Sermon Manuscript . . .
Christianity or Cult?
Discerning Truth in a World of Counterfeits
Thank you so much for having me–it’s always a joy to come back. Take your Bible and turn to Psalm 19–we’ll be there shortly. Let’s pray. Thank you for your Word. We are utterly dependent on You. Help us to be doers, not just hearers. Sanctify us in your truth. We ask that you’d equip us to share the truth that people might be rescued. Amen.
I’m sure many of you have been in the following situation. You’re at home, either sitting down for dinner or getting ready to head out–and there is a ring at the doorbell. With all the stealth you can muster, you sneak past any windows to the peephole–and what do you see, but two young men in white shirts, ties, black pants, and maybe some bikes. The Mormons have come. Or maybe it is the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Either way, there now becomes a little internal debate. Do I answer, or what do I say?
Dilemma two–you tell your friend that you’re Christian and they say, “Me too!” So you ask, “Where do you go to church?” Their response, “The Mormon church down the street.” Or maybe they tell you they love Jesus too–and they’re Catholic. Given the popularity of those religions in this area (Mormons, JW’s, and Catholics), it is not uncommon for Christians to interact with people from these religions, whether they be at work, in your neighborhood, on your child’s baseball team, or even at your front door.
So how should a Christian think about those religions? That’s the topic I’ve been assigned tonight–the title I’ve been given is, “Christianity or Cult?” And that really is an appropriate title. The Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to follow Jesus, so are they Christian? The Mormons will tell you that they are Christian–so does that make them Christian? Aren’t Catholics and Christians basically the same–we all believe in Jesus, God, the Trinity? I had a friend growing up whose mom had a bumper sticker that read, “CATHOLIC, the original Christian”.
The aim of tonight is to look at God’s Word and determine whether or not these religious views should be considered as orthodox–if they should be considered as acceptable pathways to God. First we will look at the data and history of all three religions–I don’t claim to be an expert in any of these three.
Mormons were founded by Joseph Smith in 1830. In the midst of the 2nd Great Awakening, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints claimed to be a recovery of the true gospel. Joseph Smith claimed to be a prophet who had received revelation known as the “Book of Mormon”. The church today has over 16 million members worldwide, and is led by a president and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses were founded in the late 1800’s when Charles Taze Russel started a Bible class called “The Millennial Dawn Bible Study”. In the 1880’s, publication of the Watch Tower magazine began and the formation of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society came about. They produced their own translation of the Bible–the New World Translation (NWT). There are over 8 million JW’s worldwide.
Roman Catholics are estimated at over 1.2 billion worldwide. The pope is considered the ultimate authority. They affirm the Nicene Creed, hold a high view of Mary and believe in transubstantiation–that the communion elements become the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church is the largest non-government provider of education and health care in the world.
So, are these religions heretical, and if so, why are they heretical? And how can I reach them? You know, heresy is a word that is thrown around a lot today, and we want to be careful how we use it. Heresy involves error, but it is more than error. Heresy is a departure from historical Christian orthodoxy that would condemn. Not all wrong views are heretical.
Example #1 infant baptism
Example #2 others are end times, sign gifts, and church structure
All are error which stunt Christian growth and may harm the message, but are not necessarily heresy. No, heresy is a wrong belief, such that the person who believes it should have no expectation of being accepted by Jesus. So are Mormonism, the Roman Catholic Church, and The WatchTower Society those forms of heresy, or just variant Christianity?
Let’s look at three tests, and I pray these would not only help you witness, but encourage you in your faith. And I pray that if there are any here tonight who are from those religions, that you wouldn’t take offense or reject me, but that you’d hear the Word of God.
TEST #1 What do they say about the SCRIPTURE?
Second Timothy 3:16 to 17, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” This is the uniqueness of Christianity and of the Bible–our God speaks. He has revealed Himself. I love this, because we don’t have to guess what God is like. Truth matters–John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth.” And as you know from 2 Peter, false teaching is extremely dangerous.
From Scripture, we not only get an understanding of God’s Word, but that we have all God’s Word. Revelation 22:18 to 19, “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; 19and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.”
Jude 3, “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”
Second Peter 1:3, “Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” Here’s the picture–nothing is lacking! God’s Word is the only truth. God has given us all the truth we need. So let’s look and see if these religions have the same view of divine revelation.
Catholicism–there is a Bible, but they hold to the Apocrypha, which is books that have never been understood as canonical. The Roman Catholic Church exalts human tradition and the magisterium of the church in order to maintain unbiblical teachings about Mary, the sacraments, prayers to the saints, papal authority, and so on. Human tradition and church leadership are held on the same level with Scripture. The pope stands as the spokesman on behalf of God.
Catholic Catechism–the Roman Pontiff and the bishops are “authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach the faith to the people entrusted to them, the faith to be believed and put into practice.” The ordinary and universal Magisterium of the pope and the bishops in communion with him teach the faithful the truth to believe, the charity to practice, the beatitude to hope for. With this authority, the church teaches that only its leaders have authority to interpret Scripture.
Catholic Catechism–the task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the pope and to the bishops in communion with him. The other issue in the Catholic church is the emphasis on tradition (not like Christmas traditions)–tradition as a source of truth.
Catholic Catechism–the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of revelation is entrusted, does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence. Mark 7:8, “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the traditions of man.”
Martin Luther said, “The chief cause that I fell out with the pope was this: the pope boasted that he was the head of the church, and condemned all that would not be under his power and authority. . . . Further he took upon him power, rule, and authority over the Christian church, and over the Holy Scriptures, the Word of God; [claiming that] no man must presume to expound the Scriptures, but only he, and according to his ridiculous conceits; so that he made himself lord over the church.” Scripture is our only authority on matters of divine revelation. So here Catholicism fails the test.
They have changed the Scriptures (the NWT is inaccurate). John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 8:58, “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.’ ” Acts 20:28, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”
Only the Governing Body has the right to interpret Scripture–The Bible can only be properly interpreted and applied “with the help of publications prepared by ‘the faithful and discreet slave’ “(Watchtower, Feb. 15, 2003). And here’s another quote, doubling down: “A mature Christian does not advocate or insist on personal opinions or harbor private ideas when it comes to Bible understanding. Rather, he has complete confidence in the truth as it is revealed by Jehovah God through His Son, Jesus Christ, and the faithful and discreet slave” (Watchtower, August 1, 2001). Leadership is placed on the same level as Scripture.
They have other Scriptures. On the LDS.org, The Book of Mormon is the word of God, like the Bible. It is holy scripture, with form and content similar to that of the Bible. Also on LDS.org, to establish doctrine and to understand the biblical text, Latter-day Saints turn to living prophets and to additional books of scripture–the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price.
False prophecies of Mormons and JW’s
In 1835, Joseph Smith predicted that Jesus would return in 1891. He also prophesied the Mormons would be built in Missouri in his life time–this didn’t happen. Charles Taze Russell predicted the Rapture began in 1874 and would end in 1878. The Watchtower society made countless other predictions (1914, 1918)–then in 1925, that many patriarchs would be resurrected. In 1968, 1975 became the date. What’s interesting is that many Mormon’s would say, “God would never leave us without a prophet.” He did–there have been years of silence when He hasn’t spoken.
Hebrews 1:1 to 2, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.”
#2 What do they say about the SAVIOR?
What is it the Bible teaches us about Jesus? Jesus is the Savior, He is the greatest person who has ever lived. Jesus did miracles–He was a preacher. But beyond all that, we read that Jesus is the God-man. He is God in the flesh–come to dwell or “tabernacle” amongst us. For example–don’t think Thor, don’t think Hercules.
Philippians 2:5 to 7, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.”
John 1:1 to 3, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”
John 14:8 to 9, “Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ 9Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, “Show us the Father”?‘ “
John 10:30 to 33, “I and the Father are one.” 31The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. 32Jesus answered them, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” 33The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.”
Second Peter 1:1, “Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Titus 2:13, “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.” Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
JESUS IS GOD BECAUSE OF:
A HIS WORKS He calms the seas, creates bread out of nothing
B HIS CLAIMS
Mark 2:5 to 7, “And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ 6But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, 7‘Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?‘ ”
C HIS TITLES
D HIS EXALTATION
Philippians 2:9 to 11, “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” What do the other religions say?
Roman Catholics would agree–they’re not off on recognizing the trinity or recognizing the deity of Jesus. Overall though, there is some disagreement. If anything, disagreement with Jesus would have to be a false worship of his earthly mother, Mary. But that is another talk for another night.
As for the Mormons and the JW’s there is total disagreement on this point. We are not in slight disagreement here–the worship of Jesus is the worship of God. Therefore, false worship of Jesus should be sin as idolatry and an offence. The Jesus of Mormonism and JWs is a different Jesus. Mormonism’s false view of Jesus begins with a false view of God.
Mormonism teaches that God the Father was once a man, and that human beings can become gods. Joseph Smith said that God Himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens, He was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ Himself did. On LDS.org, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that all human beings, male and female, are beloved spirit children of heavenly parents, a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother–the doctrine of a Heavenly Mother is a cherished and distinctive belief among Latter-day Saints.
From Gospel Principles–the first spirit born to our heavenly parents was Jesus Christ (see D&C 93:21), so he is literally our elder brother (see Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 26). Because we are the spiritual children of our heavenly parents, we have inherited the potential to develop their divine qualities. Jesus was the firstborn who volunteered to be the Savior. Satan was the second brother, and as younger brothers do, he got jealous.
JW’s likewise deny the deity of Jesus. In their doctrine, Jesus was a created being. On JW.org, we have learned from the Bible that Jesus is not Almighty God and that there is no Scriptural basis for the Trinity doctrine. Also from JW.org, Jesus is the only one directly created by God. Jesus is also the only one whom God used when He created all other things.
Colossians 1:15, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” Revelation 3:14, “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this.” The word firstborn does not refer to order, but to pre-eminence. And beginning is the source, over all others. So what do we do? Look at all the other passages.
John 10:30 to 33, “ ‘I and the Father are one.’ 31The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. 32Jesus answered them, ‘I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?’ 33The Jews answered Him, ‘For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.’ ”
John 8:58 and the rest of the Bible is clear–there is One God and Jesus claims to be God. Therefore Mormons and JW’s are different than Christians.
#3 What do they say about SALVATION?
Go to Romans 3:19 to 27. Then Second Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” And Galatians 2:16, “Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.”
Ephesians 2:8 to 9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” We are saved by grace alone. So what do these other religions say about salvation?
In order to be saved, a person must become a Jehovah’s Witness, be baptized, live a life of obedience, and remain in good standing with the church. According to JW.org on Salvation–“Deliverance from sin and death is possible through the ransom sacrifice of Jesus (Matthew 20:28; Acts 4:12). To benefit from that sacrifice, people must not only exercise faith in Jesus but also change their course of life and get baptized.”
And in Watchtower: “When a person, on the basis of the Scriptural knowledge he has gained, has belief in Christ as the Savior whom God provided and shows that faith by his works, he can consider himself as being on the way to salvation. It would be a mistake for him to think that he is now saved and cannot fall. He must show by his endurance in the Christian faith that he is worthy of salvation.”
JW.org refers to a complete heart. “A complete heart is sensitive to God’s will and motivated by a strong desire to serve him obediently.” This is salvation not by grace through faith.
LDS requirements for this salvation include belief in Christ, baptism (into the LDS church, keeping all the commandments (including rules laid down by the LDS church, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost (by a Mormon laying hands on you), dependence on Christ’s atonement and God’s grace to make you perfect. From LDS.org–after you are judged, you will live in a state of glory. Because everyone’s works and desires vary, heaven includes different kingdoms, or degrees of glory.
Referring to the celestial kingdom–the Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ reside in the celestial kingdom. If you live according to the gospel of Jesus Christ and are cleansed from sin by the atonement, you will receive a place in this, the highest kingdom. You will live in God’s presence and know complete joy.
The terrestrial kingdom–those people who refuse to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ but who live honorable lives will receive a place in the terrestrial kingdom. And the telestial kingdom–those who continue in their sins and do not repent will receive a place in the telestial kingdom. While Mormons talk about grace, they do not believe in grace alone.
In 2 Nephi 25:23, “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” Then Moroni 10:32, “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.”
However, Galatians 1:8 says, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!” These other gospels will condemn you, for they contain a self-righteousness. But what about Catholics?
Salvation by faith alone–Romans 5:1, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And Titus 3:5, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.”
Council of Trent, Canons on Justification, Canon 9: “If anyone says, that by faith alone the impious is justified… let him be anathema.”
Catholic Catechism–The Council of Trent teaches that the Ten Commandments are obligatory for Christians and that the justified man is still bound to keep them; the Second Vatican Council confirms: “The bishops, succors of the apostles, receive from the Lord . . . the mission of teaching all peoples, and of preaching the Gospel to every creature, so that all men may attain salvation through faith, Baptism and the observance of the Commandments” (P 2068; ellipsis in original).
Ludwig Ott: The Council of Trent teaches that for the justified eternal life is both a gift or grace promised by God and a reward for his own good works and merits. . . . According to Holy Writ, eternal blessedness in heaven is the reward. . . . As God’s grace is the presupposition and foundation of (supernatural) good works, by which man merits eternal life, so salutary works are, at the same time gifts of God and meritorious acts of man. (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 264).
4. The good works necessary for salvation have been codified in the sacramental system. The seven sacraments (baptism, confirmation, eucharist, penance, extreme unction, marriage, and the priesthood) were officially codified by the RCC at the 16th century Council of Trent.
Catholic Catechism–We can therefore hope in the glory of heaven promised by God to those who love him and do his will. In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere ‘to the end’ and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God’s eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ (P 1821).
Philippians 3:9, “and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” Galatians 2:21, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
So all three deny the Bible’s clear teaching on salvation–all three must be deemed heretical. So what? Do not affirm them. Have compassion on them. Preach the Gospel patiently, zealously, relationally, expectantly.