I am not complaining but I am intrigued. The reason? I really would like to know the names of all the cults investigated last year by MI5. And I am interested in discovering the identity of those cults deemed to be a ‘threat’ to society and national security.
However, the full text of the report from MI5’s counter-terrorist section is unlikely to be released for many years, if at all. For reasons of national security and ongoing counter-terrorist activity by MI5, this delay appears justified. But I am pleased that a few details were released so that we can be aware of this further dimension to the cult problem. Possibly the partial release of information is part of MI5’s recent policy to be more open and accountable, a welcome development in a democratic state.
Last month I referred to the ‘Concerned Christians’, one of the cults identified by MI5 as potentially dangerous. In this article and the next, I shall focus on its beliefs and practices.
A forty-six-year-old American, Monte Kim Miller, is the founder and leader of the cult. His parents were not churchgoers but, as a young man, Miller himself professed conversion. He claims to have worked with Campus Crusade for Christ (now called ‘Agape’ in the UK) for a one-year period, before becoming a sales and marketing officer for Proctor and Gamble from 1976-80.
In the early 1980s, Miller was a young, energetic man actively involved in helping churches. He was orthodox and zealous. He was also concerned about the anti-Christian bias in the media as well as the influence and teaching of the New Age movement.
At that time, Miller appeared to be concerned for orthodox, biblical truth and often spoke in churches concerning, for example, New Age teaching and similar trends which were beginning to affect Christians. There were no obvious grounds for suspecting that he would become a cult leader. His credentials were good.
We need to pause and reflect on the change in Monte Kim Miller. What happened? Where did he go wrong? Are there principles which can help Christians in our confusing, contemporary situation to avoid the same errors?
There are, indeed, major principles and lessons we can learn from Miller’s sad story. But before pinpointing them, notice that Miller’s shift from biblical teaching was subtle and gradual rather than sudden and obvious. To be precise, the change took place over a period of about eight to ten years.
While one can detect early indications of imbalance in his beliefs and attitudes yet, for a significant period, he appeared indistinguishable from other Christians and church leaders in terms of orthodoxy and zeal.
Clearly this is disturbing, but it reminds us of the Lord’s parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23). Here Jesus warns that there are different responses to the Word, some of which are only superficial and temporary because there has been no inward change or new birth. I am not saying that Miller is unconverted, for only God knows that. I am saying, however, that a profession of faith provides no guarantee that a person is truly born again.
After all, the Lord Jesus declared: ‘by their fruits you will know them’ (Matthew 7:20). False prophets can come ‘in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves’ (v.15). We need, therefore, to be alert and discerning in this whole area.
There are several major principles, which are pertinent to the case of Monte Kim Miller, but space only allows us to consider one principle in this article.
The supreme authority of the Bible is where we must begin, for this doctrine must be observed and applied at all times. If we go wrong here, we will go wrong in many other places.
I need first to explain this crucial principle. The Bible is God’s book; it is where God has revealed himself and his purposes. It is a remarkable book, for God caused it to be written by men, yet reliably and without error. As a result, it is, word by word, God-given. What the Bible says is what God says.
This being so, it is our duty to believe and obey all its teaching. All human opinions, theories and practices must yield to, and be tested by, the authority of the Bible. How do we know what God is like? Only through the Bible. Is it possible to find out what his plans are? Yes, but only in the Bible. Can we know God and be right with him? Certainly, but again only through the Bible. Are there God-given standards and directions for daily living? There are, and they are in the Bible. And let me add that all this information is only in the Bible.
Applying this principle to Miller and the ‘Concerned Christians’ is interesting, but it is also alarming and challenging. There is no evidence that Miller undertook a formal Bible college course. In fact, he disliked relying on others for instruction or advice, aiming to be taught only by God.
The aim was good, but subjectivism and arrogance began to creep in. Miller imagined he did not need instruction or correction, even from godly, well-taught Christians. By about 1985 he began to deviate from Bible doctrine. At the same time, Miller claims to have begun speaking directly with God. He is not simply referring to prayer at this point. Rather, he imagined he was conversing directly with God.
The year 1988 marked another change in his development. By means of several newsletters, Miller rightly criticised the Roman Catholic Church and the Word-Faith movement.
The latter has a long and complex history, but can be traced back to the writings of E. W. Kenyon. This author, who was influenced by cults like Christian Science, was recycled (in fact, plagiarised) by Kenneth Hagin, who came into prominence in the early 1970s with the founding of the Rhema Bible Training Centre in Oklahoma.
Well-known leaders of the Word-Faith movement include Oral Roberts, Kenneth Copeland, Morris Cerullo, Benny Hinn and Rodney Howard-Browne. In addition to prosperity and ‘positive confession’ teaching, many in this movement teach that God’s Son, Jesus Christ, died spiritually and needed to be reborn spiritually because he had become a lost sinner under the mastery of Satan.
That is gross error. Miller rightly tested such man-made theories by the supreme standard of the Bible, and found them to be unbiblical.
But after upholding the Bible in this way, Miller began to criticise Bible-believing Christians and denominations like the Southern Baptists, Pentecostals and Evangelicals, for their American patriotism.
In the early 1990s, Miller finally isolated himself from Christians and claimed to be receiving direct and regular messages from God. These messages were almost entirely prophetic and apocalyptic.
He made other ridiculous claims. For example, he claimed to be one of the two witnesses of Revelation 11 and that he would be killed in Jerusalem in December 1999, but resurrected three days later. He also predicted that an earthquake would destroy Denver, Colorado, on 10 October 1998 and that he is the ‘end-time true prophet to the world’ (Letter 11/06/96).
At the final judgement, he taught, everyone in the world will be compelled to kneel before him! In the meantime, he instructed his followers not to support or be involved in political and secular government. Many other examples can be given of Miller’s absurd, unbiblical claims and teachings.
Able to make us wise
His isolation from Christians was a significant factor in his move away from the Bible, especially as there are groups of people who believe everything he says. That is tragic. Even more tragic is the fact that Miller teaches that forgiveness of sins and salvation are earned through him, that is, by repenting and following him (Letter 11/06/96). To refuse to do so, he threatens, will result in execution by God.
Such teaching is condemned by the Bible. Only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:7), and that forgiveness was obtained for us by Jesus Christ alone. It is Christ, not Monte Miller, who ‘made peace through the blood of his cross’ (Colossians 1:20).
Submission to the supreme authority of the Bible is crucial, for only this God-given book is ‘able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus’.