We have been talking about discerning false faith – how to determine truth from falsehood in what we choose to believe.
Yesterday, we brought up the tragedy in Jonestown Guyana – where Jim Jones led his “church” of nearly 1000 people into a mass suicide.
The question we ended with, yesterday, was how do people avoid placing their faith in something (and someone) so deceptive and false?
There are four main ways…
First, know the Bible. Read it, regularly. Ingest Its truths. Meditate on them. Think about them. Talk with friends about them. And incorporate those truths into our daily lives. One of the biggest problems associated with cults and cult leaders is the fact that people have a vague notion of Biblical truth – but do not really know what the Bible has to say. Men such as Jim Jones prey upon the weak understandings of those who would rather have someone tell them what to believe rather than search out the truth for themselves. There is no substitute for personal knowledge of what the Bible actually teaches.
Second, know your leader. It is essential to define the character of the person who guides your faith. Cults are invariably centered on a human being who will seek to control people’s lives for their own gain and purposes. This human being assumes the role of “replacement” or “substitute” for God or Jesus – and claims some kind of “secret knowledge” or divine authority to restore “something lost to humanity.” Usually, that “secret knowledge” revolves around the leader’s personal gain at the participants’ personal loss. Leaders of a false faith talk incessantly about God or godliness, but seldom emulate God or godliness in their personal lives.
Third, know your standard. Measuring truth, like measuring building materials when building a house, depends on a separate (and accurate) standard by which all things are compared. Builders use tape measures and levels to insure accuracy in their work. In the case of spiritual leadership… How does a leader compare to Christ? Jesus came to earth and gave of Himself selflessly and constantly. False leaders do little but demand devotion to God by devotion to their own agendas. They exist to be served, not to serve. They are seldom, if ever, characterized by humility or selfless service. Leaders of false faith promise freedom and special gifts (secret divine blessings)… but always end up demeaning and destroying those who fall prey to their powerful deceptions. It is just IN their nature to use the faithful for their own personal benefit and gain.
Fourth, know how the leader treats people. Someone who treats us as a means to an end will eventually demand an end to our means. One of the notable actions of Jim Jones was that, to test the people’s “faith,” He would demand that, everyone committed to his “cause,” bring their entire paycheck into the church coffers – “for the good of all.” He pushed his communal social agenda to the point of taking everything from his people. In the end, they had nothing… and could only trust in Jones to take care of them.
This can be a very ominous position.
The sad story of Jim Jones, and of the people who blindly trusted him, is precautionary for us all. Any leader that does not lead us to the higher virtues of loving God and loving people… will more than likely lead us to our spiritual (if not physical) demise.
Truth is: Our journey in faith is only as good as the source we are trusting.