“For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.”
(2 Corinthians 11:4)
Apart from being a world class biblical scholar, the late Dr. Walter Martin was the modern pioneer in counter-cult ministry. Martin made it his business to understand the histories, doctrines, and practices of the various non-Christian cults. This was important because, as today’s verse passage reminds us, false teachers can and do commandeer Christian vocabulary, reloading certain terms with their own meanings. Unsuspecting, spiritually immature Christians are often led to believe that Christ-denying heretics are actually brothers and sisters in the Lord. This is nothing new. The great churchman, Irenaeus, a hearer of Polycarp (who was himself a disciple of the apostle John), was the first great counter-cult expert in church history. Irenaeus made an exhaustive study of the Gnostic cults, which had claimed to be the real Christians. Methodically, thoroughly, and decisively, he refuted every one of their errant claims. Cultists go back even farther in Christian history, right back to the days of the apostles themselves. In the apostle John’s third epistle, he mentions a man named Diotrephes, who is the consummate cult leader. John wrote that Diotrephes loved to have the preeminence among his followers and that he stood against the apostles and their witness (v9). “Wherefore, if I come,” wrote John, “I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church” (3 John 1:9-10). Like all cult leaders, Diotrephes made himself the center of his religious system. He resisted and even slandered those who taught the truth. In order to avoid criticism, he isolated himself and his followers, casting from his church everyone who disagreed with him. John reminds us that we are to test religious doctrine by its conformance to the apostolic witness. Cult leaders “are of the world,” wrote John, “therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:5-6). Paul wrote similarly: “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself” (1 Timothy 6:3-5). May God grant us all that we need to discern correctly, to avoid error and to remain in the truth, even in these last of days.