Most often when we think of the consequences of false teaching, we think in terms of eternity. Where will those we care about be after they pass from this world to the next? That is a very big consideration but there are consequences to false teaching and false beliefs in this life which go on largely unnoticed by most in the church or even in culture. Big groups like Jim Jones’ “Peoples Temple” or the deaths of the Branch Davidians in Waco, TX or Marshall Applewhite’s Heaven’s Gate make a big splash in the news but most are not personally affected and assume something was wrong with those followers. It is easy to take a passing interest and keep moving without much of a thought.
Often harm comes more one at a time with little fanfare. Jehovah’s Witnesses are proud of how many of their children have died due to a lack of a needed blood transfusion which they teach God opposes. These children died one at a time, here and there, with little or no public notice. Any family members who tried to oppose this to save the child are cut off.
Another group, Christian Science holds essentially a Hindu view of the world. Hinduism teaches that all is “Maya” or “all is illusion.” There is no physical world and the appearance of physicality is only illusion. Therefore there is no physical sickness or death for that would mean there is a physical world. For a Christian Scientist, if they are sick they do not go to doctors but to Practitioners who remind them there is no physical world and therefore no physical body, therefore no one can actually be physically or hurt. It is simply a problem with one’s thinking. There are cases of children cutting off a finger or mutilating a hand by picking up a running lawn mower and the family wrapping it with a cloth and reminding them they didn’t cut off a finger because they don’t actually have a finger. We can look at this and shake our heads but false teaching comes in many forms and can be destructive in many ways. There is rarely a week that goes but that I do not get an email, phone call or letter that begins something like:
My sister has become OBSESSED with Remnant and I am terrified. I knew I couldn’t tell her it sounded like a cult because she would start screaming at me and tell me I’m going to hell.
Cults and false teachers separate and fracture families. They do it in a variety of ways which brings loyalty to the leader or leaders and paints up parents, children, extended family and friends and ones that Satan will use to take away the faith and salvation of the devoted follower. Some years back I had a call from a mother whose daughter, son-in-law and grandson were making plans on moving to Brentwood, TN to be near Gwen Shamblin and Remnant fellowship. Through a series of phone calls they agreed to meet with me and I drove to where they live in Michigan. The meeting went remarkably well and they realized the problems with Gwen’s claims. This was due in part to the daughter reading our articles “Weighed Down with False Doctrine” and “Weigh Down Workshop a Cult?” .
As we met, the daughter told me that even though she and her mother had always been close, Gwen had warned her that Satan would even use family to take away her salvation. She was shocked when her mother worked at exposing Gwen and was broken hearted that her mother would be the tool of the devil. Gwen’s group, Remnant Fellowship, started in the Evangelical churches through her weight loss program Weigh Down Workshop and so had the stamp of approval by many churches and she has split quite a number of families who had no tools to evaluate her claims.
Years earlier I had a call from a mother whose daughter had called to let her know that she would no longer be celebrating holidays. The mother and daughter were extremely close but the daughter’s husband had been a Jehovah’s Witness for 7 years and she came to believe the false teachings of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. The separation of the daughter from her mother was in process. After several months of working with and educating the mother, with God’s intervention we were able to put the family back together and all of them came to faith in Christ. This is fully recounted in our Journal article Tina’s Story .
Then there is Joy Axelson who sent her son, who had been raised in the church, off to college. He returned as a Mormon engaged to be married to a Mormon. This story did not turn out as well and she shared it in A Mother’s Story.
It is somehow easy to try to write off these groups as being outside the church but Gwen operated very much within the church until MCOi exposed her false teachings. By then she had done a great deal of damage. Another area which seems to be a breeding ground for false teaching is psychology which is largely endorsed by many churches but certain types of psychology have been very destructive to families. Some years ago Joy became familiar with phenomena which was going on among “Christian” psychologist who were persuading their patients that they had been Satanically Ritually Abused or falsely remember being sexually or emotionally abused. An organization The False Memory Syndrome Foundation had been started to help families that going through this. About that time we met Marty. He was part of a support group for ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses and families of JWs. When he and I started talking he fell apart and told me that his JW daughter had been seeing a “Christian” counselor who had convinced her that he had molested her when she was a child. It never happened. The girl became dependant on the counselor who told her to cut off all contact with her family which she did. In talking with the counselors that promoted this and asking if they should get both sides they are resolute and sometimes even angry that we would ask claiming that they don’t need both sides and it isn’t even important if it was actually true. Their “job is just to believe the patient. We did our article, Beware the Rumor Weed because of the great damage this false teaching was having on families across the nation. Families were being devastated and entire staffs of child care centers were being imprisoned based on manufactured “memories.” One of the best single volume books on this is Victims of Memory: Sex Abuse Accusations and Shattered Lives
Our Senior Research, Ron Henzel, was trapped in a psychology cult, which also had the approval of many pastors who sent their people there, often to never darken the door of their church afterwards. We wrote on this group in Blessed are the Ex-Peacemakers: Bill Fields War on the Church (begins on page 8) and Ron’s personal testimony in Trapped in the Shadow of God’s Anointed (starting on page 12). In this group the “Christian counseler” separated Ron and his wife for some invented infraction and put him “under discipline” even notifiying other churches so they would not let Ron attend anything but the counselor’s small group. He separated all the members from their families and won’t permit them to communicate unless the parents, for example, join the group and submit to the leadership of the counselor. Some haven’t seen or spoken with their parents for years now.
The solution to these issues is churches that teach how to be discerning. How to ask the right questions. Understanding historical/grammatical context when looking at Scripture. Most false teachers use something my friend, Harry Brooks (recently gone to be with the Lord) often called a cult cocktail … Scripture with a twist.
The Bible actually teaches us to have a healthy skepticism. In Matthew 7:15 and following Jesus said to “Beware of False Prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing.” That requires being discerning and not necessarily accepting someone simply because the sound authoritative or even perhaps have the endorsement of some well known Christian leaders. Even if they are sound that doesn’t mean everything they say should be embraced. We are to check out what is taught. As Joy sometimes says, (this is a Joyism), “Just because you heard it from the pulpit doesn’t mean it isn’t really dumb.”
When Christ talked about families being separated because of Him it was never the believers that did the separating but the unbelievers or followers of false teachers. Believers did all they could do to be at peace with all men (Ro. 12:18) and especially with family.