Friday, January 30, 2009

The Deranging Of The Guard: How Cults Find The Times They Are A Changing

Things increasingly are not what they seem any more when it comes to the world of Christian countercult and discernment ministry.

It is sobering when you realize that a co-belligerant in the war between the truth of Scripturally based Christian faith and life and the error of unscripturally founded antichristian spirituality that you thought stood with you turns out to have their own agenda. They have become the new guard for the new advance of cultic flanking that still targets the Christian church, having chosen to selectively abandon discernment and countercult work.

In case you're not aware of what this word means, in our admittedly humble yet firm calling to ministry, Spiritwatch Ministries is fully engaged in what is known as countercult ministry.Allow me to define it a bit more from our perspective (this is taken from our FAQ page on the site)
The Scriptures have made it crystal clear that the prophecies about the end of all things and Christ's Second Coming would be foreshadowed by a tidal wave onslaught of deception. The explosive proliferation of unorthodox and aberrant religious activity in the past thirty years is , we feel, the fulfillment of this stark and sobering prophetic warning by Christ. Therein lies the critical need for a never ending vigilance against the onslaught of heresy and a never ending readiness to provide a reasoned response to its seductive advances - through upholding Christian orthodoxy and engaging in countercult work.

Countercult ministry is a militant response to this challenge of Satan. Dr. Gordon Lewis' remarks on this are sobering and to the point as he sought to highlight the high stakes involved:
" .. we are led to specialize in delivering people from counterfeit religions. .. we seek to expose (1) deceptive teachings, (2) immoral ways of life, and (3) oppressive ministerial, missiological tactics, like heavy-handed shepherding of every detail of life in religions, cults and the occult. But these are two-edged swords that have a way of cutting against aberrant Christians as well as cultists. Our battle is not only against the religious oppressors of this dark world, but also against 'the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms' (Eph. 6:12) .. Among the evils we deplore in the cults are abuses of human rights, destructive violence, institutionalized violence, and the undermining of the family and the inhuman exploitation of people in the cults. We must deplore those evils even more if they occur among missionaries to the cults or aberrant Christian groups."
That's why we do what we do. The kind of ministry we offer to our fallen world is sorely needed everywhere, especially when churches and pastors seem so clueless about the issues at hand. We counselled a woman recently whose husband's involvement in a cult compelled her to seek a counselling session with their pastor. He'd already stopped going to church, reckoning their parish to be a lair of demonic darkness. After two hours, the pastor concluded that nothing he'd said penetrated her husband's confident veneer and that he would march out flush with pride over his martyr's stance, which is just what his cult leader had already programmed him to adopt as the godly perspective on the matter.

And the band plays on, even as certain researchers sniff over footnotes and imagined slights against "true understanding." Such situations highlight how ill prepared Christian churches largely are to handle the spiritual, let alone social challenges of cultism. We offer a source of objective and purposeful truth as well as counsel to assist the victims of cultic totalitarianism, along with a Biblical Christian and pastoral perspective to them. We research and do what we can to spread the world about the unique and aberrant spirit of each cult group's deceptive operation and we've been able to help many over the years.

However, as the endtime apostacy lurches on, the undercutting of countercult work goes on like a steady water boarding on the body politic of the Christian Church that actually seeks it out. Increasingly, it seems that the hour of compromise has arrived and is even now at the doors of the Christian countercult community.

Things, Jesus said, that would happen .. From the Religious Researcher blog .. a worthy blog worth visiting
According to an article posted online two days ago at Christianity Today, “Two notable critics have changed their minds on the controversial ‘local churches’ movement that follow the teachings of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee.” The two critics are Hank Hanegraaff, president of the Christian Research Institute (CRI), and Gretchen Passantino Coburn, director of Answers in Action (AIA). The article refers to a booklet to which Hanegraaff and Passantino Coburn contributed and that the Defense and Confirmation Project, a pro-Local Churches group, published in November 2007. Entitled The Local Churches: “Genuine Believers and Fellow Members of the Body of Christ”, the booklet includes “Testimonies” (as the title page quite correctly calls them) from Hanegraaff, Passantino Coburn, and Fuller Theological Seminary. Fuller’s contribution is a statement representing the assessment of Richard Mouw, the school’s president, and two other Fuller professors.

I have been quite reluctant to enter the fray of this debate, which has actually been going on for several years, but have decided now to say something.
This blog entry, written by Robert Bowman, the director of the Institute for Religious Research can read in full here. It raises once again this very issue, one which the Christian countercult community ignores at it's ultimate peril.

The history in recent years of lone ranger countercult researchers is depressing. We've beheld entirely too many instances coming up in which personal zeal and conviction have spilled over into divisive and polarizing contentions waged more for market share of self-accreditation then Christian apologia. For too long, academics and iconoclasts have assailed the countercult enterprise as one fraught with sloppy research, bad presuppositions and just outright meanspirited and sectarian myopia more concerned with "border maintenance" then with "missional" outreach to cults. Click here to read one cult's apologist's dismissive comments on their abortive efforts to bridge the wide divide between them and orthodox Christianity. And read how a seminary professor, in the height of a presumption difficult to understate, decided to apologize to the LDS Church on behalf of the Evangelical church for what he said were Evangelical misrepresentations of Mormon errors - a man who superintends the development of Evangelical ministers and church leaders.

Now we're finding this perplexingly unwarranted position becoming more and more the norm by the countercult community. And now, with Rob Bowman's post, in response to that Christianity Today article, a few things come to mind here that I think need to be said as a director of Spiritwatch Ministries.

Hank Hanegraaf is an intelligent Christian man who feels called to speak to issues concerning apologetical and theological controversy. He's been doing this at CRI since the death of Dr. Walter Martin. However, he is as equally polarizing a figure in countercult and apologetic circles as he is in the public eye. I know many fellow EMNR members, for example, who have had major problems with his ministry for many years. Many other apologetical and countercult researchers and writers who at one time were all on staff at CRI have long ago bolted and started their own ministries elsewhere (from Robert Bowman to Paul Carden) due to Hank's rather autocratic manner and for many other questionable things too numerous to get into here. That should say something.

Why he decided to leave California for North Carolina isn't clear to me, but there were an awful lot of controversies he left in the dust there. He now lives pretty comfortably in North Carolina - at least as cushily as he did in Southern California.

Personally, I have nothing against him. But Hank is one of the most abrasive people I've ever heard when it comes to speaking apologetically and defending the Gospel. It sticks out like a sore thumb when he gets on the radio and when he makes his teaching tapes. His brilliance is probably equalled by his apparent disregard for civility. There's a lot of what he says in his Christianity In Crisis and Counterfeit Revival books that is true but that's because he rides shotgun on the research labors of CRI staffers who do most of the collection and analysis of the materials he reviews to make his case. He may be true many times, but even then, HOW he says it makes him sound divisive, arrogant and puffed up with superiority.

Listen to the audiobook version of Christianity In Crisis as he reads his material and you can see how absolutely vicious he sounds. I think he has real and personal issues that lie behind the spleen venting he uses this on air and on the soundstage. I suspected this years ago and was taken to task by a countercult leader for sounding so subjective about telling him that I felt something wasn't quite right with Hank's approach. However, t
here's just a bit of the Bible about the fruit of the Spirit that Hanegraaf needs to review which my associate might agree with at this point.

For this and other reasons (like his lavish lifestyle, treatment of other Christian researchers at one time under his direction, and questionable fund raising -- as well as his siding with the cultic Local Church at a time when this antichristian cult was suing a Christian publisher and the Christian apologist whose book they hated), we long ago decided that we will not endorse Hank's work or CRI. You will not find a link to CRI on the Spiritwatch website.

And now, since Gretchen Passentino Coburn is persisting in lining up behind Hanegraaf's profoundly inexplicable and flawed defense of the Local Church, our lamentable response is to have to remove her Answers In Action website link off our site as well. We deeply regret having to come to this conclusion.

What all of these religious muddlers fail to realize is how much of a part of the Trojan Horse of error they've become part and parcel of. They've become by default accomplices to the cultism and end time deception that is being wheeled into the last remaining strongholds of discernment that remain in the church today. They have become the block for the end run of apostacy in our latter times. In their concerted efforts to advance objectivity, they have become the friend of error on the grounds of a quixotic position in which to win those in error, they advance compromises of Biblical truth.

It's a sad day, I fear, but one which guarantees the need for even greater effort to sound the alarm.

That's life in the End Times for you.

Too Late At Night Department: Enjoy A Cheezy Christian Video From The 1980's With A Great Message

After finishing a long and grueling reedit of some pages on the website, after 10 numbing hours of work helping Mr. Whirlpool support our ministry, I wanted to try to start getting a post up about a lot of the troubling things of the End that daily confront us which we all pretty much ignore as we slouch to Gommorrah. However, in lieu of sobering commentary about our apostate age which my tapped out intellect refuses to assemble, thought I just would let a video do some talking.

Yeah, it's the Seventy Sevens. With a pretty silly Christian video from the mid 1980's. This was featured on our YouTube channel and I'm grasping at straws as my brain misfires here. But I gotta get something out there .. and I hope this gives someone visiting the blog who sees "the light" pouring in from blacklit holes of spiritual corruption a chuckle .. or a cuff of the ears.

Friday, January 16, 2009

"Join Us": Quite Possibly Another Best Video On Cultism Of All Time

December was a tough time for me. Some personal struggles contributed to an inability to do any further blogging since November. But, by the sheerest grace of God in Christ by the Spirit, I hope to blog more regularly this new year. I hope that aside from reporting on the end time apostacy that continues to march across the land, that more of the grace that much more abounds where sin runs rampant will shine through here.

Starting with my shamelessly whole hearted endorsement of what I think is quite possibly "another" best video on cultism of all time.

I've heard about this movie for a year or so, but finally stumbled across a promotional clip for it on the Vision TV network, a Canadian cable system, as they were remembering the 30 year anniversary of the Jonestown horror, something that for all too many is ancient history about "those people" on the fringe, wackos they'd NEVER get involved with.

Once I viewed this harrowing and haunting clip, I was absolutely owned. When I saw Liz Shaw of Wellspring involved and saw what had to be the long, winding almost endless back country roads leading to Wellspring (we know because Joy and I have been there), I knew immediately this was going to be a powerful work. That word doesn't come close to describing how profoundly, utterly absorbing this film became for us.

The DVD cover for the film, which you can buy, says

"There are thousands of cults in America. This is the story of one of them."

The story is actually far from over ..

For more information on the film and the people whose haunted lives are so vividly captured in it, visit the official website for "Join Us" and catch even more clips of the movie.

We are hoping to secure permission for a showing of "Join Us" in Cleveland within the next couple of months. Stay tuned!