* Christina Darlington is the director of a non-profit ministry, Witnesses for Jesus, Inc., that teaches Christians how to reach Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses for Christ. You can view their video trainings and website articles by visiting 4witness.org and downloading their free “Witnesses for Jesus” smartphone app. Christina has also authored several popular Christian apologetics books, such as, Misguided by Mormonism but Redeemed by God’s Grace, and Facts the Watchtower Society Doesn’t Want You to Know. These are available on Amazon.com.
A Christian cult, or theological cult, is any religious movement that claims to belong to Christianity but distorts one or more of the essential doctrines of Christianity taught in the Bible. Since the time of Christ, heretical groups such as these have attacked various aspects of the nature of God and the soteriology of Christ.
Beginning with Gnosticism in the first century to Monarchianism and Arianism in the second and third centuries, the nature of God, the incarnation of Christ, and salvation by grace alone have been a focal point of division between aberrant movements and historical Christianity. Thus, in this two-part article series on Christian cults, I will focus on the nature of God and the divinity of Christ in my first article, followed by a discussion of the humanity of Christ and the process of salvation in my second article.
Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” Thus, if we study how the creeds of the third and fourth centuries responded to the heresies of history, we can more readily identify heretical movements today.
The Nature of God
The Bible teaches the Trinity—that God is the eternal, uncreated Being who co-exists in three distinct Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). He alone stands outside of His creation as the noncontingent first cause of all things (Isaiah 43:10; 44:24). The fifth-century Christian Athanasian Creed explains the Trinity this way:
We worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity, neither blending their persons nor dividing their essence. For the person of the Father is a distinct person, the person of the Son is another, and that of the Holy Spirit still another. But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal. What quality the Father has, the Son has, and the Holy Spirit has. The Father is uncreated, the Son is uncreated, the Holy Spirit is uncreated. …And yet there are not three eternal beings; there is but one eternal being.
Addressing the heresies plaguing the early Christian church, this creed articulated that God is not divided into parts as Gnosticism, Arianism, and Tritheism all taught. They claimed that the Persons of the Godhead constituted not only individual Persons but were separate Gods. Yet, in Isaiah 43:10 and 44:6, God makes it clear that He is the only God when He says: “‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. …Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.’”
So, while God is not divided into separate gods, this creed explains how He is not blended into modes of one person either. Monarchianism, Modalism, also called Sabellianism, taught that God is one person manifesting in various forms of personality. This clearly is not the case as we see each Person of the Trinity distinct from each other in Scripture.
For example, in the case of Jesus’ baptism, we see the Father appearing as a voice from heaven, the Son as a human, and the Holy Spirit descending as a dove (Matthew 3:16-17). With all three Persons of the triune Godhead appearing at once, it is impossible to claim that God is just manifesting as different modes of the same person. Likewise, we see in Scripture that the Father sends the Son (1 John 4:14), and the Son sends the Holy Spirit to empower believers (John 14:16-17;26; 15:26). Each Person of the Trinity operates with different roles from each other, yet They are uniquely united as one eternally triune Being we refer to as “God.”
God Is Eternally Self-Existent and Uncreated
Another heresy is the view that God is not Himself eternal and uncreated, but rather an emanation of some other created entity. Yet, in the first chapter of Romans, the apostle Paul addresses this type of view when he describes the downward spiral of depraved human evil inclinations beginning with a distortion of the nature of God. “Claiming to be wise,” Paul explains in Romans 1:22-23, “they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man.” This is essentially what the Mormon cult does today when it denies the eternal, uncreated nature of God by making Him out to be an exalted man. In 1844, Joseph Smith stated in his King Follet discourse:
God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! … I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man … I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea … he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did.
In denying the eternality of God and making Him out to be an exalted man, Mormonism has “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man.” Likewise, Lorenzo Snow, the fifth prophet of the Mormonism Church, echoed this heretical view when he described the Mormon plan of salvation this way: “As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be.”
This is utter blasphemy against the God of the Bible! To degrade God to the level of man in order to elevate man to the position of God is nothing more than a lie from the pit of hell. It was Satan who first enticed Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit with the lie that she would become “like God,” knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:5), and we see this lie continuing with Lucifer’s fall from heaven described in Isaiah 14:12-14:
How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! …You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; …I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’
So large is the cavern between the eternal, immortal, holy God and that of depraved human creatures that God emphasizes His differences from us when He describes Himself in the following passages:
Psalm 50:21: “You thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.”
Hosea 11:9: “I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst.”
Numbers 23:19: “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.”
I Kings 8:27: “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!”
Psalm 90:2: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”
The Incarnation of Christ: His Divinity
The incarnation took place when God, in the Person of Christ, embodied human flesh in order to redeem mankind. Heretical views espoused by the Gnostics and Arians of early church history taught that the Son was a separate and inferior godlike being from the Father, and that Christ’s substance was similar to that of the Father, but not fully God. Since the Gnostics considered the material flesh to be evil and incompatible with divinity, they couldn’t conceive of a divine Being who was fully God condescending Himself to become fully human. Yet, John combated their false dualistic ideology by explaining that not only did Christ (the logos) take upon Himself human flesh to dwell among us (John 1:14), but He was fully God through the whole process (John 1:1).
Since the Gnostics believed that the logos was the principle of supreme divinity connected to the highest God of the universe, John connected Christ with that supreme Being when he told his readers that the logos who had become flesh was indeed the God who created “all things” (John 1:3), who held the “glory” of the logos as the “only Son from the Father” (John 1:14).
It is therefore with this backdrop of confronting Gnostic dualism and Arian theology that we find the Nicene Creed, from the fourth century, proclaiming that Christ is of the same essence as the Father:
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made.
This creed explains that Christ was “consubstantial with the Father.” The term “consubstantial” means that Christ is of the same substance as the Father, not a different substance and not a similar substance as the Father. He is of the same substance as the Father, being “true God from true God,” so that in every way and every aspect, He is fully God as Colossians 1:19 and 2:9 affirm: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, … For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.”
The creed goes on to explain that Christ, the Son of God, was “begotten, not made,” alluding to the fact that when Scripture calls Christ the “only begotten” in John 1:18 and “firstborn of creation” in Colossians 1:15-18, it is proclaiming Christ’s preeminence over creation. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words explains:
FIRST-BEGOTTEN, FIRSTBORN prōtotokos (πρωτότοκος, 4416), ‘firstborn’ (from prōtos, ‘first,’ and tiktō, to ‘beget’) is used of Christ as born of the virgin Mary, Luke 2:7; further, in His relationship to the Father, expressing His priority to, and preeminence over, creation, not in the sense of being the ‘first’ to be born. …The five passages in the NT relating to Christ may be set forth chronologically thus: (a) Col. 1:15, where His eternal relationship with the Father is in view, and the clause means both that He was the ‘Firstborn’ before all creation and that He Himself produced creation.
Indeed, Colossians explains Christ’s “firstborn” superiority–that is, preeminence over creation–when it states in Colossians 1:18-19: “He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.”
The phrase “beginning of God’s creation” in Revelation 3:14 is another phrase used of Christ in Scripture that the cults, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, distort when they teach that Christ was created by God. Yet, the Greek word archē translated “beginning” in this passage is often used to denote not only someone who is an originator, but also someone who is a ruler or magistrate. Thus, Christ is called the “beginning of God’s creation” because He is the One who started the creation as the “beginning and the end” of all things (Revelation 21:6 and 22:13). Likewise, Revelation 1:7-8 reveals Christ as the “Alpha and the Omega… the Almighty”:
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’
Now that we’ve concluded our analysis on how cults distort the nature of God and the deity of Christ, we will shift our focus to see how cults misinterpret the humanity of Christ and the doctrine of salvation in the second part of our series on cults.
 All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version of the Bible.
 Cited from the Christian Reformed Church website at: https://www.crcna.org/.
 Quoted in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith, pp. 345-346
 Cited from “The Grand Destiny of the Faithful,” in Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow posted on the Mormon Church website: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/teachings-of-presidents-of-the-church-lorenzo-snow/chapter-5-the-grand-destiny-of-the-faithful
 Cited from the Christian Reformed Church website at: https://www.crcna.org/.
 Cited from the New American Standard Bible which correctly translates the Greek word monogenēs as “only begotten.”
 Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985), pages 240-241.
 See Luke 12:11; 20:20; 1 Corinthians 15:24; Colossians 2:10.