Here’s the scenario: A couple of clean-cut guys on bikes show up at your door. White shirts. Black name badges. What do you do?
A. Pretend you're not home B. Crack open the door and try to get rid of them C. Stand in the doorway and talk with them D. Invite them in and talk with them
Spiritual Talk at Your Door?
I still remember feeling kind of uneasy the first time I met a couple of Mormon missionaries. Maybe you can relate. A lot Christians don’t feel confident when spiritual talk comes knocking at the door.
In this series, I’ll share 10 surprisingly simple tips for talking about Biblical Christianity with cult members. This is very practical advice that represents countless conversations with Mormon missionaries, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others who follow cults of Christianity. I learned these lessons directly from one of my mentors, Kevin Lewis, at Biola University.
And these tips aren’t just for for talking with cult members who show up at your door. You can apply a lot of these ideas to just about any spiritual conversation you might have. But first, let’s get something straight.
What is a Cult?
The word “cult” seems like a loaded term. Most people think a cult just means a group of religious wackos who do some truly crazy stuff: Jim Jones, the Heaven’s Gate cult—even Harold Camping’s followers (who really thought the world would end today). That’s not too bad of a definition, if you’re talking about the sociological definition of a cult. In sociology, the term “cult” just means a religion that’s outside the mainstream religions you see in society.
But there’s actually a more technical definition. For our purposes, I’m gonna go with a theological definition of a cult. One of my former professors at Talbot School of Theology, Alan Gomes, defined it well in his book, Unmasking the Cults:
A cult of Christianity is a group of people claiming to be Christian, who embrace a particular doctrinal system taught by an individual leader, group of leaders, or organization, which (system) denies (either explicitly or implicitly) one or more of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith as taught in the sixty-six books of the Bible (p. 7).
This would describe the views of people who come to your door, saying they follow the Bible’s teachings but think Jesus isn’t God (Jehovah’s Witnesses), or that everyone can become a god (Mormons). These were the two groups Kevin focused on the most while teaching my Cults of America class back in the day. In this class, I learned a surprisingly simple question that every Christian should ask the cult member at your door. Before you start talking, do this to keep your discussion from getting cut short right when it starts to get interesting:
Tip #1: Ask, “How much time do you have?”
Cult members generally want to discuss spiritual things. After all, that’s why they showed up at your door! But when an informed Christan starts asking tough questions about their teachings, some may be quick to abandon the discussion. This is especially true with Mormon missionaries. For example, one of the missionaries might suddenly say they’re late for another appointment or have to leave abruptly for some reason. So, before you begin, ask, “How much time do you have?” Most will probably be OK with about an hour. Once you get the commitment, you’re ready to begin.
Of course, your preparation should begin way before they show up. Here’s another surprisingly simple thing you can do to prepare for impromptu spiritual conversations at your door—something even experienced defenders of the faith might sometimes overlook.
Tip #2: Pray, Pray, Pray
Before the conversation ever happens, pray. Ask God to give you wisdom and help you think clearly. Pray that the people you talk with would take a step closer to a real relationship with Jesus. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your discussion. Prayer is key in these everyday situations.
Tell the missionaries you’d like to pray with them before diving into your conversation. You can lead into the discussion with a prayer that highlights an essential Christian doctrine. Something like this:
Lord Jesus, there is no one like you. We’re so grateful that you would take on a human nature, die for our sins, rise from the dead, and offer salvation as a free gift through faith…
People tend to actually listen to the words of a prayer and this helps the people you’re talking to focus on essential truths of the faith. As Kevin often reminded me, “Nobody will interrupt a prayer!”
After they leave, pray for them. If I remember, I actually write down their names in the back of my Bible and pray for them when I’m in church. Who knows how God might direct their path and lead them to freedom in Christ?
In the next part of this series, I’ll share 4 more surprisingly simple tips for talking to cult members about spiritual things. In the meantime, please share any ideas you might have for opening up the lines of communication and having good conversations with people who follow the cults of Christianity. Drop a comment below.
Discover how groups like the Mormon church and Jehovah’s Witnesses emerged in the United States. Learn the important figures, histories, documents, and ideas behind key religious movements and the cults of Christianity. This is an updated version of Walter Martin’s classic work, “The Kingdom of the Cults.” His original book was one of the first books I ever read on cults. Highly recommended.