Why the Cults are Growing
To make Christianity acceptable to more people, many churches and individual Christians have watered down their witness, their doctrine and their requirements to the most meager level possible. Yet the further this trend goes, the greater is the decline in interest in the gospel and in church memberships.
Could it be that the cults are providing something vital to human beings that Christianity cannot provide?
The answer is yes, and, no. Yes, the cults are providing something vital to human beings, something which all people yearn for. And it is something which much of "Christendom" at large is indeed failing to provide. But no, it is not something which Christianity cannot provide.
Still, many Christian churches are failing to provide it precisely because of what they have done to make themselves more appealing to the masses. In watering down their doctrine and requirements they have actually taken away several of the elements essential to keeping a movement alive and growing.
The cults, on the other hand, have largely retained these elements. What are these elements, and how can Christians recapture them?
First there is the sense of "meaning" to life and to one's own existence. The cults always have answers to the ultimate questions about life such as "Who am I?", "Where did I come from?", "Why am I here?", "Where am I going?", "Why do I suffer pain and evil?"
The answers are seldom correct, but they are answers, and they are there. And they almost always define and give "meaning" to life, and to what happens in one's life.
However, that "meaning" would not be sufficient to seize men's hearts or explain the explosive growth of the cults if it did not also make demands requiring commitments, even sacrifices, of those who would believe. This is, perhaps, the one point most important to giving cohesion and dynamic force to a social movement which Christians have nearly eliminated in their well-meaning but ill-informed attempts to make the gospel palatable to non-christians.
The cults, however, do make serious demands on the lives of their adherents that only deep commitment will meet. Indeed, it is the profound commitment of those already in the cult that gives validation to its claims of truth. Its truth is vouched for by its worth. Its worth is vouched for by the zeal and commitments of its followers. And that commitment likewise throws down the challenge to prove oneself by a similar commitment.
Those converted to these systems of error cannot become a part of them without meeting the same demands with the same kind of commitment. One simply is not converted without that kind of commitment. The force that attracts others, and propels the devotee to propagate the false gospel, is a requirement for participation in it.
Those who make the commitment find not only meaning to Life, but their own lives invested with a heroic quality both heady to themselves and attractive to those bored by lives of apathetic mediocrity. Yes, the high road, the high road!
Thirdly, while supplying "meaning" and demanding commitment for participation, participation in the group and identification with its goals, programs and doctrines becomes an integral and essential component of the system of meaning. The meaning of life is not realized, nor its purpose achieved, apart from the cult.
Last but not least, the cults almost always reward those willing to make the commitment and identify with them, by fulfilling their natural human need for love and a sense of belonging. The apparent warmth and concern of the members often impresses, and draws, even the casual visitor in their meetings.
The flip side is that those who outright reject the group on contact, or who join but later leave it, are almost always cut off from all this love, as well as the meaning, direction and purpose to their lives provided by their participation in the group.
While this may seem cruel to some outsiders, and no doubt controls many insiders by fear, most cult members see it as right and good. It forms a measure of sorts for the worth of the group, the truth of its doctrines and the validity of its demands. Surely if one takes all those truly seriously, rejection of them would entail the gravest of consequences.
Mormonism definitely has answers to the questions "Who am I?", "Where did I come from?", "Why am I here?" and "Where am I going?" One of their most powerful and effective proselyting videos reduces these questions to the more direct "What's the purpose of Life?", a question it magnifies by dozens of repetitions at the beginning of the video.
Mormonism supplies a view of this world, indeed of the whole cosmos, of which this earth and life on it are but one step in a whole process of eternal progression. For the Mormon, it is the place that earth life holds in this grand design that gives meaning and purpose to the existence of the earth and our life on it.
In this grand design, man is of the same "species" as God himself; every person born on this earth once existed as a spirit, a literal child of God begotten by Him through sexual relations with one of His Goddess wives, in some other realm. This world is a school to which these spirits go off, to obtain physical bodies and "learn the lessons of mortality."
One may note that in even the most basic description of the meaning and purpose of life given above there is already the intimation of demand. And the details are not left to the imagination. One could mention Sabbath observance, tithing, abstinence from tobacco, alcohol, coffee and tea, etc. These are visible signs of the demand and commitment.
Even these points, however, give no adequate clue to the severity of Mormonism's demands, the depth of commitment necessary to meet them, or the heroic quality of life such requirements and answering commitment produce.
What, really, is one's job in this life? Overcome all weaknesses and evil tendencies and "prove oneself worthy" to inherit exaltation in celestial glory by eliminating all sin from one's life. If one completes this process, God will forgive the sins one may have commited along the way, through the atonement of Christ (Book of Mormon, Moroni 10:32-33).
Of course only the Mormon church, led, it is claimed, by divinely commissioned and inspired prophets and apostles, has either the authority or all the requisite truth to guide and instruct humans sufficiently to attain their full potential as sons and daughters of God. Identification with the church is essential to participation in meaning.
Mormonism ties this knot even more securely by its incorporation of the family into its system of meaning. For one not knowing the true God, family relationships are potentially dearer and sweeter than any other relationship possible.
Mormonism has taken this natural "carrot" and virtually deified it. Though some Mormons would say their relationship with their God was sweeter to them, and more precious, than mortal family, still, being with God would not be enough to "make heaven heaven" without their spouse and children.
Maintaining these most cherished of relationships throughout eternity is central to their meaning even in this life. But again, the family itself cannot attain its full potential of meaning, now or in eternity, except through the obedience and devotion of individual family members to the authority, teaching and practice of the Mormon church.
A Christian Response
Christians attempting to answer that question usually present biblical patterns for "how we should live," rather than biblical reasons for "why> we are living." However, the Mormon is not asking for method; he wants purpose. And he will have no interest in the method for which he can see no purpose.
"The chief end of man (that is, the goal and purpose of his existence) is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." While this statement is from one of the old creeds, it is nevertheless a thoroughly scriptural view.
Please note, "end" is singular, not plural. That is, glorifying God and enjoying Him do not take place apart from each other. God's demand for worship is perfectly legitimate given His own worth. But it is also the expression of His concern for our own happiness. As man's highest good, men can never be happy apart from Him, or so happy as when enjoying Him, which is worship most pure.
Christians presenting the gospel to cultists or any unbelievers should do so less as a system of doctrine, or even of salvation, and more as a vehicle for describing how good, how great, holy, loving, wise, merciful, etc. God is. The presentation of the gospel should be worship on the part of the presenter. When it is, God is seen. When God is clearly seen, not only are purpose and demand immediately present, but motive power for commitment is supplied.
Christians are often afraid to ask for commitment, but this devalues their message and leaves those who are "converted" weak and anemic. When God is clearly seen, and the Christian is clearly devoted to Him, longing for that God and a relationship with Him, a longing sufficient to justify commitment, will arise in the hearts of observers.
The gods of the cults, however many superlative adjectives one applies to them, are never really big enough to be truly wondered at in the hearts of even their devotees. But Christians have a God who truly inspires wonder. Only He is great enough to successfully and legitimately take the purpose of man's existence out of man and place it in Himself.
Knowing Him is both activity and purpose. When one truly sees God in Jesus Christ, questions of why one should know Him, want to know Him, or commit oneself to Him, become even more nonsensical than "What is the purpose of enjoying this sunset?" would be to one caught up in the breathtaking beauty and awesome majesty of the heavens on fire.
Christians who are themselves taken with such a God will demonstrate their devotion to Him in commitment to His values, rendering their lives truly distinctive from others in the world. They will likewise be so filled with love that it spills out into the lives of others.
Fellowship with God produces fellowship, belonging and community among men (1 Jn. 1:1-4). If these qualities do not characterize a Christian's life and witness he should "examine himself" (1 Cor. 11:28; 2 Cor. 13:5). He cannot claim to know God while walking in darkness (1 Jn. 1:6; 3:14).
Where there is true fellowship with the true God, and the love, belonging and community among men that produces, there will be an aroma (2 Cor. 2:14-16) impacting outsiders with all the force and more than that possessed by any cult.