* 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.

 

In part one of this series on cults, we discussed how a Christian cult is any religious movement that claims to follow the Bible but distorts one or more of the essential doctrines of Christianity.  We considered the heretical views of early movements in Christianity that had distorted the nature of God and the divinity of Jesus Christ. We also drew parallels to cults today, particularly Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, who deny the full deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity.

Finally, in the first part of this series, we ended our evaluation of the divinity of Christ by discussing the incarnation which occurred when God became human in the Person of Christ.  This union of humanity being merged with divinity is called the “hypostatic union,” and it is this act of bringing humanity into Christ’s divinity that we will now consider in more depth.

The Incarnation of Christ (His Humanity)

An issue that arises when dealing with cults on the nature of Christ is the argument that Christ submitted Himself to the will of the Father, even calling Him “greater” than Himself in John 14:28, so they claim He must be inferior to God.  Yet, is submission to someone else’s authority a sign of inferiority?

Ephesians 5:21 declares that husbands and wives are to submit to one another in marriage.  Should we consider submission in that context a sign of inferiority? Of course not! In the same way that submission in marriage does not denote inferiority in nature, the same is true for the Persons of the Godhead.  It is generally recognized that the success of any coordinated effort among groups of individuals is predicated upon the authority structure behind that group, so why would we expect anything less than a functional hierarchy to exist among the Persons of the triune Godhead?

To further demonstrate how Christ’s submission to the Father doesn’t denote inferiority, Philippians 2:6 states that Christ, while continuing to exist in God’s nature, did not seek to grasp at “equality with God.” This implies that Christ was entitled to claim such equality with God, for why would this be put forth as an example of humility if He wasn’t entitled to claim “equality with God” in the first place?

Philippians 2:8-11 goes on to explain that by becoming fully human, Christ endured death as a payment for our sins. The result of His death and subsequent resurrection was that “God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name.”[1]  This name that is “above every name” must include the supreme name for God known as the “LORD” or “Jehovah.”  Indeed, we see in Romans 10:9-13 that Jesus is identified as the LORD Jehovah when Paul applies Joel 2:32 to the “Lord” Christ at verse 13.[2] This exposition of the hypostatic union discussed in Philippians 2 then concludes in verse 11 by pointing out that all will someday bow and swear allegiance to Jesus in fulfillment of Isaiah 45:23.

JEHOVAH GOD JESUS CHRIST
ISAIAH 45:23: “‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’” PHILIPPIANS 2:10-11: “So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

The Soteriology of Christ

Soteriology in Christianity is the study of how mankind is saved from the destruction of sin and death.  David explained that we are born with a sinful nature when he said in Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”  This sinful nature has caused “all” of us to “fall short of the glory of God.”  Thus, Romans 6:23 explains, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Salvation is a “free gift” bought by the precious blood of Christ. He paid the price for our sins so that those of us who have placed our faith in Him could be forgiven and live eternally with God.  Unfortunately, it is this simple gospel message that the cults distort.

Although the creeds of Nicaea and Athanasius defined the Christian position on the identity of Christ, another form of doctrinal perversion infiltrated Christianity as early as the first century. This heresy taught that human works are essential to bring salvation, and we see the Apostle Paul denouncing this heresy when he criticized the Judaizers who were enticing certain believers in the Christian church to follow the Jewish ceremonial laws to earn salvation.  In Galatians 3:1-3, 11, he wrote:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? … Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”

These Christian believers in Galatia had begun their salvation journey “by hearing with faith” but sought to become “perfected by the flesh” through the works of the law.  So, Paul clearly made the point that the “righteous shall live by faith,” not by the works of the law.  Salvation is either by faith alone, or it is by works alone. You can’t have it both ways. You are either trusting Christ’s righteousness for your spiritual standing before God, or you are trusting your own efforts.  This point is repeated in the following verses:

Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Romans 11:6: “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”

Galatians 5:4: “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.”

Philippians 3:9: “And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”

While these verses above clearly demonstrate that salvation is a free gift that is granted upon faith in Christ, members of cults continue to argue against this point by appealing to James 2:14, 17. It says: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? … So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”  Using this passage, they claim that religious works in their system must accompany belief in Christ in order to qualify for grace.  But here again, the context of this passage reveals something different.

James 2:18 says, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”  Here we see that James is not saying that works precede faith, but rather that a person who possesses true saving faith will act out his faith in producing works that can be clearly seen.  In verse 19, he also points out that mere intellectual belief in God’s truth alone doesn’t change a life any more than demons who intellectually believe in the one God are changed.  Demons, although they have intellectual faith in God, are not saved, and neither is a person whose faith doesn’t produce works.  Rather, it is faith coupled with action (works) that proves the faith which saves is indeed alive in the professing believer.  So, we are saved by faith alone, but true saving faith is never alone.

This controversy over the doctrine of salvation by faith was not confined to first-century Judaizers but has appeared in heretical groups throughout the centuries.  One prominent religious entity that emphasizes works for salvation is the Roman Catholic Church.  It rose to power in the first four centuries of Christianity, and at the Council of Trent in 1545 it began anathematizing true believers in Christ who refused to accept their works-based salvation system.

Martin Luther, a German monk and theologian, is known for his pivotal role in sparking the 16th century Protestant Reformation with his posting of Ninety-five Theses in 1517.  His theses exposed the doctrinal errors of the Roman Catholic Church to include a repudiation of the excessive authority given to church tradition and the selling of indulgences to pay for forgiveness of sins.

The five solas are five Latin phrases that summarize the core theological beliefs of Protestant Christianity in opposition to the heretical beliefs of Catholicism and cults today.  The theological writings, sermons, and debates of Luther and other reformers like John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli also contributed to the formulation and promotion of these ideas encapsulated by the five solas. They are as follows:

1. Sola Scriptura: Scripture Alone. This principle asserts that the Bible, as the inspired Word of God, is the ultimate and final authority in determining matters of doctrine and Christian practice. It teaches that the Bible is sufficient as the sole source of religious truth, as opposed to the Catholic Church’s reliance upon tradition over the Scriptures. The reformers encouraged the translation of the Bible into the language of the common people so that everyone could read and understand it for themselves. This challenged the Catholic hierarchy and empowered individuals to engage in personal religious study and worship apart from the Church.

2. Sola Fide: Faith Alone. This principle emphasizes that salvation is received solely through faith in Jesus Christ, apart from any works or human effort. It declares that faith is the means by which individuals are justified or made right with God, rather than through good deeds or religious rituals.

3. Sola Gratia: Grace Alone. This principle underscores that human initiative has no part in salvation. It is a free gift of God’s grace and cannot be earned or deserved. The reformers emphasized that humans are incapable of saving themselves through their own efforts and that God’s grace is the sole basis for salvation.

4. Solus Christus: Christ Alone. This principle teaches that Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and humanity. 1 Timothy 2:5 states, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” The Protestant reformers echoed this teaching of Scripture proclaiming that individuals could have a direct relationship with God without the need for intermediaries such as priests or the church. They emphasized that salvation is found exclusively in Jesus Christ, who lived a sinless life, died on the cross for humanity’s sins, and was raised from the dead, providing redemption and reconciliation with God for those who trust in Him alone.

5. Soli Deo Gloria: Glory to God Alone. This principle proclaims that all glory, honor, and worship belong to God alone. The reformers strongly discouraged the Catholic devotion to Mary and the saints, viewing such actions as idolatrous, detracting from Christ. This principle emphasizes that the ultimate purpose of human existence is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. All aspects of life should be directed toward honoring God and bringing praise to Him alone.

By articulating these five solas, the reformers sought to affirm and emphasize the central tenets of biblical Christianity, resting on the supreme authority of Scripture, salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone, and the glory of God in all things. These principles became rallying cries of the Protestant Reformation and continue to shape the theological framework of many Christian denominations today.

Incidentally, it is the violation of these principles of the five solas that defines the counterfeit gospels found in the cults today.  Just as Catholicism perverted the simple gospel by denying sola scriptura and elevating its own human traditions to the authority of the Bible, this is what cults do today.

Mormonism teaches that the Bible lost precious truths[3] and claims that a person must follow the teachings of the Book of Mormon and modern-day prophets of their church in order to ascend to the highest levels of salvation.[4]  Jehovah’s Witnesses, likewise, add to the teachings of the Bible by claiming that a person cannot understand the Bible without their religious literature to interpret it.[5]  Fundamentally, all cults deny this basic tenant of Scripture alone and place their own religious teachings next to the Bible in authority, often contradicting it.  What follows is a denial of all the other tenants of the five solas as well.

Regarding “Faith Alone” and “Grace Alone,” Mormonism outright rejects this tenant, claiming, “One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation.”[6]  The Jehovah’s Witnesses likewise deny this tenant when they assert that eternal life is a “reward” for religious performance.[7]

Finally, the principles of “Christ Alone” and “To the Glory of God Alone” are rejected by the cults when they emphasize excessive devotion to their leadership for entrance into the highest levels of salvation.  In Mormonism, Brigham Young, the second prophet of the Mormon Church, insisted about Mormonism’s founder: “Joseph Smith holds the keys of this last dispensation … no man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith. … every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are.”[8] Likewise, Jehovah’s Witnesses also insert their religious organization between themselves and God when they teach that to be saved, a person must “Be associated with God’s channel, his organization … and serve God as part of it.”[9]

In closing, I would like to point out that one key mark of a cult that we often see is the “Dispensing of Existence,”[10] in which the adherent who leaves the group is shunned by current members and told that he or she has lost all salvation due to leaving the group, whether such a person left voluntarily or not.  This brainwashing in the cult forces the member to see the cult as the fount of all spiritual knowledge and truth and often keeps former and current members trapped inside their cultic mindset.  Many are simply too afraid to leave or consider alternative belief systems outside of the cult of their experience. This is why we must pray for open minds and hearts when reaching out to our loved ones lost in the cults.  We must pray that “they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:26).

 

[1] Philippians 2:9; All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version of the Bible

[2] Paul states we are to call upon the “Lord” Christ for salvation in Romans 10:13, identifying Him as the “LORD” Jehovah of Joel 2:32. Thus, as stated in Acts 4:12, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

[3]  1 Nephi 13:28 in the Book of Mormon states: “There are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God.”

[4] The Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith stated, “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book” (History of the Church, vol. 4, p. 461).

[5] See these quotes from Jehovah’s Witness literature: “We all need help to understand the Bible, and we cannot find the Scriptural guidance we need outside the ‘faithful and discreet slave’ organization” (The Watchtower, February 15, 1981, p. 19).  “Satan called into question God’s way of doing things. He promoted independent thinking. … How is such independent thinking manifested? A common way is by questioning the counsel that is provided by God’s visible organization. … Why is it so dangerous? Such thinking is an evidence of pride. … Really, can we get along without the direction of God’s organization? No, we cannot!” (The Watchtower, January 15, 1983, pp. 22, 27).

[6] Book of Mormon Student Manual Religion 121 and 122, 1989 edition, p. 36.

[7] “It is for the reward of eternal life that every last person on earth should now be working. Are you?” (The Watchtower, Aug. 15, 1972, p. 492).

[8] Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, p. 289.

[9] The Watchtower, February 15, 1983, p. 12.

[10]This is the 8th tactic of mind control discussed in chapter 22 of Robert Jay Lifton’s book, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism.