Central focus: self-realization through Hindu meditation techniques

Salvation: Hindu concept of oneness with reality

Eternal destiny: oneness with reality

Children of God (the Family of Love)

History

Founded by David Brandt Berg (born Oakland, CA, Feb. 18, 1919)

His mother was a prominent evangelist, his father a minister with the Christian and Missionary Alliance

David Berg became a pastor with the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, first in Arizona in 1949; left after a falling-out with the church leadership in 1950, and became embittered against all organized religion

In 1968 he and his family moved to Huntington Beach, CA and developed a small following of people, basically from the counter-culture

Convinced in 1969 that a great earthquake was imminent and California would slide into the Pacific Ocean, he and about 50 followers left California for Arizona; several years later the movement scattered across the country in small groups

Today the “Family of Love” (their current name) boast about 25,000 members including children; Berg (Moses David, Father David, or King David) lives in Europe, oversees the group, and writes letters

Beliefs

Authority source: the letters of Moses David (“MO letters”); he is the prophet for this generation, and his correspondence is the literal guide for the movement

Theology: there has never been a statement of belief issued by the Children of God; can infer from Berg’s statements:

Jesus: created by God; no “Trinity”

Revolution: the group forsakes all “for Jesus,” giving up all material possessions to the group and forsaking their allegiance to families; it advocates a revolutionary take-over of the current cultural systems

Sex: Berg maintains concubines; the top leaders have sexual affairs with the girls in the group; “all things common” (Acts 2.44) applies to wives and husbands; will use sex to entice people to join or contribute to the cult (“Flirty Fishing”)

Unity (Unity School of Christianity)

History

Founded by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore (Charles born 1854, St. Cloud, MN; he and Myrtle married in 1881)

Myrtle was “healed” of tuberculosis and malaria in 1886 at a lecture led by E. B. Weeks

His statement: “I am a child of God and therefore I do not inherit sickness”

Myrtle believed the statement and recited it over and over; eventually she was healed

Charles studied this and other eastern religions in detail, practiced his wife’s meditation technique, and experiencing the healing of his withered leg

Then he joined Myrtle in founding the Unity School of Christianity

Following the Fillmores’ deaths (hers 1931, his 1948), the leadership of Unity was taken over by their two sons, Lowell and Rickert, and subsequently experienced rapid growth

Today headquartered at Unity Village in Lee’s Summit, Missouri (suburb of Kansas City); claims some two million adherents worldwide

Beliefs

Claims that beliefs and belief systems are unimportant, and that their system simply works. However, it has a strong reliance on Christian Science and New Thought

God: Gnostic in general framework and method:

Separates physical from spiritual

Knowledge is secret and obtainable only by the few

Spiritual is good, physical is bad

God is impersonal; our goal is to reach oneness with him

Jesus Christ was a human being who possessed the expression or presence of God

Jesus refers to the man, Christ to the divine influence

Bible: writings of men who in a measure apprehended the divine Logos, but these writings should not be taken as final

Central focus: on prosperity and happiness

No one need be poor

Charles Fillmore’s rendering of the 23rd Psalm:

The Lord is my banker, my credit is good

He maketh me to lie down in the consciousness of omnipresent abundance;

He giveth me the key to His strongbox.

He restoreth my faith in His riches;

He guideth me in the paths of prosperity for His name’s sake.

Yea though I walk in the very shadow of debt,

I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me:

Thy silver and Thy Gold, they secure me.

Thou preparest a way for me in the presence of the collector;

Thou fillest my wallet with plenty, my measure runneth over.

Surely goodness and plenty will follow me all the days of my life;

And I shall do business in the name of the Lord forever.

Salvation: unnecessary, since there is no sin, sickness or death; no need for the death of Christ on the cross to take away sin

Eternal destiny: salvation following repeated reincarnation

David Koresh (Branch Davidians)

History

Began out of Seventh-Day Adventist movement

Founded by Benjamin Roden

Vernon Howell (David Koresh) took control after gun battle with Roden in 1987

Compound destroyed in battle with FBI agents on April 19, 1993

Beliefs: difficult to systematize, but the following seems clear:

Koresh claimed to be the Lamb of Revelation

He also saw himself as the new Cyrus (“Koresh” is “Cyrus” in Hebrew, and he named his son Cyrus). Thus he would be God’s anointed one to “subdue nations” (Isaiah 45.1)

He predicted that he would die a martyr in a gun battle with secular authorities, fulfilling seven seals of Revelation (6.1-17)

First: white horse–conqueror, evil

Second: red horse–war

Third: black horse–famine

Fourth: pale horse–death

Fifth: suffering

Sixth: catastrophes

Seventh: return of Jesus Christ

Thus he claimed that he and his followers would be resurrected to bring in the Kingdom of God

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This survey follows closely the discussion of Hare Krishna, TM, Children of God and Unity in Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, Understanding the Cults (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, 1982).