Along Came a Spider, Part 2
Well, after our bake sale break last month, it is time to pick up where we left off in discussing the proliferation of false teachers running around the world and how it is they continue to be successful even among the smartest believers.
To create a cult following, false teachers use occult rhetoric techniques. Remember Matthew 24 says you will hear of wars and RUMORS of wars — esoteric, secretive, inside speculative knowledge that is an occult technique (occult means hidden). Joshua Gunn1, professor at Texas University, made an in-depth study of occult texts in the 20th century; the short version is someone creates material that is hard to understand and they set themselves up as the expert who can interpret this special knowledge. Cult teachers function by writing of “occult books” and the “creation of authority through novel vocabularies” (p. 125). The focus ceases to be on God and is transferred to the teacher, who is able to interpret the text and special language — and it isn’t limited to obvious cult leaders. Gunn suggests the primary vehicle that cult leaders use is “homiletics” (preaching).
Preachers walk a fine line because they all have the potential to set themselves up as experts on whom people must depend in order to understand truth. There is power that comes with knowledge. Every teacher walks a fine line between sharing their knowledge and making themselves the ultimate interpreter of truth, and if it is televised, streamed, published or put on DVD it becomes extra authoritative. And if you don’t buy one you don’t know what’s really going on and you are part of the uninformed masses, a dumb sheep — a sheeple.
This technique is used among scores of independent ministries and nonprofits who launch seminars, YouTube channels, e-books and Facebook pages. I wrote a satirical blog years ago saying the best way to start an independent ministry is to find some common thing people do, decenter it by finding some obscure link to something awful (You use a fork? Well so does the leader of North Korea — you’re a fascist dictator!), and then go on the road enlightening people about the spiritual dangers of forks.
For awhile Christians became worked up over some articles claiming that Monster Energy drinks contained hidden occult symbols, even a YouTube video presentation claiming these drinks are the work of Satan. My friend and colleague, David Hamstra, doing his doctoral studies at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Mich., wrote an article on it, saying, “Christian conspiracy preachers teach attainment of spiritual power through secret knowledge of hidden symbols. They purport to warn you against the occult, while at the same time adopting occult epistemology [methods] in order to explain its power.”
The result is not only misinformation but a loss of focus on Christ and an increase in fear, paranoia. And it works on all kinds of people who feel marginalized, unheard, unsupported or unimportant. The special information becomes the standard for judging others. Instead of Jesus, it is worship music, Bible versions or the Earth being flat, and we know because the expert gave us the special knowledge, and we can judge all those other people who don’t know what we know. Ellen White writes, “Speculative ideas should not be agitated, for there are peculiar minds that love to get some point that others do not accept, and argue and attract everything to that one point, urging that point, magnifying that point, when it is really a matter which is not of vital importance …” (Manuscript Releases, vol. 15).
Adventist Christians are especially susceptible. For a people who claim to be lovers of the light, we have an unhealthy fascination with darkness. We have been waiting for Jesus to return for a long time. We get restless so we begin exploring conspiracy theories, the work of the devil, as an alternative way to confirm our belief that prophecy is still being fulfilled. It’s a way of self-medicating when faith is tried, except you don’t get healthy by taking the devil’s medicine.
The danger is we begin to love the secrets more than the Savior, those alleged secrets about all the lurking dangers in the world — secret societies, chem trails in the air, hidden messages music and film, heresies in the church, and we become more fascinated by the devil’s work than God’s, becoming crisis-centered instead of Christ-centered.
In the last days people will follow after false messiahs and fake news and exist in a post-truth culture where our emotions and longing in our hearts are preyed upon. Jesus says His people are known by their love for one another. Love implies hope, relationships and courage in spite of trouble. Are there dangers and conspiracies — yes. Are they everywhere? No … except for one core: the one that moves people to trade the peace that passes all understanding for a paranoia that lacks understanding. That's the conspiracy to make you take your eyes off of Jesus.
Jesus has promised to be with us to the end of the world (Matt. 28:20). Let’s live in faith, not fear.
1. Gunn, J., Modern occult rhetoric: Mass media and the drama of secrecy in the twentieth century (Tuscaloosa, Ala.: University of Alabama Press, 2011).