Pierre was on his way to visit a church when he saw the huge sign:
“Judgment Day, May 21, 2011. The Bible guarantees it!”
Pierre wondered what he should do if the message were true. It seemed that there would be no reason to send his children to school, or finish building his house, or pay back money he had borrowed. He wondered if he should donate all of his money to help spread the message.
Introduction to Apocalyptic Cults
There are hundreds of apocalyptic cults. They have great variety and many different names. Often they are started by a person who claims to have new revelation about the future. Some of them last only a short time, with a few members, and others become large.
Some of the organizations covered in other sections of this course have characteristics of apocalyptic cults. For example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have several times made prophecies to motivate their members, but the prophecies did not come true.
Why Apocalyptic Cults Exist
Many people have a feeling that the world is coming to a time of crisis that will change everything we have known to be normal. The crisis may be described in terms of economics, ecology, war, politics, or cultural change.
Many new novels and films describe a fictional apocalypse that occurs through a worldwide plague, or nuclear war, or a giant meteor striking the earth. In these stories, most of the people on the earth are killed, and the people who survive enter an era where life is completely different from anything they have known.
Because of this fear and expectancy, people are looking for an answer about how to face the future. They want to know what to expect and how to prepare. Some people are looking for religious explanations. They become interested in the message of an apocalyptic cult.
An apocalyptic cult is started by a person who claims to be a prophet who by revelation can explain what the future will be and what we should be doing. Apocalyptic cults have existed in all ages. A professed prophet named Montanus lived in the second century of the church and made predictions about the soon coming of the kingdom of God and the end of the world’s system.
All through the history of the church have been people who claimed to know the time when Christ would return to set up his kingdom and judge the wicked. Millions of people have been deceived and disappointed.
The leaders of apocalyptic cults do not respond to the crises of the era in a biblical way, though they claim to be Christians and use the Bible. Below are some characteristics of most apocalyptic cults.
Characteristics of Apocalyptic Cults
(1) They set dates for specific predictions.
They may predict the second coming of the Lord. They may predict the end of the world’s governments. They may predict a disaster that will destroy the wicked people of the world.
They may give a specific time when this is supposed to happen. When it fails to happen, they say that their prediction meant something different. They may set a new date.
They usually make many smaller predictions that also do not come true. The Bible says that if a person’s prophecy does not come true, he is not to be trusted as a prophet (Deuteronomy 18:22).
(2) They have new interpretations of Scripture.
They give meaning to certain phrases in Scripture that nobody ever thought of before. The meaning is something that cannot be proved from Scripture itself. The professed prophet claims that the interpretation was revealed to him by revelation, which makes it new revelation and not interpretation.
This is misuse of the Bible because they say the Bible teaches their ideas, but really they are depending on new revelation to add meaning to the Bible that was not there already. The people who believe the message are the ones who have already decided to trust the prophet. They are not following the authority of the Bible but the authority of the cult leader.
(3) They require unchristian actions.
They call for behavior from their members that has never been typical of Christianity. They may require a separation from society and normal life. They have a hostile attitude against those who are enemies and may even encourage violence.
They may use force against their members and their families. When they get into trouble for their actions, they call it persecution. They believe that God will intervene miraculously in response to their radical faith. Some of the apocalyptic cults have ended in suicide.
(4) They separate their members from other relationships.
Some apocalyptic cults require their members to give everything they have to the organization. The members live together in a compound and separate from any friends and relatives who are not in the cult.
They may be taught to consider all outsiders to be enemies. The followers are ultimately disappointed because the fellowship is not based on truth and cannot be true Christian fellowship.
Effects of the Apocalyptic Cults
The apocalyptic cults are destructive in several ways.
- They attract people from Christian churches into false doctrine.
- They disappoint their followers and cause them to lose their faith
- They have unchristian behavior but claim to be Christians.
- They cause people to doubt the scriptures about God’s kingdom and the
return of Christ.
The Christian Response to the World’s Crisis
The Bible speaks to times like these. Scriptures like the book of Daniel and the book of Revelation were written in times of an uncertain future, chaos in society, international war, and persecution. They were times that tested the faith of the people who believed in God. It seemed that everything was out of control and that everything good could be destroyed.
The great theme of prophetic scriptures is that God is in control and will eventually establish his kingdom and reward the righteous. The Bible affirms that times will be difficult and that evil may seem to rule for a time. Believers are called to hold their faith in God and live faithfully in spite of the world’s conditions. Just as those scriptures applied to those times, they apply to any other times when faith is similarly tested.
The book of 2 Thessalonians was written to Christians who were expecting Jesus’ return and God’s judgment day to occur soon. They were hearing from people who claimed to know that the events were about to happen (2 Thessalonians 2:2). They were confused about what they ought to be doing.
The Apostle Paul described some events that would take place shortly before the return of Christ, including the rule of a person called “the man of sin” and “the son of perdition” (2:3).
What is especially important for us is to see Paul’s concluding directions to the believers in verses 15-17. He told them to be established and to keep following what they had been taught. They were not to leave the basic principles of the Christian life because of any events that might be coming. In verse 17 he prays that God would establish them in every good word and work.
Even if the end of the world is near, it is not a time for us to leave the principles of Christian living. The things that have always been the most important will be the most important all the way to the end. We are to evangelize the lost, hold to true doctrine, live holy lives, fellowship with believers, do good to others, and show love to all people.
The first priority when talking to a member of an apocalyptic cult is to make sure that he really understands the gospel. You may assume that a cult member believes the doctrines of Christianity and has only added some distinctive prophecies, but the cult may actually contradict essential doctrines.
Next it is important to point out how the cult has separated from historic Christianity. Point out the actions and teachings that would never have been accepted by the godly people of the church through the centuries.
Point out the fact that Matthew 24:36 tells us that the time of Christ’s return is not revealed. Point out that their interpretation of prophetic scriptures is based only on their trust of the leader and not on normal principles of interpretation.
Point out that Deuteronomy 18:22 tells us that a person is not to be trusted as a prophet if even one of his prophecies is false.
In this course, we will explain the basic beliefs and history of selected cults and religions, contrasting them with Christianity and evaluating their doctrines and practices by the Bible.
You will be better prepared respond to the errors of wrong religions and to protect Christians from deception.
Without a doubt this is one of the most practical course SGC has developed and we believe it will make you a more informed, discerning and redemptive spiritual leader.