Scores of books have a short shelf life; still others endure longer. Yet The Kingdom of the Cults, now celebrating thirty-five years in print, may legitimately be called “a classic.” And it is not without reason, for its author, the late Walter Martin, reveals not only a vast knowledge of the Scriptures and competing worldviews, but a profound understanding of how truth is always threatened by subtle distortions and seductive means.
Knowing the truth and having a right understanding of the way we get to truth form the bedrock of the Christian faith. That knowledge and foundation will ever be attacked as long as there is a voice that questions if God has truly spoken consummately and clearly in His revealed Word and through His Son Jesus Christ. G. K. Chesterton once said, “What we need is a religion that is not only right where we are right, but right where we are wrong.” Only the Word of God provides that corrective, which Dr. Martin faithfully reminds us. In The Kingdom of the Cults he wrote,
It has been wisely observed that “a man who will not stand for something is quite likely to fall for almost anything.” So I have elected to stand on the ramparts of biblical Christianity as taught by the apostles, defended by the church fathers, rediscovered by the reformers.... It is most significant that those who have written on the cults have only recently stressed the authority of the Scriptures as a criterion for measuring either the truth or falsity of cultic claims. When this book first appeared in 1965, it was the first to make such a stress on such a large scale.
Walter Martin was called “the Bible Answer Man” because the Bible was, in truth, the final authority for him, the Word that breathed life and hope to all who would hear. It is therefore a great privilege to be asked by his family to serve as general editor of this volume. My role is a distinct honor, particularly as I have valued his contribution to my own thinking on the task of apologetics, even when I was a young student. I have listened to his messages over the years and appreciated his sensitivity to those who ask honest questions and to the language barriers that sometimes stand between the questioner and the one providing the answer. Sometimes words themselves can die the death of a thousand equivocations before the listener comes to grasp the true meaning. Walter Martin was a genius in recognizing this chasm.
Indeed, the first and most vital task of apologetics is to clarify truth claims. Dr. Martin identified this as “scaling the language barrier.” When asked to define a word such as truth, however, many Christians freeze, for they have seldom paused to consider what it means even as they themselves quote Jesus as “the way, the truth and the life.” This easy mistake is a costly one.
I remember delivering a lecture in Moscow some years ago at the Lenin Military Academy. It was apparent that I was unwelcome by many of the officers forced to attend, and throughout my talk one officer kept giving me the choke sign. Trying to speak through an interpreter with this constant threat made the task even more daunting. Yet when I finished, I soon realized my blunder and oversight. You see, the officer who was interrupting me immediately stood up and said, “You have been using the word God for the last one hour. What do you mean by that term?”
I was thoroughly embarrassed—how disconnected I had been from my audience. Here I was speaking to a group of atheists, and I had neglected to define my fundamental terms. Truth is the verbal coinage by which we exchange concepts of value and engender trust. Yet we often fail to explain what we mean when we reiterate the claims of Christ, and hence, when the cultist acknowledges he or she believes the same, we are left befuddled.
The first reminder in understanding and responding to cults is to remember that the claims of Jesus Christ at their core are exclusive and exclude everything to the contrary. This ought not to surprise us. Truth by definition is exclusive. If truth were all-inclusive, nothing would be false. And if nothing were false, what would be the meaning of true? Moreover, if nothing were false, would it be true to say that everything is false? It quickly becomes evident that the denial of truth as an absolute either ends up denying itself or else in effect not making any truthful assertion about truth. It is in this very challenge the various cults must be tested. Are they overriding or substantiating the ultimate expression of Truth in the person of Jesus Christ? Oftentimes, on the surface, the follower of a cultic teaching claims to follow nothing more than the teaching of Jesus Christ. But upon close scrutiny, one sees a thin layer after layer of superimposed or distorted teaching. Or to use a different metaphor, what may seem as a small alteration at the starting point becomes more serious as the theology develops in the further reaches of teaching—like the settings on the instruments at ground level that widen the error at higher altitudes.
Of one thing we can be sure: Where we find truth, often in close proximity we also find a way of thinking that distorts and faults. In fact, the philosophical method of the central figures in cults is to take a partial truth—such as a verse used as a proof-text—and blend it with an untruth so that the mix has the appearance of interpretation but in reality is systemically false. Hence we encounter cults that stray from the teachings of Christ by adding other requirements to the Gospel of grace, or by claiming a new revelation or “more accurate word from God,” or by exercising inordinate control over its followers.
It is here that the church needs to see its own failing. Biblical scholar Jan Karel van Baalen argued in his The Chaos of the Cults (1938) that Christians “can learn from cultists, not only noting what not to believe, but also bearing in mind that ‘the cults are the unpaid bills of the church.’ ” What a profoundly true observation. For regarding “noting what not to believe,” it was, after all, the heresy of Marcion’s teachings in the second century that prompted a serious effort in the early church to compile the canon. On the other hand, poor teaching and discipleship in many churches have made possible erroneous thought. Even the term Christian in many parts of the globe today is encountered with prejudice and with more of a perverted view of what it means to be a Christian than the authentic transformation that Christ alone can bring.
The power to deceive is enormous. To this end Paul warned Timothy to cherish the Scripture, for it made him “wise unto salvation,” and to “guard both your doctrine and conduct.” The Scriptures are meaningful and personal because they are true, and not because we can wrest them to advantage or manipulate them into personal meaning. Meaning and application can be prostituted at the altar of self-gratification, but truth will stand in history when all human dissenters have said their last. The apostle also went on in speaking of Jesus Christ and His work to say, “We are complete in Him.” Nothing need be added to the person and work of Jesus in the salvation He has provided and the Word that He has given for our instruction.
This was indeed the firm and right conviction in the mind of Walter Martin as he first penned this extraordinary volume. I applaud all the contributors and editors who have brought up to date the material so well articulated by him. He himself would have been delighted at this effort to keep the truth ever before the seeker and to protect the sincere questioner from the distortions of those who arrogate to themselves a superceding authority over God’s Word and gift of salvation through His Son.
In his 1956 book, The Christian and the Cults, a twenty-eight-year-old Walter Martin wrote, “The Christian Church in this atomic age is faced with the highly ‘fissionable’ problem of accelerated cult activities both in the continental United States and on every major mission field throughout the world. Today, as never before, the danger of a ‘Cult-Bomb’ detonating in the Christian world grows ominously closer as the Church delays unified action against the looming specter of insidious cultism. It is the author’s earnest desire to attract attention to this mounting danger and to awaken the Christian public to a spirited defense of the historic faith of the Church of Jesus Christ. This defense can only be effected by informed pastors, teachers, evangelists and laymen who recognize the growing threat of the cults and educate themselves and the Church at large to both the deviations of cult theology and the massive refutation of them which is inherent in the teaching of sound doctrinal theology.”1
The year 1965 brought the release of The Kingdom of the Cults, which has stood for nearly forty years as a sentinel in the field of Christian apologetics. Our intent in editing this volume was to ensure that the voice of Dr. Walter Martin would continue to be heard in the same strong, clear way. In order to guarantee the clarity of his voice in this new revision, the tilde symbol (;sl) was used at the beginning and ending of paragraphs or sections where significant new editorial material was introduced into the original text. In addition to this, an editor’s note was added at the end of some pages where further clarification of authorship was needed.
New chapters were added by different authors only where original material was either significantly outdated or never commented upon in detail by Walter Martin. In some cases, material from other Martin resources, such as audiotapes, books, and articles, was used for continuity and development purposes. Several chapters removed from previous editions were updated and included in this new edition, their facts both accurate and concise—their relevancy still indisputable nearly four decades after they were first written. Chapter titles were reviewed and rearranged to reflect the order present in previous editions originally edited by Walter Martin.
Early in the editorial process, Dr. Ravi Zacharias eloquently commented, “A man’s words are a man’s words,” and wherever possible, we’ve tried to follow this advice and preserve Walter Martin’s voice—a unique voice called to a unique purpose in the defense of the faith, “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3 NKJV).
Rise up, O men of God!
Have done with lesser things;
Give heart and soul and mind and strength,
to serve the King of Kings.
Rise up, O men of God!
The Church for you doth wait,
Her strength unequal to her task:
Rise up and make her great!
In the service of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Jill Martin Rische