Once in cult, student now sees importance of knowing theology [Excerpts]
Is it important for a Christian to study biblical doctrine or should all Christians merely love Jesus and leave theology to trained theologians? Ask David Bell, who may be Exhibit A in the case for the doctrinal training of all Christians....less than a decade ago he was a pastor in the Church of God International, which branched off from the Worldwide Church of God in 1978.
Founded by Herbert Armstrong in 1934, the Worldwide Church of God rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, denied the Holy Spirit as a member of the Godhead, and held that redeemed men eventually will join the “god class.”
While the Worldwide Church of God has undergone a dramatic doctrinal shift over the past decade, the majority of the Armstrongist movement, now composed of many smaller churches, continues with essentially the same doctrines espoused by Herbert Armstrong. These churches also hold unorthodox views on the new birth, the person of Christ, and a number of other doctrines central to historic Christianity.
By 1995 Bell became one of the youngest ministers the Church of God International had ever ordained. Heavily influenced by Garner Ted [Armstrong’s] charismatic personality and teaching, Bell planted a Church of God International congregation in his hometown. He regularly traveled to denominational headquarters in Tyler, Texas, for theological training and once preached alongside Garner Ted Armstrong at a large gathering of Amstrongists.
Bell said he was susceptible to unorthodox beliefs because the church in which he was raised did not teach much doctrine. “I had a hunger for doctrine and for the Word of God but those needs weren’t being met,” Bell said. “Garner Ted Armstrong is an extremely doctrinal, persuasive minister. He knew the Scriptures as well as anyone I have ever encountered. He may have misunderstood them at certain key points, but he knew them well. So, when I started listening to his sermons, I was hearing doctrinal meat.”
Once he began wrestling with the church’s teaching, Bell met with one of his former pastors to solicit his assistance in working through the issues biblically. His questions were anything but well-received. “Instead of sitting down with me and helping me work through some of those issues, he just got angry, slammed his Bible shut and stormed off,” Bell said. “I thought, ‘Well, if he can’t answer those questions and Garner Ted can, there must be something to this (Armstrongism).”
For six years Bell remained a committed Armstrongist. But he began to question some of its major doctrines -- doctrines that differed radically from those held by evangelicals. As it turned out, this was the beginning of a slow process that eventually would lead him out of the aberrant religious body. “Armstrongists have a ‘loose brick’ approach to theology,” Bell said. “They look at doctrine as a complete whole or as nothing at all. That’s why they refer to their system of belief as ‘The Truth.’ If any one doctrine falls then the whole system falls.”
The final Armstrongist brick that Bell dislodged was the group’s teaching on God. Armstrongists believe that man eventually accomplishes ‘god-status,’ a qualitative equality with God. It didn’t take a seminary education for Bell to realize that was blasphemy.
Bell’s pilgrimage through Armstrongism has infused him with a desire to equip believers with such a thorough knowledge of biblical Christianity that even a subtle counterfeit is immediately evident to them. When his doctoral work at Southern is complete, Bell hopes to pastor a church and teach at a seminary.
“The main thing my experience taught me is we can’t be superficial in our evangelism, our teaching or in our preaching,” Bell said.
(Robinson, “Once in cult, student now sees importance of knowing theology,” Baptist Press, 6/26/04).
[TBC: It is wonderful news when we hear of how the Bible is used to bring someone out of a cult. It is also a reminder that the Scriptures can keep us from being drawn in to aberrant teaching. "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee" (Psalm:119:11).]