"But, they were so sincere and delivered such an impressive testimony" exclaimed Mrs. Clark opening her apartment door.(1) "They bore special witness that they knew by the power of the Holy Ghost that God sent his son Jesus Christ to earth with a special plan of salvation. Also, that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God!"
Don and his wife Betty, dedicated Christians, hardly knew what to say. They had spent hours witnessing to Mrs. Clark, including four weeks of Bible studies. Now, all their work was reversed by just one visit from the Mormon Elders!
This is the serious dilemma facing Christians. What do they do when cult representatives suddenly come knocking on their contacts' door? How can they resolve the confusion it creates? How can they tell their contact that cult doctrines are unbiblical without running the cult down? Don and Betty tried a new strategy.
THE MEASURE OF TRUTH
As Mrs. Clark motioned them through the door and into the front room, Don said, "Mrs. Clark, do you know that we too have a testimony about God and his plan of salvation that we can also declare to you? But, on the other hand, so do the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Moonies and other cultists--and they're all just as sincere as we are. So, how are you going to tell which of us is stating an authentic testimony?"
"Well," she stammered, as she motioned them to sit down, "I never thought of that."
"Mrs. Clark," Betty interjected, "Mormons are very sincere. So are members of other cults. They genuinely believe they have the only church God approves of. As a result of their personal convictions they acquire a powerful and convincing testimony. But, since cults differ drastically in what they declare, they can't all be right, can they?"
Mrs. Clark shook her head. "No, not when you put it that way. I suppose that it's impossible to know if someone is relaying God's truth."
"Exactly. There is no way when you are listening to someone's testimony--and that includes ours. So, that leaves one crucial question. How can you decide what the truth really is?" Mrs. Clark stared at them blankly.
"Well, there's a simple way. If you and a neighbor were arguing over the measurements of a piece of plywood, how would you resolve the situation?"
"That's easy," she said, "get a yardstick."
"Precisely. When you use the standard established for measuring objects, the truth about the plywood's measurements is settled. So, Mrs. Clark, based on that, what is the logical question that comes to mind about religion?"
"What is the spiritual yardstick?"
"Right!" Don jumped in. "God knew that he needed to furnish us with one, so did just that!" He reached for the Bible lying on the coffee table, and gently placed it in her lap. "And, here it is, Mrs. Clark, the spiritual standard for measuring truth!" With a look of wonderment she stared at it as if for the first time.
"The yardstick for determining truth, Mrs. Clark, is not based on the fervency of someone's testimony, unless every word is backed up by the Bible. God purposely preserved his Word through the centuries, in order to prevent individuals from being deceived. So, if the Bible is our yardstick for measuring spiritual truth. What is the next step?"
"Well," Mrs. Clark said, picking the Bible up and thoughtfully flipping the pages, "to familiarize myself with the yardstick so I'll know for sure what truth is. Anything that doesn't measure up can't be right."
"That's right!" they exclaimed. Don and Betty shot glances of relief at each other.
Mrs. Clark made arrangements to continue her Bible studies. As Don and Betty left, they assured her that by studying the Bible she would then be able to make accurate judgments about any religion claiming to have the truth.
The above procedure provides an alternative to attacking the cults. It also presents greater opportunity to pull contacts back into God's Word.(2)
The "testimony" is a Mormon's greatest asset. They are taught to look one straight in the eye without wavering, and declare with Conviction: "I know by the power of the Holy Ghost that Joseph Smith is a prophet; that Jesus is the Christ, that the Book of Mormon is true; the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true church upon the face of the earth, and President Gordon B. Hinkley is a prophet, seer and revelator" . . . all in one breath.(3)
One should never underestimate the power of a verbalized testimony. Mormons use it in two situations--the first, as a rite of passage.
Members are expected to stand up in "testimony meeting" and declare they know their beliefs are true. Using the phrase, "I know" is supposed to be the sign the Holy Ghost has given them this special revelation.
The second, witnessing. When Mormons are backed into a corner by those well versed in the Bible, they are taught that their testimony is the only weapon Christians and others are helpless to fight against. Why? Experience has taught them that Christians are at a loss when confronted with it, and do not have a comparable one to declare back.
THE CHRISTIAN TESTIMONY
So, how can Christians neutralize the Mormon's personal testimony? Simply by doing the same.
It can be a statement about any principle of the Gospel. Christians can declare with conviction that they know Jesus is the Savior of the world; tell specific instances when God answered their prayers;(4) testify that they know, not only by the inner witness of the Holy Ghost, but by the testimony of God's Word, that He lives; and that Jesus has changed their life. It is a great tool. It not only influences potential converts to Christ, but will also disarm Mormon missionaries.(5)
Here is a sample Christian testimony, especially worded to be comparable to the Mormon's:
"I KNOW, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Jesus is the Christ and Savior of the world. That He died for my sins and was resurrected. I KNOW that I am saved by grace and not by works, and will inherit heaven upon that principle. I also KNOW that God hears and answers prayer. I KNOW all this not only by the feeling I have from the inner witness of the Holy Ghost,* but by the reliability of God's Word, the Bible, which declares it to be so. And, I also KNOW that because of my relationship with Christ, Jesus has changed my life and continues to bless me!"
*When declaring this to a Mormon, it is important to use the term Holy Ghost, instead of Holy Spirit.(6)
Nothing shocks Mormons more (although they won't let on), than to hear Christians declare a testimony--especially when they include the phrase "I know."
The Mormon's understanding is that only by the power of the Holy Ghost can one dare use the term, "I know." It will puzzle and confuse them. It will send questions racing through their mind: How can God give a Holy Ghost testimony to outsiders? How can they have the Holy Ghost when they didn't receive it by those holding the Melchizedek Priesthood?
Debra, while serving a Mormon mission, was so impressed with a Christian testimony she encountered, that she eventually left the Mormon Church. What did that Christian say to impress her so? She explains:
One day, we were tracting and a very excited lady opened the door. Before we could even introduce ourselves, she began telling us why she was so happy.
"My son, who has been totally into drugs and alcohol, has been saved! "He no longer steals, robs, or anything like that now,' she told us. "Jesus changed his life!"
All I could think of was, Wow! You mean it was just zap--he accepted Jesus into his heart and his whole life totally changed?
Then, I argued with myself. How could a miracle like this happen when neither she nor her son belong to the "true" church?
I loved Jesus too, but this lady's testimony suddenly made me aware of the inconsistency of the seven lessons we presented to people. Jesus wasn't even mentioned until the sixth lesson, and most of the time we never even got that far, because the church told us to drop people if they couldn't commit to accepting Joseph Smith, believe in the Book of Mormon, pay tithing, and keep the Word of Wisdom. (The Mormon Church now recognizes the strategic advantage of presenting Jesus first, and now place it at the beginning of their lessons.)
Days later, I couldn't shake the experience. I finally concluded: It's not important for me to convince outsiders that Joseph Smith was a prophet or that the Mormon Church is the only true church. That's not what changes lives, transforms people, or saves them--it's Jesus!
Although Debra finished her mission she left the Mormon Church shortly thereafter, and today is an active Christian.(7)
The major difference between a Christian witness and the witness of a cult representative, is that a Christian's testimony is confirmed by the Bible, whereas the cultist's is not.
DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO WITNESSING
Some cult representatives may require a different approach. For example, testifying about Jesus may not prove effective to someone from a Bible-based cult. A more productive approach might be to say something that will trigger the cultist's state of unhappiness. This is what happened with a former member of a Christian shepherding group.
"I was never allowed to make my own decisions. I had to go to my leader for permission on everything. I was told what I could and couldn't do. The church manipulated me in so many ways that I felt used. When proselytizing, I always exhibited a false enthusiasm. But, it finally took a simple question from an outsider to jolt me into reality. They asked me, "Are you sure this is what you want to be committed to forever?" No, I didn't! I didn't like being controlled! That woke me up, and I left."
A different approach, however, is needed with cultists from eastern religions, political and psychotherapy cults. Their critical thinking has been deliberately suppressed through thought-reforming techniques.
To make members susceptible to cult leaders' wishes, they teach an altered state of consciousness. This brings about a state of dissociation, a fragmentation of the self, sometimes referred to as "splitting".
Techniques used to achieve this are hypnosis, chanting, speaking in tongues, forcing members to listen to long lectures without breaks, fatigue; also "hot seat" sessions where individuals are subjected to hours of personal attack. To survive this, members suppress both personal feelings and critical thinking by dissociating themselves--setting aside their normal personality and acquiring a second personality. Robert J. Lifton calls it "psychic numbing". It is what Nazi doctors did to override their feelings when carrying out murders.
Therefore, members of cults need questions or statements that will jolt them back into the real world of thinking.
The key to effectiveness is often a simple, well-directed question posed inquiringly--not confrontationally. A Jehovah's Witnesses representative might be asked: "Are you alienated from your family? This question led to one member leaving.
"I loved my father very much, but totally rejected him when he left the Witnesses. My mother died when I was very young, so he had been both mother and father to me. But, believing my leaders who told me I must put God first, I turned my back on him for thirty years, burying my feelings beneath intense activities. When a Christian finally said to me, "Even Jehovah God said we must honor our mother and father all the days of our lives," it haunted me. I began questioning, until one question led to another, and I was asking too many. I soon found myself out of the organization. I later accepted Christ as my Savior."
While the above example about one's parents may not apply to all Jehovah's Witnesses, the situation of alienating oneself from family is not uncommon.
Another question to a member of any cult might be: "If I were examining the Mormon Church, would it be a good idea for me to read books by ex-Mormons?" If they say "no" (which they will), one could respond: "But, if I don't fully examine all aspects, I could certainly be sucked into their cult, couldn't I?" If they agree, then ask them why they haven't read books by ex-members of their own group."(8) It may lead them to secretly do this.
Other effective questions might be: "Are there any people who have left your group? Why did they leave? Have you talked to them? Why not? Are you committed to God or the group? Are you sure this is what you want for the rest of your life?"
IMPORTANCE OF WITNESSING
Missing opportunities in witnessing can have devastating effects.
Paula, a former member of a New Age Eckankar offshoot, stayed in her group too long because she was never approached by Christians. She finally left her group, not because of what someone said, but because she could no longer endure the horrendous physical torture and mental abuse she received. Nevertheless, in hindsight, she offers the following:
"I truly believed I was serving God by telling others about channeling, astrology and divination. If only a Christian had approached me and said, "Yes, I know those things are real--even God admits it they exist," that would have caught my attention, because outsiders usually claim that channeling and divination are false. If they had then followed up by adding, "But, have you checked out what God says in Deuteronomy 18:10-14 about it?" they would have had my full attention.
"Opening Deuteronomy and showing me where God says these activities are dangerous, and warns his children not to have anything to do with them, would have led to questioning my leader's distorted version of scripture, and whether I was really serving God. In addition, if they could have satisfactorily explained that Ps. 46:10 "Be still and know that I am God" was not saying I was God, it would have opened the door wider.
"Years later, after I left and was introduced to Biblical tools, I really became excited. Although raised to have respect for the Bible, I never knew how to study it. Soon, I was taught how to use a concordance (something I never heard of); how to cross-reference, how to exegete scripture, where to go to find accurate renderings--in other words, how to research! If someone had done all the above, I would have come out sooner, and saved myself from the long term psychiatric and physical damage which resulted from staying in the cult too long."
The key to conversing with cultists, is not to feel obligated to be destructive. This only puts the other person on the defensive, and no headway is gained.
Planting positive seeds rather than negative, through discerning questions and penetrating statements, will awaken critical thinking. This can lead a cult member to examine his or her beliefs, and eventually leave the cult.
*Copyright 2003. This article cannot be copied and used in a professional publication without express permission of the author.
1 The use of the word "testimony" in this article, denotes a verbalized declaration of faith.
2. While this is the preferred way, there are, however, exceptions when it may be necessary to talk directly about cult beliefs--not only to show they are unbiblical, but, to reveal hidden doctrines. It might be with a neighbor who has made an immediate decision to join a cult, or a pastor whose congregation is being influenced by cult missionaries.
3. This is standard rhetoric. It is usually declared all in one sentence to illustrate that the witness of the Holy Ghost has encompassed all Mormon beliefs as one comprehensive truth.
4. This will surprise Mormons. They believe only Mormons can have prayers answered. The exception is when one is praying about the truth of Mormonism.
5 Although to Christians the two words, "Mormon Missionary" appear to be a contradiction in terms, "missionary", as perceived in the Mormon Church, is a generic term meaning one sent to proselyte non-Mormons. All religions have missionaries and the term should not cause a problem for Christians who believe the word can only imply one who is sent of God.
6. Be sure and use the term Holy Ghost instead of Holy Spirit. The Holy Ghost and Holy Spirit, to Mormons, are two different entities. The Holy Ghost is the third member of the Godhead and a personage of spirit. The Holy Spirit is an intelligent energy that was in the beginning and co-eternal with God.
7. She chose not to leave before her eighteen-month period was up. First, she would have received a "dishonorable release". Second, it would have had devastating effects on her elderly grandparents, who were financially supporting her.
8. For literature on witnessing to Jehovah's Witnesses, write to Jehovah's Christian Witness, P.O. Box 861, Lynnwood, WA 98046 or Free Minds, Inc., P.O. Box 3818, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266.
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