Apologetics: How to Answer the Cults
Most cult watch groups base their arguments on "the historic Christian faith." The Christian Research Institute, probably the most well-known cult watch group, uses the term religiously. DefendChrist.org, on their web site, writes:
When we speak of cults in Christianity we single out groups that deviate from the orthodox teachings of the historic Christian faith being derived from the Bible and confirmed through the ancient ecumenical creeds.
The reason they appeal to the historic Christian faith rather than leaning on just the Bible is because almost all Christian and quasi-Christian groups claim to follow the Bible. Arguing only from the Bible can be fruitless. The "historic Christian faith" can serve as referee and one further defense against "cults."
I like this idea . . . with a couple adjustments.
- Jesus said that a prophet is known by his fruit.
Our first test, therefore, is whether the group we are discussing is producing fruit appropriate to righteousness. Do they live what Jesus preached?
Also, when we discuss the historic Christian faith, we need to limit ourselves to those groups that produced holy people who served God in unity with others. For example, you do not want to appeal to the Roman Catholic Church of "The Dark Ages" to define "the historic Christian faith."
- Two, we need to be honest about historic interpretation.
For example, the Protestant belief in sola fide, or faith alone, is common to most cult watch groups, but it is not a historic interpretation of the Scriptures. There are no groups before Martin Luther and John Calvin in the early 16th century that taught faith alone with a Protestant understanding.
You can argue that this view is Scriptural, but you cannot argue that it represents the historic Christian faith.
There are also almost no groups (I don't know of any) that taught a purely symbolic baptism before some time in the 17th century. Even the reformers Luther and Calvin didn't teach a purely symbolic baptism. They both baptized infants.
The Historic Christian Faith: My Style
The churches from the time of the apostles until Nicea (A.D. 325) were completely united in their basic doctrines. Not many know this.
Therefore, the strongest argument for the historic Christian faith lies in the beliefs of those early churches. These are the churches started by the apostles. They bore an incredible testimony. Listen to this boast by Athenagoras, an apologist writing in A.D. 177:
Among us you will find uneducated persons, craftsmen, and old women, who, if they are unable in words to prove the benefit of our doctrine, yet by their deeds exhibit the benefit arising from their persuasion of its truth.
They do not rehearse speeches, but exhibit good works; when struck, they do not strike again; when robbed, they do not go to law; they give to those that ask of them, and love their neighbors as themselves. (A Plea for the Christians 11)
A Christian lawyer (yes, there were those in early Christianity) adds:
It is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that cause many to put a brand on us. "See," they say, "how they love one another." . . . "how they are ready to die for one another." . . .
No tragedy makes a noise in our brotherhood. The family possessions, which generally destroy brotherhood among you, create fraternal bonds among us. One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. (Apology 39)
It was the habit of the early churches to refer questions to those churches that had been raised up and taught by apostles.
Those churches clung so tightly to the teachings of the apostles that it could be said they had their own "historic Christian faith." If the apostles taught it, it was true. If the apostles didn't teach it, it was false.
We draw up our rule: Since the Lord Jesus Christ sent the apostles to preach, no others ought to be received as preachers than those whom Christ appointed. . . .
Now what that was which they preached . . . can . . . properly be proved in no other way than by those very churches which the apostles founded in person, by declaring the Gospel to them directly themselves, both viva voce . . . and subsequently by their epistles.
If the Early Churches of the Apostles Didn't Have the Truth, Who Did?
Anyone who disagrees with the major doctrines of the early church—the "historic Christian faith"— automatically eliminates themselves from the historic Christian faith.
The apostles' churches were united. From ancient Gaul to Rome to Ephesus to the Middle East to Alexandria and Carthage, the churches preached the same doctrines and held to the same Gospel. Of course there were minor nuances on side issues, but the churches across the world of the second century were one and in fellowship with one another.
A noted and well-traveled bishop of the early Church, Irenaeus of Lyons, wrote in A.D. 185:
The Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the world, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, teaches them, and hands them down with perfect harmony as if she possessed only one mouth.
These teachings are well attested in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, a 10-volume collection of writings from the 2nd, 3rd, and early 4th centuries. We don't have to wonder what the apostles' churches believed. It is clear from their writings.
Those who disagree with those writings have some explaining to do.
- How can you know what the apostles taught if the very churches they started didn't know?
- How did so many churches, spread across the entire Roman empire and even beyond, manage to agree with each other without any hierarchy? Are you really claiming that they all went astray into the same error?
There are many Bible interpretations held by the apostles' churches that are unfamiliar to us. Some research—for those that are able to let go of the doctrines we fight and divide over today—will show that those interpretations fit the Scripture more naturally than anything the modern church produces.
Is it any surprise? The historic Christian faith is a wonderful standard.
The question is, are we up to looking at it?
With that in mind, here are my articles on specific groups: