The Word of the Cross in the Face of Cultic Religion

The more the Christian church obtained public recognition, the more it was also obliged to fulfil this public need for cult and sacrifice. The church did suppress pagan sacrificial actions and cultic drama, but replaced them with its own cult… It is not enough simply to Christianize the cults of religious societies… Cultic religion must be replaced by the spreading of the word of the cross, the celebration of faith and the practical following of Jesus. Jurgen Moltmann1

When tracing the history of the Christian church a recurring theme emerges; the church is birthed in power through the message of the cross of Christ. The church experiences persecution and opposition – usually from the power holders of the current religious system – which strengthens and reinforces the message of the cross to the community of faith. Faithfulness in the face of suffering brings God’s blessing and a time of rest. A generation arises that only knows that time of blessing and rest and longs for the religion of their birth to be accepted by the society of their birth – the society that accepts them (See for example the degeneration of theology through men such as Schleiemacher- romanticism and Tillich- liberalism). The word of the cross is gradually de-emphasised; gospel becomes a relevant word for society and eventually the church Christianises society by declaring them basically good and becoming society’s cultic religion. This new religion lives side-by-side with society each affirming the good and/or importance of the other.

God raises up a new generation of prophets and apostles who recognise the church for what it is; the church of society or cultic religion and not the church of the cross. They begin to preach the word of the cross – an offensive message to the established ‘christian’ cultic religion. The church that is birthed as a result of such preaching experiences persecution and opposition and, over time recapitulation occurs – the theme is repeated.

The reformation is the most notable with Luther, Calvin and Zwingli – though men like John Hus, who was a forerunner to the reformation, and groups like the Anabaptists should not be overlooked.

Of particular interest is the Methodist revival/movement that was birthed through John and Charles Wesley (and others). Notably, John Wesley – an ordained minister of the Church of England2 – began to preach the word of the cross. In his journals he writes of the rejection of the established church as he was told time and again that he would not be welcomed back. Many people in those congregations however, believed and were saved. This is an interesting thought, that Wesley preached in the leading churches of his day to large congregations and some of those people got saved. Though Wesley encouraged them to stay in those churches it soon became apparent that it was not possible for born again believers to remain in the churches of society. The result was the birth of the Methodist Church.

There are many other examples which could be cited such as William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army. What they all have in common is that they were critical of the church in their day and the expression of cultic religion. Such men began to challenge the religion of their day by preaching the word of the cross and encountered extreme opposition from that religion. The leading preachers of the largest churches ridiculed these apostles/prophets and opposed their message as foolishness. Sounds very much like the Pharisees in Jesus day and the Judaisers who opposed the apostle Paul.

This brings me to today and the contemporary church movement. From my perspective the contemporary church movement includes churches from a variety of streams. They are Pentecostal, Charismatic, Word of Faith or Rhema, Latter Rain, and various forms of independent and evangelical backgrounds. This plethora of backgrounds means that almost every church that calls itself Christian is influenced by the contemporary message in some way. Contemporary churches take their lead from the ‘mega-churches’ and various market leaders of the Christian world. The underlying message is relevance and the aim is to be the church of society.

The point?

If the salvation of people is essentially the reason Jesus came and died; if it is more important than healing, prosperity or earthly success; if it is more important than this life; and if it is the message of salvation that has been entrusted to the church, then it would be mandatory for the church to reveal the way of salvation.

The coming of Jesus revealed that a message of obedience to law, or to religious oughts, even to being a ‘nice person’ fails to bring salvation. Salvation is found only in Jesus Christ.

Ac 4:12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” NIV

Jn 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. NIV

The grace of God for salvation is available only through the preaching of the word of the cross.

Ac 10:39-42 They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen — by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. NIV

1 Co 1:18-25 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. NIV

1 Co 15:2-8 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. NIV

So, my question is this: “if a person hears that Jesus wants them to fulfil their purpose or destiny on earth, or to free them from alcoholism or drugs and that if they accept Jesus they will have a better life; if that person responds to that message are they born again?” What I am asking you to think about is this: “if all a person hears is the benefits of the Kingdom that come from salvation and ask for those benefits are they saved?”

The apostles made it clear how salvation came:

Ac 2:38-39 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call.” NIV

(Cf also acts 3:19; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20)

“…The New Testament never tells us to love and trust Christ in order to be saved. We are told to repent (Acts 17:30) and place our faith in Christ (Eph 2:8,9), not ‘learn to love and trust’. Just how does the unbeliever go about learning to love and trust Jesus? These are fruits of regeneration, not means to regeneration.”3

To extrapolate further: “if that person then begins to preach that message themselves and becomes a “minister” are they ministers of Jesus Christ?”

2 Co 11:3-4;13-15 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough… For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. NIV

Put simply, not everything that glitters is gold. Not everyone who uses the name of Jesus is a minister of His. And not every message preached that has the name of Jesus or Christ or God in it is a message of Christ. This is true of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons and it is true of cultic ‘christian’ religion.

Once Evangelical and Pentecostal churches used to think that Catholics needed saving, that members of the Church of England or other traditional ‘spirit-less (?)’ churches needed to be saved. We once believed that the Spirit of God was the guarantee of our salvation and that everyone needed to repent of sin, confess Jesus is the Christ who died for sins, receive Him as Lord and they would then receive the Holy Spirit. When people experienced persecution they were told to rejoice (James 1:2; 1 Pt 4:13-16) and not pressed to have faith for and expect deliverance because suffering was the result of sin.

Today, contemporary evangelists encourage people to return to the churches of their birth (one evangelist who went to Africa encouraged converted Muslims to return to their mosques and worship Allah in Jesus name); pastors see the gospel as any message or teaching that fits people out for this life; what once demanded deliverance is now a complex medical issue that requires psychiatric evaluation and trained counsellors.

Is this The Church of Jesus Christ or is it society’s cultic religion in the name of Jesus?

If we preach the gospel of Jesus Christ as it was passed down through Scripture by the Apostles then we are faithful to God. But is it enough to simply preach without speaking against those who preach another Jesus, who impart a different spirit, or speak another gospel? At the very least should we make every effort not to commend leaders of this cultic religion as being minister of Jesus Christ?

1. Moltmann, J. The crucified God pg 42, 43

2. The Church of England is called the Anglican Church in Australia or Episcopalian Church in USA

3. Gilley, Gary. This little church went to market pg106

Leave a Reply