There are over two hundred different religious denominations in the United States, with almost half a million churches. In addition, there are estimated to be between 3,000 – 5,000 religious cults in the United States, ranging in size from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) with over six million members, to small “cottage cults” with a hand full of members, like the followers of Ruth Kellogg of Immanuel Apostolic Assembly in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. With this many different groups, both legitimate Christian organizations and dangerous counterfeit cults, clamoring for our attention, how do we tell the difference? Is there anything that cults have in common that distinguishes them from the genuine body of Christ? The answer to these questions is, “Yes,” and to understand the answer, you will need a little lesson in “cult math,” which involves addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
ADDITION: Addition happens whenever the group or its leaders try to add anything to the word of God. Cults generally take one of two positions with regard to the Bible: the first is that the Bible is not the word of God. The second position is that the Bible “contains” the word of God, but it is not the total written revelation of his will for us. The Mormons add the Book of Mormon, the Doctrines and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price – All of which hold supreme authority over the Bible, but none of which carries the same weight in authority as the words of the President of the church, known as the “living Prophet.” Brigham Young once stated that when compared with the living Prophet, the Bible, the Book of Mormon and other standard works of the church are nothing to him. They do not convey the word of God as does the Prophet.
Other groups add their own writings. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have their own version of the Bible called, the New World Translation, but even this poorly translated insult to the word of God takes a back seat to the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, headquartered in New York. Jehovah’s Witnesses rely on the “divinely inspired” teaching aids published by the Watchtower to properly interpret and understand what they read in The New World Translation.
The members of Immanuel Apostolic Assembly (IAA) – a small charismatic church located in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin – turn to the writings of Ruth Kellogg, also known as the “bride of Christ,” who has written (probably) hundreds of “epistles” dealing with matters ranging from masturbation to menu tips. Bible study at IAA has been replaced with small group study of Ruth’s letters, and whenever anyone is dealing with a particular issue in their lives, they are encouraged to get their guidance from the appropriate letter from Ruth that deals with that issue. Although they pay lip service to the Bible as the word of God, they will readily admit that it is not the only written word of God, and that Ruth Kellogg’s epistles are on an equal par.
SUBTRACTION: Subtraction refers to the practice among cults of taking away from the person and work of Jesus Christ so that he is no longer the same Jesus that we read about in the pages of the New Testament. Ruth Kellogg and her followers have taken away the sacrificial Lamb of God, and replaced him with a barbaric, deceitful Jesus who looks like Kevin Costner, and is so in love with Ruth that he broke up her marriage to her husband so that he could have her to himself. This topic has been dealt with elsewhere on this site (Dearest Darling Letters, Ruth vs Truth) to which I refer the reader.
Members of the Unification Church (Moonies) teach that Jesus was a perfect man, but they deny the virgin birth, his resurrection, and they deny his deity. They teach that part of Jesus’ mission on earth was to find the perfect bride and start a perfect family – both of which he failed to do.
Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventist both identify Jesus with Michael the Archangel. Other groups, such as Christian Science, believe that Jesus was only a man, and still others, like Scientology, rarely mention Jesus at all.
MULTIPLICATION: Multiplication takes place when a church or group multiplies the requirements that must be met for salvation. This is what the apostle Paul wrote about in the first chapter of his letter to the Galatians, where he says in the sixth verse, “ I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel…” In Galatia, the “cult” was the Judaisers, who insisted that in order to be saved, believers needed to incorporate elements of Jewish ritual worship, circumcision, etc… into their faith. Paul argued that the grace of God was all sufficient and that nothing should…or could be added to it.
According to Mormon theology, salvation is equivalent to being exalted to Godhood, and is only possible through Mormon membership, which is maintained through practicing good works, including baptism, tithing, secret temple rituals, and marriage. “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we do.” – 2 Nephi 25:23 Book of Mormon.)
Jehovah’s Witnesses are required to spend many hours in door-to-door proselytizing in order to earn everlasting life on earth. According to their website http://www.jw.org, JW’s spend over 1.6 billion hours annually, world wide, in their door-to-door proselytizing and distribution of Watchtower publications.
Ruth Kellogg of Immanuel Apostolic Assembly says that she hates the word “unsaved”. She prefers instead to use the phrase “not involved.” Conversely, to be saved means to be “involved.” What is it that her followers must be involved in, in order to be saved? According to Ruth, it is the continual death to self. In her May, 1992 letter, Ruth says this about the continual death to self, “I say it is the only price that will admit man in to know me as I truly am – and to walk with me to his very place.”
This continual self death is known as the “death path” or “death walk” at IAA, and is the only way to be saved according to Ruth, who writes in a letter dated 10/28/92, “But I say this alone is the path to everlasting life with Me and Mine (Ruth), thus if a man is to be my disciple he must choose to continue on down the path after Me.” In a letter dated 01/29/93, from “Jesus” to Ruth, it describes in part Ruth’s death path, and even refers to it as the “Good News.”
DIVISION: Finally, division is the practice among many cults of “shunning” members who dare to leave the group. Particularly common among those groups that claim to be the only “true” way to God, this practice rips families apart and devastates relationships between cult members and non-members. To shun or “disfellowship” a believer is to sever all association with the member who leaves. In many cases, they are treated as though they have died. Cult members are encouraged (sometimes required) to avoid any contact with the ex-member, whether they are parent, sibling, spouse or child.
Shunning is based on a faulty interpretation of I Corinthians 5:1-13, in which the apostle Paul gives the Corinthian believers instruction in how to administer church discipline to a believer that was practicing open sin and refused to repent. Many cults refuse to acknowledge that anyone can exercise faith apart from their group, and they believe that their organization is the only way to God. Walking away from the organization, then, is tantamount to turning your back on God. In this way cults try to justify the practice of shunning.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are probably the best known example of a religious group that practices extreme shunning of former members. Elders in the Watchtower society disfellowship between 50,000 to 60,000 members worldwide every year for such things as, studying or discussing the Bible independently of the oversight of the Watchtower society; eating a meal with a former member; attending a church service of any other religious organization, or authorizing a blood transfusion – even to save the life of your own child.
Division takes place at Immanuel Apostolic Assembly in the form of shunning, where ex-members are referred to as “Judas,” but it also takes place through a policy of isolation that keeps members separated from family and friends who were never members of the cult.
Isolation serves to divide cult members from family and friends, but it also serves a secondary purpose as a form of mind control. By isolating members from any external sources of information, the cult leader can control what information the members do receive, facilitating indoctrination of cult beliefs and eliminating any independent thought or critical thinking.
At IAA, permission is needed in order to contact any family member who is not a part of the group. Information via print or electronic media is screened in order to filter out any opposing points of view. Members are told which books and magazines to read, which movies to watch, what music to listen to, and which radio stations are all right to tune in (Christian radio stations are especially forbidden.)
Whether cults are adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing, cult math is bad for the church; bad for the community; bad for the family; and bad for the individual cult member.
Soli Deo Gloria