Cults and Creation
How the major cults all reject straightforward biblical creation
In studying the nature of cults or being involved in counter-cult ministry, Christians begin to notice a consistency in poor theology, translations and interpretations. It should come as no surprise, then, that most of the leading Christian cults today are unanimous on one point; their rejection of straightforward biblical creation. While there is more to Christian orthodoxy than acceptance of a literal six-day, six-thousand-year interpretation of Genesis 1–2, its rejection means that the entire theological foundations of any group are unorthodox. Thus, it is probably no coincidence that virtually all of the main contenders for cult status—Unitarian Universalism, Christian Science, the Emergent Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormonism), Christadelphians and Jehovah’s Witnesses—deny biblical creation.
Adherents to this system, which originated in the teachings of anti-Trinitarians Faustus Socinus, John Biddle and William Ellery Channing, are pluralistic in their ideology and believe in the fallibility of the Bible. They reject the divinity of Christ, deny the doctrine of salvation and sin and “focus their efforts on the here and now in an attempt to create ‘heaven on earth’, often through political activism or various social programs”.1 Although there is no official document detailing their views on biblical creation and evolution, their stance is pretty clear from their decision to defend the teaching of evolution in American public schools. The Unitarian Universalist Association, seeing the “efforts being made to insert the creation story of Genesis into public school science textbooks … [believe] such action would be in direct contradiction with the concept of separation of church and state [and] Therefore be it resolved: That the 1977 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association goes on record as opposing such efforts”.2
Years later, they reinforced their views by opposing “efforts to compromise the integrity of public school teaching by the introduction of sectarian religious doctrines, such as ‘scientific creationism’”3. In an interview with William R. Murry, Unitarian Universalist and British biologist Olivia Judson remarked that her religion “cannot help but embrace the tremendous increase in knowledge and understanding made possible by Darwin’s revolutionary idea”.4
Followers of Christian Science, begun by Mary Baker Eddy (born Mary Morse Baker 1821–1910), also believe the Bible to be fallible. They, too, reject the divinity of Christ (and the Trinity), His resurrection, and the doctrine of salvation. They also deny the existence of evil and teach that there is “no life, truth, intelligence nor substance in matter,”5 among other unbiblical ideas. On evolution, Baker stated: “Theorizing about man’s development from mushrooms to monkeys and from monkeys into men amounts to nothing in the right direction and very much in the wrong”.6 But she believed the book of Genesis should not be read literally, as the material world did not exist, for there “is nothing in Spirit out of which matter could be made”,7 and that the “infinite has no beginning … [for this] word beginning is employed to signify the only,—that is, the eternal verity and unity of God and man, including the universe”.8 Echoing some of today’s theistic evolutionists in evangelical circles, she claimed that Genesis 1–2 was “a revelation instead of a creation”.9
Joseph Smith Jr. (1805–1844), founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormonism), created a religion ‘out of’ biblical Christianity which believes there are other sacred books in addition to the Bible (such as The Book of Mormon). It also holds that there are several planets ruled by gods and goddesses (who were once humans on earth) and that “Salvation is resurrection, but exaltation to godhood, for eternal life in the celestial heaven, must be earned through self meriting works”.10 Their views on the virgin birth of Christ, salvation, judgment, grace and end times do not align with biblical Christianity. Their view of evolution is convoluted, as officially, there is no document that declares their support or rejection of biblical creation. Sixth Mormon president Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) declared in 1909 that evolution was nothing more than the theory of man but did not make biblical creation an official tenet.11 A variety of other presidents and commentators have supported, renounced or been neutral on evolution throughout the last century. However, recent Mormon publications and attitudes towards evolution indicate a favorable bias to the theory. A recent book entitled Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding (2001)12 took the position that Mormonism and evolution were entirely compatible, espousing that God used evolution and permitted natural selection (as a creative process, unlike the essentially culling or conservative role it exhibits in reality). This unofficial view is consistent with a recent article looking at the Mormon church’s teaching on the age of the earth and evolution which confirms that “mainstream scientific theories of evolutionary biology, old-earth geology and paleontology are openly taught at BYU and BYU-Idaho [Brigham Young University]”.13
Along with the movement’s founder, Dr John Thomas (1805–1871), Christadelphians do not believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, rejecting the divinity of Christ (and the Trinity), the existence of Satan, his demons and the traditional nature of Hell. On evolution, it is difficult to locate an official stance by the church, but some prominent leaders are candid about their belief in old-age creationism. They undoubtedly believe that God created the universe, but the process and timeline align closer to the teachings of evolution than they do to the Bible itself. Dr. Alan Hayward, author of Creation and Evolution: Rethinking the Evidence from Science and the Bible (1995) makes it clear that his Christadelphian faith is more than compatible with old-age creationism. This stance is shared by Dr. Rob Hyndman, manager and editor of the Christadelphian-moderated website “BibleQ”, which hosts articles on ‘Creation’ that favor old-age creationism.14
[Addendum (27 February 2020): It has come to our attention that a significant number of Christadelphians have come to strongly oppose theistic evolution in recent years. Christadelphians Mark Allfree and Matthew Davies coauthored The Deception of Theistic Evolution (2017). The Christadelphian website bibletruthandprophecy.com now condemns theistic evolution (with its denial of the first man Adam and original sin) as contrary to the teaching of Genesis and the New Testament scriptures that corroborate it. While other aspects of Christadelphian teaching remain errant, especially regarding the Trinity, this move towards acceptance of the foundational teachings of Genesis 1–3 is commendable.]
This movement, known as the Watchtower Society, was founded by Charles Taze Russell (1852–1916). Their anti-Trinitarian beliefs range from a created Jesus, who was spiritually resurrected (not physically) and returned invisibly in 1914, to co-atonement by God and humanity, and the rejection of Hell in favor of annihilationism (among other unbiblical theologies).15 They reject evolution,16 however they also reject biblical creation in favor of old-earth creationism, as revealed in their tract Life: How did it get here? By Evolution or by Creation? (1985)17 and on their official website:
“ … creationists often say that the entire universe was created in six literal 24-hour days some 6,000 years ago. With teachings like this, they misrepresent the Bible, which says that God created the heavens and the earth ‘in the beginning’—at some unstated point before the more specific creative ‘days’ began. (Genesis 1:1) Significantly, the Genesis account shows that the expression ‘day’ is used in a flexible sense. At Genesis 2:4, the entire period of six days described in the preceding chapter is spoken of as only one day. Logically, these were, not literal days of 24 hours, but long periods of time. Each of these epochs evidently lasted thousands of years”18
The Emergent Church
Sometimes also known as the Emerging Church, this is a late twentieth to early twenty-first century movement in Christianity pioneered by theologians such as Rob Bell, Richard Foster, Tony Jones, Brennan Manning, Brian McLaren and Leonard Sweet. It “falls into line with basic post-modernist thinking—it is about experience over reason, subjectivity over objectivity, spirituality over religion, images over words, outward over inward, feelings over truth”.19 Theologies from this cult can differ between theologians, but what remains consistent is abandonment of biblical Christianity—that is, all doctrines are open to being rejected, reinterpreted and reconstructed in the light of an ever-changing and pluralistic world. The Bible is no longer authoritative, and given that evolution is believed to be ‘fact’ in mainstream thinking, then the Bible must conform to this. Of interest, Reverend Michael Dowd, author of Thank God for Evolution (2006—see CMI’s article Evolution’s Evangelist),20 who has been extremely successful amongst emergent church adherents, declares that once “the emerging church movement catches fire with a Thank God for Evolution! message, watch out. I predict that we are on the verge of an evolution-celebrating religious revival that will transform America as few things have ever done, and that evolutionary Christianity will gain ascendancy over flat-earth Christianity [i.e. biblical Christianity] here in less than a generation”.21 (Ironically for Dowd, the current leader of the Flat Earth Society is a Virginian man named Daniel Shenton. According to a secular source, he believes in both evolution and global warming.)22
Rejecting a straightforward interpretation of the book of Genesis to accommodate modern ideologies (Colossians 2:8) such as evolution, old-age creationism, progressive creationism, and theistic evolution, causes the entire theological foundations of Christianity to crumble. Thus it is not surprising that we find a near-universal association (as both cause and effect, to varying degrees) of such a departure from biblical authority within cults whose beliefs are far removed from biblical Christianity.
It’s no surprise that those who reject the authority and infallibility of the Bible and its clear Gospel outline also feel free to reject the clear ‘big picture’ of Genesis history in order to be more acceptable to worldly notions, since Genesis and the Gospel are so clearly tied together.
Today, some mainstream Christian denominations are following a similar path, favoring evolution over biblical creation. Let us pray that they learn from Christian cults and truly believe the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16), starting with the book of Genesis.
References and Notes
- Martin, W., The Kingdom of the Cults, Bethany House, Minneapolis, Minnesota, p. 349, 2003. Return to text.
- Unitarian Universalist Association (1977), National Center for Science Education, 1977; <ncse.com/media/voices/unitarian-universalist-association-1977>. Return to text.
- Unitarian Universalist Association (1982), National Center for Science Education, June 1982; <ncse.com/media/voices/unitarian-universalist-association-1982>. Return to text.
- Murry, W.R., How Darwinian evolution has transformed liberal religion, UU World Magazine, 15 February 2009; <www.uuworld.org/ideas/articles/128946.shtml>. Return to text.
- Eddy, M.B., Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Christian Scientist Publishing Company, Boston, p. 468, 1934 . Return to text.
- Eddy, ref. 5. p. 172. Return to text.
- Eddy, ref. 5. p. 335. Return to text.
- Eddy, ref. 5. p. 502. Return to text.
- Eddy, ref. 5. p. 504. Return to text.
- Martin, ref. 1. p. 192. Return to text.
- Smith, Joseph F. The Origin of Man: by the First Presidency of the Church, Improvement Era, November 1909. Return to text.
- Stephens, T.D., Meldrum, D. J. and Peterson, F.B., Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding, Signature Books, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2001. Return to text.
- Bailey, D.H., History of the LDS Church’s view on the age of the earth and evolution, March 2010, <www.sciencemeetsreligion.org/lds/lds-history-evolution.html>. Return to text.
- For example: Philip, David. How do you account for human remains that are dated to be at least 50,000 years old? <bibleq.info/answer/2365/>, accessed 12 July 2011. Return to text.
- Martin, ref. 1. p.72. Return to text.
- Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, Did God Use Evolution to Create Life?, Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 2007; <watchtower.org/e/200609/article_03.htm>. Return to text.
- Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, Life: How did it get here? By evolution or by creation?, Brooklyn, New York, 1985. Return to text.
- Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, Can Science Help You Find God?: Where Can You Find Answers?, Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 2006; <www.watchtower.org/e/20040622/article_03.htm>. Return to text.
- What is the emerging/emergent church movement? GotQuestions Ministries, 2010; www.gotquestions.org/emerging-church-emergent.html. Return to text.
- Dowd, M., Thank God for Evolution, Council Oak Books, San Francisco, 2006. Return to text.
- Dowd, M., Progressive Evangelicals/Emergents, Thank God for Evolution, October 2007; <thankgodforevolution.com/blog/progressive-evangelicals-emergents>. Return to text.
- www.livescience.com/14754-ingenious-flat-earth-theory-revealed-map.html Return to text.