I am the director of the Department of Christian Defense, an international apologetic ministry. I have researched and taught extensively in the area of cult evangelism and general Christian apologetics for the past fifteen years. At face, the term “cult” can be viewed as a pejorative term, to be sure, and there are several different meanings that a normal English Dictionary would provide.
However, from a theological point of view, the term “non-Christian cult” denotes a group that considers themselves “Christian,” but denies or rejects an aspect of essential biblical theology. For example, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Oneness Pentecostals all reject the biblical doctrine of the Trinity; Catholics reject justification through faith alone; etc. Hence, these groups would be classified as a theological non-Christian cult due to its denial of these essential doctrines (cf. John 8:24; 17:3; Gal. 1:6-9).
However, there is another category of “cult” that, unfortunately, many true Christian churches are regard as. This other category is known as a “sociological cult.” A “sociological cult” is a group that holds to essential biblical theology, but is in terms of leadership and organization, they are sociologically abusive and hold to a very unbiblical teaching of church authority.
Even though Morning Star International (hereafter MSI) does not fall under the category of non-Christian cult, theologically and sociologically MSI falls under the category of “sociological cult.” This should not be at all surprising since they stem out of Maranatha Ministries see: [www.culteducation.com
The leadership of MSI consists of Rice Broocks, Phil Bonasso, and Steve Murrell, all whom are self-appointed Apostles, thus referring to themselves as the "Apostolic Board." Of course, the only church that I can think of that has a governing Board of so-called “Apostles” is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (i.e., the Mormons), which is called the "Quorum of the Apostles."
When leaders of groups insist that they are Apostles or as with MSI, an Apostolic Board, it creates an illusion in which they are seen by members as God’s infallible mouthpiece determining what is “best” for their devotees. Hence, the result is that members of these kinds of organizations fearfully submit unconditionally.
I have personally interfaced with the so-called Apostles (viz. Broocks and Bonasso) and many members of MSI. In evaluating official MSI literature, shown to me by a former leader, and hearing sermons throughout the years, I see a virtual exactness with the International Church of Christ (hereafter ICC; see my article: [christiandefense.org
]) And both ICC and MSI utilize the same passages (e.g., Heb. 13:17; etc.) to teach that members should submit to God “delegated leaders” without question (i.e., their “covering”), although, they both read into these passages that which is clearly not there.
Also, they both hold to an unbiblical teaching of what discipleship is. Hence, both churches are filled with sheepish terrified members who would never dream of questioning the their “covering” that, according to the leadership, are God’s delegate authority.
To maintain control, leaders of these Discipleship or "Authoritarian" movements, claim that the authority of the leaders is God-given or God-delegated. Thus, any disobedience to the leaders is direct disobedience to God. Thus, they emphasize heavy authority and relentless submission in the relationships between the leaders and ones under them.
Space precludes me to go into every aspect of teaching on key issues of Authoritarianism such as MSI’s biblically-unbalanced doctrine on discipleship, submission, etc. that they reign over unassuming members. However, if you are a current member of MSI consider the following:
1. The New Testament does teach that church leaders are authoritative on issues of (i) directing church affairs (1 Tim. 3:5); (ii) teaching sound doctrine (2 Tim. 3:1-4); (iii) correcting those who sin and disciplinary action if they refuse to repent (Titus 3:10-11). In these cases, church authority exits. Thus, this kind of biblical authority will help (rather than obstruct) the Christian to submit to Christ.
2. Scripture indicates that the pastoral ministry is noticeably marked by a servants attitude, not a weighty emphasis on authority and submission (see Matt. 20:25-28; 2 Cor. 1:24; and esp. 1 Pet. 5:1-3).
3. Jesus Christ is the one Mediator between God and man, not church leadership, for they can err (1 Tim. 2:5). .
4. God, not man or a church leader, determines one’s destiny, (Ps. 139:16; Eph. 1:11; 2:10).
5. Scripture indicates that Christians should “obey God and not man” (Acts 5:29).
6. Studying God’s Word will help the Christian develop a maturity to discern what God’s will is or is not for his or her life (Rom. 12:1-2; Eph. 5:8-10, 17).
7. The first and final authority--above all--is Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16; 1 Thess. 5:21).
Writing against the destructive construct of Witness Lee and the Local Church (a non-Christian and sociological cult), apologist E. Miller pointed out that “Leaders who put heavy emphasis on authority and submission typically seek to make themselves indispensable to others’ spiritual growth and well-being” (CRI Journal, part I, Spring ed. 1985, 15).
Because of MSI's over emphasis on submission and unconditional authority, which naturally flows from their roots: Maranatha, MSI is not a biblically based or exegetically sound organization. There are far too many churches that do not view members as “rebellious” merely for asking questions or pointing out theological error. Among the many, MSI is a typical Discipleship/Authoritarian movement that seeks to control and intimidate its members.
The Watchtower proclaimed: “If we have love for Jehovah and for the organization of his people we shall not be suspicious, but shall, as the Bible says, ‘believe all things,’ all the things that The Watchtower brings out. . . . ” (Qualified to be Ministers [WT pub.], 156). If you are involved with MSI, do let them destroy your hopes, dreams, and faith. For Scripture alone is the only sole infallible authority and rule of faith for the church—sola Scriptura.
Our ultimate freedom is in Christ.
Director: Department of Christian Defense: [www.christiandefense.org
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tçn makarian elpida kai epiphaneian tçs doxçs tou megalou theou kai sôtçros hçmôn Christou Içsou (Titus 2:13; "the blessed hope and appearance of glory of the great God and Savior Jesus Christ").