Note: This is part of our current series “Correcting our Misconceptions about Evangelism” adapted from Larry Moyer’s book 21 Things God Never Said. See also: “Evangelism Misconception: You Need to Know what a Cult Member Believes (Part 1)” and “Evangelism Misconception: You Need to Know what a Cult Member Believes (Part 2).”
Misconception: “To reach a cult member, you have to know what his cult believes.”
In my last post, I gave two reasons why a believer does not have to know what a cult believers. Today, I want to look at a few more reasons.
The believer ought to take the offensive, not the defensive.
If ever there was a situation to study in order to reach those in error it would be Paul’s ministry in Athens. That city had more gods than people. What stood out to the unbelievers concerning Paul’s approach to them?
“Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, ‘What does this babbler want to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,’ because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection” (Acts 17:18).
They were struck by his preaching Jesus and the resurrection. Epicureans were atheists who believed pleasure was the only god and pain the only evil. Convinced there was no life or future judgment, their philosophy was, “Eat, drink and be merry.” Stoics saw no distinction between the human and the divine. God was everything and everything was God. So what was Paul’s approach?
We are told, Paul “preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.” Recognizing something they had never heard before, they brought him to the Aeropagus, where the latest ideas were discussed. What did they request? “May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak?” (vs. 19)
His approach was offensive, not defensive. He knew he did not need to understand their message. They needed to understand his. He offers a model for our approach to those in error today. We ought not be defensive but offensive, laying before them the truth of the gospel.
Most people in a cult are not there because of what the cult believes.
Many have no idea what their own cult teaches. They joined the cult because someone gave them a sense of belonging. Everyone wants to feel accepted and cults specialize in offering acceptance, deceptive as it is. Usually, the reason people are in a cult has little to do with what the cult teaches. It is more likely because of how the cult made them feel.
Makes sense, doesn’t it?
The fact that one has to know what he believes, not what the cult member believes, adds up to two words—common sense. If one approaches evangelism thinking he has to know what the cult member believes in order to witness to him, three questions emerge.
Who does one prepare to talk to? Is the next cult member you meet going to be a Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, Christian Scientist, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or one of the many cults springing out of the New Age philosophies?
How do you keep up? The longer we await the Lord’s return, the more departure there will be from truth. Scripture prophesies, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Tim. 4:3–4). There is no way to keep sufficiently informed of every new cult.
How would you prepare for the exceptions? By exceptions I mean the person who is in a cult but does not believe what that false religion believes. I once talked with a man who was of the Hindu faith. He made it clear that he does not believe what Hindus believe. Instead he believed that after death you have one more chance and that’s it. He then added, “I might be wrong, but I want to believe what I want to believe.” These exceptions are more normal than one might expect.
One Word of Caution
This does not mean one is not helped by knowing what a cult member believes. However, biblically it is not essential to know what a cult member believes to reach them. It can also deter the believer from presenting the gospel message. Many believers have confessed to educating a cult member on the false doctrine of his cult yet not telling him of God’s simple plan of salvation.
The idea that to reach a cult member you have to know what he believes is not taught in Scripture. Believers should so know the truth of Scripture that when he hears error he recognizes it. He should so present the truth of the gospel before the cult member that that truth, anointed by the Holy Spirit, can bring him to Christ.
To reach a cult member a believer must know what he believes not what the cult believes. God brings a cult member across your path for you to explain the gospel to him, not for him to explain error to you.