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The Love Story

John Collins08/12/2013

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By nature, religious cults are a tightly knit group of people with an unhealthy level of intimacy.  They are a very close, affectionate and caring group of people who over time have become almost exact clones of personality.  They look alike.  They think alike.  They start liking the same things.

The cult I escaped had an unhealthy affection for wilderness, simply because the fables told by the cult leader included stories from the wilderness.  People who would never have chosen to be the outdoors type were climbing mountains, hiking trails, and hunting game.  Some churches within the cult even frowned upon many other activities, especially if it could be associated with modern entertainment you would typically find indoors.

When you are on the inside, you become more than family.  You become part of the mold, and over time, this mold actively changes the makeup of your personality. 

Again to the example I came from, the cult leader died in 1965.  Had he been alive for the next fifty years, this man would have changed with the times.  We find recorded example of his change during the years that led to his death, but this change was stopped abruptly by an automobile accident.

As Hollywood started making an impact on society during the early years of the leader’s ministry, and many churches were condemning this change, the leader strongly opposed watching these movies.  When television started spreading like wildfire, this grew worse.  Sermons would include quotes like “Satan’s pulled one over on you!  Now you’ve got it in your homes!”

But as these changes started becoming largely accepted, the leader himself started frequenting movies.  Those in the cult who never knew this hold on to the earlier belief – that movies are ‘of the devil.’  But those who saw the leader in theaters or who have enjoyed a movie or ballgame on the television with the leader’s own sons will no longer deny themselves the entertainment they once forbid.

This presents a problem.  Now, the cult itself is split into two groups:  those who now realize that they themselves are in charge of their televisions, having the power to decide whether to watch good or watch evil, and those who practice asceticism.

Asceticism is denying “worldly pleasures” to achieve a higher spiritual state.  It is the belief that you are the one in control, not God.  If you want to be more like God, and be presented “holy,” then you must abstain from the pleasures of this world.

This is a dangerous heresy, one that has been condemned since Gnostic influence started to infect the early church.  Irenaeus wrote an entire book, “Against Heresies,” condemning this pagan influence that was infiltrating Christianity.

The Apostle Paul also spoke out against asceticism:

“Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind”

Colossians 2:18 

Before you can accept asceticism, you must first deny the cross of Jesus Christ.  You must deny the power of the cross, deny that His Grace is sufficient.  You must believe that there is something that YOU also must do before you can be saved.

In Mark 7, Jesus Himself condemns the Pharisees for letting the tradition of their rules and “boundaries” take priority over the Word of God.  They had forgotten the very reason the Law was given, and had denied themselves the love of their fellow man for their own tradition.

He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.  For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’  But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban”—’ (that is, a gift to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother,  making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

Mankind, by nature, has always struggled with tradition.  Unless they remember the underlying reason a doctrine or a law is given, they will start to focus on that law.  Over time, the reason is completely forgotten.

Jesus knew this as he was having the Last Supper with the Apostles.  Though what he did has now become tradition, the reason for what he did will never be forgotten. 

“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  Luke 22:19

While many view the tradition of taking the Lord’s Supper in their churches as some supernatural event, we find little or no support of that in scripture.  All scripture points to the cross, and this that Jesus instructed the disciples was a beacon throughout time.  From the time He ascended to the day He will return, people will remember the cross.

But a religious cult will take simple tradition and make it become dangerous.  Those who do not follow tradition are cut off and scorned.  Those who follow it are filled with pride.  That pride is amplified as the minds are molded to become one personality.

We can find this example even in nature.  If you throw a piece of meat to a pack of hungry wolves, the first wolf that finds it will start tearing into it.  If there’s room for a second and third, they also begin to devour the meat.  But when those around, those who do not have the meat, start trying to get some of their own, the three wolves will snarl and growl at them as if they were a different kind of beast.  Wolves will turn against other wolves, even though they are the same creature.

Cults are no different.  Men and women who were once friends, family, or neighbors are seen as the “ones who didn’t get the meat.”  … especially if they once “had the meat” and decided to eat something else.

The priority of cult members is to hold onto what they have, because they are internally starving themselves of something new.

Christianity, by nature, is spreading the Good News that Christ came to save the lost.  We are sharing our meat with others, and there is a bountiful supply.  In fact, the more we give to others, the more spiritual meat we get for ourselves.

But a religious cult is just the opposite.  Rather than freely give, those who did not receive the meat are scorned and condemned.  Those who once had the meat will never be given another piece, they are denied and rejected.

One of my favorite chapters in the Old Testament is Ezekiel 16, “God’s Faithless Bride.”  It is a love story, one that all should know by heart.

A vision is given to Ezekiel, describing how the Children of Israel continually fell to idolatry and were not faithful to her True Husband, the One True God.  And God does not tell Ezekiel that the Children of Israel were a different race of people, intended to rise above others to scorn and condemn them.

God says this:  “Your origin and your birth are of the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite.  And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths.”  Ezekiel 16:1-4

The Children of Israel were comprised of human beings.  They were the same flesh and bone as the Amorites and the Hittites, and yet God chose them.  They did not earn their being chosen by the worldly pleasures that they could have forbade.

And more than that, God tells Ezekiel that they were not “holy” when He chose them.  God calls them “naked.”

“When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine.”  Ezekiel 16:8

Throughout the chapter, God reminds Ezekiel how Israel fell to idolatry time after time.  She had become nothing more than a harlot, unfaithful to the One True God and becoming intimate with the idols of Baal.

Israel had taken pleasure with the cults of Baal, and that influence had turned her into a harlot.  God describes how displeased He is with the Children of Israel, and says that she has become like her mother, the Hittites.  God’s description of how the Children of Israel had become is no different than what we see in religious cults today.

“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.  They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.  Samaria has not committed half your sins. You have committed more abominations than they, and have made your sisters appear righteous by all the abominations that you have committed.  Bear your disgrace, you also, for you have intervened on behalf of your sisters. Because of your sins in which you acted more abominably than they, they are more in the right than you. So be ashamed, you also, and bear your disgrace, for you have made your sisters appear righteous.” – Ezekiel 16:49-52

Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, and many cult pastors give an unscriptural reason for this.  The reason they give usually supports their own agenda, whether it is the type of clothing, appearance, music, and even homosexuality.  But that is not what God says.

God says that Sodom would have been spared had they showed compassion to the poor and needy.  They were haughty, filled with pride.

They had become like the religious cults of today.

But while we could point to example after example to show the similarities between a cult and the destruction of Sodom, that is not the point that God is making.  Their hearts and minds had been molded into a similar personality.  Abraham pleaded with God on behalf of Sodom, begging the lord to spare the city if fifty were found righteous.  All the way down to ten people, Abraham pleaded with God and asked for mercy.  But there were not even ten to be found in the city.  They had all become of like minds, similar personalities.  All filled with pride, none caring for the poor and needy.  They only cared about themselves.

God says that the Children of Israel had made the city of Sodom look righteous!  They were worse!

But they were chosen.

They did not save themselves through works-righteous faith.  Israel was worse than the city that was destroyed by fire, condemned by God, and was a prostitute in the eyes of God.

God chose them.

“For thus says the Lord God: I will deal with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath in breaking the covenant, yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant. Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed when you take your sisters, both your elder and your younger, and I give them to you as daughters, but not on account of the covenant with you.  I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord God.” – Ezekiel 16:59-63

What God did in this vision to Ezekiel is something that many cult pastors will never do as they condemn those who are outside the boundaries of their cult.  God was very harsh and condemning in his words, telling the people not to serve other gods and rebuking them for the gods they served.  God wants the people to serve Him, and Him alone.

But then, after calling Israel the greatest prostitute that ever would walk the face of the earth, after calling her the mother of harlots, God lifts her up.  God shows His mercy and faithfulness.

God pointed to the Cross.

An unhealthy intimacy with those in your chosen place of worship leads to pride.  If your religion gradually transforms you into seeing other humans as lost and dying creatures unworthy of the Cross of Calvary, then you have become no better than the pack of wolves.

While unhealthy intimacy seems loving from the inside, and those inside the boundaries view this as “like-minded and in one accord,” those on the outside are starving for the piece of meat.  And they are rejected with a snarl.  They experience the opposite of love.

Paul describes healthy Christians, those who are following the words of Christ.  He describes how we are to interact with one another, even those who are not within the boundaries we create.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.”

- 1 Corinthians 13:4-10

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