Last week, the problem of "heaven-sent" personal testimonies of one's religious beliefs was presented, along with a list of ten traps that lead to misguided testimonies. This week the ten traps will be countered, offering you some safeguards. Next week, the final in this series, will offer a decisive way to confirm what you believe. (If you didn't read last week's post, scroll down.)
Personal testimonies must always be suspect. They do not necessarily declare absolute, God-sent truth. Why? (1) They are not objective, but subjective (based solely on personal bias and emotion existing only in a person's mind and heart), and (2) fringe religions and cults have comparable testimonies declared with the same emotional fervor. They are just as convincing and impressive as a Christian's, a Mormon's, or a Moonie's. They can't all be right. Plus, they are impressive enough that we can all be taken in. So, let's look at the traps. (I added two additional ones.)
Combating the traps
TRAP 1. Believe your church and its doctrines are true because of the personal fervor and emotion exhibited in members' testimonies, including your own. Don't be fooled by this. Admittedly, we are swayed by a passionate testimony; but, a fervent religious testimony declared with enthusiasm, even tears, only indicates: "This is what I believe with all my heart, and my feelings are so strong, that it has to be true." These personal declarations, regardless of what they claim, may not indicate the truth. Understanding this will provide a safeguard.
TRAP 2. My testimony is of supernatural origin. It is deceptive to assume this without deeper investigation. Too many faiths with radically differing beliefs claim the same thing. When Mormons or Moonies insist that their testimony of their church's extra-biblical beliefs are true and from the Holy Ghost, the spirit they feel is more likely to be their own spirit . . . the spirit of their heart and soul giving witness to their whole being to the love they feel for what they have embraced. And it can be a very strong feeling, goose bumps included. Most cults include Jesus (or they wouldn't gain converts). But true, God-given testimonies will only confirm Jesus' salvation message, which is: (1) God sent his only begotten son to die for our sins and reconcile us to Him; (2) (full) salvation comes only through recognizing His substitutionary sacrifice on the cross for our sinful nature; and (3) accepting Jesus as one's personal savior for our sin. The Holy Spirit will not give a testimony that contradicts this. Nor will He testify to a book of new scripture that ranks higher than the Bible . . . nor will He testify to newly revealed rituals that provide a different way to be saved . . . nor will He give a confirming testimony that one can become a God.
TRAP 3. Prioritizing the personal testimony. A subjective testimony should never be prioritized when the Bible and other facts, historical or scientific, contradict the declaration. Unfortunately, this is the hallmark of cults and fringe religions. We will talk more about "facts" in Trap 9.
TRAP 4.There is no need to question because the leader is anointed by God and is more spiritual than I am. What does the leader's spirituality have to do with your not having the right to question? God instilled that faculty in us to provide a way for us to arrive at the truth of a matter. As children, we began with "Why is the sky blue? Why is the grass green." When we aged, we advanced to other questions: "Why is this investment better than another investment," "Why is this church's claims better than another?" Asking questions is how we learn. When we stifle the God-given right to question because we falsely assume that someone else is more spiritual, or the leader has a special anointing, it negates our ability to discover truth. Why do con men take in so many suckers? Because the "suckers" didn't ask enough questions. Further, they only asked questions of the conman! Seeking answers to questions from knowledgeable sources is a must. By understanding this, you become free from the influence of others and from being duped. You must become your own man.
TRAP 5: Suspend critical thinking because the area of mind doesn't pertain to the spiritual. Spiritual matters can involve the mind. Spirituality involves a prescribed way of worship and identifies the person to whom one worships. Legalistic rules can also be made spiritual, and rituals believed to have been revealed from God also become spiritual. Yet members of cults and fringe religions often hold back in asking questions for fear of reprisal from leaders; also for fear of showing to their peers, a lack of faith. Any church, like the LDS Church, that says to a member, "Brother so and so, don't you know that you are on the road to apostasy when you begin to question?" Any church that does this has something to hide. Critical thinking is an imperative! Yet, LDS Leaders stated in The Improvement Era, "Lucifer . . . wins a great victory when he can get members of the Church to speak against their leaders and to do their own thinking. . . . When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done!" (June 1945, p. 354) Every human being should always feel free to question beliefs, evaluate evidence, look at the facts, make assessments, and arrive at a conclusion. In spiritual matters, "[God] doesn’t expect us to commit intellectual suicide," states Christian apologist and author, Josh McDowell." (Evidence that Demands a Verdict, 1972, p. 16)
TRAP 6. Blind faith must be utilized because there is no real objective way to prove a religion true or untrue. (We are not talking about blind faith in God here.) It is foolhardy to put blind faith in a church's claims without sound investigation. Blind faith in one's church or religion is illogical. When doing so, one becomes no more than a puppet. One of the first things that opened my eyes was when Pres. Heber J. Grant stated, "Keep your eye on the President of the church, and if he tells you to do something wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it." (Heinerman & Shupe, Mormon Corporate Empire, p. 197) "Whoa," I said. "Since when does God bless someone for doing something wrong just because someone asks him to do it?" Blind faith in one's church and leaders is not a spiritual feather in one's hat. E. O. Wilson said, "
TRAP 7. My faith makes me "feel good" and I experience peace; therefore my church has to be true. This concept can often prove false. When, for example, I left the Mormon Church and ventured into my first Christian church, I was lugging my mental baggage along with me, including pet doctrines I couldn't give up. I was extremely conflicted, couldn't sleep at night with being torn between my old way of thinking and the new. I felt no peace at all. I wondered: "They say that peace is supposed to be of God, but I don't feel at peace. Does that mean this Christian church is false and I should return to Mormonism where I felt so comfortable and accepted? But, Jesus said in Matt. 10:34, "I bring not peace, but a sword." Sometimes it is necessary for God to wield a sword—especially when one's false beliefs need to be cut away. It is not a pleasant experience. Feeling good is not always the criterion of truth.
TRAP 8. No need to investigate outside literature, because all truth is encompassed in my church. False religions indoctrinate members with the idea that, "If you investigate outside literature, you will lose your testimony." Or, " It is from Satan because he wants to destroy your faith." They especially warn about former members' literature. The member becomes fearful. Losing one's testimony is tantamount to losing one's salvation and, for Mormons, exaltation. Contrary to what LDS leaders say, literature by former Mormons does not contain lies. They, like myself, know LDS doctrine backwards and forwards, and can back up everything we say or write with LDS references. Assert your right as an individual endowed with free agency to use the faculties God gave you.
TRAP 9. I must reject all "facts" that conflict with my personal testimony. Members of false religions are told how valuable and significant their personal testimony is, and that it is given to them by the Holy Ghost. The only way to keep it intact, they are told, is to reject anything that conflicts with that testimony. Otherwise, they'll lose it. They're correct. Members will probably lose their testimonies. Why? Because reading outside literature that contain "facts" that are backed up with valid references, can't help but bring about a loss of testimony because their eyes will be opened. They will see that what they thought was the truth, was not. Ignoring facts is a false religion's trademark. An example is when Carrie Sheffield, a Mormon at the time, realizing that the LDS Church's claims about anthropology, history and other subjects contradicted reason and science, said she "spiritually imploded" after a high-ranking Mormon leader told her to "stop reading historical and scientific materials because they were worse than porn." (http://tinyurl.com/7e7kv4p). This blew my mind! Another example is when damaging facts were revealed about the LDS Church's cover-up of Mormon history and Joseph Smith, and Apostle Dallin Oaks told members: "Our individual, personal testimonies are based on the witness of the Spirit, not on any combination or accumulation of historical facts. If we are so grounded, no alteration of historical facts can shake our testimonies." (Salt Lake Tribune, 8-18-1985, p. 2B) Apostle Oaks' directive would also mean that members should continue to testify and bear witness that the Book of Mormon is true, knowing there are no archaeological evidences, believing its people came from Jerusalem when DNA studies already prove they did not, ignoring Col. 2:14 that says that at the death of Jesus all temple rituals were nailed to the cross and done away with, and Hebrews Chaps 7-10, that men are no longer required to hold the office of High Priest.
TRAP 10. Extra-biblical revelation is a necessity because the Bible is ancient, faulty and unreliable. Truths need to be restored. One of the major signs of a false religion is its production and reliance upon extra-biblical revelation that ranks higher than the Bible. It has one major purpose . . . to convince members that the leader is truly a prophet of God. Without extra-biblical revelation how could he prove his spiritually connection to God?
TRAP 11. Embrace different doctrines, rituals and paths to salvation that come via a leader's revelations, even if not found in the Bible. Jesus' main thrust was to lay out the plan of salvation for believers. What He spelled out was not complicated; there were no legalistic rules that one had to comply with in order to be saved; and there were no secret rituals intended for a special class of elite believers. Any religion or church that claims new paths to salvation should immediately be suspect. For example, the Mormon path to full salvation (exaltation) is to (1) go through the temple' (2) be anointed to become a King or Queen; (3) receive special underwear to wear containing Masonic markings; (4) learn secret passwords and handshakes to allow members to pass by the angels who guard heaven's gate; and (5) be sealed (married) in the temple so they can achieve Godhood and Goddesshood. This briefly describes the "First Temple Endowment." I won't go into the "Second Temple Endowment," which many are unaware of, but you can read about it here: http://www.janishutchinson.com/newsletters/ceremony.pdf. Purposely mixed in with extra-biblical revelation you will always find a smattering of truths taken from the Bible, proving the old adage, "The devil will give you ninety-nine truths to get you to believe one lie."
TRAP 12. View historic Christianity and the larger body of Christ as apostate, and one's own church as true. Members of false religions are taught that their church is the only true one that God approves of. In fact, this is included in the Mormon testimony: "I believe the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true church upon the face of the earth." This claim ranks high in inducing members to stay.
The above should give you something to ponder. Next week (Tuesday) will be the final post in this series, and you will no doubt be surprised to read my statement: "Don't even take the Bible on faith."
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