Apologetics and Semantics

How many times have you read or heard assertions that the Catholic Church is a cult? I have encountered the claim a number of times, and said it myself even more times. But what is a cult? In defining what a cult is, one writer drew from a text, These Also Believe, by Dr. Charles Braden and John C. Schaffer and then added a little something of his own:

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 some one or more aspects as to belief or practice from those religious groups which are regarded as the normative expressions of religion in our culture” (Preface, xii). I may add to this that a cult might also be defined as a group of people gathered about a specific person or person's misinterpretation of the Bible…From a theological viewpoint, the cults contain many major deviations from historic Christianity. Yet paradoxically, they continue to insist that they are entitled to be classified as Christians. – Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, (1985) Bethany House Publishers, p. 11

When dealing with cults, and most especially the cult of Catholicism, language plays a very large part in any attempt to engage a member in an apologetics exchange. The Christian soon gets the idea that, though he and his opponent are using what seems to be a common vocabulary, and though the other even states he is in complete agreement, they don't make any progress in their discussion. This is due, in large part, to semantics. Martin argues that cultism

…plays a type of hypnotic music upon a semantic harp of terminological deception. And there are many who historically have followed these strains down the broad road to spiritual eternal judgment.Ibid. p. 20

So how does one communicate on a meaningful level with those who play the semantics game? The best way I have found – and this often ends the interaction – is to demand that before we get into apologetics we must first settle on precise definitions of the terms we intend to use. In my experience, a Catholic apologist is more likely to run the three-minute mile than cooperate meaningfully in establishing a common lexicon. The great semantics lock that hampers every attempt at useful interaction with a cultish apologist cannot be opened without a key, and that key is precise definition of words and terms. Walter Martin explains how to make use of that key:

Precisely how to utilize the key which will help unlock the jargon of cult semantics is best illustrated by the following facts, drawn from over thirty years of research and practical field work with cultists of every variety.

The average non-Christian cult owes its very existence to the fact that it has utilized the terminology of Christianity, has borrowed liberally from the Bible, almost always out of context, and sprinkled its format with evangelical clichés and terms wherever possible or advantageous. Up to now this has been a highly successful attempt to represent their respective systems of thought as “Christian.”

On encountering a cultist, then, always remember that you are dealing with a person who is familiar with Christian terminology, and who has carefully redefined it to fit the system of thought he or she now embraces…In the course of numerous contacts with {Gnostics}, the author has had many opportunities to see the semantic maze in full operation, and it is awesome to behold. Such a cult adherent will begin talking at length about God and Christ. He will speak especially about love, tolerance, forgiveness, the Sermon on the Mount and, as always, the out-of-context perversion of James' “faith without works is dead.”

It should be noted that hardly ever in their discourses will such cultists discuss the essential problem of evil, the existence of personal sin, or the necessity of the substitutionary atonement of Christ as the sole means of salvation from sin, through the agency of divine grace and the exercise of faith. In fact, they conscientiously avoid such distasteful subjects like the proverbial plague, and discuss them only with great reluctance. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but on the average, it is safe to assume that reticence will characterize any exploration of these touchy issues…

Another confusing aspect of non-Christian cultists' approach to semantics is the manner in which they will surprise the Christian with voluminous quotations from no less authority than the Bible, and give the appearance of agreeing with nearly every statement the Christian makes in attempting to evangelize the cultist…All such tactics based upon the juggling of terms usually have the effect of frustrating the average Christian, for he is unable to put his finger upon what he knows is error, and is repeatedly tantalized by seeming agreement which, as he knows, does not exist. Hde is therefore often forced into silence because he is unaware of what the cultist is actually doing. Often, even though he may be aware of this, in a limited sense, he hesitates to plunge into a discussion for fear of ridicule because of an inadequate background or a lack of Biblical information.

The solution to this perplexing problem is far from simple. The Christian must realize that for every Biblical or doctrinal term he mentions, a redefinition light flashes on in the mind of the cultist, and a lightning-fast redefinition is accomplished. Realizing that the cultist will apparently agree with the doctrine under discussion, while firmly disagreeing in reality with the historical and Biblical concept, the Christian is on his way to dealing effectively with cult terminology. This amazing operation of terminological redefinition works very much like a word-association test in psychology.

It is simple for a cultist to spiritualize and redefine the clear meaning of Biblical texts and teachings so as to be in apparent harmony with the historic Christian faith. However, such a harmony is at best a surface agreement, based upon double meanings of words which cannot stand the test of Biblical context, grammar, or sound exegesis. Language is, to be sure, a complex subject; all are agreed on this. But one thing is beyond dispute, and that is that in context, words mean just what they say. Either we admit this, or we must be prepared to surrender all the accomplishments of grammar and scholastic progress, and return to writing on cave walls with charcoal sticks in the tradition of our alleged stone-age ancestors…the Church of Jesus Christ has every right not to tolerate the gross perversions and redefinitions of historical, Biblical terminology, simply to accommodate a culture and a society which cannot tolerate an absolute standard or criterion of truth, even if it be revealed by God in His Word and through the true witness of His Spirit.

Is it any wonder then, that orthodox Christians feel called upon to openly denounce such perversions of clearly defined and historically accepted Biblical terminology, and claim that the cults have no rights—scholastically, Biblicly or linguistically—to redefine Biblical terms as they do Ibid, pp 20-22

The following article is used by permission. Though the article looks specifically at some of the cultish attributes of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), readers will notice many similarities between Mormon theology and practice and that of the Catholic Church.

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A few years ago, Don Veinot wrote the article What is a Cult? for Campus Life Magazine. Don is president of Midwest Christian Outreach (MCO)-- an organization that provides resources and seminars on detecting cults and on defending you Christian faith. His article is reproduced here with his permission:

WHAT IS A CULT?

While the specifics vary from group to group, here are some general characteristics of religious cults that distinguish them from being genuine Christian beliefs:

All-knowing leadership-An individual or group of people claims to be sent by God to "rule" the one true religion-- which only includes members of that particular cult.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Mormon church started in 1820 by Joseph Smith after his claims that God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him. He claimed further revelation and appearances from an angel named Moroni. Smith also claims that John the Baptist appeared and ordained him to the Aaronic Priesthood. Thus the Mormon church claims to be the true church and have the only God given authority to perform baptism, (very important to the Mormon church) temple marriage and sealing along with other church governing procedures.

No room for difference-Cult members must believe exactly the same way and in exactly the same things; there is no room for disagreeing with the cult's rules and doctrines.

The Mormon church has Articles of Faith that all members are required to adhere to. The prospective member must go through a series of lessons and meetings before he or she can be baptized and confirmed.

If a member stops attending the Mormon church for a time, it is called disengagement. It is estimated that about 75% of lifelong members will disengage for a year or more.

The Mormon church appoints Bishops to judge and discipline their members. Those found to be "hostile apostates" and "unrepentant predators" along with criminals may be excommunicated.

Down on Christian doctrines-Cults often depict basic Christian doctrines and beliefs (like trinity, deity of Christ, salvation by grace through faith) as "full of holes" and completely illogical.

The Mormon church teaches that God the Father is the One true God. Jesus is the Son of God and our Brother and the Holy Spirit is a spirit son of God. Active Mormons have the chance to become a god too. They include three extra books in their canon and claim to be the true church by divine revelation.

A new and better way-Cults often claim they've been given a "special revelation" from God that's superior to the Bible, or explains what the Bible is REALLY trying to say.

Anytime an organization adds books to the Bible, you have a cult. In the case of the Mormons it the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. The Mormons cannot prove their theology without adding the additional books. Joseph Smith claimed appearances and revelation by God the Father, Jesus Christ, John the Baptist and an angel named Moroni.

Scriptures get an added twist-Bible verses are often taken out of context or twisted to mean something very different from what was originally intended.

Some Mormon Scripture Twisting:

Ecclesiastes 12:7, John 9:2-3, Acts 17:29 to try to prove that we existed as spirits in the presence of God before our birth.

Genesis 14:18 to establish the Melchizedek Priesthood and through a little twisting, claim that it was reestablished and given to Smith. This twisting gives the LDS complete authority as the true church.

Hebrews 1:2; 3:1, Mark 9:37; John 8:16-19 to reestablish the 12 apostles, apparently ignoring the criteria set in the Acts 1:22.

Genesis 3:22, Psalm 82:6, Matthew 5:48 1, John 3:2, to teach that we will become gods, and that Jesus had to attain His Deity. They don't like what Psalm 82:7 says about that.

John 3:1-5 to prove that baptism is necessary for salvation.

Numbers 16:22, Romans 8:16-18, Hebrews 12:9 to suggest that God the father is married, and we have a "heavenly mother".

"Christians are wrong"-cult members believe that God has given their group the job of pointing out "heretical and evil" teachings of Christianity.

Mormons claim appearances and revelations by God the Father, Jesus Christ, John the Baptist and angels. They use three additional books added to the Bible ignoring Proverbs 30:5-6.

Works prove faith-Cult members often claim their good works are superior to those performed by Christians, and they say their works prove their religion is the one-and-only truth.

Although the Mormons will deny that works are necessary for Celestial Kingdom salvation, anything less is considered damnation. Listed are the steps to Celestial Kingdom salvation:

1. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

2. Repentance

3. Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins. They will tell your outright that "Jesus taught that baptism is necessary for salvation".

4. Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

5. Endure to the end. (Following all the Mormon rules, tithing)

Salvation is a big unknown-Since cults often teach that salvation is based on performance, cult members can never know if they've done everything necessary to get to heaven.

The Mormon church teaches three levels of heaven: Celestial Kingdom, Terrestrial Kingdom, and Telestial Kingdom. Celestial is tops and only for Mormons, Terrestrial is for the average good person and Telestial for the murders, thieves, etc. The Mormon has expectations to keep up with while active in the church. Any slip ups can cause a less glorious paradise. There is no absolute assurance of paradise. However, they will tell you that Joseph Smith taught that David is in hell for his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah.

No exit-Leaving the cult is not an option, and intimidation if often used to keep cult members from even thinking about getting out.

It is not easy to voluntarily leave the Mormon church. Those leaving are believed to be headed to eternal damnation. One ex member filed a lawsuit against the church so he could voluntarily leave. The Mormon church also filed a lawsuit against a Christian ministry for showing people how to remove their names from church membership. Ex members are shunned by family, friends, church members and even Mormon employers. . . .

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The Roman Catholic Church and Mormons: The two cults have a lot in common. Check out the comparison by clicking here

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