I Am A Mechanic: With God’s I Help Fix It! : The Moral Maze

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The Moral Maze

Everywhere there appears to be a state of confusion. Truth mixed with falsehood appears as the new normal. Nothing appears as it is –– who can we believe and trust?

The Moral Maze…

The decade of the 1960s witnessed profound change in the established world order. The post-WWII global configuration was essentially bi-polar, with the United States-led West aligned against the Soviet-dominated East. In the 1960s, this split along ideological and economic lines divided the world into five centers of power: the Soviet Union and its satellites; Communist China and Southeast Asia; Europe and the United States; Africa; and Latin America. This article will look briefly at each of these regions and the general United States foreign policy strategy for each. The emphasis will be on Latin America, in particular Bolivia, and events such as Cuban-instigated insurgencies, affecting U.S. engagement in the southern hemisphere. In Latin America, Cuban-sponsored revolutionary fervor was a major factor in determining the U.S. strategy.

The Allied powers determined at the end of World War II the Security Council’s permanent membership in the newly formed United Nations (Chiang K’ai Shek’s Nationalist China, not Communist China, held a permanent seat). The power blocs of the Fifties began to erode in the Sixties. It was the Soviet Union that faced off against the West in the Cold War, and instigated such provocations as the erection of the Berlin Wall.1

Durer’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

So, who can we trust?

It is a lot like being trapped in a maze –– how do we find the centre and once we have found it –– how do we get out? We all feel overwhelmed and trapped!

When we speak about the ‘moral maze,’ we mean our attempting to discover the correct way to navigate our way through life and its multitude of perplexities.

At the heart of the matter is the question of our moral and ethical response to life and the multitude of decisions that we face daily.

From the perspective of having a living faith, where are we to look to for help to determine how we should choose to respond to any given situation that presents itself to us? Let us remind ourselves that the Scriptures teach us that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the ‘world, the flesh, and the devil.’ There are powers and principalities of darkness seeking to control and influence our every decision.

Arm yourself! With a knife, gun, or bomb? NO! While I am not a pacifist, I do believe that it is important to defend ourselves, our families, communities, and and countries, notwithstanding, our weapons of warfare are not these things, but spiritual, the mighty pulling down of strongholds! In the power and mighty name of Yeshua our Messiah and Lord we can be victorious!

But we ask –– how does this apply and work out in the here and know? Not pie-in-the-sky-when-you die! Heaven on earth now!

Let’s be real and not find ourselves being delusional, with our living in the Moral Maze!

Let our yes, be YES, and our no, be a definitive NO! In Afrikaans there is an expression that says,

"Jy kan nie op twee stoele gelyk sit nie!"

You can’t sit on two stools at the same time.’

For in attempting to do so you will find yourself falling between the two and landing on your rear end on the floor.


Similarly, as a believer, we can’t falter between two options – make up your mind? Whose side are you on? God or humankinds? Let’s face up to reality now!

So what’s at the heart of the matter? We discover that there are many different facets to the moral maze.

1/ For starters, God is no longer on the throne –– ‘God is dead, and humankind is alive,’ or at least they think so!

In the philosophical concept described by Nietzsche. For other uses, see God is dead (disambiguation).

God is dead” (German: Gott ist tot; also known as the death of God) is a statement made by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s first use of this statement is his 1882 The Gay Science, where it appears three times. The phrase also appears in Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

The meaning of this statement is that since, as Nietzsche says, “the belief in the Christian God has become unbelievable”, everything that was “built upon this faith, propped up by it, grown into it”, including “the whole […] European morality“, is bound to “collapse”.[1]

Other philosophers had previously discussed the concept, including Philipp Mainländer and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Proponents of the strongest form of the Death of God theology have used the phrase in a literal sense, meaning that the Christian God who had existed at one point has ceased to exist.

Death of God theology

Although theologians since Nietzsche had occasionally used the phrase “God is dead” to reflect increasing unbelief in God, the concept rose to prominence in the late 1950s and 1960s, subsiding in the early 1970s.[23] The German-born theologian Paul Tillich, for instance, was influenced by the writings of Nietzsche, especially his phrase “God is dead.”[24]

William Hamilton wrote the following about American radical theologian Thomas J. J. Altizer‘s redeployment of Nietzsche’s view:

For the most part Altizer prefers mystical to ethical language in solving the problem of the death of God, or, as he puts it, in mapping out the way from the profane to the sacred. This combination of Kierkegaard and Eliade makes a rather rough reading, but his position at the end is a relatively simple one. Here is an important summary statement of his views: If theology must now accept a dialectical vocation, it must learn the full meaning of Yes-saying and No-saying; it must sense the possibility of a Yes which can become a No, and of a No which can become a Yes; in short, it must look forward to a dialectical coincidentia oppositorum [i.e., a unity of the opposites]. Let theology rejoice that faith is once again a “scandal,” and not simply a moral scandal, an offense to man’s pride and righteousness, but, far more deeply, an ontological scandal; for eschatological faith is directed against the deepest reality of what we know as history and the cosmos. Through Nietzsche’s vision of Eternal Recurrence we can sense the ecstatic liberation that can be occasioned by the collapse of the transcendence of Being, by the death of God […] and, from Nietzsche’s portrait of Jesus, theology must learn of the power of an eschatological faith that can liberate the believer from what to the contemporary sensibility is the inescapable reality of history. But liberation must finally be effected by affirmation.[25]

It is not enough that God is dead, for the vast majority of humankind in the West, he does not exist at all!

This has serious consequences, because the moral and ethical choices that we make are therefore rather arbitrary, with no moral absolutes. You can do what you please, whenever you want, and it really doesn’t matter how you behave.

To illustrate this, I must relate a recent brief and very unpleasant encounter that I had with someone, when I asked them not to park across an access gate – A tirade of abuse was hurled at me.

Did I deserve it? Was the response proportionate to the request I had made? I was direct in my request, but not impolite.

So, you tell me, is this normal behaviour that you would expect from someone who was a stranger?

Perhaps this woman was having a bad day, or maybe this is her normal default setting when things don’t go her way?

It is not surprising that relationships breakdown, that wars happen between people and different nations.

2/ Situational Ethics What is true for you does not therefore need to be true for me! Truth is relative, because there are no longer any moral absolutes! Believe whatever you like! Stealing is OK, what you must look out for is that you don’t get caught. Lying is also OK, just don’t get found out. And down the slippery slope we go…


How does this modern world impact upon religion in general, and Messianic –– Yeshua/Jesus believing faith in particular? This is an important question to attempt to answer to help us find our way through the moral maze.

1/ Folk on the whole are confronted with a feeling of alienation and hopelessness as they are confronted with the present pressing realities and growing sense of foreboding. People used to like to sing, ‘Jesus is the answer for the world today!’ But the sceptic and disillusioned say, ‘really, where is the answers that he promised to make this world a better place?’ We are confronted with huge pressing problems, Covid, avian flue, the economic down turn, the Russian –– Ukraine war, the spiralling cost of energy, food, plus now food shortages –– Unpredictable weather caused through flooding, coupled with drought. And the list goes on…

Albert Durer’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Is there any good news?

2/ However, when optimism and hope are in short supply, that is when true faith can be born in our lives!

Humankind’s extremity is God’s opportunity!

In our attempt to navigate our way through the moral maze we are confronted with having to make choices, particularly moral and ethical ones can be difficult for us to make.

Sometimes the distinctions between them are unclear. Society constantly presents us with choices between what the world chooses and what we know as Messianic believers to be right. As follower of Yeshua in a secular world, we often worry about making unpopular choices. I think it’s a case of not wanting to be seen as different to others. But there will be occasions when we have to make a stand, maybe on ethical issues, yet when we do, we are sometimes ignored or even classed as even being fanatical. In all of this though we have a choice. Our choices can be God’s choices for us. We can choose not to participate in activities that we know to be detrimental to society. If we were to choose good over evil in each situation, how would our world change? And so that brings us to Jesus and the by three very human temptations. “You must be hungry,” Satan said to him. “Use your power to turn these stones into bread. Throw yourself down from this temple. You will not be harmed. Fall down and worship me and everything you see shall be yours.” Yeshua is confronted by three temptations that come to all of us. Food, religion and politics. What could be the harm of any of them? They are all ways for Yeshua to become an influence, to become known to the people. Wouldn’t that be a good thing?

The problem with such temptations is that they all have a powerful meaning in our lives, so they can all be abused. With his strong connection to humankind, Yeshua resists the temptations. He lives by that great commandment, “Love God and your neighbour”. Times of temptation will occur in our lives. We may have a deep sense of loss because of the death of a loved one. We may lose our job or go through the pain of a broken relationship. We may suffer through sickness, or depression. We may be tempted by power or by wealth at the cost of integrity. How we allow such times in our lives to bring us into a relationship with God and with others is the measure of the temptation. Each of us has the power through our choices to shape and give meaning to life. Living as a follower of Yeshua is a response to a deliberate choice. It calls for a decision to place our faith in Messiah Yeshua. It is a call to commitment. When we go through a wilderness time, it is a time of commitment to spiritual growth. It provides an opportunity to reflect on the meaning and consequences of our choices. Our life is a series of choices. What has shaped your lives? What shape would we like it to take? How can the choice to follow Yeshua afford us an opportunity for us to reform our lives, to allow God’s Ruach HaKodesh/ Holy Spirit to re-shape us so that our whole community is re-created. I have heard it said that forty days is the optimal time in which to re-shape some aspect of one’s life. So, let us use every opportunity as a time to bring ourselves into a closer and more open relationship with our creator. May we experience a renewal of life in and through allowing God to guide us through the moral maze. Amen.” [With acknowledgement to the Revd Stephen Smith of St Paul’s, Newbridge, South Wales, for letting me use a section of recently preached sermon that I have adapted].

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Don’t Eat That Hat: Rather Listen To The Truth: Living Our Lives As Children Of God In This Present Age

Don’t Eat That Hat: Rather Listen To The Truth: Living Our Lives as Children of God in this Present Age

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Don’t Eat That Hat, Rather Listen to The Truth: Walk the Walk and Talking the Talk

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Don’t Eat That Hat: Messiah Complex Part 1

Don’t Eat That Hat: Messiah Complex Compared with the True MessiahYeshua/Jesus

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Part 1Messiah Complex

messiah complex (Christ complex or saviour complex) is a state of mind in which an individual holds a belief that they are destined to become a saviour in the past (historic claimants), today or in the near future.

The term can also refer to a state of mind in which an individual believes that they are responsible for saving or assisting others. This desire, in an of itself does not necessarily mean that the individual is mentally ill.

Notwithstanding, such desires need to be considered carefully, before being too quick to condemn such a person as being a crank or someone who is deluded. We are all to ready to put labels on others, due to our own scepticism.

While this desire to save others is virtuous if the individual who has this desire is deluded, the consequence of their actions can have devastating outcomes. During this programme on Shalom Radio UK, we will focus on some of the examples of those who have made such claims.

Within both Judaism, and Christianity, there are some significant examples of certain individuals who have either personally claimed to be the messiah, or their followers have most certainly done so. These claims have at times been made after the death of the messianic luminary, but also these claims have been made while they were still alive.

Matthew 24:23 NIV
At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it.

Religious delusion

The term “messiah complex” is not addressed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), as it is not a clinical term nor diagnosable disorder. However, the symptoms as a proposed disorder closely resemble those found in individuals with delusions of grandeur or that they have grandiose self-images that veer towards the delusional.[4] 

An account specifically identified it as a category of religious delusion, which pertains to strong fixed beliefs that cause distress or disability. It is the type of religious delusion that is classified as grandiose while the other two categories are: persecutory and belittlement. According to philosopher Antony Flew, an example of this type of delusion was the case of Paul, who declared that God spoke to him, telling him that he would serve as a conduit for people to change.[The KentFlew thesis argued that his experience entailed auditory and visual hallucinations.

However, we must remember that Professor Flew moved from being an atheistic philosopher to someone who towards the end of his life acknowledge that there is a God. He wrote a book called –– The is No a God. And in the end of his book he asked the Christian theologian NT Wright to write and ‘Afterword.’


Examples of Sabbatia Ziv’s Jewish Apocalyptic cult, the early Adventists and the Millerites, Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, Jones Town suicide cult, Charles Manson and his deluded followers, Moonies, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersonand the Waco sect Branch Davidian of David Koresh, are just a few groups that have led to the personal disaster of those caught up with them. Each of these movements and those who have led them, all believed that they had a new revelation from God to follow their chosen path to enlightenment and salvation through what had been shown to them. 

In the case of some of these movements either the founder and luminary either believed that they had a special revelation from God that they were the messiah or in some of their founders and leaders substantially reinterpreted the biblical revelation of who the true Messiah, God’s Anointed One is. The consequences in each of these situations resulted in the development of a movement that led to untold unhappiness, desolation, and at time in the death of those who got caught up in these cults, or sub-Christian sects. Judaism has also produced a number of messianic pretenders.

Sabbatia Ziv Claims to being the expected Jewish Messiah

Along with general messianic beliefs, there was another computation, based on a passage in the Zohar (a famous Jewish mystical text), that Israel would be redeemed by the long-awaited Jewish Messiah in 1648.[9]

In 1648, Sabbatai announced to his followers in Smyrna that he was the anticipated messianic redeemer. To prove this, he started to pronounce the Tetragrammaton, an act which Judaism prohibited to all but the high priest in the Temple in Jerusalem on the Day of Atonement. For scholars acquainted with rabbinical and Kabbalistic literature, this act was therefore highly symbolic. Sabbatai also claimed that he could fly, but told his followers that he couldn’t do so in public because they were ‘not worthy enough’ to witness such a sight. He also claimed to have visions of God.[14] Sabbatai revealed his claim to being the Messiah early on to Isaac Silveyra and Moses Pinheiro, the latter a brother-in-law of the Italian rabbi and Kabbalist Joseph Ergas.[9]

However, at a mere twenty-two, Sabbatai was still too young to be thought of as an established rabbinic authority; his influence on the local community was limited. Even though he had led the pious life of a mystic in Smyrna for several years, the older, more established rabbinic leadership was suspicious of his activities and the local college of rabbis. Headed by his teacher, Joseph Escapa, they kept a watchful eye on him. When his messianic pretensions became too bold, he and his followers were subjected to an edict of cherem, a type of excommunication in Judaism.[9]

In about 1651 (according to others, 1654), the rabbis banished Sabbatai and his disciples from Smyrna. It is uncertain where he went from there, but by 1658, he surfaced in Constantinople. There, he met a preacher, Abraham Yachini (a disciple of the Talmudic scholar Joseph di Trani), who confirmed his messianic mission. Yachini is said to have forged a manuscript in archaic characters which bore testimony to Sabbatai’s claim to being the Messiah.[9] It was entitled The Great Wisdom of Solomon, and began:

“I, Abraham, was confined in a cave for forty years, and I wondered greatly that the time of miracles did not arrive. Then was heard a voice proclaiming, ‘A son will be born in the Hebrew year 5386 [the year 1626 CE] to Mordecai Zevi; and he will be called Shabbethai. He will humble the great dragon; … he, the true Messiah, will sit upon My throne.”[9]

Joseph Smith and the Mormans

Beginning in 1820 at Palmyra, New York, Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ in vision. Through revelation, he translated and published the Book of Mormon, organized The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 6, 1830, and received revelations to guide the Church.

Joseph Smith certainly fits the criteria of someone who sees himself as having a divine mission.

In terms of the attitude wherein an individual sees themselves as having to save another or a group of poor people, there is the notion that the action inflates their own sense of importance and discounts the skills and abilities of the people they are helping to improve their own lives.[7]

The messiah complex is most often reported in patients with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. When a messiah complex is manifested within a religious individual after a visit to Jerusalem, it may be identified as a psychosis known as Jerusalem syndrome.

 Mark 3:21 NIV
When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
Just because we don’t understand someone’s words and actions, we should not jump to too hasty conclusions that the are crazy – ‘out of they minds!’

Helping and Saving Others

Wanting to help save others in and of itself is not a sign of mental illness, or of being delusional, However, when this true virtue goes wrong then the real motivation and reasoning that has motivated the individual will become clear.

Luke 19:28-40
Jesus proceeded on his journey up to Jerusalem. As he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples. He said, “Go into the village opposite you, and as you enter it you will find a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it here. And if anyone should ask you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you will answer, ‘The Master has need of it.’” So those who had been sent went off and found everything just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying this colt?” They answered, “The Master has need of it.” So they brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks over the colt, and helped Jesus to mount. As he rode along, the people were spreading their cloaks on the road; and now as he was approaching the slope of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of his disciples began to praise God aloud with joy for all the mighty deeds they had seen. They proclaimed: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He said in reply, “I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!”

Introductory Prayer:
Lord Jesus, I wish to accompany you closely on the road to Calvary. If I were to contemplate you more often as you hang scourged and bloody upon the cross, I’m certain I would be able to rest in your love and base my actions on that one truth. I know that you have loved me with an eternal love: You have proven it there on the wood of the cross. So, I long to respond with gratitude, peace and the firm determination to spread your love to everyone. 
Lord, Jesus, grant me the grace to proclaim you as Messiah and Savior. 
1. A Different Kind of Messiah: Up until now, Jesus has never publicly accepted the title of Messiah. He had confirmed privately to his Apostles that he is the Messiah, but he had commanded them to tell no one. When people had called him the Messiah, he had never accepted the title and most often tried to get away from them as quickly as possible. He had reasoned that the Jews don’t understand what the Messiah is really about. Knowing the Messiah is to be a great descendent of King David, they expect the Messiah to appear, raise an army and lead an uprising against the Romans that will drive them from the country and re-establish David’s kingdom. Several times we read of Jesus having to slip away because the people intend to make him king. He is not going to be what they expect, and he cannot let their expectations get in the way of his mission.
2. A Suffering, Not a Political, Messiah:
His entry into Jerusalem is exactly what the prophet predicted for the Messiah. He enters riding a donkey, for the Hebrews the traditional mount of royalty. Another thing that was supposed to happen when the Messiah entered Jerusalem, was that boys were supposed to be the first to begin to shout, “Hosanna, son of David.” This is exactly what happens. People were supposed to throw down branches and cloaks to pave his way into Jerusalem, and this happens, too. The Pharisees see all this and complain to him because they see that it is a fulfillment of the prophecy. They want him to tell people he is not the Messiah. Jesus refuses to do so. He will be the Messiah that was prophesied—the Suffering Servant of Yahweh. God can fulfill our deepest desires and needs in a way we least expect. Can I read the events in my life as his answer to my prayers?
3. The Messiah Rejected by the Experts:
The Pharisees are angry. They have already decided they don’t want to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Why do they wish to reject him? Is it because he doesn’t show the signs that the Messiah should show? No, he has fulfilled all the prophecies. Instead, they see that Jesus as Messiah will threaten their social and political positions. Jesus will be more important than they. They don’t want that to happen. They don’t want to lose power. In the end they allow themselves to be convinced that he cannot be the Messiah. Rather than consider all the evidence in his favor, they reject him because they don’t want a Messiah like that. Is there any way in which I, in my own life, reject something that God wishes of me or permits me to suffer because I don’t want God acting in that way in my life?
Conversation with Christ:Jesus, fill my heart with a love that knows no limits, the love that drew you from heaven to die on the cross for me. Fill also the hearts of all those who feel threatened by the modern Pharisees who reject you and want to erase your name from the world, so that they will witness bravely to you and to your sacrifice for us.
Today, with the courage of my conviction that Jesus is the savior of the world, I will proclaim in some way that he is my Lord and God, especially through charity towards everyone I meet.

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MaxRon Discussions: Honour and Shame explored

Is your life being fulfilled and are your hopes and dreams being realised?

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1. In the West, do we  really understand the concept of Honour and Shame? Can you explain what it is? (Phrase your own way 😀)

2. So what words in the Bible actually refer to honour, and what words refer to shame?

3. How would grasping the honour – shame system help us understand Scripture? Can you give us an example?

4. To what extent are guilt and shame linked?

5. I am not ashamed of the Gospel…


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Don’t Eat That Hat: A Lost Jew Finds His Way Home

A Lost Jew Finds His Way Home:

Roni interviews Anders Moberg of Sweden concerning his faith journey.

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Anders Moberg

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Roni meets Bob on Bob’s Your Uncle

Bob’s Your Uncle interviews Roni on his blog

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Don’t Eat THATHAT: Don’t cause Splits –– Cults and Isms Cause Schisms

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Cults and Isms that cause schisms –

Don’t cause Splits –– Divisions in the Messianic Community! Split or division between strongly opposed sections or parties, are caused by differences in opinion or belief that will ultimately lead to a dangerous division and can consequently give birth to another false religion.

Another definition: The worship of anything that is not God, including any form of religion that fails to do justice to the glory and majesty of God. Scripture criticises both the practices and the beliefs of false religions.

What Are the Warning Signs of a Cult?

Orthodoxy must be constantly moderated and guarded against possible heterodoxy –– any slight deviation can have severe consequences if it is not corrected, stopped, and warned against. Heterodoxy can best be defined as heresy, error, and deviation from the fundamentals of the faith. There are those cardinal doctrines that if we deviate from them, thence are in serious danger of moving away from the true faith that has been imparted us.

I have spoken on numerous occasions about the Jehovah Witnesses and the way that Charles Taze Russell started. This sub-Christian sect began with Mr Russell wanting to study the Bible on his own due to his rejection of the strict ‘hell fire and brimstone preaching that he was exposed to during his formative years in the USA where he was born. So far so good –– Studying the Scriptures is something to be encouraged. However, there were some inherent dangers that he faced with his rejection of any reference to the historic creeds and counsels of the Christian faith over the two millennia since its inception. He used the American Standard Translation of 1901 as his Bible that used G_D’s Holy Name as Jehovah. He then went further and produced his own translation of the Scriptures called the New World Translation, that not only used the name Jehovah, but also altered certain key text to conform with their doctrine. Many years ago while living in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1974 I attended the Rosebank Bible College that was sponsored by Rosebank Union Church. A friend by the name of Peter who was a member of that congregation asked me to accompany him to a Bible Study in a new suburb of JHB to help a group of women who had encountered some JWs. There were eight women present at the meeting –– Two were members of the new Evangelical Church, two were Jehovah Witnesses, and four were individuals that had been in contact with both groups. These four ‘seekers,’ were undecided as to whether to embrace the Evangelical faith, or to become Jehovah Witnesses. Peter and I were invited to share a testimony of how we had come to faith in Yeshua/ Jesus. Following that Peter asked the Jehovah Witnesses how they had become adherents of the their faith. Peter then spoke about the dangers of the errors of the JW’s teaching, particularly on the person and work of Jesus and the JW teaching about the nature of God.

Subsequently, we heard that two of the ‘seekers,’ had become believers in Jesus as Messiah and Lord, one became a JW, and one decided not to continue having any contact with either group.

Some examples of false religions:

JWs, Mormons, Moonies, New Age Gurus, Syncretistic religions, etc…

As Messianic believers, we must constantly be on our guard against false religious teachings. But how are we to discern between truth and error? From our viewpoint, just because someone arise and says that they have a special revelation from God, an angel, dream, vision, or some other supernatural source does not mean that what they relate to others is necessarily the truth. sStrange and unorthodox beliefs should sound warning bells! We are exhorted to ‘test the spirits,’ to discern they are of G_D? This is nothing new, for even in Jesus’ day there were other claimants to be G_D’s anointed one/ Messiah/ Christ.

How do we the difference between those that are imposters and the true Son of God? We need to not be afraid to ask difficult question,in order to discover the differences between cults and the true Messianic faith, for there is only on Yeshua/ Jesus who is definitively unique.

What Is a Cult?

Should we differentiate between a sub-christen sect and a cult?

Trying to define a cult can be a challenge. In an attempt to arrive at a definition of a cult, it is helpful to outline a few characteristics and establish some guidelines that will help aid us to discover whether or not a particular sect or beliefs and practices are a cultish?

Definitions of cult

In the seventeenth century of the common era if someone referred to Judaism or Chrsitianity as a cult, no-one would give it a second thought. The word cult meant a reference to a particular form or system of worship. For example the “cult of Saint Benedict” were known as the Benedictines. This does not mean that people followed St. Benedict in the same way that people followed a new age guru. It simply meant that people were devoted to the Benedictine form of worship.

But subsequently the meaning of a cult took on a more sinister meaning. Sociologists refer to a cult as a social group with socially deviant or novel beliefs and practices. This may include elements of orthodoxy, but with the addition of unorthodox beliefs that substantially change the beliefs and practices of a particular group.

This definition provided by Rousselet, Duretete, Hardouin, and Grall-Bronnec may be the most helpful:

“A cult is an organized group whose purpose is to dominate cult members through psychological manipulation and pressure strategies.”

This definition helps to explain what is meant when we refer to a cult in our modern era. Cults are generally harmful to its members and to varying degrees to society as a whole. They are usually centred around the dynamic personality of its leader. So, how do cults operate? What are the warning signs when someone is involved in a cult?

What Are the Warning Signs of a Cult?

During the years that I have been a Messianic believer I have encountered a number of people who have been ensnared by cults and there appears to be considerable similarity with the behaviour of the cults that they belong to. Though their belief may be completely different, the way that they behave bears striking similarities.

I came upon this helpful explanation of the activities of cults:

One would think that spotting a cult would be relatively easy. And from the outside, it often can be easy to spot cultic behavior. But from the inside, the person has been groomed and manipulated to normalize deviant behavior. Here are a few of the warning signs:

– Following a leader with unquestioning faith and allegiance

– A belief that the group exclusively holds the truth, therefore there is zero tolerance and interaction with those outside the group

– Isolation of members

– Severe penalties for leaving the group

– An emphasis on a special belief or doctrine viewed as strange by others

– An “us vs. them” mentality, often using persecution of the group as evidence of its truthfulness

– The use of fear and intimidation to keep you in the group. In order to control people one of the techniques used by governing them by fear and intimidation. No sensible, sane, or descent group should resort to this type of behaviour to maintain or control its members. By using such methods their sense of self-worth is diminished. Any fear based leadership is a lousy way to manage people, and by intimidating them, not only is the leader diminished, but his or her subjects are often reduced to being serfs or drones who are not allowed to show any initiative or creative ideas.  These type of techniques are used in the military, but should never be the way that a faith based group functions, and treats its adherents. 

There are a few questions to ask that might help to determine if you or a friend is in a cult.

– What happens if I disagree with the leaders?

– How do I respond if an “outsider” criticizes one of our leaders?

– Are there different sets of “rules” for the leader, and another set for “members”?

– Who is the leader answerable to? Is there accountability?

– What would happen if you tried to leave the group?

– Do they welcome independent thought? Do they believe I can think for myself?

– Have a lost several friendships since joining this group? Am I being isolated?

– Am I able to read outside literature?

Some of the above questions can help you to assess whether or not your group has moved away from healthy religious belief into manipulative/cultish territory.

What can we learn from the Scriptures about Cults?

In our consideration of what the Scriptures has to say about cults we must first come to a common understanding of cults. One dominant feature is “religious devotion.” Scripture is filled with these examples of how people deviated from the right pathway. This most often includes a group that manipulates their members and causes harm.

There are numerous examples throughout the Scriptures, of false teachers, with the outcome of their false teaching always having devastating effects upon those who are caught up and seduced by them. We have examples of those who were false prophets and idolaters in the Hebrew Scriptures that helps explain the dynamic of our understanding of modern cults.

There are a few themes we can use from Scripture to help us understand the nature of cults. First, Jesus warned of the presence of false teachers in Matthew 7:15-16,

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?”

Secondly, because of the existence of false prophets we are told to “test the spirits.” 1 John 4 tells us how we can “recognize the Spirit of God:”

“Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.”

If a group is not centered upon Jesus Christ, then it is making false religious claims. Groups can be centered upon Jesus in name, but if at the end of the day they are not following the way of Jesus, exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit, and entrusting each member to Christ as Lord, then this is a false group.

Cults are also notorious for adding their own rules. Places like Colossians 2:19-23 can be helpful to show that Christ is sufficient. Are your leaders pointing you to Christ and leaving you in His hands, or are they centering themselves or the group? That is a big identifier of a cult. The Bible has Jesus Christ at the center. Cults will have something else at the center.

What Makes a Cult Different from a Religious Denomination?

What is the difference between Jesus the Messiah/Christ and cult leaders? For one, Jesus Christ is the way of truth. While this claim is the same as made by those who believe and give their reason for following a cult leaders. So, we should test them by their own claims. When we compare these cult leaders teaching and claims against Jesus claims, they are always found empty.

In Orthodox Judaism, there are numerous sects, and among the Chassidic Jewish sects the Lubuvitch Chassidim they claim that Menachem Shneerson is the Messiah. Though he died of old age, they believe that he will come back to life! They also have elaborate genealogies that claim that he is a descendant of King David. As above, these assertions need to be tested to discover if they have any credence and whether they are true?

During Schneerson’s life the mainstream of Chabad hoped that he would be the messiah, an idea that gained great attention during the last years of his life. A few years prior to Schneerson’s death, members of the Chabad movement expressed their belief that Menachem Mendel Schneerson is the Jewish messiah.

But the greatest difference between Yeshua/ Jesus and a cult is that Jesus is self-giving. He gives of Himself for their benefit. His way does not lead into harm but into hope.

First, consider the characteristics of a cult. If a “denomination/ congregation/ group” has weird characteristics, then while it may make claims that it is orthodox, then it’s not just a group of believer who may disagree over certain doctrine, but it must be considered as a deviation from the norm, and my well become a sub sect, or even cult.

There are some congregations and professing groups that can border on cultic practices. It can be difficult to discern the difference at times.

Most denominations if they still have Jesus Christ at the centre of their religious practice, though they may differ on a few interpretations but are orthodox in their belief and practice.

Are All Cults Bad?

In the modern the word ‘cult’ has taken on a negative meaning. Nonetheless, whether “cults” are all bad has to do with how we are defining the word “cult.” We need to ask If a cult is harming its followers and others? If the answer is, yes, then we must conclude that it is bad.

Is there difference between a cult and a sect?

But there is another question connected with this. Some will call Jehovah’s Witnesses or Latter-Day Saints a cult. They certainly fit some of the descriptors of a cult. And I, personally, would argue that they are “bad” in that they do not tell the truth about Jesus. As such they are indeed ultimately harmful. It would be wise, if we use the word ‘cult,’ to make a distinction between the “bad” of Charles Manson and Jim Jones with the “bad” of Joseph Smith or the Watchtower Society.

Regardless of whether we mean “bad” as in violent or harmful to society or “bad” as in unorthodox and denying Christ, we should pursue truth and not be part of a cult. But what if someone we love is involved with a dangerous cult?

What can we do if someone we love is involved with a dangerous cult?

First, whatever you can do to keep endeavour to keep the line of communication open –– keep talking! You will not get very far by speaking negatively about the group or the leader. You must earn trust.

Secondly, ask probing questions. What you should attempt to do with this line of communication is sow some seeds of doubt.

Thirdly, seek help from folk who may have had involvement with the particular cult.

Keep in mind that It is important establish some of the reasons why this person might have joined the cult.

What were they looking for that the cult provided?

Are there ways in which you can begin to provide some of this support outside of their group?

Keep in mind how costly it will be for them to leave this cult. If you can eliminate some of the difficulties of leaving, this might help them to make that decision.

If there is something harmful or illegal happening, report this to the authorities. Intervention by Social Services, a Church group, or even the police if the cult is preventing them from having contact with those who are not part of the cult.

Remember to get others to join you in praying for their deliverance from the harmful influence of the particular cult. We must entrust them to the Lord. Therefore, we must pray for wisdom and discernment in our interactions, and equally that G_D will open their eyes to reality. If they have been blinded to the truth, therefore, pray that God would reveal Himself to them in an undeniable way. Pray that they will be able to see through the inconsistencies of the leader. Amen.

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