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Grace and Works by Craig Branch
A common question is “what makes a group a cult?” Of course one must consider deceptive, destructive practices and other deviations from orthodoxy, but the fundamental and fatal departure defining a cult is to err on the Person and work of Christ.
Paul defined it best when he warned about false teachers coming with “a different Jesus” and “another gospel” (II Corin. 11:3-4, 13-15; Gal. 1:6-9).
Peter defined “damnable heresies” as “denying the Lord that bought them,” which is denying the Person and work of Christ (II Peter 2:1-3).
How do most cults distort the gospel? They add works or obedience to commandments (law) as the prerequisite for justification or salvation.
The Bible is clear that eternal life is a pure gift, by grace, and man’s works or obedience cannot in any way satisfy God’s righteousness.
Grace plus works for salvation is like trying to mix oil and water; “and if, by grace, then it is no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace,” (Romans 11:6).
“By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight,” (Romans 3:20).
In the epistle which directly responds to this issue, Paul clearly explains, “Even we have believed in Jesus Christ that we might be justified by the faith of Christ and not by the works of the law, for by works of the law shall no flesh be justified,” (Galatians 2:16; see also Ephesians 2:4-9; Titus 3:5-7).
God’s law, a reflection of His justice and righteousness, requires perfect obedience. One sin, whether by commission or omission, whether done with or without knowledge, separates man from God eternally (Romans 3:23; 6:23; Matthew 5:48; James 2:10; Galatians 3:10).
That is why Christ obeyed the law perfectly, meeting the requirement – so that His perfect record could be imputed to us when we trust only in Him – faith in Christ (I Corinthians 1:30; II Corinthians 5:21; Romans 10:1-4; 4:4-6).
How do the cults pervert the gospel? How do they fatally mix works with grace and in fact end up rejecting Christ? Most of them deny the full deity and humanity of Christ always resulting in a deficient “different gospel.”
For instance, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught that there are four basic requirements needed to gain eternal life (Watchtower, February 15, 1983, pp.12-13).
The first is to be “taking in knowledge” which means that you must be participating in their “Bible studies” (actually Watchtower publication studies).
The second requirement is “to obey God’s laws, yes, to conform one’s life to the moral requirements set out in the Bible.”
The third is to “be associated with God’s channel, his organization” which in fact means that theirs, “the one true church,” is actually the co-savior.
The fourth is to “support his government by loyally advocating his kingdom rule to others.” This means one must go door to door witnessing and without ever balking or questioning a Watchtower edict.
Another blatant example is found in the Mormon basic textbook Gospel Principles.
The Mormon leaders state that the final judgment will be on the basis of works according to “those things which the Lord has commanded us to keep,” (pp. 283-284).
Then all will “be assigned to the kingdom we have earned” (p. 285; emphasis mine).
The Mormon leaders go on to teach that for eternal life one must be “obedient to all the commandments of the Lord,” (p. 290, emphasis mine).
They then list 22 of those requirements which include celestial marriage, total repentance of all wrong doings, speaking the truth always, baptisms for the dead, full tithe paying, and “keeping all the Lord’s commandments until the end of this life on earth,” (pp.291-292, emphasis mine).
Herbert W. Armstrong founder of the Worldwide Church of God claimed to be God’s apostle and like most cults claimed to restore the true Christian church.
He wrote in his major doctrinal work, Mystery of the Ages that in order to achieve salvation and progress to Godhood is to “do his commandments,” (p. 191).
Armstrong goes on to state that the “one test commandment is the fourth-keeping God’s Sabbath” which of course he insists must be Saturday.
He also reveals the “necessity of observing his annual Sabbaths and festivals,” (p. l9l).
He mocks those of “traditional Christianity” who claim that they are “already saved” by “receiving Christ,” (p. l97).
He teaches that one must grow in grace. . . must overcome, must develop in spiritual character during this life in order to be born into the “Kingdom of God,” (p. 2l6).
The many new age groups teach the law of Karma on the endless wheel of reincarnation which is based on good deeds.
Christians must help cult members see that they must consider what the Bible says on the subject and not the cult literature. Help the cult member understand God’s requirement of perfection and their total inability to ever measure up to God’s righteous requirement.
Works are a result of being saved, never a cause. Point them to Christ alone who is the only One who can reconcile man to God, totally, by His doing.
Ed. Note: It recently has been brought to the attention of the WFI offices that Herbert W. Armstrong’s book Mystery of the Ages has been withdrawn from publication.
The Worldwide Church of God headquarter’s staff states that the book has doctrinal problems.
This admission seems interesting in light of the fact that this book was the crowning achievement of Armstrong’s life.
However, despite the fact that this book has been questioned by the WWCOG, the same doctrines quoted in Craig Branch’s article are reiterated in the WWCOG publication The Good News (Jan/Feb 1990, pp. 6-8).
Apparently the doctrinal problems contained in Armstrong’s Mystery of the Ages do not include the “salvation by works” doctrine.)