Churches warn against lure of cults Ministers react to Waco tragedy

July 08, 1993|By Angela Winter Ney | Angela Winter Ney,Staff Writer

The scenario is familiar: The door bell rings. Two well-dressed, smiling strangers stand there, eager -- too eager -- to introduce you to the truth, via their cult's interpretation.

"How to handle the cultists at your door" is one of the topics cult expert Leonard Albert will address Saturday at a seminar at the Heritage Church of God in Severn.

The church is one of several county churches that have sponsored lectures and sermons on religious cults since the tragedy in Waco, Texas. focused attention on the Branch Davidians. More than 80 people died in a fire that began after the FBI launched an assault on the cult compound after a length standoff.

Even churchgoing Christians are not immune to the lure of cults, writes Mr. Albert, a national speaker from the Church of God headquarters in Cleveland, Tenn.

"The average well-trained cultist can twist the average Christian into a doctrinal pretzel in under 15 minutes with a copy of the King James Bible," he said.

To counteract this, Mr. Albert, the author of six books on evangelism and cults, will discuss ways to distinguish between cults and biblical Christianity, a task harder than it seems to those not well grounded in traditional theology, cult experts say.

He will speak about groups considered cults by mainstream Christianity.

The Heritage church's senior pastor, the Rev. Harold R. Bowman, said he believes today's busy society increases the chance that a churchgoer may fall into a cult.

"Because we're living in a very busy time, many Christians are not studying the Bible," he said. "The average church member is not very familiar with what the Bible says; therefore, it's easy for them to fall prey to whoever comes along."

The Rev. Richard E. Nowers, pastor of the Pasadena United Methodist Church, also addressed the issue of identifying destructive cults.

The minister quoted G. K. Chesterton: " 'When people stop believing in something, they are prepared to believe in anything.' "

"It is important for our youth and young adults who may have had little or no exposure to a deep, religious experience through one of our many fine churches to be more cautious about becoming involved in a destructive cult," Mr. Nowers said.

The tricky part about cults is that they distort a healthy normal aspect of church life, Mr. Nowers observed.

For example, he noted that in many church groups, leaders are given some power by congregations "through mutual agreement and discipline. But destructive cult leaders assume almost life and death decision over the everyday lifestyle of the cult."

The Rev. Terry S. Schoener, pastor of Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church in Severna Park, focused on the differences between cults and legitimate religious bodies.

Mr. Schoener advised church members to read a passage from the Gospel of Matthew, in which Christians are told to "beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves."

The passage offers a practical way to spot a false prophet -- by looking at their deeds, he said.

Mr. Schoener also expressed concern about the message extremist groups send to the general public.

"The media will always focus innumerable hours of broadcast and print on the aberrations of religion. . . .," Mr. Schoener said. But Christians in what he called "the sane middle" should "keep faithful to our task: To be light to the world [by] interpreting the deepest meaning of life and how we might live together as children of the same parent."

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