A cult is a religious organization that says it's Christian but denies one or more of the fundamental truths of Christianity. These would include monotheism, the Trinity, the inspired reliability of the Bible, Christ's deity and humanity, or salvation by faith. They are usually dominated by one overbearing, dictator-type leader, use abusive forms of authority, and exploit the members financially and often sexually.
A sect is a Christian group that is basically sound in its preaching and teaching, but has elevated some secondary doctrine, peculiar tradition, or unique practice up to such a level of importance that the group breaks fellowship with other believers. Examples of this could include foot-washing, modes of baptism, or opinions about the time of the Rapture.
Cults are not Christian at all, even though they claim to be. For example, the Church of the Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) is not a Christian organization. Sects are Christian but they're divisive over secondary issues.
For example, the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church forbids its members to take Communion with any church but another Missouri Synod Lutheran church. If a Missouri Synod Lutheran was to break bread with us at our church, he or she would be excommunicated by the Missouri Synod. The Lutheran policy seems to say that no other Christian churches are "real" Christian churches, but that we're all heretics. This is the sin of sectarianism. Paul talks about this in 1st Corinthians 1.
Both of these are bad, though cults are worse because they actually deny the faith, where sects unbalance the faith. However, a spirit of denominational superiority, church-splitting, and judging one another over matters of personal conviction, weakens the Body of Christ and makes us more vulnerable to Satan's attacks.
There is a very old Christian doctrinal term, which is hard to understand and needs some up-dating: impassibility. Have you ever heard it? I only began interacting with it a couple of years ago. It's important, because it's about God.
The default faith of the Scripture is that God takes care of His people in every sense. He forgives all their sins, heals all their diseases, rescues them from destruction, crowns them with lovingkindness, and renews their life with vigor (Psalm 103:1-4). However, when the complete context of the entire Bible is taken into account, we find out that there were times when God did not heal every every disease in this life. The five benefits of God's care listed in Psalm 103 should each individually be understood in light of the whole Scripture.
For example, Christ doesn't heal a Christian when it's time for them to go to heaven (Psalm 139:16). It's obvious from practical experience that Christ doesn't heal every Christian of everything, because all Christians age, get sick, their bodies die, and they go to be with the Lord. Sin's curse still rests on this material world, in spite of Christ's death. The earth still groans. Christians groan with it (Romans 8:22-23). There were a few extraordinary cases in Scripture where a believer got to go to heaven without dying (Enoch, Elijah), but the rest of us age, wear down, and most of us will die of natural causes.
The Lord doesn't heal when he is punishing sin. King Uzziah sinned grievously by intruding into the sacred role of the priests. Uzziah should have known better! In fact, he did know better, which is why God smote him so sternly. I do not doubt that God forgave Uzziah, but the text says God never took the leprosy away (2 Chron. 26:27). God could have healed Uzziah (He did for Miriam in Numbers 12:10-15), but He did not. Uzziah died a leper.
Any sin can be forgiven, but the punishment of the sin might remain. Sin , especially sin by a leader, always carries serious consequences, and some of those consequences involve physical ailments. Paul said in 1st Corinthians 11:30 that some of the Corinthian congregation were weak and sick, and some had died, because of their selfish mistreatment of others in the flock and the way they dishonored the Lord's Table.
Christ doesn't heal while He is testing faith (Job 1-2). Not every sickness is punishment for sin, and we commit the sin of Job's judgmental friends if we assume this. It's a sin to just automatically assume a sick Christian is in unbelief or did something wrong. God Himself, in Job 1, said Job was a man of excellence, guiltless, so teachings that Job somehow brought his illness upon himself are wrong. Rather, God was vindicating His own praise of Job's faith, and shaming the devil for claiming Job was a religious mercenary, although Job never knew that (and God didn't tell him).
James 5:11 promises God will reward us as we come through His tests in faith. Job's example shows us that illness is one of those tests, along with natural disasters (lightning killed some of Job's herds, a windstorm collapsed a house on his children) and crime (gangs of thieves murdered Job's workers and stole all his flocks). But the Lord eventually stops the test, and rewards the believer.
Christ doesn't heal the payback for foolishness. Not everything bad is from the devil. Some of our problems are self-inflicted. Proverbs 3:18 says wisdom is a tree of life and blessing, so what fruit do you imagine foolishness grows? Elsewhere in Proverbs, Solomon says that drunks get bruises, lazy people get poverty, adulterers get beaten up by jealous husbands, and schemers fall into the pits they themselves have dug. Christians could catch AIDS because of immorality, and they shouldn't count on Christ miraculously healing them of it.
Christ knew not to throw Himself off the temple mount on the notion that God would catch Him, because you don't try to force God's hand by deliberately doing stupid, reckless things (Luke 4:9-12). Christ will let us live with the physical consequences of our own foolishness.
Christ doesn't take away the physical scars of persecution. In Galatians 6:17, Paul reminded his readers he still carried in his body the scars of Christ -- referring to wounds left on him by persecution. Paul suffered physically in his service to Christ. In 2 Corinthians 11:25, Paul said he had been pelted with stones and beaten with rods for the Gospel. He still had those scars. Christ allowed Paul to carry those badges of faithful honor in his body, like the medals of a military hero.
Psalm 103 doesn't contradict these other passages. Instead, we take them all side-by-side, believe all of them, and, with the help of other sound Christian teachers and thinkers, think through the best way to harmonize them. Unlike the saving forgiveness of sin, God makes certain exceptions to His normal, default work of ministering to His people's diseases. In the end, all of God's people will be forever immortal, vital, and whole through the redeeming work of His Son.
Recently, Dr. John MacArthur made a statement on social justice which, to my mind, was inadequate and reactionary. On the other hand, I dislike the current habit of fellow evangelicals to quote Martin Luther King Jr., as if he was a reliable guide on justice (due to his liberal disrespect for Scripture, he was not). But what does "social justice" even mean? People bat that phrase back and forth, often plunging into specific topics, but often without defining basic terms.
God is the ultimate basis of justice. The community isn't the basis of justice, neither is individual intuition. Justice exists because God exists. If there is no God, or if God hasn't spoken, then there is no justice. There can be no justice in an atheist world.
God has already spoken definitively about justice in the Bible. The Bible is God's out-breathed word, without error over-all, and in each individual part. This makes it the highest authority.
The Bible defines what is just, and the Bible's definitions of justice are sufficient for all peoples at all times. The Bible does not need to be supplemented by human reason, and is not defined or evolved-past by human culture. Sociology, law, and economics do not define justice, the Bible does.
The Torah states rules of justice in both narrative and prescriptive ways. Genesis tells many stories in which many characters act unjustly. God held them accountable for their unjust acts, even though Moses hadn't written his law yet. Then God gave His written law through Moses.
In the pursuit of clear rules of justice, Moses' Law must be handled with extreme care. Christians have erred toward theocracy (such as Rousas Rushdoony) by applying all of Moses' laws to Gentile societies, which is incorrect. On the other hand, other Christians (such as J. H. Thornwell) preached the exclusive "spirituality" of the church, and that Christianity had nothing to say to the civil society and laws of its own times. This too was wrong.
I believe that nine of the ten commandments can be seen in the stories of Genesis, and the New Testament gives us guidance on which portions of Moses' Law were timeless versus which ones were discontinued; and which of Moses' laws illustrated justice at work. For example, Moses forbids the moving of boundary-stones. This was an example of the timeless law, "Do not steal." We don't use boundary-stones today, but the principle would be not to steal by altering ownership markers.
The New Testament is clear that the entire priestly system of Moses was fulfilled by Christ, and is obsolete. Only Israel was supposed to be God's real theocracy. Christ said the Mosaic food laws were no longer in force. God gave the blessings and cursings of the Law for the Hebrews as they dwelt in the Promised Land. The Puritans, misguided by their "replacement theology" errors, never had the right to claim them. The U.S. was never the New Israel.
I believe God governs the 'secular' world by the general moral laws we see in Genesis. Another way to describe these laws is "conscience."
God affirms the right of non-theocratic governments to exist, both during Israel's time in Babylon (where God tells the Hebrews to be a blessing to the city), and in Romans 13 (where Paul says God appoints the secular rulers and requires us to respect and obey them within certain limits).
This is why the absence of blue laws doesn't bother me in the least. The Fourth Commandment (Sabbath) was only for the Jews, was only for the seventh day, and was fulfilled in Christ. God never expected Gentile nations to keep the sabbath, not even in the Old Testament times.
My bottom line is that true standards of justice are defined by the Bible. The Bible affirms the basic, universal instincts of conscience (even bad people object when evil acts are done to them!). It is a sin to falsely define "justice" by an unbiblical philosophical authority, such as Ghandi, Rousseau, or Marx, then try to Christianize those definitions with verses -- almost always quoted out of context.
So, please don't be wildly swept along by the passionate purveyors of politics. Political theories of justice, social or otherwise, fall under the dissecting sword of Scripture as much any religious sermon does. Scripture alone, studied carefully, defines the fundamental laws of justice. Not sociologists, economists, or philosophers.
I'm appalled by the vile verbal river that flows in nearly every forum of public discussion today. There is no excuse for anyone who names the name of Christ for talking in the way we read in chat-threads. As Christian citizens we need to set a higher standard. Even on explosive topics we need to write and speak in self-controlled, godly ways.
At the simplest level of ethic, the Lord does not permit a Christian to talk abusively to others. Merriam-Webster defines "revile" as to inflict verbal abuse about another. This includes profanity, name-calling (such as calling someone an "idiot" or worse), dirty innuendos, and other such things.
Reviling is a serious sin in God's eyes. We're not to associate with revilers (1 Cor. 5:11), revilers are on their way to hell (1 Cor. 6:10), and the Lord lumps it in with other reprehensible sins, such as self-love, greed, boastfulness, arrogance, rebellion against parents, ingratitude, and ungodliness (2 Tim. 3:2). 99% of what I read on Twitter, comment threads, and sites like Reddit pertaining to current-event talk, is reviling.
Second, God is politically impartial, which should make all politicians of all parties in every nation tremble. God doesn't take sides. He does not favor Republicans. He does not support the Democrats. Jesus was not a socialist. God is not even an American.
He is His own side.
Third, God has a moral law. God's law hangs over America like a sword dangling on a thread, and only His mercy holds back the blade. If God's law condemns something, like abortion, homosexuality, needless wars, and the abuse of the poor (which it does), then we Christians are obligated to condemn those things also. God's law condemned Herod for taking his sister-in-law as his wife, and John the Baptist was right to call him out on it. (I bet there were people who called John a snowflake.)
Fourth, Christians in every nation need to remember that this world is not our home. We are not living in the Promised Land. We're more like the Jews in exile in Babylon. We ought to seek the peace of the various places where we all live, but we are not of this world.
I believe it is possible for Christians to serve honorably in public office. The Bible does not support the Amish way of withdrawal. Total withdrawal from society would betray our commission to be salt and light. Deborah served as a judge. Daniel worked for a pagan government. Isaiah served as a prophet and as a government official. I'm sure it's hard, but with God's help I believe Christians can serve in public elected office, and we should.
But to imitate swinish behavior disgraces the holy name of Christ. If worldlings are tearing each other up, we should take a step back. Do not join in. We need to maintain a higher standard, even if we are mocked as weaklings. We Christians need to set a godly example to a lost and dying world, including when we engage with the heated social issues of the day.
When I attended seminary, our dean was a big fan of the late Donald McGavran and his sociology-based theories of church growth. During the 1980s and 1990s there was also an avalanche of books, seminars, and live-streamed conferences purporting to grow the church of anyone who used the principles. Because I pastor a small congregation (less than 100), I had to wrestle with these ideas, that worked their way into my mind and caused me all kinds of frustration.
1. A truly prophetic ministry will not add to the Word of God.
There is an internet stormlet currently happening over a home-schooling lady blogger who wrote that nice men prefer women who can come into the relationship debt-free (this meaning, the girl didn't go to college, which is the real agenda behind the debt thing), and women who don't have tattoos. This is such a peculiar controversy, I can't help but make a few mundane pastoral comments about it before we all move on to something else equally peculiar.
I agree there is no rule that every young Christian woman needs to attend a four-year college. I also agree that most colleges are dominated by liberal/progressive philosophy, which is an evil influence. It isn't always God's guidance that every young person go to college, at least not a liberal arts four-year college. There are other paths in life.
However, young Christian women will need ways to support themselves financially, and some of them have exceptional talents in the Arts and Humanities that they should steward for the Lord. Post-high-school training provides this. And if a Christian husband dies, the Christian wife will benefit from having a good way to pay the bills and put food on the table for the children. Impoverishment is a bad thing, even in the absence of college debt, and so is failing to develop God-given talents. Especially if those talents might lead to blessed common-grace breakthroughs in, say, medicine, or in influential works of art, NGO work, architecture, or other areas of skill (just to give a few examples).
The blogger also seems to assume that it's God's will for every Christian woman to marry.
The blogger, third, seems to assume that young Christian women have no discernment. Maybe many do not, but that would be the failure of their churches. A church youth ministry that is all morality and music has failed its young people, male or female.
It's no wonder church young people allegedly "lose" their faith when they go off to college. Many of them never really had faith, so when presented with philosophical alternatives that don't make you feel guilty and let you live as you please, they go for it. Others have never be taught how or why Christianity is rational, so in their first year in college their puny little twig-faith gets blown around badly. But this is not true of every young Christian woman.
Also, certain majors involve less direct indoctrination than others, like Physical Therapy. Unless you're going to say that a Christian should never have a non-Christian teacher, ever, on any subject.
Paul's injunction to all Christians, including to young women, is to work hard with our hands so as to share with others (Ephesians 4:28). If college is the best way for a young Christian woman to get equipped to work, because getting married and having children are not sure things in God's plan, then go to college. But attend a good church while you're in college, and find a good, solid collegiate fellowship like Campus Outreach.
Regarding tattoos, my personal opinion is that they are unwise. The Bible warns against women "adorning" themselves with eye-catching accouterments (1 Peter 3:3-5). Too much jewelry is adorning enough; I'm even less in favor of an adornment you can't take off.
If a person gets a racy or profane tattoo then receives Christ at a later time, they're likely to feel ashamed of it, and need to suffer a lot of pain having it removed. Why not stick with modest adornments that you can take off and put in your jewelry box at night? Plus, no one ever got a disfiguring, painful skin infection from a necklace.
So, personally speaking, I don't like tattoos. However, any implication that not having a tattoo means you are an innately more godly girl is obviously untrue, and silly, and a teaching like that shows a really poor grasp of Biblical holiness.
The Christian view of sexual ethics is a religious view.
It is built on the claim of Jesus Christ that He was the Son of God. Jesus unconditionally affirmed the divine origin and authority of the Old Testament in its entirety. He said He would not abrogate Moses' Law, but rather every last bit of it would be fulfilled (Matt. 5:17-18). He claimed the Law was prophetic in nature (Matt. 11:13). He built a teaching on the historical existence of Adam and Eve (Matt. 19:1-6).
This is why the LBGT claim that Jesus never talked about, or against, homosexuality is false. Jesus affirmed the five books of Moses. Because Jesus affirmed Moses in his entirety, that means Jesus affirmed each individual law contained in Moses. When Jesus endorsed Moses as a whole, He endorsed all the particular laws contained in it. Christ endorsed Moses' teachings against homosexuality.
So, whenever you debate anything about sexual morality, you are actually debating whether Jesus was God's Son, and whether He rose from the dead. If Jesus was the Son of God, then His authority is unique and absolute on matters of morality. If He wasn't the Son of God, then His was just one more voice among many.
The Christian view of sexuality is actually "worse" than most people know. Right now a battle rages over homosexuality, as if Christians oppose this only. What many people no longer seem to know is that Christianity limits every type of intercourse to heterosexual, monogamous marriage only. Every other form of intercourse is off-limits.
Heterosexual, engaged couples. Formerly-married spouses with each other. Elderly couples living together to avoid the loss of Social Security benefits. Contracts freely entered into with prostitutes. Every act of sexual intercourse outside of heterosexual, monogamous marriage is sin. This is the Christian teaching. It is incredibly rigorous, and all Christians fail it, at least in mind and often in body. But it is still the rule.
That is what I mean by calling the Christian view of sex "worse" than you might imagine. Christ taught we are not even allowed to imagine lustful thoughts about other people (Matthew 5:27-30). So, when we look at Christianity and homosexuality, we should keep it all in the context of the greater whole.
Another key factor in the Christian view of sex, which puts us at extreme odds against U.S. culture, is that none of us are gods.
We are not all-knowing, or all-powerful, or authoritative. We did not create ourselves. We have no authority to decide what is right or wrong. However, because we have become philosophically insane, we teach our children that we create our own morality. This is the way of the sociopath.
In the real world, most people realize that this idea -- that you can just make up your own morality as it suits you in the moment -- leads to violence, crime, confusion, and hypocrisy. Yet we keep on acting as if we think we are gods. We call ourselves masters of our own fate, then shout in outrage when someone else transgresses against us, or against someone we love. We call for justice for the oppressed, but by so doing we are saying that there even is such a thing as "justice", and it should not be violated.
We are hypocrites when it comes to sex. We lament the HIV-caused death of millions of young men, but we won't lament the behavior which caused their deaths. There is justice regarding everything else found in the evening news. We fight against sex trafficking and pedophilia, and we should. We fight against bullying. We oppose the selling of young girls as "brides", which still goes on covertly in some Mormon-dominated areas of the U.S. We oppose the foot-binding of women, and vaginal circumcision.
Then we claim, from out of nowhere, based on nothing, that there are no rules for sex other than consent. Where is it written that "consent" makes something right? We are not gods, not even when we consent. If Jesus Christ says something is morally wrong, who cares about our consent? It would mean we're all freely consenting to doing something that's still wrong, and for which we will pay a harsh price. Our consent is the empty howling of wind in the night.
Christianity upholds the humanity of gay people because Christianity believes in free-will, where "pop" LGBT theories deny free-will, and dehumanizes gays. If a behavior can't be criticized, taught-against, or legally prevented because the person doing the behavior was "born that way", then that is a denial of free-will. And that is a denial of human dignity.
I do not have blue eyes by choice, I was born with them. I have no free-will about the color of my eyes, and so, yes, it would be unjust to punish me for having blue eyes. If a homosexual can't be exhorted to change his or her ways because they were born that way, then that's saying the homosexual has no free-will. But then having no free-will makes them less than human. Christianity, by opposing homosexuality, reflects a high view of the humanness of gay people, because it doesn't believe they are animals or machines.
This denial of free-will, and the personal responsibility that goes with it, opens a door to all sorts of other harm. It would be wrong to criticize rage, because the angry person was born that way. It would be wrong to criticize greed, because the person was born that way. It would be wrong to criticize Obama, or Trump, or any leader, because they were all born in certain ways.
The LBGT denial of free-will (which seems to usually be an implicit or even unaware denial) leads to bad social and legal consequences. But Christianity upholds that we are people, not things. Homosexuality is an ethical behavior, and it is not an involuntary behavior. If it is involuntary, then it counts as a slavery, an addiction, and therefore it is also a self-destructive evil from which many people wish to be freed. Jesus Christ can free them.
Christians are not surprised when people say they have felt certain desires since childhood, because Christians believe that we are all born sinners. We are not born good. We are not even born as blank slates. We are born sinners, and evil feelings -- selfishness, rage, coveting -- rises up out of us spontaneously from our earliest.
Christ taught that evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander, all come from the heart (Matthew 15:19). Not from the physical part of humanity, but from the non-physical part. Of course, Christians believe we have a non-physical aspect to us, which is called our souls. Molecules don't think, feel, or make choices, yet we do all three of those things. Therefore, our reasoning, emotions, and choices come from something other than our molecules. That is the soul.
Christians do not believe human nature is good. The human soul is born fallen, dark, and cut off from God. Evil pumps up through our personalities, like the BP oil pipeline spewing raw crude out into the Gulf of Mexico. Jesus Christ can begin the process of capping it. But only Jesus Christ can cap it.
Our faith and our church opposes sexual sin. Our opposition is based on our belief in the divine sonship of Jesus Christ, and the truthfulness of the Bible. Sexual intercourse should be limited to monogamous, heterosexual marriage, which is the only God-approved form of marriage. We are not gods; we do not get to make up our own morality. Unlike race, homosexuality is a behavior and therefore a choice. We teach that human beings are made in God's image and, though born sinners, still have a degree of free-will. People are sick and dying from every kind of sexual sin, and children are suffering from this perverted, pornographic culture we have created, so we cannot stop teaching that Jesus Christ can save us from every sexual sin.
Are you a Christian who puzzles over God's sovereignty and how it relates to salvation? It's easy to get lost in this labyrinth, especially as clever writers have been sharpening their pens about it for 500 years. But, even though it's a hard subject, I am convinced there are some Scriptural lines we should never cross. Below are a few of those lines.
Any system of doctrine that implies that God is untruthful, or makes God the ultimate Cause of sin, or gives us cause to doubt the reliability of God's promises in the Bible, or portrays God as play-acting in His interactions with people, is wrong. It doesn't matter if the system affirms election. The buzzer goes off, the red flag flies, and it's time to go back to the drawing-board. Hyper-Calvinism is as bad as semi-Pelagianism.