Unfortunately, just like the bulldog above – ready to tear someone to pieces – many people go about confronting a member of a cult group in much the same way. In fact, the only thing they achieve is to further ‘cement’ the cultist into his belief system! Sadly, some people see it only as an opportunity to demonstrate their ‘knowledge’ in a smart way which simply swamps the poor cult with smart remarks, some facts and sometimes Scriptures, which also achieves nothing.
If you are a Born-Again Christian, you should always begin an encounter with prayer (after all it is a “spiritual battle): Pray with them, or in their presence, whenever possible. It is best not to ask them IF you can pray with them, so as not to give them an opportunity to say “No”. You might begin by saying something like this:- “I never like discussing things about God or Bible matters without first talking to Him about it, so let’s pray and ask for God’s guidance and blessing upon our discussion”. Then, bow your head and IMMEDIATELY begin to pray! Many will not pray with you if you offer them the opportunity, but few people will ever interrupt another person when praying, regardless of how much they disagree with them. Don’t let your prayer ‘preach at them’ – simply pray for the love of God and the truth of His Word to be revealed, or similar.
When praying with a cultist, try to be sensitive to the terminology you use to address God, especially with a Jehovah’s Witness! You could begin your prayer by addressing “Yahweh God”. You can then thank God that He has revealed Himself totally in the person of His only Son, Jesus Christ. Also, thank God in your prayer for His Holy Spirit whose ministry it is to lead and guide us into all truth (John 16:13). Pray that God’s Spirit of Truth would prevail in the discussion. Beginning with prayer gives you an opportunity to subtly set the tone for the discussion and say some things about God and Christ that would be difficult to say otherwise.
Establish Some Common Ground:
Before entering into your discussion, you should first seek to establish some common ground, preferably the inspiration and authority of the Bible. If this is not possible, then try to establish the personality of God – that He is a person and not some impersonal “force” or, “divine intelligence”. This is because most cultists, especially the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, come armed with briefcases full of their own materials.
Mostly, they are better-versed on THEIR material than is the average Christian, so AGREE TO STICK TO THE BIBLE! Confine yourself to the “primary” source, not some “secondary” source. Also, when quoting from or reading the Bible, make sure that you use a version that is standardly accepted and approved of, e.g., RSV, KJV, NKJ, ASV, NIV. If you do use “their version”, then you should know its weaknesses and inaccuracies ahead of time. This is especially true in the case of the New World Translation of the Bible (which is not recognised as an accurate translation by any reputable Bible scholar!) which used by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who “translated” it to suit their own teachings!
Finally, be careful NOT to quote isolated scriptures. Most cultists are masters at doing this, and consequently frequently quote verses out of context to try to prove their point. Many a “shaky” Christian has been won to a cult by their using this ploy.
Be Careful about Your Attitude:
On the one hand, don’t have an attitude of timidity and inferiority (2 Timothy 1:7) then on the other hand, don’t have an attitude or pride and superiority (2 Corinthians 10:1). From the beginning, do everything possible to make the person relaxed, comfortable, at ease and not on the defensive. An attitude of real friendliness can go a long way in disarming a cultist because he is, most of the time, prejudiced and defensive against all evangelical Christians from the outset.
One good way to disarm him is to acknowledge the things in his life and practice that are exemplary: his zeal, dedication, sacrifice and the like. Remember how St. Paul approached the men of Athens? “I perceive that in every way you are very religious” (Acts 17:22). He didn’t begin by saying to them something like, “You dopey bunch of idolatrous heathens; you are all going to hell for your heresy and apostasy!”.
Seek to use a positive approach and most importantly, reach out to them in real “agape” love. Seek to befriend them, even establish a relationship of love with them that will eventually have the effect of ‘driving a wedge’ into their beliefs. Make sure that you see them as human beings who are created in the image of God, and not as infidels who need their spiritual scalps lifted! Always remember, many of these people have found in their belief and particular fellowship, a degree of personal and social acceptance that they never knew in life before.
Therefore, as a Christian, if you are going to successfully reach them, you are going to have to show them a degree of love, warmth, interest, concern and acceptance, at least as great as – or possibly even greater than – that which they have experienced in their particular group. If you really love them with Christ’s love, it will drive that wedge, that we mentioned before, into their cultic thinking. In their minds they will be thinking something like, “How can this person be such a friendly and loving person and not share my beliefs?” or, “How can this person accept me and yet reject my beliefs?” or even, “How can this person be so nice and belong to the devil?”
The devil’s Role:
Most cultists are coerced with the idea that anyone who opposes their groups beliefs is motivated by satan himself. Your loving attitude towards them will go a long way towards destroying, or casting doubt upon, this belief and prejudice. Finally, be tough but at the same time tender. DON’T COMPROMISE GOD’S TRUTH! But rather, speak the truth to them in love (Ephesians 3:15). Above all, don’t try to be so tactful that you actually begin to stretch the truth, or so ruthlessly truthful that you are not loving. Through prayer, learn to first bathe God’s truth in God’s love and then learn to speak it out.
Stick Only to Key Issues:
In your discussion, it is very important that you stick only with key issues, such as the Person, Nature and Work of Christ. Don’t let yourself be caught into chasing “theological rabbits” as this will take you into a ‘Bible Holes’ that actually will play into the cultist’s hand and ‘corner’ you with his erroneous theology! As your discussion progresses, make sure that you have the person define all of the terms he uses and ask him to give the basis of his authority for that definition. For example, the following words or phrases always need to be carefully defined: the ‘Deity of Christ’, ‘Justification’, ‘Incarnation’, ‘Eternal Life’, ‘New Birth’, ‘Judgment’, ‘Born Again’, and ‘Resurrection’.
You should not only deal with the importance of His sacrificial atoning death on the Cross, but also emphasise the importance of His physical resurrection from the dead. You might ask them something like: “Why was it so important to His followers that Jesus Christ was physically resurrected from the dead? (1 Corinthians 15:13-17).
You could remind them that Buddha is dead, Mohamed is dead, Krishna is dead, Joseph Smith Jr. is dead, Charles Taze Russell is dead (et al) and that one day his guru or leader will die (if this is not already the case). Tell him that he will be sad, but there is no reason for his leader to rise from the dead, because you have already received the ‘light’ of the only man to be raised from the dead, Jesus, and you have His Light with you’? So, ask again, “Why was the resurrection of Christ so important to His disciples?”.
Try to Find Past Vacuums in their Life:
This can best be done by asking the person what it was that drew them into their particular group in the first place. Also, ask if they had any other church involvement before joining their present group? And if so, why they left that church? This will give you a good opportunity to see into their background and find out their needs and spiritual vacuums. Always give them an honest and fair opportunity to explain their views without your constant interruption. Try not to be so preoccupied with what your response is going to be so that you never really hear what they say in response. Remember, the first and most important part of witnessing to anyone is to listen. Really try to understand what they think and believe. If you honestly and sincerely hear them out, they will more than likely do the same for you.
Don’t be Fooled by any Experience They Claim To Have Had:
Never ever forget that satan can counterfeit all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and he is also a master of the “counterfeit experience”. So don’t try to tear down or belittle any of the experiences they may share with you, because they are all probably real!
Remember, they HAVE experienced something, even though it’s counterfeit. Their experience is just as real to them as your experience is to you. In one of our debates, the local TM teacher kept referring to experience as “proof” by saying: “Well, all I can say is that all of these people practicing TM are experiencing SOMETHING!”.
Obviously, many of these people DO experience a degree of peace and tranquility. Jesus tells us: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give unto you” (John 14:27). Here He infers that there is a “worldly peace” that people can receive, but logically being of the world, it is given by satan! If you say: “I have peace in Christ,” the cultist will most likely answer: “Yes, and I have peace through TM, or Krishna Consciousness, or through Yoga, etc.”. Don’t ever fall into the trap of swapping spiritual experiences.
Remember also that almost all cults are very experientially oriented, so that a discussion based around experience will not get you anywhere. It is important therefore, to stay on the historic Biblical understanding and revelation of God in Christ. Point out to them that all of your experience is based upon historical, objective, and propositional truth. A principle to remember is this: all valid experience is derived from truth, never the reverse! We must always test our experiences against a truth; we never try to infer a truth from our experience.
Check Their Attitude to Sin both in the World and in Their Personal Lives:
Ask them how they realistically deal with evil in general in the world, and how they deal with personal sin in their own life? Their inadequate understanding and low view of sin and retribution can be revealed by discussing with them what was dealt with by Christ’s death on the Cross of Calvary.
Few cultic groups have a clear understanding of the real meaning, or significance of the Cross. Islam and Baha’ism may accept Christ as a manifestation of God, but they have absolutely no clear understanding of the meaning and purpose of Christ’s atoning death on the Cross.
You can use this gap in their understanding by asking this question: “Why was it necessary for Christ to die?” Their answer to this questions will quickly reveal their understanding of the nature of man and his condition before God, as well as what they feel is the solution (salvation) to man’s problem. Even though many other religions and cultists believe that it was not necessary for Christ to die on the cross, it is easy to point out to them from Scripture that THIS WAS JESUS’ CONVICTION FOR HIS COMING! See Matthew 16:21, 17:22-23, 24:44-47
Share Your Personal Testimony of your Christian Faith:
When you feel the time is right and you are led by the Holy Spirit, you can share your faith with them and emphasize the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ in your own life. Tell them of your confident assurance concerning your present inheritance. There are very few cultists who will profess that they have the assurance of Eternal Life now and assured peace with God. This lack of assurance accounts for much of their zeal and activity as, by their own efforts, they constantly try to secure their salvation and assurance before God (salvation through works).
Read to them verses like:- 2 Timothy 1:12 – “I know who I have believed, and I am sure that He is able to guard until that day, what has been entrusted to Him.” Romans 5:1 – “Therefore, since we are justified by FAITH, we HAVE peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”. Ephesians 1:13-14 – “In Him you also, who … have believed Him, WERE sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which IS THE GUARANTEE of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory”.
Don’t be Put Off Guard by Hostility or Antagonism:
Many cultists will become hostile or irritated towards anyone who dares to question or oppose their beliefs. Some, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons will even try to trap you and make you lose your serenity. [I’m sorry to say that they have succeeded in this with me at times because I was unprepared!]. Therefore, it is crucial that you always operate with “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) which we all should have as a Christians. We should not respond with our emotions. When you cease to operate with a Holy Spirit-guided mind, you will inevitably begin to operate with fleshly emotionalism which will generally result in heated arguments, belligerence or possibly name-calling!
The writer was conducting a public teaching seminar in Macksville, NSW, years ago. The region has been a strong-hold of Seventh-Day Adventism (SDA’s) for several generations. During my teaching session exposing the false christ and false prophecies of the SDA’s, many local SDA’s were in attendance. Their repeated cries of interjection, accusation and rudeness during the session, was so embarrassing for one of their younger womenfolk, who at the end of the session rose and spoke, saying in tears, “I was born and raised an Adventist in this area and I want to apologise to you Reverend Grigg and to the people here this afternoon for the rudeness of my brethren. In all my years as an Adventist I have never seen or heard them conduct themselves in such a an awful manner as they have done this afternoon”!
Most importantly, don’t refer to cult leaders as being “false christs” or “false prophets” or “the antichrist”, even if you think they are! However, if things tend to get “overheated”, always have the grace to apologize. Remember what Paul said, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone (Colossians 4:6).
If You Don’t Win Them, Then at Least Warn Them:
If you don’t succeed in convincing them of their error, then you MUST in love try to warn them of the coming Judgment of God upon all error and upon all perversions of His Gospel. Remember how Paul said, “Him we proclaim, WARNING every man, and teaching in all wisdom, that we may present every man mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). Read also Ezekiel 33:8 and Titus 3:10. Paul also warned those who were preaching another gospel: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that we preached to you, let him be accursed! (Galatians 1:8).
Thank Them for Sharing Their Time With You:
Before you part, don’t forget to thank them for allowing you to share your faith in Christ with them. Remember, if you can, to try to pray with them again before they leave. Say something like: “We’ve discussed a lot of things and I believe it would be fitting if we closed this discussion with prayer”. Remember, bow your head IMMEDIATELY and begin to pray! [Remember, rarely will anyone interrupt a person who is praying!]
Try, if you can to obtain their name, address, and phone number so that you can follow them up soon after their visit. If they will accept them [they usually don’t], try to give them some good tracts, literature, booklets or cassette tapes to take with them to further define, explain and defend the faith you have shared with them. You might also ‘lend’ them a good modern translation of the Bible or New Testament to take with them (if you ‘lend’ it to them it remains your property and they will respect that (this also gives you a reason to follow-up) whereas if you ‘give’ it to them, it becomes their property, which they can if they so choose, to even throw it away!) .
You could challenge them with something like this to take your tract or book: “If you have really found the truth, then it cannot hurt you to read this. You owe it to yourself to examine all the evidence available since your soul hangs in the balance!”. I usually also say: “Now, both of us can’t be right! One of us must be dead wrong. I have taken the time to read and study your organisation/group, its history, its founder and its literature and I am thoroughly convinced that it is in error! So I hope you will take this literature/book and objectively study it in the privacy of your own home. It could make the difference to your eternal destiny!”.
Assure them that you have not meant to personally offend them in any way during your discussion time, and even though you strongly reject their beliefs, you still respect them as a person. And always invite them back for further discussions, particularly in reference to their opinion of the materials you have given/lent to them.
After They Leave, Evaluate the Encounter:
After they, or you have left, try and evaluate for a few moments how the encounter went? Make a few notes, in particular, regarding any areas where you felt you were weak in explaining or defending the Gospel. It is especially important that you allow these encounters to become personal learning and strengthening experiences. You should write down any questions that you were confronted with that stumped you, or confused you. Then do some research and get the answers to those questions. If you fail to do this, you might eventually lose your confidence about having further encounters with cult members and satan will have won yet another victory!
It is Most Important for You to Follow-Up!
Immediately put the person/s on your prayer list. Specifically pray for them just as you would for any other person you have had the opportunity to share Christ with. Take the initiative to follow them up in as many ways as you can. Don’t just sit at home and wonder when or if they might call again if they called on you. Remember, if they took the initiative to make the first encounter, you have every right to take the second initiative to follow them up!
- Follow-up can take the form of a telephone conversation, or even calling personally to thank them for their visit and at the same time, to re-issue an invitation for further discussions. You can even send them some additional Christian literature that will continue to challenge their beliefs, as well as being a witness to them. If they stumped you with questions you could not answer on the day, be sure to do your homework by finding reasonable answers and sending them to them. This accomplishes two things:
- First, it will let them know that you believe in your faith and care enough to go to the trouble of finding and getting an answer to them.
- Second, it will alleviate any delusions they might have taken home with them from the encounter about thinking they have successfully refuted another Christian.