|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2004|
|What is the cultic view of death? We use the term “cultic” descriptively rather than pejoratively here to refer to those groups that claim a large degree of allegiance to the Bible and yet simultaneously deny its basic teachings. Is there considerable overlap between the cults’ teachings on death and the occult philosophy of death? Is the Christian Church increasingly abandoning the teaching of Jesus and adopting a cultic view of death?|
We use the term “cultic” descriptively, rather than pejoratively, to refer to those groups that claim a large degree of allegiance to the Bible and yet simultaneously deny its basic teachings. Also, there may be considerable overlap between the cults’ teachings on death and the occult philosophy of death.
In general, when we describe the cultic view of death, we are referring specifically to three unbiblical but often related teachings concerning death and the afterlife: (1) Universalism assumes that all men have immortal souls and all will be saved. (2) Annihilationism assumes the immortality of the soul, but teaches that God will forever annihilate all who are not saved—their immortality will be taken from them at judgment. (3) Conditional immortality assumes the soul of man is not immortal, and therefore those not saved are simply never resurrected to eternal life. Nothing is taken from them or added to them; they merely cease to exist.
None of these views are biblical, and yet they are not only characteristic teachings in the world of the cults and to some degree the occult, but they are also increasingly found in the Church as well. What these views have in common is their denial of the biblical teaching on an eternal hell. Like those who have had near-death experiences, people who accept these doctrines have no fear of eternal punishment after death.
The citations below come from both cultic and occult literature. At least half originate directly in revelations from the spirit world.
Christian Science, founded by spiritist Mary Baker Eddy, teaches that “there is no death” because after death we “awake only to another sphere of experience, and must pass through another probationary state....” Thus, to Christian Scientists “heaven and hell are states of thought, not places. People experience their own heaven or hell right here....”
Edgar Cayce, a spiritist and New Age prophet, says that “the destiny of the soul, as of all creation, is to become One with the Creator” and that no soul is ever lost.
New Age cult leader and spiritist Sun Myung Moon, of The Unification Church, believes that “God will not desert any person eternally. By some means... they will be restored.”
Mormonism, founded by occultist Joseph Smith, argues, “The false doctrine that the punishment to be visited upon erring souls is endless... is but a dogma of unauthorized and erring sectaries, at once unscriptural, unreasonable, and revolting....”
The Worldwide Church of God (Armstrongism), founded by Herbert W. and Garner Ted Armstrong, also asserts that hell is a false belief: “This final punishment which sinners suffer is eternal DEATH by fire.... Once they are burned up and now dead they are going to stay dead forever.... Those who teach the pagan doctrine of the immortality of the soul... teach contrary to what Jesus said!”
Jehovah’s Witnesses, founded by Charles Taze Russell, maintains that the wicked are forever annihilated because “The teaching about a fiery hell... can rightly be designated as a ‘teaching of demons.’”
The Church of the New Jerusalem (Swedenborgianism), founded by the spiritist Emanuel Swedenborg, emphasizes that God “does not condemn anyone to hell....”
Unity School of Christianity, founded by occult dabblers Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, maintains: “There is no warrant for the belief that God sends man to everlasting punishment.”
The Church Universal and Triumphant, founded by New Age occultists Mark and Elizabeth Prophet, declares that Christian ministers are all false prophets and “wolves in sheep’s clothing [who] preach from the pulpits of the world. They have... spawned a luciferian theology and through their sorcery have exercised a hypnotic control over the people,... through their satanic lies of hellfire and damnation.”
Christadelphianism, founded by Dr. John Thomas, contends: “Those not worthy of resurrection to eternal life will find their destiny in the eternal oblivion of the grave.” And, “It follows also, of necessity, that the popular theory of hell and ‘eternal torments’ is a fiction.”
Lucis Trust and The Arcane School/Full Moon Meditation Groups, begun by New Age spiritist Alice Bailey, argue that “the fear of death is based upon... old erroneous teaching as to heaven and hell....”
The Love Family (The Children of God), founded by spiritist David Berg, views hell as a temporal purgatory: “the lake of fire is where the wicked go to get purged from their sins.... to let them eventually come... out.”
Divine Science, founded by the Brooks Sisters, maintains that “the ‘lake of fire’ is not hell as a place, but is God’s consuming love in which our false beliefs about devil, death and hell are utterly destroyed.” And thus, “Even death is a form of healing.”
Rosicrucianism, an occult philosophy, declares that “the ‘eternal damnation’ of those who are not ‘saved’ does not mean destruction nor endless torture,...” and that “the Christian religion did not originally contain any dogmas about Hell....”
Unitarian Universalism confesses the following: “It seems safe to say that no Unitarian Universalist believes in a resurrection of the body, a literal heaven or hell, or any kind of eternal punishment....”
The Mighty I Am, founded by occultist Guy Ballard (Godfre Ray King), claims that “there is no death.” Rather, “Human beings are the only creators of ‘hell.’... Each individual carries his own heaven or hell with him... for these are but the results of mental and emotional states.”
The Theosophical Society, founded by medium Helena P. Blavatsky, declares: “we positively refuse to accept the... belief in eternal reward or eternal punishment....” Hence, “Death... is not... a cause for fear.”
The spirits everywhere proclaim their allegiance to this cultic teaching. “Ramtha,” the spirit speaking through medium J.Z. Knight, claims: “God has never judged you or anyone” and, “No, there is no Hell and there is no devil.”
“Lilly” and other spirits channeled through medium Ruth Montgomery argue that “there is no such thing as death” and that “God punishes no man.”
In conclusion, the cultic view of death has much in common with the Near-Death Experience, including (1) occult origins, (2) its emphasis that hell is a false teaching, and (3) that death, far from something to be feared, merely opens the door to other levels of spiritual progression.
Today, what was once relegated to cultic belief is now openly taught as part of “Christian” teaching. Despite the Bible’s mentioning hell some 50 times, opinion polls reveal that 70% of all clergy deny the doctrine of hell. Some highly respected evangelical scholars and educated laymen have also rejected the doctrine of hell. They teach that conditional immortality, annihilationism or universalism are legitimate options for Christian belief. Unfortunately, they are influencing others to conclude that life is far safer than what Jesus and the Church have traditionally taught.
When a conditionalist text such as The Fire That Consumes is chosen as an alternate selection by the Evangelical Book Club and when, as some have claimed, “Over 50 percent of young evangelicals believe” in universalism and reject the doctrine of hell, we have to wonder.
Dr. J.I. Packer has noted that universalism “has in this century quietly become part of the orthodoxy of many Christian thinkers and groups.” Likewise, D.B. Eller asserts in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology that it is clear that “Universalism, in a variety of forms, continues to have appeal for contemporary faith, in both liberal and conservative circles.” Theologian Steven Travis observes, “In recent years very few theologians have expounded and defended [the] traditional approach” of eternal hell.
As Dr. Vernon Grounds once commented, “Seldom, I suppose, do we find ourselves brooding over the awesome doctrine of eternal punishment. Only on rarest occasions and then fleetingly is our mood that of Rodin’s famous statue, “The Thinker,’ who sits in mute amazement watching lost souls enter hell. What William Gladstone wrote about eternal punishment in the late 19th century is equally true today: it ‘seems to be relegated at present to the far off corners of the Christian mind, and there to sleep in deep shadow.’”
Richard J. Bauckham, lecturer in the history of Christian thought at the University of Manchester, also points out the neglect of this doctrine when he writes,
In some ways this abandonment of traditional doctrine is not unexpected. In the following sobering words, the Holy Spirit explicitly warns, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). When Christians reject the doctrine of hell, perhaps they have forgotten with whom they are siding.
We have proven that the rejection of eternal punishment is the common teaching of not just the cults, the occult and the New Age Movement but specifically of the spirit world as well. For example, the famous Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes series, became converted to mediumism and spiritism. In his book The New Revelation he observes, “All spirit people (spirits) of wisdom know that there is no burning hell, no fearful devil.” So, the conclusion would seem unavoidable. When Christians adopt the same teaching on hell as given by demons through their human hosts—as in channeling and other forms of mediumism—they are, in effect, “paying attention to the doctrines of demons.”
Is the Church willing to accept such a deplorable state of affairs—when it offers to its own people the teachings of the cults and demons? In rejecting hell, is the Church listening more to the devil than to its own Lord?
The truth is that hell is a vital Christian doctrine. As Vernon Grounds observes, “It is impossible to exaggerate the seriousness and urgency that the doctrine of hell imparts to life here and now.” It should not be abandoned. It should be preached from the pulpits, in Bible schools and seminaries, within and without the Church.