Sep 06 - Proof Of The Pudding Is In The Eating Thereof

Proof Of The Pudding Is In the Eating Thereof

September 6, 2015

Philippians 1:8-11



September 6th, 2015


In last week’s sermon, I mentioned that faith, even the Christian faith, can adversely affect some people.  What I meant, is that for some people, instead of making them feel better about themselves it causes them to feel worse instead, and instead of become more caring and giving, it makes them more harsh and judgmental.  Instead of engendering love and compassion, it engenders hate and condemnation.


Unfortunately, the Christian church and its leaders have used religious dogma and personal ambition to excuse and encourage hate, division, oppression, persecution, violence, torture, murder and war. 


The church included the likes of Thomas de Torquemada, the 15th century leader of the Spanish Inquisition, Rodrigo Borgia, also known as Pope Alexander VI (1431-1503, pope since 1492), and the Rev. Athanase Serumba who encouraged the Hutu soldiers to kill the Tutsi’s who had come to find shelter in his church during the Rwandan genocide.


What is often ignored is that many Christians have done immeasurable good. They have …


… ministered to the sick, the dying, the bereaved,

… built schools and universities, orphanages and hospitals,

… cared for the poor, fed the hungry,

… brought education to the illiterate,

… opposed slavery and the denigration of women

and otherwise improved the lives of millions.


There are the Florence Nightingale’s, Mother Teresa’s, David Livingstone’s, and millions more who have sought to improve the lives of others. 


Today, we are aware of the evils of religion mostly because of fanaticism and fundamentalism within Islam.  However, within Christianity, we still have, what I would term damaging cultic aberrations. 


Can you identify these men, all of whom started out in Christian churches? 


Jim Jones (Jonestown massacre 1978) – originally pastored a Methodist church.


Vernon Howell, better known as David Koresh (Waco Texas 1993) – originally was in the Southern Baptist and Seventh Day Adventist Church.


Marshall Applewhite (Heaven’s gate massacre 1997) – dad a Presbyterian minister and he served both in a Presbyterian and Episcopalian church.


Joseph Kony (Lord’s Army, Uganda) – grew up Catholic and claims to follow the 10 commandments.


Fred Phelps (Hate attacks against homosexuals and soldiers) – originally an associate pastor in a traditional Baptist church.


Sometimes pastors have a propensity toward being like a cult or sect leader.  For example, earlier in his career, Terry Jones, a man who ended up as the leader of the cultic Dove World Outreach Center, was dismissed from an evangelical church which he helped lead for craving attention, always making himself the center of everything, subordinating all activities to his will, and creating a climate of control and fear.[1] 


By the way, unquestioning loyalty to a religious leader or teacher, and authoritarian church leadership that cannot be questioned, are two of the primary signs that a church is cultic. 


Others could include the claim by the leader of special revelation, possibly through visitations by an angel or by Jesus, often about past or future events or new doctrine.

The promotion of extra-biblical books as being on par or better than the Bible.

            Special revelation or new and supposedly inspired books give a much more powerful platform for non-biblical teaching.

An unhealthy focus on one particular, usually imminent, end-time scenario.  Reason why they call some doomsday cults.

Shunning and excommunication for anyone disagreeing with the pastor.

Leaders who end up as sexual predators. Scott Williams, Christian Assemblies International

Leaders who make outrageous claims about their abilities.  (can leg press 2000 pounds and deflect hurricanes)

Leaders who repeatedly make false predictions.

Pat Robertson claims that God had spoken to him about the end of the world (1982), outcome of 2 presidential elections (2004, 2012), a Pacific tsunami (2006), a terrorist attack on the US (2007), and a Russian invasion of the Middle East (2008) – all of which were wrong.

A pronounced desire by the leadership to become wealthy.


With the last 10 years, a number of the wealthiest televangelists have been investigated by the US senate to see whether or not they have been taking advantage of their non-profit status.  You may or may not know some of them.


I’m not saying that these are cult leaders.  However, the reason why religious leaders can become so ludicrous rich on the one hand or start cults on the other, is the same.  It is the cult of personality or celebrity worship that allows leaders to be idealized and elevated above others, something that, for whatever reason, seems particularly prevalent in the US.  


This as a total aside.  Cults are not only found in religion.  They are just as much alive and well in secular ideologies, Marxism, for example,

or groups such as Synanon, a drug rehabilitation center under the authoritarian leader Charles Dederich.


Often corporate cultures turn cult like – unhealthy, authoritarian structures that seek to control much of life, have indoctrination sessions and group rituals, discourage individualism and promote group think, questioning of leaders is illegitimate, information is distorted or hidden to benefit the corporation, etc.


This company and others, often high tech or corporations, have been accused of being cultic.


However, lest we think that cults are not equally prevalent in other countries, here are just a few more examples of cult leaders around the world.


Allan John Millar, former JW elder, compound in Australia, calls himself Jesus.

Vissarion, born Sergey Torop, compound in Russia, calls himself Jesus.

Neville Cooper, founded a Christian cult in New Zealand, (was jailed for one year for 10 counts of indecent assault)


Apollo Quiboloy, in the Philippines, claims to be the son of God.

Zhao Weishan, the founder of a Christian cult in China, with a picture of Yang Xiangbin, a woman who he proclaimed to be YHWH and Jesus.


Whenever a religious leader is flattered, treated as if he were God, money is thrown at him, and anyone who disagrees with him is attacked or thrown out - that is the fertile ground upon which cults can form.


By the way, almost all Christian cult leaders started out affirming the inerrancy of the Scriptures.  The problem is not so much with the doctrine of inerrancy, but with the second step, where the leader’s interpretation of Scripture becomes equally inerrant. 


In other words, a cult leader wants others to accept that he or she is the sole authority and final interpreter of the Bible. 


Cults also arise most often in independent or autonomous churches … there is often no authority above the primary leader that could potentially hold him accountable or bring about a corrective.


By the way, cultic leaders in the church are not just a current phenomenon.  They existed in the first century church as well.  For example, when Paul wrote his letters to Timothy, he warns his young friend against some leaders in the church.


In 1 and 2 Timothy Paul describes them as:


Hypocritical liars (they preach a gospel they do not practice or ask others to live in a way that they themselves do not; make themselves look good, cover up, deceive).

They have a seared conscience (possibly because they can justify something immoral).

They teach a false asceticism (abstinence from sex and some foods).                                     1 Timothy 4:1-3

They teach false and ungodly doctrines


(Paul listed his own beliefs in two creedal statements in 1 Timothy – 2:6 [Jesus gave himself a ransom for all], and  .


They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels.

They think that being a Christian (or Christian leader) is a way to get wealthy.                                   1 Timothy 6:3-5

They are boastful, proud, conceited, and will love only themselves.

They have depraved minds, love pleasure, and lack self-control.

They will take advantage of the weak-willed.

They neither love God nor are genuinely concerned for others (see others much like con men look at their marks – as a means to get things for themselves).              

They only love themselves and money (narcissistic personality disorder).                               2 Timothy 3:2-8


The author of 1 Peter gives admonition to church leaders not to be greedy for money and not to lord their position over the church members, that is, not to use it as a means of dominating and controlling others (1 Peter 5:2-3), implying that these things had in fact happened.


John wrote a letter to his friend Gaius to thank him for supporting the people who came to the church.  But he also complained about a church leader with the name Diotrephes – let’s call him Dio. 


For one, Dio “loves to be first,” that is, he loves to be in charge, he loves to be in control and able to tell others what they should believe and do. 


Secondly, he “gossips maliciously” about John, that is, he is spreading slander about someone who may be able to stand up to him.  In other words, paint those who may be a threat as the devil. 


Third, he “refuses to welcome the brothers.”  In other words, he is isolating the church from other believers. 


Lastly, he “tosses from the church” those who do welcome other believers, that is, he excludes those who challenge his authority in any way (3 John 9-10).


The reason why Paul and other NT writers warn their readers about cultic leaders is because they will actually damage and hurt those who follow them.


Religion can “go bad.” We may read in the newspapers that some religious leader has abused someone under his care, or an abuser was sheltered by the church leadership.  We may even be personally familiar with the misuse of the Bible to support domestic violence, prop up spiritually abusive systems, or reinforce family dysfunction. 


It may also be the case that we carry our own dysfunctions into our spiritual life, which can make us particularly prone to receiving or dishing out religious rubbish. 


We may have used the Bible as a weapon against other people, or used spiritual “excuses” to keep ourselves from being honest with ourselves. 


Whenever religion goes bad it creates a lot of pain. People get hurt. And the wounds are usually not superficial.  We can often get hurt right down to our very core.  In fact, our hearts can be damaged for years or even decades, or maybe even our whole lives long.


So if you encounter religious followers or leaders who are extremely harsh and demanding, or who are legalistic and cannot be challenged, or who give themselves titles like apostle or prophet (or sometimes bishop), or who always promotes themselves and how great they are, or who are constantly after money, or who claim to have special revelation from God … let that raise some warning flags in your mind. 


The title of this message is, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating thereof.”  What the proverb really means is that the only way you know if a pudding is good or bad is to taste it.


The pudding may look great.  It may smell great.  It may have a great consistency and texture. But that doesn’t mean that it will taste great.  Appearances can be deceiving. 


Jesus warned his followers:


Watch out for false prophets.  They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.  You will recognize them by their fruit.    Matthew 7:15-16


Jesus uses the metaphor of sheep, which in Jewish thought often indicated true believers and followers of God, as in Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goat.


So a cultic church may appear idyllic, at least at first glance.  It may seem to stress family values.  There may be a lot of smiles and talk about peace and brotherhood.  It may appear that the Bible is taught. 



Until you dig deeper.  Then you will uncover manipulative and controlling leaders, beliefs that will tear families apart, a meanness of spirit, false, damaging, unhealthy, and even predatory beliefs and practices.


Jesus said that by their fruit you will know them.  It isn’t so much what they say, or who they pretend to be, ultimately their actions will find them out. 


Even if we hold the finest theological beliefs, understand in detail every grammatical nuance in the Bible, have memorized chapter after chapter of the Bible, have all kinds of titles, but in our daily lives we are angry, shouting, uncaring and selfish clods, the latter will outweigh the former.


The writer of James contrasts earthly wisdom with wisdom from above.  Earthly wisdom is marked by selfish ambition (repeated twice, along with jealousy):


But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good deeds, impartial and sincere.                                            James 3:17  


If you look at these items individually, they are in direct contradiction to what is cultic. 


There is moral purity … ethical integrity. 

There is a genuine desire to promote peace and be at peace with others.

There is gentleness, a lack of aggression and self-promotion.

There is an openness to reason, the ability to question, to test, to use one’s personal faculties.

There is fullness of mercy, a genuine concern for others, which is inevitably followed by good deeds … or caring actions.

There is impartiality, the desire to treat people equally, not on some kind of hierarchical order.

And there is sincerity, it isn’t fake, what you see is what you get. 


Most of all, there needs to be a track record of these things.  You will recognize them by their fruit.  Fruit has all summer to ripen.  I once had a fig tree whose fruit never ripened … ever.  A church should have a track record of being a place where people can heal and grow.  


That isn’t to say that a non-cultic church is perfect.  After all, every church is filled with imperfect people and imperfect leaders.  And yes, we can get hurt even in a church that displays heavenly wisdom.  But generally, it will be safe.  Dysfunctional spirituality will not be the norm.  It will be a place where we are built up, not torn down, encouraged, not denigrated; respected, not controlled. 


[Also, it does not mean that a non-cultic church accepts or promotes every lifestyle choice, or become doctrinally wishy-washy.] 


The proof of the pudding is in the eating thereof.


Let me ask you, “How are you experiencing your faith?”  Are your beliefs helping you to grow and improve and become a better person?  Or are your beliefs making you miserable and more negative?


To the Jews who had believed in him, Jesus said, “If you follow my teaching you really are my disciples.  Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:31-32


According to Jesus, if believers actually do what he told them to do (love God, each other and even strangers), the truth they will discover will set them free.  Free from the past, free from themselves, free from guilt.


Genuine, that is, wholesome or sound faith will lead to freedom, not bondage, … to wholeness, not brokenness, … to joy, not misery.


I think that it is high time that Christians left behind destructive beliefs, unwarranted end time speculations, and the cult of personality, and focused a lot more on Jesus’ teaching, which promotes altruism, seeks to improve the present, engenders peace among all people, without losing sight of the hope of redemption and eternal life. 


Paul prayed this for the believers in the Macedonian city of Philippi.


And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best (what is of foremost importance), and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, rich with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ — to the glory and praise of God.                                                   Philippians 1:8-11










[1]  Accessed Sept 3, 2015.