Since the time of the late Dr. Walter Martin ( father of Counter-Cult apologetics), the ministry of Apologetics, particularly Christian Apologetics, had grown rapidly in leaps and bounds, but exploded after the death of Dr. Walter Martin in 1989. Apologetics found a home in various areas of studies ranging from theology to philosophy through which numerous apologists from numerous specialties and expertise ascended onto the scene. Renowned apologists such as William Lane Craig, Lee Strobel, Ron Rhodes, Norman Geisler, and many others have made a major impact on the study and ministry of Christian apologetics like no other time in the history of the Christian Church.
Presently, apologetics is primarily promoted and practiced in the field of philosophy; particularly the philosophy of religion. Counteracting postmodernism/atheism’s rejection of the existence of God using philosophical arguments like the Kalam Cosmological argument, the Teleological argument, the Ontological argument, or the Moral argument as well as debunking moral relativism which, on the ethical side of philosophical apologetics, is quite challenging, seems to be the topical focus today. While it is important to deal with issues brought forth by atheists who are responsible for the steady increase (10% in the United States in 20211) of those who do not identify with any religion in the United States, there is still an area of apologetics that has been everything short of abandoned: counter-cult apologetics/cult apologetics. We must return to the ministry of counter-cult apologetics.
Before moving ahead however, the term ‘cult’ must first be defined. Dr. Walter Martin defined a cult as follows:
“By the term cult I mean nothing derogatory to any group so classified. A cult, as I define it, is any religious group which differs significantly in one or more respects as to belief or practice from those religious groups which are regarded as the normative expressions of religion in our total culture.”2
In the case of Christianity, there are several cults that seek to identify with historic Christianity: Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the prosperity gospel/Word of Faith movement, and Oneness Pentecostalism, just to name a few. How exactly are they considered cults in light of Dr. Walter
Martin’s definition of a cult? These groups deny or depart from one or more of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith such as the dual nature of Jesus Christ (Christ as fully God and fully human- better known as the incarnation), the Triune nature of God, salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone apart from works, the existence of an afterlife (Heaven and Hell), the divine inspiration of the bible, etc. A denial or departure from any of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith will categorically place one outside the gates of Christianity and even on the wrong side of God relationally. This is serious business, but it seems far too many in the field of apologetics are not treating it as such.
Knowing now that a “Christian” cult is a group that denies or departs from one or more of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith, what exactly is apologetics? Apologetics is defending and proclaiming the truth of the Christian faith. In I Peter 3:15 we are told to, “… sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;” In Greek, the word for “defense” is apologia where we get our word apologetics.
Counter-cult apologetics is polemic in nature. The function of polemics, according to Dr. Norman Geisler, is to “argue against heresies within Christianity.”3 Unfortunately the polemic nature of apologetics is virtually absent today due to its head on confrontational approach as exhibited in the counter-cult ministry of Dr. Walter Martin. In order to do effective counter-cult
ministry, an apologist must be bold and willing to expose false doctrine biblically; even at the expense of being labeled “divisive” or “intolerant”.
Work in the field of counter-cult ministries seems to have diminished. When one thinks about counter-cult apologetics, fewer and fewer names come to mind. There is Sandra Tanner and her hard and faithful work in ministering to those in Mormonism and likewise Robert Bowman who has done significant work in the field of cult apologetics. Ron Rhodes, author of Reasoning from the Scriptures series which covers the doctrines and practices of Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Masons, Islam, and Roman Catholicism, is also a notable mention. His work has blessed me greatly in my study and work amongst the cults and I’ll be forever thankful to the Lord for it and him especially.
The question now is: where are our counter-cult apologists and ministries for today and for the future? From my observations, as one who considers himself a counter-cult apologist, the landscape is very quiet and the waters are motionless as Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the prosperity gospel/Word of Faith teachers continue undisturbed. Where are the watchmen who are supposed to be on the wall calling out false doctrine for the sake of protecting the health and stability of the Christian Church? The need for counter-cult apologists is needed just as much now as in the days of Dr. Walter Martin. Family members, co-workers, friends, and others are still being trapped into false brands of Christianity that are leading them down a hell-bound path of idolatry and other lies concerning the Christian faith.
Let’s look at some disturbing statistics for a moment. According to the Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Newsroom, there are approximately 16,565,036 Mormons, 399 missions, 30,940 congregations, and 167 temples in the entire world.4 9,419,307 Mormons, 173 missions, 18,256
congregations, and 110 temples are in the United States alone!5Is there a need for counter-cult apologetics and evangelism among the Mormons? I think so!
More disturbing statistics show that in the entire world, there are approximately 8,695,808 Jehovah’s Witnesses with a total of 120,387 congregations6. In the United States alone there are approximately 1,242,976 members and 12,355 congregations!7Is there a need for counter-cult apologetics among the Jehovah’s Witnesses? Indeed there is.
Finally, let’s look at what is considered the booming growth of Pentecostalism-Charismatics. While Pentecostalism and Charismatics are not all bad, there are plenty of the bad in both camps to raise great concern. In Pentecostal circles there are the Oneness Pentecostals who deny the doctrine of the Trinity and salvation in Christ alone by faith. Oneness Pentecostals holds to Modalism which teaches that Jesus manifested himself as the Father in Creation, Jesus himself in redemption, and the Holy Spirit in the Church today.8The booming growth of this brand of Pentecostal Christianity should cause great concern in the Christian Church; especially among our leaders, theologians, and apologists. According to Dr. Ed Stetzer in a 2014 interview with Christianity Today, “When I meet with Pentecostal leaders, they’re strategizing about where to plant a church. They break out the maps and determine where they need to focus their attention. Never mind there are already six churches in a 10-block community. To them, there’s not a Spirit-filled church in that community until they plant one. So they are often avid planters, not just in their own area, but also around the world.”9
In addition to concerns over the rapid growth in Oneness Pentecostalism, there is the ever-increasing concern with the doctrinal and theological compromise within much of the Church of God in Christ denomination where Bishop J. Drew Sheard presides. The Word of Faith theology, espousing New Age Metaphysical doctrines such as positive confession and the
like, has gained a strong foothold in this denomination throughout the United States. This compromise with positive confession came to a crescendo When the former presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake invited Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas to speak at COGIC 110th Holy Convocation in 2017. Joel Osteen preached his usual positive confession-laden message barely referencing the bible for his topic. You can go on YouTube to hear his entire message for yourself. As you can see, counter-cult apologetics is needed even amongst those who have been known to be doctrinally sound when it comes to the essential teachings of Christianity.
On the other side of this two-headed coin we have the charismatic movement which, under the guise of Christianity, has espoused some of the most blasphemous and heretical doctrines; such doctrines as: Jesus atoning for our sins in hell, the denial of the sovereignty of God (God needs our permission via prayer to operate in the earth), the little gods doctrines (Christians are little gods), etc. In times past, these doctrines were confronted and exposed biblically by Dr. Walter
Martin, D.R. McConnel, Hank Hanegraaf, and others, but today there seems to be an uncomfortable silence in the face of such teaching. One exception is Justin Peters who has devoted a great deal of his time and resources to exposing these teachers and teachings through his seminar which originally was entitled “A Call to Discernment”, but is currently entitled “Clouds without Water.” For the sake of those we love and know who are trapped in the prosperity gospel/Word of Faith movement, we must not remain silent. Being silent will not make them go away. Our silence will only embolden those who teach such errors.
So what will we do? Will we continue, whether intentionally and unintentionally, to ignore what Dr. Walter Martin called “The Kingdom of the Cults” or will we take the necessary time to know what we as Christians believe and why? Not knowing what we as Christians believe and why is the major problem that leaves many Christians vulnerable to the deception of the cults. Walter
Martin once said that, “Within the theological structure of the cults there is considerable truth, all of which, it might be added, is drawn from biblical sources, but so diluted with human error as to be more deadly than complete falsehood.”10 The Christian who is ignorant of the essential
doctrines of the Christian faith are easy prey for the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other cultists to deceive and carry away. The only way to counteract their attacks is to know your bible and be ready to challenge their teaching in the light of Scripture. To be an effective witness to those you know and love in the cults, you must first know what you believe and why as a Christian and then know what they believe and why for the purpose of productive dialogue.
Thus, we must return to the ministry of counter-cult apologetics like in the days of old; which honestly was not that long ago. It is of urgency that we again increase in this area of apologetic and evangelistic ministry. The vast majority of the world is still religious despite the growing number of those who do not identify with a particular religion or religion at all. Jesus paints for us a tragic picture of judgement day when those who thought they knew and followed Jesus get the unpleasant surprise of finding out they weren’t. In Matthew 7: 21-23 we read, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ This will be the tragic fate of those in the cults. We must return to counter-cult apologetics.
- World Population Review. Most Atheist Countries 2021, 2021. https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/most-atheist-countries. Accessed 13 August 2021.
- Walter Martin. Kingdom of the Cults. Minneapolis, Minnesota, Bethany House Publishers, 1997, pp. 17.
- Norman L. Geisler. Introduction to Philosophy. Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Academics, 1980, pp. 76.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Newsroom. https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/facts-and-statistics. Accessed 09 August 2021.
- JW.og. How Many Jehovah’s Witnesses Are There Worldwide? https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/worldwide/. Accessed 09 August 2021.
- W.og. How Many Jehovah’s Witnesses Are There Worldwide? https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/worldwide/US/. Accessed 09 August 2021.
- Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Statement of Faith. https://cooljc.org/about-us-2/mission-statement/. Accessed 13 August 2021.
- Stetzer, Ed. Why are Pentecostals Growing in Number? https://churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/244100-pentecostals-growing-number.html. Accessed 09 August 2021.
- Walter Martin. Kingdom of the Cults. Minneapolis, Minnesota, Bethany House Publishers, 1997, pp. 24.
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This is a well written call to return to counter-cult apologetics. I am inspired by your passion for this issue, and I thank you for writing this. It makes me want to study the cults and do apologetics in that area.
Thank you for reading the article and thank you for sharing your desire to study the cults and do evangelistic labor in this field. I would highly recommend the late Dr. Walter Martin’s ‘Kingdom of the Cults’ as well as listen to his lectures which you can easily find on YouTube.