Truth For Generations Blog

How do you identify unbiblical Christian movements?

Truth For Generations Blog

How do you identify unbiblical Christian movements?

What is an "unbiblical Christian movement"?

An unbiblical Christian movement is best described as an organized group of people professing to be Christians all the while denying the core beliefs of biblical Christology.

What is Biblical Christology?

Christology is simply the branch of Christian theology relating to the person, nature, and role of Jesus Christ. Biblical Christology is an examination of Christ’s person, nature, and roles exclusively from the Bible.

Biblical Christology outlines that:

  • Jesus preexisted before his incarnation.
  • Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies about the messiah (his birth, lineage, place of birth, Galilean ministry of compassion and judgment, the prophet to come, he would function as a priest, his betrayal, being sold for 30 pieces of silver, his violent death, his resurrection, his exaltation to God’s right hand, his eternal reign in fulfillment of Davidic promise)
  • Jesus was thoroughly human and thoroughly divine. One person, two natures.
  • While Jesus took on the nature of a servant, he did not set aside his divinity. 
  • Jesus was born of the virgin Mary.
  • Jesus came to redeem his creation and rule over it. His role as king reveals God to men, saves sinners, destroys the works of the devil, judges men, and brings all things in creation back in submission to God.
  • Jesus was both God and man, suffered temptation victoriously, and can therefore draw near to help us in time of weakness; his temptations have given us confidence in his sympathetic heart.
  • Jesus was crucified and died under Pontius Pilate for the forgiveness of sins, the establishment of the new covenant, and the defeat of Satan. 
  • Jesus’ body was ressurected and his tomb was empty, this was witnessed by his disciples, and he was seen by more than 500 people over 40 days before his ascension.
  • Jesus ascended to the right hand of God, a place of power and authority, and currently reigns over the universe, and is head over all things pertaining to the church.

  • Jesus will someday return, suddenly and bodily, with great glory, to judge the world. Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. No man knows the day nor the hour.

When talking about the validity of different Christian movements, it’s important that we focus first on what each movement says about Christ.

What are primary and secondary beliefs?

Primary beliefs are essential beliefs one needs to hold in order to be considered biblically Christian. Secondary beliefs describe a group of practices and beliefs which are not essential to be considered biblically Christian. These are grey areas that different denominations may disagree on, but they are not salvation issues.

Examples:

Primary Belief: Jesus is fully human and fully God. All Christians must declare this in order to be true Christians. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is a perfect man, the first creation as archangel Michael, and not fully God, but only a gift from God. This would be one of the reasons Jehovah’s Witnesses are considered an unbiblical Christian movement.

Secondary Belief: Worship shouldn’t include any instruments. This controversial belief is held by the Church of Christ, because of their unified agreement that there isn’t a provision for insturments in worship in the New Testament. This is something that individuals and denominations can disagree on without undermining their core beliefs about the person, nature, and role of Jesus Christ.

Because Jehovah’s Witnesses disagree with the  primary beliefs of Christology, they are considered an unbiblical Christian movement. Meanwhile, the Church of Christ holds a unique belief about worship practices (a secondary issue), but holds true to biblical Christology. The Church of Christ is considered to be a true Christian movement.

What is the difference between a denomination and a cult?

Denominations are distinct sub-groups within Christianity that have agreed on different interpretations and applications of biblical secondary issues. These denominations are identifiable by traits such as name, history, organization & government, leadership, theological doctrine, worship style, and mission.

Sub-groups that agree on different interpretations and applications of biblical primary issues are a deviation from Christianity and are considered cults rather than denominations. Often these groups redefine who Christ is, make man equal to God, and believe scripture is not enough and/or is corrupt. Cult leaders may claim to be the second coming of Jesus Christ or God himself, usually accompanied by a reckless and loose application of prophecy.

Why are there so many denominations?

According to research from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, there are more than 200 Christian denominations in the United States alone. The simplified answer as to why there are so many denominations is the fact that we are all individuals, and the way Christians have answered the call of Jesus has changed over history.

Why change? Because the world and society change, along with the needs and concerns of people. What remains unchanged is the Bible, who God is, who Jesus Christ is, and what he has done for us.

What does the Bible say?

“John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us.” – Mark 9:38-40 ESV

This is a beautiful reminder that just because we don’t agree with everything a denomination does if they’re professing who Jesus actually is, they’re partnering with us in the Great Commission, and not working against us. We must not get stuck believing there is “one true denomination,” but remember that we are all different members of the body of Christ:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. – 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

That said, we are told to test the spirits to see if they are from God, because many false prophets and teachers have gone out into the world. It is our responsibility to do so:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit [speaking through a self-proclaimed prophet]; instead test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets and teachers have gone out into the world. By this you know and recognize the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges and confesses [the fact] that Jesus Christ has [actually] come in the flesh [as a man] is from God [God is its source]; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus [acknowledging that He has come in the flesh, but would deny any of the Son’s true nature] is not of God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming, and is now already in the world.” – 1 John 4:1-3 AMP

Using these passages alone we can easily sort out unbiblical movements from biblical ones by taking a look at the core beliefs each movement has about Jesus.

Unbiblical Movements

Jesus told us that any spirit that acknowledges that He has come in the flesh, but denies any of his true nature, is not of God. Thus, we can narrow down our list to Christian movements that deny the divine nature of Jesus Christ.

The following movements believe Jesus is only human with the title “Son of God,” but is not divine:

  • Christadelphians – John Thomas (1805–1871) 
  • Church of God General Conference – Joseph Marsh (1802 – 1863) &  William Miller (1782 – 1849) 
  • Cooneyites / Two by Twos –  Edward Cooney (1867–1960) & William Irvine (1863–1947) 
  • Iglesia ni Cristo / INC – Felix Ysagun Manalo (1886 – 1963)
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses – Charles Taze Russell (1852 – 1916) 
  • Members Church of God International – Nicolas Perez (1928 – 1975)

Other movements with wrong beliefs about Jesus’ personhood:

  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – Joseph Smith Jr. (1805 – 1844) – Though their statement of beliefs are thoughtfully curated, it doesn’t take long to discover that LDS believe that Jesus is divine, but that he is one of many gods/spirit children. LDS theology teaches that we will also one day be equal with Christ as spirit children if we live according to LDS standards.
  • Oneness Pentecostalism –  Robert Edward McAlister (1880 –1953) – Believe that Jesus is simply a manifestation of God here on earth, and deny that the Trinity exists. Thus, the perception of who Jesus is in relation to himself and us is fundamentally flawed. This movement began with preaching that baptism should only be done in Jesus’ name, ignoring Matthew 8:19-20 (ESV):

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

  •  Worldwide Church of God / Armstrongism – Herbert W. Armstrong (1892 – 1986) –  Armstrong claimed that God is currently made up of two individuals: the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit absent. The God-family is made up of these two. According to Armstrong, the preexistent Jesus, known in the Old Testament as Melchizedek and Yahweh, was born as a man. Although Jesus Christ existed from the beginning, he was always submissive to the Father. At His spiritual, rather than physical, resurrection, He was reborn into the godhead. According to Armstrong, the Holy Spirit is neither divine nor a person. It is simply thought of as God’s spiritual extension, holding His essence and power.
  • The New Church (Swedenborgian) – Emanuel Swedenborg (1688 – 1772) – The Trinity is believed to exist in one person, the Lord God Jesus Christ. The Father, God’s being or soul, was born into the world and clothed in Mary’s body. Jesus put aside all human desires and impulses throughout his life until he was totally divine. He influences the world through the Holy Spirit after his resurrection, which is his activity. In this perspective, Jesus Christ is the one God, the Father in terms of his soul, the Son in terms of his body, and the Holy Spirit in terms of his worldly activity.
  • Christian Universalism – 1866 – Believe that God is the loving parent of all people, and Jesus Christ reveals the nature and character of God and is the spiritual leader of humankind. Belief in Jesus’ deity is optional.
  • Christian Science – Mary Baker Eddy (1821 – 1910) – Christian Scientists believe Jesus was a man who lived in first-century Palestine and Christ is the name for a certain divine idea.  The invisible Christ (“the ideal Truth, that comes to heal sickness and sin through Christian Science”) became perceptible in the visible Jesus, who was a mere man and demonstrated the divine idea. Eddy once said, “If there had never existed such a person as the Galilean Prophet, it would make no difference to me.”
  • New Thought – Phineas P. Quimby (1802 – 1866) –  Many New Thought groups emphasize Jesus as teacher and healer and proclaim his kingdom as being within a person. 
  • Centers for Spiritual Living – Ernest Shurtleff Holmes (1887 – 1960) – Believe that Jesus was the great example, given to us all, of fully living our divine potential, our “Christ Consciousness.” Jesus is divine, but we are equally divine.
  • Unity Church – Charles Fillmore (1854 – 1948) & Mary Caroline “Myrtle” Page Fillmore (1845 – 1931) – Believes that Jesus is a great example of God in physical form. He is divine, but we are equally divine. 
  • Church of Divine Science – Malinda E. Cramer (1844 – 1906) –  They believe Jesus to be a great teacher,  the divine Example, Not the Exception, that we can and must follow. He was a completely God-centered spiritual genius with a Divine Mission – to show each of us how to live, and how to relate to God and our fellow man.

We Should Also Mention:

  • Seventh-Day Adventists – William Miller (1782 – 1849) & Ellen G. White (1827 – 1915) – While Seventh Day Adventists generally agree on who Jesus is, they have adopted extra-biblical teachings from William Miller and “prophetess” Ellen White. Miller preached and predicted the second coming of Jesus in 1844. When that failed, (the Great Disappointment), White declared that Jesus actually did come already, just not to Earth. She said that Jesus returned to the “most holy place” to clean it, and when he was done, he would come to earth. While this denomination adheres to most Christian beliefs, it has interwoven extra-biblical claims into its premise that cannot be ignored.
  • New Apostolic Reformation / Neocharismatic Christianity – C. Peter Wagner (1930 – 2016) – Churches who ascribe to New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) theology believe in a biblical Jesus, but have a distorted view of humanity’s relationship with God and how we are to relate to Jesus. The NAR teaches that the church of the 21st century will be ruled by apostles (an office that ended with Jesus’ twelve appointed apostles) and prophets in a network without governance, in order to facilitate the second coming of Christ. Man’s work in this means that man becomes co-redeemer of Earth. The alleged apostles and prophets claim to receive direct revelation from God, or have God “on-call” and are loose and casual with prophetic messages they often give on demand. When these prophecies do not happen, they excuse them away instead of repenting of them and continue to give false prophecies. NAR churches allow experience-oriented theology and mysticism to guide their beliefs rather than allowing scripture to test the spirits they’re listening to. Some believe that New Age practices, such as tarot card readings, should be “taken back” by Christians, disregarding Biblical mandates to avoid such things.

Takeaways


Here are the most important takeaways from this article:

  • There is one God, one Christ, and one truth about Him. The only authority for that truth is the Bible.
  • Test every spirit: Every spirit that acknowledges and confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. Every spirit that confesses that he has come in the flesh, but denies his nature is the spirit of the antichrist.
  • We are not at war with one other, and denominations of biblical churches are not the enemy. We must allow each other to worship and honor God in the way that we understand from our Bible readings that he intends to be worshipped.
  • Christian cults are real and are not casually named “cults” to be an insult. Christian cults do not adhere to a biblical view of Christ but rather have simply co-opted Christian caricatures in order to appear to legitimize themselves. If you do not want to be in a cult, then you are encouraged to seek out a denomination that holds to a biblical view of Christ’s person, nature, and roles.

Author

  • As the Owner of WestHeir Ltd. Co., Stephanie shares the latest in industry news, behind-the-scenes details, and community content to help collectors grow closer together.

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