Missionaries To America?

(This originally appeared in the Winter 1999 edition of the MCOI Journal)

Missionaries to america artwork 01When we think of missionaries, we tend to think in terms of PLACE. Missionaries go places, like foreign lands, don’t they? We call them mission fields. They exist in exotic faraway places like Zaire, Ghana, and today, even rather amazing (to those of us raised in the cold-war decades) new places like Russia and Romania; “fields” which traditionally have been closed to missionary endeavors. But still, they all revolve around PLACE — a country or, maybe, a continent. “He’s a missionary to Africa,” we might say, or “She has been called to Botswana.” One of our Branch Directors, Bill Althaus, is on his way to the Czech Republic on a short-term mission. But isn’t “missionaries to America” a contradiction in terms? Isn’t it Americans who send missionaries elsewhere?

In actuality though, there is a huge mission field right here in the good ole USA — big and getting bigger. I am talking of the mission field of the cults, the occult, and false religions. They’re not foreigners in the traditional sense, but their practices and beliefs are just as foreign to biblical Christianity as any traditional mission field in a foreign land. Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs)* and Mormons** are just two examples of “Made in America” cult groups that prey on Americans and American churches, as well as the world.

“What are you talking about?” some may ask. “Foreign? What is foreign about JWs and Mormons? Aren’t they just Christian sects with a few peculiar beliefs?” No, they are not. That misperception, especially by Christians who should know better, is a large part of the problem. Even many born-again believers do not recognize the cults for what they are. The adherents of most cult groups look just like us. Many of them are as American as apple pie, and the psuedo-Christian varieties of cults even carry Bibles.

Well then, can it be that we are exaggerating by calling them cults? Aren’t cults led by weirdos like David Koresh and Jim Jones? No, because what makes a cult is not weirdness but unbiblical life and death control over their members. Weirdness is in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it? Jim Jones may or may not have seemed “weird” to you or me, but his adherents drank poisoned Kool-Aid at his command. Now that’s unhealthy control! By the same token, Jehovah’s Witnesses would not appear weird at all to most of us, yet their leadership exercises dangerous control over the lives of the rank and file JW.

For example, Gentle Reader, did you know that the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WTBTS, known as Jehovah’s Witnesses) has, with their ban on blood transfusions, been responsible for far more deaths over the years than Jim Jones and David Koresh put together? Needless deaths, year in and year out; yet, they are not allowed to question (and, indeed, most would not even think to question) the directives from their Brooklyn headquarters on this issue. Many lives could be saved if these people were reached with the truth of the gospel.

The Field Is Expanding

Missionaries to america artwork 02

Well, how can we reach them? Can’t we just tell them they need a Savior and haul them in? Quote some Bible verses to them and tell them to repent? Well, I’d love to tell you that it is just that easy, but it is not. There is a communication problem not very much different than the one you would encounter being an American trying to share the gospel with an Ethiopian who has no more knowledge of English than you do of Ethiopian. There is the language barrier. You might be saying to yourself, “Language barrier? What do they speak if not English? These folks are Americans, aren’t they?” Yes, that’s true, but RELIGIOUSLY they just don’t speak our language at all. Their authority figures have given new MEANINGS to the same good old words and phrases that we all hold so dear. For instance, the simple phrase “salvation by grace.” To us — salvation is something that God has secured for us, a free gift He has given us; but to a Jehovah’s Witness — Jesus died to give one the opportunity to save oneself through one’s good works. It’s a free gift all right, so long as you deserve it!!! The very word “grace” means “undeserved favor or kindness,” but look how this concept is perverted in a recent Kingdom Ministry, which is the WTBTS “insider” publication. In the December 1993 issue (p.7), they remind their followers that:

“We want to give deserving ones the opportunity to learn of Jehovah’s undeserved kindness.” (What???)

Do you know what’s sad, though, friends? They don’t even SEE the contradiction in that statement. So, in order to witness effectively to Jehovah’s Witnesses, you must know their “language,” understand what they mean by what they say, and how it differs from how we would understand the same word.

It is essentially the same for the Mormons. The Mormon Church has done an excellent “sales job” here in America, convincing the average Christian that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, also known as Mormons) is “just another Christian denomination.” They will tell you they believe in Jesus, and they also believe in the Bible. “Wow,” you may think, “They’re Christians, just like me! That Joy! You can’t trust a thing she says!” But here is the problem. The Mormon Jesus is the spirit brother of Lucifer (The Jesus of the Bible created the angel Lucifer!), and the Mormon leadership has told their followers they can only trust the Bible “as far as it is translated correctly.” 1 Just who can we trust to translate it, you may wonder? You needn’t wonder long. Of course, only the Mormon hierarchy. The attractive “Christian coating” masks a very bitter pill.

And what about New Agers? Well, of course, they believe in the Christ consciousness, and peace on earth, good will towards men. Didn’t Jesus say He was the way shower? He showed us the way, now we must do the work to get there — alter our consciousness, work out our karma. When you look at the New Age up close and personal, you will see that the Bible, when referred to at all, has been twisted out of its context and given new, mystical understandings.

True Christians believe in the person of Jesus Christ, not a mystical “Christ consciousness” which comes upon enlightened souls causing them to realize the truth of their inherent godness. Peace on earth will come when the Prince of Peace returns. Jesus is the Way, not the way shower; and we believe in salvation by God’s grace, not by eventual release from the karmic wheel. It is evident that we must understand the language and the mindset, if we are to win these dear souls to the Savior.

Just like missionaries to foreign lands, we must learn the language of the different groups in order to communicate effectively with them. Our mission, however, is twofold. While we reach out to the cultist, we must also help pastors protect the flock entrusted into their care from the wolves who would eat them for breakfast, given half a chance. And the flock today friends, here in America, is being decimated as never before. It is estimated that there are between 3,000 and 5,000 cults in America claiming between 20,000,000 and 60,000,000 members. Dr. Ron Rhodes, in his book The Culting of America, says of cult members that:

. . . some 25 percent formerly attended evangelical or fundamentalist churches, and over 40 percent had backgrounds in the large, more liberal Protestant denominations.”2

It’s The Culture, Stupid . . .

We call our ministry a countercult ministry, because we identified cults as being a grave danger to the Christian church and hoped to do something to counter their influence and success. However, we found out very quickly that our culture presents just as large a challenge (if not larger) as any individual cult group and, perhaps, all of them rolled into one, big, heretical lump! JWs and Mormons are little fish, indeed, when compared to the cultural shark of “relative truth.”

Relative truth, culturally defined, means that any one religion or belief system can be no more “right,” “correct,” or “true” than any other religion or world view. To persons holding this view of truth (and that is most of our society at present), it is the height of arrogance for someone to hold their own version of truth as being truly true. Why is the American god of “relative truth” (as worshiped by Oprah and Phil) and the “tolerance gospel” that is preached, so dangerous to true Christianity? It’s not dangerous because Oprah believes it [She really doesn’t. Just ask Oprah if Christians are just as right in thinking Jesus is the only true spiritual path as she is in thinking that there is truth in all spiritual paths.] or because JWs and Mormons believe it. (They certainly don’t!!!)

It’s dangerous because all too many Christians have bought it! The bait was juicy, and we’ve swallowed the hook. It has caused Christians to be timid in sharing the gospel for fear of being seen as “arrogant, narrow minded, or intolerant.” After all, in late-20th century America, to say that someone is “wrong” in their moral choices or their personal beliefs is labeled “hate speech.” This is a sad commentary on where our society is, but it is even worse to realize that many Christians believe it too. And, if Christians cannot bring themselves to talk about sin, they will not be able to talk about forgiveness of sin, and reconciliation to God.

You know what? People might “feel bad” if they come to realize that they are separated from God by their sins. In fact, the two reactions I’ve gotten from people, when I’ve shared this particular truth, are that they either feel bad or feel mad. Maybe a little of both . . . but if they never come to the realization that they are separated from God, and they never accept His gracious provision, they will be eternally lost. At times, the only loving thing to do is to point out a problem, especially if you can offer a solution!

How Big Is The Problem?

Seventy-six percent of Americans who attend church do not believe in absolute truth! Well, okay, but that figure probably includes a lot of church-going liberals, right? But sadly, evangelicals do not fare much better with sixty-seven percent of them holding the same view of truth. Want more stats? According to the latest Barna Poll, there were nine-percent fewer people attending evangelical churches in 1998 than in 1997. You see, there is no such thing as standing still. We are either gaining or losing ground. One thing that I wish Christians would realize is that the highly “spiritual” content of Oprah and other shows, though false and vacuous, proves that there is a tremendous spiritual hunger in the land of the free — and perhaps, even in our own churches — which someone will fill if we are too timid.

Meanwhile, the Mormon Church, which calls itself Christian but is not, appears to recognize the true hunger that is out there and has aggressively trained a missionary force to meet the need. The result has been growth of 5.5 percent last year compared with 2.3 percent for the evangelical church. JWs have become sort of a “revolving door” religion, at least here in the US. (They are far more successful abroad where their true history is unknown.) About as many are leaving out the back door as are coming in the front, but their influence is far greater than their numbers, at any one time, would indicate. Why is that? It’s because many people have walked out of the WTBTS, but the Watchtower Society has not walked out of them! They deserve our help, but we are barely keeping our own. We dare not continue to look the other way.

The cults have a twisted understanding of the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. They grow dramatically because many Christians either cannot (out of ignorance) or will not (out of fear or apathy) counter the misinformation that has blinded these folks. Thirty-five percent of the evangelical (born-again) community do not read their Bibles. 3 Biblical illiteracy makes even Christians into nothing more than “spider-bait” and certainly ill-equipped to come to the rescue of someone else that is caught in the web of the cultic spiders.

We need to be training Christians to know not only what we believe, but also why we believe it; and preparing them to make a solid defense of the core doctrines of the faith. This is especially true with our young people. They are being bombarded daily with “sensitivity” and “diversity” training at school and seduced in their own homes by the “spirituality sirens” on television. The church has the opportunity to equip these young people on the average of from one to four hours per week. School, radio, television, and peers have them for over 100 hours per week. The pressure is great on our young people. It is not easy, as we all know, to stand against the tide. Unless they are given solid reasons to believe that truth can be known, and that Christianity is true, they will either conform or hide. Friends, it’s a very sad story that we hear all the time from Christian parents who are grieving. “My daughter is involved in witchcraft . . . My son is becoming a Mormon . . . How could this happen? . . . They were raised to believe.”

I say this with great heaviness of heart, and no criticism is intended to parents who are hurting. Kids who are “raised to believe” are shipwrecked every day. More today than ever, because they are being bombarded on all sides, our kids need to know exactly what Christians believe and why they should embrace it too. They may still go their own way, because every person has that choice to make, but at least we can give them a “home” to come back to.

Support Your Local Missionary

We all have heard that missionaries “receive a call.” This is just as true for us as for any others. God is the one who gives us this desire to reach JWs, Mormons, and others, just as surely as He gives a “call” to a foreign land to other folks. What exactly is a “call?” It is a God-given love and empathy for a people who HE wants to reach, whether in a foreign land or right next door.

Why do we care and ask you to care for those trapped in the cults? Well, God cares for them. He has not written them off as we sometimes want to do with those who may be difficult to reach. He would not speak cruelly to them or slam the door in their face. Dear friend, aside from the religious differences, these people are no different than you and me. They love their children, have hopes and dreams; many of them are trying very hard to please God. In fact, some of them are your children, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. I say with the apostle Paul, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge” (Ro. 10:1-2, NASB). When people ask me why I do care about JWs and such, all I can say is, “You would care about them if you knew them like I do!” Lies and deception have ensnared them; they are lost sheep in need of the Shepherd.

If we are to effectively reach this mission field, we are going to need YOU. As with missionaries to other countries, we need your prayers and we need your support. Our life is meeting with cultists and training other missionaries to reach out to still more cultists. We are teaching in Christian churches, both to prevent their flock from being caught in the web of the cults, and to give at least some of them a vision for reaching out to those dear people who come right up to their door. Your prayers, calls, e-mails, and words of encouragement strengthen us in the daily work “in the field.” The financial support of individuals and churches is a necessary element in this mission work. Up to this point, we primarily have funded this work ourselves with a few faithful and generous supporters. The wonderful group of volunteers, which have been trained over the last several years, makes the tremendous volume of things we do possible. My pastor recently reminded me that the Scriptures teach that a soldier does not go to battle at their own expense. As the pagan culture increases around us, we ask that you consider backing the soldiers who are in the trenches daily.

When you think of “missionaries,” we ask you to think of us who need your help as much here in America as those who go abroad.Ω

                                          Love to all,Don and Joy Signature 2

*Jehovah’s Witnesses (a.k.a. JWs) are the followers of the teachings of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WTBTS) founded by Charles Taze Russell.

**Mormons are the followers of the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) founded by Joseph Smith.

  1. Not surprising, this quote from the 8th Article of Faith of the LDS Church:

    “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly . . .”

    instills doubts as to the reliability of the Bible and implies the LDS Church knows when and where the Bible is and is not translated correctly. Association with the group is essential to learn “truth” as set forth in this statement by John Taylor found in The Gospel Kingdom, pp.229-230:

    Have you forgotten that you are associated with the Saints of God in Zion, where the oracles of truth are revealed, and the truths of God are made manifest, and clearly developed; where you and your posterity after you can learn the ways of life and salvation; where you are placed in a position that you can obtain blessings from the great Elohim, that will rest upon you and your posterity worlds without end?

    These same types of Bible-doubting, only-we-have-the-truth quotes are found in many other cult groups including the following from the WTBTS in the Watchtower November 15, 1969 pg. 696:

    “Because of digging down into the literal meaning of the original Bible language The Kingdom Interlinear Translation {conveniently compiled by the WTBTS to “aid” its members} can serve as a safeguard against error in these days when many religious leaders are teaching twisted things, even twisting the written Word of God.”

    and from the Watchtower, Dec. 1, 1990 p.19:

    “Let us face the fact that no matter how much Bible reading we have done, we would never have learned the truth on our own.”

    From these statements, it is clear that both the LDS Church and the WTBTS have set themselves up as the sole arbiters of truth and the only authorities to interpret Scripture to their followers. Both groups publish their own materials using Bible words to clothe the group’s teachings and doctrines. Thus, each group uses their own “language” which sounds “Christian,” and this is how they are able to pass on their dangerous philosophies to their unsuspecting followers.

  2. Dr. Ron Rhodes, The Culting of America, (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1994), p.30.
  3. Ibid. p. 41.

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