Tom welcomes guest Kurt Goedelman of Personal Freedom Outreach ministries. In today’s program, Kurt shares how cults such as the Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses), Mormonism, and Christian Science differ from true Christianity.
Gary: Welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7, a radio ministry of The Berean Call featuring T.A. McMahon. I’m Gary Carmichael. We’re glad you could join us. In today’s program, Tom welcomes Kurt Goedelman. Kurt is the founder of the ministry Personal Freedom Outreach. Now along with his guest, here’s TBC executive director Tom McMahon.
Tom: Thanks, Gary. Today and next week I have the pleasure of visiting with Kurt Goedelman. Kurt is the founder of Personal Freedom Outreach, a ministry that addresses the false teachings of cults and aberrational Christian groups as well as unbiblical beliefs and practices that have arisen within evangelical Christianity.
Kurt, welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7.
Kurt: Hey, thank you, Tom. It’s an honor and a privilege to be with you and your listening audience.
Tom: Here, you know, many of our listeners know of Personal Freedom Outreach (PFO, which we’ll be referring to that as we go along) from your Quarterly Journal. But others who are unaware, I’m telling them, they need to subscribe to the Journal, which Gary later will tell them how to go about subscribing. Now, prior to the creation of the Journal, you and your wife, Angela, who’s just absolutely terrific--I’ve had the opportunity to speak at a conference, a PFO conference last year, and Angela--she gets the job done, doesn’t she? [laughs]
Kurt: Yes, she does.
Tom: She’s incredible. But you guys were producing tracts on the cults. Now, tell us how you got started with that.
Kurt: Well, let me go back and just give you a bit of my testimony. I was born into a home with a non-practicing Lutheran father and a practicing Catholic mother. And so because of that, Catholicism was the active religion in the home, and so I grew up Catholic, learning this doctrine of practices, really, five days a week by a parochial school and on Sundays. But then when I entered public high school, that took me away from the daily influence of Catholic school and its teachings, and so in my junior and senior years, I began to drift into New Age teachings, such as belief in reincarnation, and really, that was an easy drift, as both Catholicism and New Age teachings both have a works-based system of salvation.
Kurt: And after high school graduation, I pursued a degree in photography. The school that I went to was in Iowa, and it was taught by masters of photography there. And while I was home for the summer in 1973, the teenage sister and mother of one of my friends challenged my New Age beliefs with the claims of Christ and Christianity. I was confronted with the biblical truth that “it’s appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment,” and also with the marvelous truth that it’s “not by works of righteous which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by His grace we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
And so it was really through that witness and the testimony of God’s Word that I surrendered to Christ. I didn’t have to work off all my own bad karma, Jesus did it for me.
So several weeks after my profession of faith, I headed back to school in Iowa with my Bible in hand and Christ in my heart, but really, when I got there, I didn’t have anyone to disciple me.
And so it was there that I experienced a bit of God’s irony and a whole lot of His protection. Not having anyone to disciple me, I was not really sure how to grow in this new-found faith, and I think back and I remember while doing my laundry at the local Laundromat, I would find assorted copies of this “Christian” magazine titled The Watchtower, and I would take those magazines back to my apartment. But, you know, each time I tried to read them, it was as if the words in the sentences were all jumbled up and made no absolutely no sense, and that’s kind of strange, because The Watchtower is written on a fifth-grade reading level, and I hope I have at least that. And yet I now see that as really God’s safeguard in my life. And then the irony in all of it is that just a few years removed from that, the Lord would open up the opportunity to develop a ministry to Jehovah’s Witnesses. And also in the fact that those very magazines that made no sense to me now just a few feet sitting here from you, I’ve got over fifty years worth of those magazines and over a hundred years of other Watchtower books here in our research library.
Tom: Kurt, the interesting thing about that is, as you know, that my background is Roman Catholic, thirty-some years. But it’s interesting, because the cults, Jehovah’s Witnesses, I would say they get more converts from Roman Catholicism than any other denomination, whether it be true or otherwise, and primarily because, as you said earlier, they all have a works-salvation base.
Kurt: Exactly. And so it’s just that just like with me coming out of Catholicism into New Age teaching, it’s that work-based system of salvation, and so it’s just that easy drift to go from one to the other.
Tom: Yeah, so pick it up from there. This is…
Kurt: Okay. Well, I graduated and received my arts degree in photography, and I returned to St. Louis and a year later I married that young lady that led me to Christ. And it was also at this time, in the course of personal evangelism, it seemed like the subject of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons would always make its way into the conversation, and as I was witnessing to people, the person whom I was witnessing to would often say, “Well, why aren’t Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons Christians? They claim to be. What gives you the right to say that they’re not?” And, you know, those were fair questions that I think deserved a knowledgeable reply.
But I didn’t know why these groups were not part of the Christian church but rather were regarded apart from the Christian church. And so Angela and I, we began a personal study to understand what separated these groups and their members from being Christian, and in the course of that study, we began to dialogue with members of these groups. We came in contact with people who had family members that were in these groups and were looking for help, and we also had the opportunity to become acquainted with former members of these groups, and all of this gave us the understanding that we were looking for as to why these groups were not truly Christian but rather non-Christian cults.
But more importantly, it developed within us a deep love and a compassion and a concern for the members in these groups. These were lost souls for whom Jesus died, and from that concern, and from the desire to assist those who were trying to rescue family members from these cults, the ministry of Personal Freedom Outreach was established. And it was in those early years that Angela and I began writing and developing the witnessing tracts that were directed at Jehovah’s Witnesses and then later on with the help of other friends and other directors of the ministry, we developed tracts intended for Mormons and other cultic groups.
Tom: Mm-hmm. You know, Kurt, what you’re describing here makes me think so much of my involvement with Dave Hunt and our beginnings. You know, Dave had been doing it prior to my involvement with him, but going back something like 38 years, our beginnings were with the cults.
Tom: It wasn’t just at the time. I mean, one of the things about the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses--they showed up on your doorstep.
Tom: But there back in the late 70s, early 80s, you had the Moonies, you had Hare Krishna, [unintelligible], now Eastern Mysticism moving in. Now, in light of that, how did you pick up the title Personal Freedom Outreach? What’s the significance there?
Kurt: Well, I guess ultimately, Personal Freedom Outreach, that name was decided on and given to the organization by Angela and me, and we really based it on a variety of Scriptures like--included 2 Cor:13:7--“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty, or freedom.” Gal:5:1--“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” And I guess we could add John:8:32 to that, where Jesus says, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” And so with the ministry name, we tried to convey the truth that we are free in Christ; we’re no longer in bondage to man, we’re no longer in bondage to sin, to death, to hopelessness, and really, the bottom line within cults and false teaching is bondage and enslavement, and the bottom line with Jesus is freedom. And then, too, I guess really the mission Scripture that we use for the ministry is Jude 3, which says that we “should earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints.”
Tom: Right. Kurt, coming out of Roman Catholicism, which you did, and you know experientially--I did; I knew experientially--but one of the things that was a reality that it’s hard to explain to people, but it’s the reality that we were in bondage.
Kurt: Yes, we were. Yes.
Tom: And we knew instantly when we became born again that we were delivered from that bondage. Now, yes, it’s an experiential part, but Christianity is not only the objective Word of God, it’s also experiences that we have (that need to be held up to the Word of God, of course).
Tom: But we know that experientially.
Kurt: Yeah, yeah. Growing up Catholic, you know, we were always taught that Jesus opened those gates to heaven that Adam’s sin had closed, but now it was our responsibility to work ourselves through those gates, and again, going back to Angela and her mom just confronting me with the Scriptures, especially the Titus:3:5-7 passage, that it’s “not according to our works, but according to His mercy that He saved us,” and that we’ve been made heirs according to the hope of eternal life through that, being justified by His grace.
Tom: Right. Now, the goals of PFO, Personal Freedom Outreach, are to educate Christians about the dangers of the doctrines--you’ve mentioned that that’s how you guys got started--and to reach the members of the cults with the gospel, but also to warn Christians of the unbiblical teachings that have entered the church itself, and I want to deal with that just a little bit later. But let me go over each point: what might be some doctrines that are particularly harmful to the members of the cults? I mean, we’ve talked about bondage, but what else?
Kurt: Sure. Well, when we look at all false doctrine, really, in one manner or another, physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, they’re all harmful to members of the cults, and really, by extension to Christians in regard to the cults, I think of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who risk their lives on a daily basis, because the leadership of their organization forbids them from accepting a blood transfusion, and there’s countless lives that are in premature graves because of this prohibition given by a false prophet. And likewise, but not so much prominent as they were a century ago, you have the Christian Science religion…
Kurt: …which has even more medical prohibitions.
Tom: Yeah, just explain that to our audience, the idea of you don’t go to a medical doctor, that you go to someone who basically is going to talk you out of it.
Kurt: Well, exactly, and going back to the Jehovah’s Witnesses with their prohibition on blood transfusion, they utilize the Old Testament dietetic laws, and they bring that forward and place that burden on the people that they cannot accept a blood transfusion, because they say taking a blood transfusion even in the veins, that’s just like eating of blood, and we are prohibited from eating blood. And it’s interesting that over the course of the history of the Watchtower organization, there were three main medical prohibitions: there was a prohibition against vaccinations, there was a prohibition against organ transplants, and there was a prohibition against blood transfusions. In fact, vaccinations, they said, have never saved a human life; it does not prevent the spread of smallpox, which is totally unscientific and untrue; they said that accepting an organ transplant was linked to cannibalism. And the vaccinations and organ transplants--they have reversed their prohibitions on that and now it’s up to just a matter of personal conscience in a Jehovah’s Witness whether he wants to accept those or not. And so today, only the prohibition on blood transfusions remains.
Tom: Mm-hmm. I know there have been some issues in England with regard to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Have they massaged that around a little bit to pass on that, or what?
Kurt: Well, in the confines of the Watchtower organization, back in the ‘70s and the ‘80s, boy, they really had just a tight rein on their people, and now with the genesis of the internet and all these blogs, there’s really kind of an underground movement within the Watchtower society of rank-and-file Jehovah’s Witnesses that realize that this is a false interpretation of Scripture and a false doctrine and putting the lives of their people in grave danger.
And so there’s this kind of an undercurrent of Jehovah’s Witnesses that are trying to get Watchtower organization to rescind that like they did the vaccinations, like they did the organ transplants, and it may certainly come one day, but it’s going to be a hard doctrine for them to rescind, because again, we go back and there are just countless lives that are in premature graves because of this prohibition. I think back a number of years ago, there was an Awake magazine that had a montage of more than two dozen young people on the cover of this Awake magazine, and it said, “Youths Who Put God First,” and what it was was all of these had issues with blood transfusions. And as you read through those articles in that Awake magazine, one after another, these children said no to blood transfusions and died.
Tom: Mm-hmm. You know, we could also look to the Mormon Church: when the pressure comes, when there are agendas or issues that may keep them out of a particular country or whatever it might be, it’s amazing, because it’s a manmade religion, you know? It’s amazing how they’re going to readjust some things, even though people say, “Well, this is a step forward.” No, it’s a cult managing itself, maintaining what it wants to do within its agenda.
Kurt: Well, a classic example of that is back in the ‘70s, up until that time, they would not allow blacks to partake of the priesthood…
Tom: This is Mormonism, right.
Kurt: …yes, yes. And because they were building temples in countries where the population had some form of Negro blood, they rescinded that. Spencer W. Kimball said that he received a revelation from God, and now that blacks were allowed to partake of the priesthood. But there we’ve got a real problem, because Brigham Young, the second president and prophet of the Mormon Church said that blacks were never to be able to partake of the priesthood, and if the Church ever gave blacks the priesthood, God would take the authority away from the Church.
And so who do we believe? Do we believe Brigham Young, who said that the blacks would never partake of the Mormon priesthood, or do we believe Spencer W. Kimball, who said now that the blacks are allowed to partake of the Mormon priesthood.
Tom: And then, again, you have man making these things up. So you have progressive revelation…I mean, we could go back to how they even got statehood. Explain that to our listeners.
Kurt: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Well, see, within all the cults, what you have is “today’s truth proves to be tomorrow’s error.”
Tom: Yeah, yeah. Now, we mentioned a bit with regard to Christian Science. Tell our listeners about the practitioners, because this has probably caused more deaths in terms of a belief that’s been imposed upon the followers of a particular cult: practitioners.
Kurt: Well, Christian Science, of course, comes out of the metaphysical realm, and they really don’t see anything as reality, and so sickness and death is just all kind of in the mind of the beholder.
Tom: Yeah. Kurt, the idea of a cult with their agendas and their…all the things that we’ve been talking about, even if they massage those around, straighten those things out, what you do, Personal Freedom Outreach, you’re about getting the gospel to cult members. I mean, that’s really the bottom line, the heart of…and the necessary thing, right?
Kurt: Exactly. Because you say, “Well, why the gospel?” Well, simply stated, because the gospel is man’s only hope for sin. A cultist is like any lost individual: they need to hear the message of God’s grace, and it’s only by the gospel that we come into fellowship with God. Apart from the gospel, we’re all destitute, and without hope, and there’s nothing more critical than a true understanding of the gospel. The Bible declares that “the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.”
You know, you can spend hours talking to a Mormon about if it’s okay to drink coffee or Coca-Cola, or you can spend hours talking to a Jehovah’s Witness whether they should celebrate Christmas or have a birthday party, but in the end, those discussions never get to our sin and our rebellion and that Jesus died in our place and took the punishment that we deserved so that we could be forgiven by God and have fellowship with Him. In fact, in 1 Cor. 15, Paul says he delivered first of all what he received, and what was that that he delivered first of all? It was the gospel message of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.
Tom: Right. Well, that’s the deal. If Christ didn’t pay the full penalty for our sin, and we don’t get there, then there’s no salvation.
Tom: There’s no salvation. Kurt, there’s another interesting thing about the development of the Personal Freedom Outreach, and I just want to give an example of this ministry, because there’s so many parallels between what you guys do and what we’ve done. But the start was really interesting. You know, as I mentioned earlier, Dave wrote a book called The Cult Explosion, okay? And at that time, I worked on a documentary for The Cult Explosion. Then Dave did, with Ed Dekker, he did The God Makers, and there was a documentary at the same time, 16-millimeter; it was before video.
Kurt: Right, right.
Tom: So I worked on that, because I had a writing background in Hollywood, screenplays and so on. So I wrote--helped to write and revise The God Makers. Now, the responses that we got from that from the church, from the evangelical church, even the charismatics, said, “Hey, wait a minute, these ideas from Mormonism and from these other cults, they’re being taught in our church.” And the whole idea that we could become gods or that God works a certain way--you have Tilton and many of the word-faith teachings and teachers. Now, that’s when we moved into dealing with issues that the church was comfortable with looking at the laundry outside their backyard, the dirty laundry. But when it came to things within the church, and these were issues that were affecting believers; that was our approach. Now, you guys moved into dealing with the issues that have come into the church. Explain that a bit.
Kurt: Well, first of all, the fact that the church being immune from false teaching, you know, I wish that was true, but sadly it’s not. And really, we shouldn’t be surprised, because it’s not a recent development in the 20th century or 21st century, but it’s really been a problem within the church for as long as the church has existed. I think back to Paul’s words to the elders there at the church of Ephesus that were recorded in Acts 20. He said, “Take heed to all the flock, to feed them, but also to guard them, because after my departure, there’s going to be grievous wolves that are going to enter among you, not sparing the flock.” And he says, “Also from among your own selves shall men arise speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after themselves.”
You know, I think back, too, to Jude’s epistle where he says we are to earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered, because he says that false teachers have crept in unaware, and so really, the 21st century church, especially in America, is seeing a spiritual atrophy of all types. It’s a deterioration of doctrine, an erosion of discernment, and Paul also addressed that when he wrote to Timothy. He said that, “The time is coming when men will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers, and they will turn away their ears from the truth and have turned aside to fables.”
Tom: Mm-hmm. So now, Personal Freedom Outreach: you guys have moved…you still deal with cults in a terrific way.
Kurt: We do.
Tom: But now, tell our listeners about the start of PFO Journal, Keith Morris, and how did that get going?
Kurt: Well, the newsletter publication, now entitled the Quarterly Journal, really had its beginnings in 1981, and as you indicated, Keith Morris helped to get that effort off the ground, and in fact, I’ve often said that during the 33 years of publication of our newsletter, there have been various changes in the design, the size, the title, and other cosmetic alterations, but there’s been one thing that has stayed consistent throughout those 33 years, and that’s the name Keith Morris as editor on the publication’s nameplate.
And the Journal really had its roots back in the late 1970s when several of our directors wrote for a quarterly publication. It was titled The Journal: A Pastorial Practice, and the general editor of that book was Jay Adams, and that publication contained a cross section of topics including counseling and evangelism, missions, preaching--I think there was a section in there on medicine and health, and there was also a section called Para-Christianity, which was a cult and apologetic-related section. And that Para-Christianity section was edited by one of our directors, Wesley P. Walters. Wes was a lifelong friend of Jay’s; they attended high school together and seminary together, and really, I guess anyone that has a serious study of the history of the Mormon Church will know the name Wes Walters.
Kurt: Wes was a pastor of a Presbyterian church about an hour from St. Louis, and I was really blessed to have him as a friend and a co-director and a mentor, and he was a remarkable researcher and the documents that he uncovered regarding Mormonism and Joseph Smith really have never been honestly refuted by the Mormons. For example, he proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that from church records in the area, that there was no 1820 revival in Palmyra, New York, as Joseph Smith claimed, and why is that important? Well, because the 1820 Revival in Joseph’s community is supposedly the very basis for the vision that Joseph Smith had of the Father and the Son, and upon which the Church bases its entire credibility of the movement.
One of the Mormon presidents, Heber J. Grant said that if Joseph Smith didn’t have that interview with God and Jesus Christ, then the whole Mormon fabric’s a failure; it’s a fraud, it isn’t worth anything on earth. And Wes was also the one who discovered the court record that proved that Joseph Smith was found guilty of glass-looking, which was pretending to locate lost treasures through gazing into a seer’s stone placed in a hat, and these superstitious practices were taking place at the same time in Smith’s life that he said he uncovered the gold plates and translated those gold plates which contained the text for the Book of Mormon.
Tom: Kurt, we’re about out of time for this segment. My guest…[I] had the privilege of visiting with Kurt Goedelman. He’s the founder of Personal Freedom Outreach Journal, which, as we I said, Gary will tell you how to subscribe to the Journal, and I heartily recommend it. It’s absolutely terrific. Lord willing, next week, we’re going to pick up with this and Kurt’s going to provide some information that I think will edify and really encourage our listeners.
So thank you for being with me today, Kurt, and we’ll get onto it next week.
Kurt: All right, good. It’s my pleasure, and looking forward to being with you next week.
Gary: You’ve been listening to Search the Scriptures 24/7 with T.A. McMahon, a radio ministry of The Berean Call. We offer a wide variety of resources to help you in your study of God’s Word. For a complete list of materials and a free subscription to our monthly newsletter, contact us at PO Box 7019 Bend, Oregon 97708. Call us at 800-937-6638, or visit our website at thebereancall.org. I’m Gary Carmichael. We’re glad you could join us, and we hope you can tune in again next week. Until then, we encourage you to Search the Scriptures 24/7.