A syncretistic agenda is boiling up behind the scenes like a witch’s brew—only this time, the witch isn’t a green-skinned, wart-covered, cackling old lady from an animated Disney cartoon. It’s that old liar, that Satan, the Red Dragon of Revelation who was alive and well the day he first inspired the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden. The Accuser who will still be alive and well the day his puppet, Antichrist, introduces the Mark that renders those who take it permanently irredeemable. The Deceiver who lives to confuse pluralism as a cultural ideology and identity, with syncretism that is unconditionally and eternally spiritual infidelity.
The term “pluralism,” in context of society and culture, refers to religious, ethnic, racial, and social diversity. When left in its proper, unadulterated context, it describes people of all backgrounds and convictions coming together and occupying the same space on our planet peacefully. As pluralism pertains to religion, it paints a society wherein Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, Gnostics, agnostics, etc., are all free to worship however they wish, and are never coerced to worship in a way they do not wish. When pluralism works in a society, Muslims don’t prevent Christians from following Jesus, Christians don’t prevent Buddhists from concentrating on their philosophies, and on the circle goes, while idyllically, all peoples are at liberty to practice and express their beliefs without fear of persecution. One person might share his or her beliefs to another, but it will happen because of individual motivation, not because of the pressures of a geographical religious identity.
However, it’s important to remember that pluralism is not the same thing as syncretism.
The term “syncretism” refers to blending two (or more) religions to form a new belief system. Whereas some might feel that such a goal might work for other world religions that don’t see the new hybrid faith to be a complete abandonment of their roots, by default of the commands from the God of the Bible, neither Christianity nor Judaism is compatible with being doctrinally syncretized with any other religion. Doing so breaks every rule in both Testaments of the Word (not the least of which are the first two of the Ten Commandments; also see the following references, which don’t even scratch the surface: Exodus 20:3–6; Leviticus 26:1; Daniel 9:27; 12:11; Ezekiel 6:5, 9, 13; 14:4; 16:36–37; Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14; Revelation 9:20; 13:14–15; 19:20).
These authors fear that, although most can/do comprehend the difference between pluralism and syncretism, many are not seeing that the pagan reality of syncretism is currently crouched behind the shining, exterior glory of pluralism. In other words, while we have been dancing wildly to the tune of religious freedom, a sinister song has been playing quietly underneath, subliminally blurring the clear and definite lines of Christianity that the apostles and disciples died for together with paganism. The subtlety of this has been such that many conservative Christians would balk at the very thought, claiming that their Christianity has done no such thing…that their Christianity is pure, holy, and righteous. However, for many, tragically, their Christianity is going to mesh seamlessly into Antichrist’s Superchurch of the End Days.
A person could easily claim to support healthy, societal pluralism in which all religions “play nice” in the same “playground” on the outside, while secretly aiming for syncretism and the contamination of Christianity underneath. These authors believe this is exactly what many world powers are up to when they aim for a One-World Religion, and it’s certainly what Antichrist will be all about when he claims the throne of the cult stage we’ve built for him. All that’s left in order for this apocalyptic scenario to play out on a grand scale is for Christians to see the signs of their belief system getting hacked by another in a syncretistic/pagan agenda and then choose not to react.
Then again, as the following chapters will show, we already don’t seem to react to anything anymore.
At the beginning of this series, we said we would define the word “cult” as the Word of God would define it. That is still our goal, though a brief discussion is due here because of how the word has morphed through the years. To remind the readers: Today, the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines a “cult” as “a system of religious beliefs and ritual…a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also: its body of adherents.”[i]
Etymologically, “cult” has roots from primarily Latin (colere, cultus, and later cultivare) and French (culte), and further from Indo-European prefixes (quel-, quol-). Although it’s a longer story than most readers want to know, suffice it to say that the word was used in various earlier forms to refer to what we now recognize in English as “wheel” and “cycle,” which slowly, metaphorically changed to mean “inhabit a place,” and later to “making a wild place suitable for crops.”[ii] But, because of the historical-religious link between a section of land and the deity that makes that land fruitful, the Latin cultus and the French culte directly translate to “worship” in both cultures as “originally denoting homage paid to a divinity.” So, the order goes like this: “[first] inhabited, [then] cultivated, [then] worshipped.”[iii]
Thus far, collectively, we have a group of people heading out to new territories and finding land to settle upon and farm; this is where we get the English derivatives “cultivate” and “colony.” As they harvest the lands they’ve nurtured, they worship the deity from whom they believe the harvest comes. The blend of a regional people nurturing a plot of land together and then together worshiping the deity who provides crops on that land becomes “culture,” since these are the elements that build civilization.
As cultures came about with established religions, any cluster of people who depart from their native religion—any groups attempting to syncretize their religion with one that has settled in or around their land later—could be seen as controversially divorcing themselves from the spiritual heartbeat of their homeland. This “unorthodox” or “spurious” move (as Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate defines) rendered them guilty of spiritual infidelity.
This, throughout history, would eventually warp the word “cult” from meaning simply “worship” to meaning “deviant worship,” though scholars, academics, and social scientists have a hard time agreeing on exactly when and how that shift first occurred.
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Unfortunately, because the line is so blurry and complicated regarding the shaping of the word that defines these groups and/or movements, it’s also fuzzy when it comes to outlining the differences between a “cult” and genuine “faith.” Its use as an ad hominem slap to groups that are different in their beliefs and adds a layer of mud that is hard to scrub off (for example, a Baptist calling all Pentecostal churches “cults” and vice versa; they are technically denominations of the same religion, so the term should not be used in that way). And as a tragic result of all this confusion, terminology is already being threaded into our society to normalize and even applaud what might be heretical or deviant religion, as one enormously popular book, Misunderstanding Cults, celebrates: “Cults are a genuine expression of religious freedom deserving toleration.”[iv] (That’s all fine and dandy until such “genuine expressions [of] religious freedom” lead to such atrocities as the Manson murders, the mass suicide in Jonestown, or the pedophilia within the Children of God cult. At some point, we need to stop tolerating when a “religion” poses a threat to people…and remember that the Antichrist Superchurch will be a global slaughter.) This is a word game at its finest. At least where the contemporary, North American society is concerned, the word “cult” is heavily associated with the dangerous religious sects that have ended in murder, terrorism, human trafficking, and severe member abuse (to say the least), so presenting it as everyday “religious freedom” sounds to most of us like postmodernist waffling. Granted, this same source does immediately go on to clarify that these groups, when left unchecked, could result in “exploitation of followers by leaders deserving civic scrutiny,”[v] but it’s treated as if that is the exception and not the rule; it is presented as if a “cult” is only dangerous after an identified leader has begun to cause damage, not earlier, when the fledgling seeds of insanity are first planted.
If discussed to the exhaustive end, this trail of thought could lead to a whole book just attempting to define a word in a way that it will massage the intellectual cramps of scholars, academics, and social scientists, many of whom believe so strongly in their own definition that their approach to the subject has led to strong language and vehement slander of those who should otherwise be seen as philosophical peers. These authors wish to proceed with a definition supported by the Bible—God’s Holy Word and Revelation about Himself, His thoughts, and His character—to allow God to weigh in on the conversation.
The Bible Warned Us
Jesus, in Matthew 7:14–18, warns about false religions that will spring from heretical teachings of those who look like beautiful sheep: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” It’s interesting that He uses sheep to describe how these cult leaders will present themselves, because later, Jesus reveals that the False Prophet who leads the world to join the Superchurch and worship Antichrist looks like a lamb but speaks words inspired by Satan (Revelation 13:11). This connection is more than just interesting coincidence. We here get a peek at the False Prophet, who will play a key role in building the biggest, deadliest, “looks-like-Christ” cult in the world, and the description via the same Witness (Christ) is almost word for word the description of the many false teachers who will build smaller cults around the globe throughout history, as Jesus mentioned in Matthew. It’s not hard to see that our Lord, in Matthew 7:14–18, is portraying all “Christian” cults as practice rounds for the End-Times Superchurch. One commentator, while reflecting on Christ’s “you will know them by their fruits” test, recognizes: “Here Jesus sets out not a doctrinal but an ethical test…[because] even Christian behaviour may be counterfeited.”[vi]
Turning to 1 John 4:1–4, we land at a more precise instruction for how to apply the test and expose the “fruits” for what they are. Both the legitimate Christian response and the cultic response by pretenders are discussed in this section of Scripture: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist.” A rudimentary reading of these verses makes it appear as if anyone who states that Jesus was the Incarnation of God would pass the test. Scholars clarify that correct teaching about Christ and His nature amounts to more than this, because: “An eloquent teacher of God’s Word might agree to the divinity and humanity of Jesus, but have other things so out of bounds in his theology that he still might qualify as a false prophet. Jesus himself said that not everyone who called him ‘Lord’ would enter the kingdom.”[vii] Another commentator states: “It is important to observe that the command to believe in the name of God’s Son Jesus Christ (3:23) is followed by the prohibition do not believe every spirit…[because] Christian faith is not to be mistaken for credulity. True faith examines its object before reposing confidence in it.”[viii]
Elsewhere, in Romans 16:17–20, we’re told that we should never follow anyone who teaches us anything “contrary to the doctrine” of the Word of God. The context of “doctrine” here, as written by Paul—who wrote most of the New Testament and confirmed the teachings of the other New Testament writings, all of which validate the Old Testament with its many Messianic prophecies also describing Christ—refers to the Word as a whole teaching.
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So far, the New Testament has taught us that a cult is a pseudo-Christianity that “looks like” Christ but attempts to mislead believers into apostasy by just shifting a few gears away from the true description of Christ as identified through the teachings of the whole Bible. We are charged with the responsibility to examine all teachings against the entire Word of God, or else we will find ourselves following “ravening wolves.”
In his epistle to the Galatians, we find the Apostle Paul at just about the angriest he becomes anywhere in his writing. As commentators and scholars note, Paul follows a formula in his writing: He begins with a greeting, moves on to a prayer or commendation of praise for what the congregation is doing correctly, and then slowly, gently moves into telling the church he planted what areas they need to adjust or reform. This time, however, Paul throws that formula out the window and jumps straight into a powerful rebuke. The blast of passionate words written by the Lord’s great Damascus-road convert luckily “saved the early church from a cultic division.”[ix]
What is he responding to? What has him so stirred up?
According to a string of verses near the beginning of the letter (1:6–10), the congregation in Galatia was becoming a cult by syncretizing Christianity with Judaism. This hybrid religion, Paul says, looked like Christianity, but was, in fact, a twisting of the truth where Christ was concerned. Anyone who preached this false gospel would be cursed, Paul warned.
The fastest, most cunning way to turn Christianity into a cult is through syncretism. Take the Gospel essentials and blend them with heresy just enough that they still look like Christianity, and nobody will notice when the hybrid faith fails to be legitimate. On the other hand, every cult needs a leader, and the most effective way of ushering in Antichrist when he comes is to bring in many pretenders who will bungle their own opportunities to resemble Christ. The more foolish they look, the better, if we’re going to follow Antichrist.
In addition to pseudo-Christianity, Christ warned that there would be many deceivers claiming to be the Messiah (Matthew 24:3–5, 23–26). These cult leaders are deceivers their followers believe to be either a) the direct mouthpiece and chief servant of God, whose words and teachings are therefore infallible, or b) God, Himself, appearing in the flesh (most often as Jesus Christ [known as a “Messiah claimant”], and frequently understood to be the form He has taken in the Second Coming). In some cases, this line can pass back and forth between these two concepts, producing a leader who is at times God in the flesh and at other times simply His mouthpiece. A few familiar names in recent history who had notable success convincing others they were both are:
- Father Divine (real name unknown and highly debated, but most likely George Baker)—Leader of the “International Peace Mission” movement who claimed to be God from 1907 until his death in 1965 (although he has followers to this day that, somehow, still believe he is God)
- Krishna Venta (Francis Herman Pencovic)—Founder of the “Fountain of the World” cult who claimed to be Jesus from 1948 until his assassination ten years later in 1958
- Sun Myung Moon—Leader of the Unification Church who presented himself repeatedly as Jesus and the restored/sinless “True Parent” Adam from circa 1980 to Moon’s death in 2012
- Charles Manson—Leader of the Manson Family cult who claimed he was the reincarnate Jesus Christ circa 1967 to his arrest for the famously violent Manson murders in 1969
- Jim Jones—Leader of the People’s Temple who taught that he was the reincarnation of Jesus, Buddha, and even the ancient pharaoh Akhenaten/Amenhotep IV, who controversially forsook the traditional Egyptian polytheism for the monotheistic Atenism (a divergent form of sun-god worship) from the 1970s to the Guyana Jonestown Massacre in November 1978 (though his mainstream Protestant ministry began decades before he introduced the insanity)
- Yahweh ben Yahweh (“God, son of God”; his real name was Hulon Mitchell)—Leader of the “Nation of Yahweh” (or “Black Hebrew Israelite”) movement who called himself “son of God” from the founding of the organization in 1979 (it’s not completely clear that he initially intended to be a Messiah claimant as opposed to a sort of “child of God,” but when the deification took hold, he didn’t openly fight it) and the concept held steadfast among his disciples through his murder trials in the 1990s and to his death in 2007
- David Koresh—Leader of the Branch Davidian cult who shared his “Son of God, the Lamb” prophecy in 1983 (debate rages whether he meant to position himself as Jesus incarnate or just the last prophet), ten years before his compound was set fire, with himself and his followers inside, during the famous Waco siege tragedy
- Hogen Fukunaga—Leader of the “Ho No Hana Sanpogyo” foot-reading cult who claimed he was Jesus Christ and Buddha in 1987, from which point he then gained a reported thirty thousand followers, though the cult is now defunct due to the recent international attention of his religious-training fraud conviction and potential manslaughter charges for deaths that occurred as a result of his practicing medicine without a license
- Shoko Asahara (Chizuo Matsumoto)—Leader of the “Aum Shinrikyo” cult who officially and publicly asserted himself as Christ in his 1992 book, Declaring Myself the Christ, and the deity claim withstood among his closest doomsday disciples through both his sarin-gas, Tokyo subway terrorist attack trials as well as his subsequent execution in 2018 (offshoots of his cult, Aleph and Hikari no Wa, still exist today)
- Vissarion (Russian: “He who gives new life”) or “Jesus of Siberia” (Sergey Torop)—Leader of the “Church of the Last Testament” (alternatively “Community of Unified Faith”) cult who continues to claim that in 1990 he was “reborn” as “a” Christ, a clever word game that maintains he is not actually “God,” but the “word of God,” a position he still holds over his four-thousand-follower commune in the Russian boreal forest (he was arrested in September 2020 for extortion and abuse charges)
- Marshall Applewhite—Leader of the Heaven’s Gate cult who officially announced that he was Jesus on September 25, 1995, about a year and a half before his group’s mass suicide in 1997 as an attempt to board the spaceship behind the Comet Hale-Bopp, though some testimonies assert that he had been positioning himself as God as early as the mid-1970s
- José Luis de Jesús Miranda—Founder of the Creciendo en Gracia (Spanish: “Growing in Grace”) movement who officially announced that he was Jesus in 2005, as well as the Antichrist in 2006; thereafter, the most devoted of Miranda’s two million worldwide followers proceeded to get a “666” tattoo to commemorate Jesus’ “true” teachings (that He, Himself, would come back as the Antichrist) until Miranda’s death in 2013
Of course, the full list is certainly much longer and involves Messiah claimants worldwide who are currently leading dangerous and heretical cults, though they aren’t as well-known in the media because the world is getting bored of having another “Jesus Christ” announced in the headlines every fifteen minutes. Social media has assisted in making any Messianic claimant the master of his or her own universe for a day—until it fizzles. Self-proclaimed reincarnates of Christ happen by so regularly today that even when details of their stories are blatantly blasphemous, we’re so culturally desensitized that it simply doesn’t surprise anyone or draw media attention anymore. The “Jesus” appearances are commonplace now, and they keep coming.
One based in Australia today is led by a certain “Jesus Christ” reincarnate (Alan John Miller) whose romantic partner (Mary Suzanne Luck) claims to be the reincarnated Mary Magdalene. Another, narcissistic seventy-one-year-old Álvaro Thais, known by his followers as Inri Cristo, likes to make guest-celebrity appearances on Brazilian comedy shows when he’s not being arrested in, or expelled from, other countries as a result of acts such as cathedral vandalism. Jesus of Kitwe makes his meager living as a tennis-shoe-wearing taxi-cab driver in Zambia, whereas Moses Hlongwane (Jesus of South Africa), when his marriage to disciple Angel launched the end of the world in 2016, prefers dressing in gold and silver bling and sunglasses reminiscent of Vanilla Ice and other rap artists of the ’90s. Messiah David Shayler, on the other hand, delivers some of his sermons in drag as the “transvestite Jesus,” Delores, who is able to bring a woman’s perspective to mind as he teaches his gospel.
Again, the Bible warns about these End-Times blasphemies:
- “And as [Christ] sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?’ And Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ’” (Matthew 24:3–5).
- “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” (1 Timothy 4:1).
- “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them” (2 Peter 2:1).
- “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that [the true] Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist” (2 John 1:7).
- “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Timothy 4:3–4).
And before it’s assumed otherwise, yes, these authors know how this looks. These false messiahs we just reflected upon are extreme examples who aren’t captivating the attention of the mainstream. It would be a weak argument to use them as proof that, in the end, a vast majority of believers will fall away. However, these men are serving Antichrist’s cause from two other, more effective angles: 1) The continual onslaught of false christs is gradually breaking down our culture’s respect of the True Messiah; 2) The obvious failure of these men to resemble Christ will make the impressive Antichrist look legitimate by comparison.
UP NEXT: The Bride of Spot and Wrinkle Blushes for Her Leader
[i] “Cult,” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.; Kindle ed.; 2014), locations 111635–111637.
[ii] Ayto, John, “cult,” Dictionary of Word Origins: The Histories of More than 8,000 English Language Words (New York, NY: Arcade Publishing; 2011) 149.
[iv] Zablocki, Benjamin, Thomas Robbins, eds., Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field (Toronto, Ontario, Canada: University of Toronto Press; 2001), preface.
[vi] France, R. T., Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary: Vol. 1 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press; 1985), 151–152.
[vii] Walls, D., & Anders, M., I & II Peter, I, II & III John, Jude: Vol. 11 (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers; 1999), 208.
[viii] Stott, J. R. W., The Letters of John: An Introduction and Commentary: Vol. 19 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press; 1988), 153.
[ix] Anders, M., Galatians-Colossians: Vol. 8 (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers: 1999), 4.