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Marks of Abusive Religious Groups
By Rev. Keith Gibson

Often in cult ministry we focus on groups that deny central aspects of the Christian faith such as the Trinity, deity of Christ, salvation by grace etc. Many Christians believe that if they simply look at a doctrinal statement, they will be able to spot potentially harmful organizations. Such may not be the case. There are many groups, such as University Bible Fellowship and International Church of Christ which look very good on paper but are involved in practices that can prove spiritually damaging. Our Kansas City office has recently become involved with one such group. It is important that believers are able to move beyond the doctrinal statements to recognize other telltale signs of danger.

Elitism. Abusive religious groups see themselves as a cut above all others. Whether this manifests in a belief that they are the only true church or merely that they are the most dynamic and committed, other churches are viewed with suspicion and disdain.

Manipulation. Following closely on the heels of the elitism are subtle practices of manipulation. Most of the time, this is accomplished by limiting options. An easy way to understand this concept is to picture a rat in a maze. Though no one physically touches the rat to move it in a particular direction, the choices the rat is given are so limited that its course is essentially predetermined. Similarly, alternatives are presented to the member in such a way that only one choice is really possible. For instance, “Do you want to be wholehearted for Jesus or continue to love the world and run track?”. Obviously no one wants to be thought of as loving the world. But the thought is never allowed that the member might be able to glorify God by using God-given athletic abilities. By presenting the alternatives in this way, the leader of the group is able to conform the behavior of the members into his/her ideal. At the same time, the member feels like he/she is the one who made the decision. Thus it is not uncommon for members to protest that they are not being coerced. “I chose to quit track. No one made me do it.” Technically, they are right. However, the pressure applied made conformity inevitable, especially if one has already bought the message that this is the only true church.

Commitment to God = Commitment to Group. In abusive groups a subtle switch is made that causes commitment to the activities and beliefs of the group to equal commitment to God. This may be extremely difficult to spot at first because most of us express our commitment to God through faithfulness and ministry in our local church. The difference is one of degree. Imagine a student in college. Abusive groups may ask the student to lead small-group studies on multiple nights of the week. Other nights may be consumed with gatherings of the entire group and leadership training. On weekends the group has evangelistic outreach activities and of course there are regular special emphasis weeks. The student may find that their class work or family life is suffering under the burden. However, if he questions the amount the group is requiring he will be told he needs to stop loving the world and go wholeheartedly after God. Never is the thought allowed that God may actually want him to study or spend time with his family.

Rigidity. In abusive groups everything is black and white. There are few areas of conscience in which Christians can legitimately disagree. Related to this is a heavy emphasis on works. These groups rob members of intimacy with God for one can never do enough, sacrifice enough, follow the rules close enough to be sure that God has been satisfied. Many of the members of these groups live in a morbid self-reflection, consumed with worry over whether or not God can accept them today. Some members of the group, especially those who are new or close to the leadership, may actually feel that they ARE keeping all the rules. These members tend to become very judgmental of others in the group they perceive to be weaker. One young man, when I questioned why he had pressured another member to cut his hair a particular way, responded coldly, “Well I was worried about _____ because it didn’t look like he had left enough behind to me.”

Much more could be said including the use of guilt, milieu control and a host of other characteristics but the sample above should give the discerning Christian a foundation for recognizing the practices of spiritually abusive groups. Paul Martin has called these signs, “the footprints of the wolf”. In order for us to protect ourselves and our families one thing is certain, we must look deeper than the doctrinal statement.

Rev. Keith Gibson

http://www.arcapologetics.org/articles/article12.htm

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Is Baptism Essential To Salvation?

by baptismalregenerationheresy.com

There are many churches and individuals who believe that people must be baptized in water in order for them to be saved from their sins and go to Heaven when they die. Some churches teach that baptism is essential to salvation. Those churches generally believe that anyone who trusts Jesus, but does not also get baptized in water before they die, must then go to Hell, because they did not perform the “good work” of getting baptized that they might be saved thereby.

Churches believing that baptism is essential to salvation tend to de-emphasize the Blood of Christ as an all-sufficient payment for sin. Instead, they believe that the blood of Jesus is not really sufficient to “cleanse us from all sin”. (See I John 1:9). Instead, they believe that salvation must be obtained through both the good work of Christ on the cross, and through the good work of man in baptism. People who hold to this false doctrine believe that Man therefore becomes a “co-redeemer” together with Christ. They believe in salvation by the grace of God plus the works of man. This is the erroneous belief that Jesus and man both work together to pay for sin, a doctrine also taught by the Popes of the Roman Catholic Church.

One of the most well-known churches teaching that baptism is essential to salvation is the “Church of Christ”. I once heard a man say that he knew of a preacher who was raised in the Church of Christ and stayed in the Church of Christ all of his life. Nevertheless, even though he was a preacher in the Church of Christ, on his death bed he wanted to be baptized “once again”, just to “be sure” that he would go to Heaven instead of going to Hell when he died.

Those churches believing that baptism is essential to salvation often use such verses as Acts 2:38 to support this point of view. This view of baptism held by the Church of Christ can be traced to its founder, Alexander Campbell. Alexander Campbell once said that, “Immersion is that act by which our state is changed” The idea that baptism itself saves, (instead of Jesus alone saving us from our sins through His own redeeming blood shed on the cross), is called “baptismal regeneration”.

The act of baptism is actually a picture of what should have already happened in the lives of believers before they were baptized. Namely, that they have already been forgiven for their sins and therefore they have already been made ready for Heaven by trusting Jesus alone for salvation. This then brings up an interesting question: If all of their sins were already forgiven before they were baptized, then how can there be any sins left over for baptism itself to “forgive” or wash away? Also, which sin will they be sent to Hell for, if someone had trusted Jesus, but then died before getting baptized?

I was baptized a few times before I was actually saved. In fact, all that happened to me on those occasions was that I got wet. I was not saved by getting baptized. When I did get saved by trusting Jesus alone for my salvation, I was e again baptized — but this time out of obedience to Christ! Since I had already been saved, I had no need to try to earn my own salvation by my own good work of baptism. Jesus had already saved me. Jesus did all the saving. It was all Christ.

I once knew of a lady who desired to be baptized. When she was baptized and came up out of the water, she praised God that she was now saved. What she meant, of course, was that she was lost in sin before going down into the water. She was trying to save herself by her own good work of baptism. Needless to say, this woman very quickly fell back into the world and back into sin, proving that she was never truly converted in the first place. Her baptism, (which was an act of “salvation by works”), did not save her from her sin.

The idea of salvation by works dates all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Cain, the son of Adam, brought an offering of vegetables to God – his attempt at “salvation by works”. Nevertheless, God wanted blood, not the “good works” of fallen man. Cain’s offering of works was therefore rejected by God. The fact is, men and women often want to give their “salvation by works” offerings to God, just as Cain once tried to do. They do not want to trust Jesus alone to save them by His blood. This “total depravity” of man in rejecting God’s way of salvation by grace, helps to explain why there are hundreds of religions in the world today which provide various forms of “salvation by works”. Jesus said:

“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:” (Matt. 7:13)

Most people try to be saved by their good works, such as by the good work of baptism. God’s way for you to be saved is by His grace through faith in Jesus’ blood alone, which Jesus shed outside Jerusalem at Calvary to pay for your sins. The Bible says:

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)

“…the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” (I John 1:7)

Have you trusted Jesus alone to save you from your sins? If you are trusting Jesus plus anything else to save you, then this proves that you have never actually been converted. You are still on the road to Hell. Trust Jesus alone to save you before it is too late. Eternity is a very long time, and Hell is very, very hot. Trust Jesus today!

***The Only Way to God***

http://www.baptismalregenerationheresy.com/

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