We cannot deny that people in different and contradictory religious systems have equally strong testimonies of the truth of their beliefs. Mormons, for example, frequently appeal to a "burning in the bosom" as a way of knowing that Mormonism is true. Likewise, Jehovah's Witnesses "know" that their religion is correct. Christian Scientists, Christadelphians, and others each have countless members who sincerely believe in the validity of their religions and will testify to their truth. These groups emphasize "inner testimonies" to different degrees. But the fact remains: contradictory belief systems have members who testify to the truth of contradictory religious systems.
Christians likewise bear their testimonies concerning the truth of Christianity. We testify to the validity of monotheism (in opposition to Mormonism's polytheism),1 of salvation by grace alone (in opposition to Jehovah's Witnesses' teaching that obedience to Law requirements are necessary).2 2), of the reality of sin (in opposition to Christian Science's non-existence of actual sin)3 3), and, of course, that Jesus has saved us from our sins. Obviously, not all contradictory belief systems can be true. So, what can we conclude about these testimonies that affirm the validity of different and contradictory religious systems? We can conclude three things.
First, testimonies are subjective. They are not absolute. They are conveyed to us by people who have feelings about a religious experience or belief. In essence, it is an experience and experiences are, by nature, subjective. And feelings are often just that -- feelings, and not reality.
Second, the fact that people bear witness to contradictory belief systems means that testimonies are not proofs of the validity of any religion -- no matter how strong they might be. Someone who appeals to his testimony as proof of his religion can easily be countered by someone else stating he has an equally strong testimony of something to the contrary. Yet, both parties will still assert they are right.
And third, if we assume that at least one person (or group) is correct, then that would mean that all the other people who have a testimony of the truth are, in actuality, being deceived in some way. From this we can affirm that many people are being deceived who "know for a fact" that their religion is correct.
How would you know if you are deceived?
If it is true that people who sincerely believe in something can be deceived, how would they discover whether or not they are, in fact, being deceived? Simple. Turn to God's word.
I believe that in order to escape deception, a person would need an authoritative and reliable source of information outside his "testimony" by which he can judge spiritual truths and compare his experience. He must be willing to subject his "testimony" to something other than the grilling of his own subjective experience which he claims to be from God. Why? Because if the person used his own testimony to validate his experience then he could not determine whether or not he is deceived since that is appealing to that which is part of the deception to discover truth. It won't work.
Therefore, in order to discover if you are being deceived, you must appeal to God's word and compare your "testimony" to it. If what your testimony points to is in contradiction to God's word, then your testimony is not true.
Testing the Testimony
If someone had a testimony that a religious system was true and that system said it was okay to lie, we could easily conclude that his testimony was incorrect since it supports something that goes against God's revealed word. The person would be deceived. This is simple. However, applying this principle to people isn't easy because since they believe they are not deceived, they will find a way to adopt an interpretation consistent with their belief systems.
Some people will believe their testimonies (feelings) even if the Bible says something to the contrary. Why? Because they will subject God's word to their own testimony. This is commonly done by Mormons. For example, the Bible states that God does not even know of any other Gods (Isaiah 44:8). Yet, in Mormonism God has a goddess wife.4 So, Mormons reinterpret the verse to agree with their testimony. They will state that God knows of no other gods "of this world." They, in effect, add words to the text. We then can become locked in the horns of an interpretive dilemma which is sometimes difficult to overcome.
Nevertheless, among biblically based cult groups, it is almost unanimously agreed that a testimony comes from the Holy Spirit who, according to Scripture (1 John 2:27), resides within the true believer and bears witness of the truth (John 16:13). This testimony comes from the Holy Spirit who is supposed to testify of Jesus (John 15:26).5 This is what all cults claim in one form or another. Yet, there is one factor I've encountered that is an important part of the witness of the Spirit in a true believer.
Assurance of forgiveness of sins
"These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life," (1 John 5:13).
Because the cults serve false gods, they also have false gospels (Gal. 1:8-9). All these "other" gospels are works-oriented. That is, because the members of cults must cooperate with God in some form (obeying commandments, being baptized, etc.) in order to get or maintain the forgiveness of sins, they cannot have assurance of salvation. Yet, the Bible tells us that we can know we have eternal life.
I know that I have eternal life. I know that all my sins are forgiven right now. I know and testify that I am saved by the true and living God and that Jesus is my only Savior. My sins are forgiven and I know I have eternal life.
Of all the cult members I've spoken to, none have told me that they have assurance of eternal life. I can only conclude that they do not have the testimony that is from God. Therefore, they are wrong. They are deceived.
It becomes necessary for all of us to examine our beliefs in the light of God's word and to change our beliefs accordingly. Ultimately, we should come to that place where we have assurance of eternal life -- in agreement with God's word. Do you have this assurance?
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- 1. McConkie, Bruce, Mormon Doctrine, p. 163 and James Talmage, Articles of Faith, p. 443.
- 2. In the Watchtower magazine of Feb. 15, 1983, p. 12, four requirements for salvation are listed. The second one states, "Many have found the second requirement more difficult. It is to obey Gods laws, yes, to conform ones life to the moral requirements set out in the Bible. This includes refraining from a debauched, immoral way of life. 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; 1 Peter 4:3, 4." Hence, JW theology denies salvation by grace through faith alone.
- 3. Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, 447:24.
- 4. Talmage, James, Articles of Faith, p. 443.
- 5. I recommend going to the Christian Doctrine section of CARM and reading about who Jesus really is. In cults, the definitions of who Jesus is are also contradictory.