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Sunday, 26 May 2013

Signs of the Times?

After relating in last week's blog on how I got involved with the Children of God (COG) a cult started by its founder, David Berg at Huntington Beach in California, I had time to sit down and think: What has happened within the last half century in our human history? What is it about these sects, cults and splinter groups growing and flourishing? And furthermore, the style of spiritual songs written over the years, right up to the present day. I write this with the idea that some of today's songs we sing at our church service don't hold a candle to the greatest hymns written a couple hundred years ago, and still well known today.
A faith rooted in the Bible is a safeguard against heresy, or more important, a psychological brainwashing technique used by the Children of God to convince recruits that they were the people really practising and preaching what the early church did as recorded in the book of Acts, with testimonies of instant healing and freedom from drug addiction and other vices which enslaved the hippies Berg went to convert and recruit. In my last blog I told of the result of a conversation I had with a fully fledged member of COG at Bromley. He convinced me of a "two-tier salvation" - a term I made up myself to describe the eternal life given by God to every believer, but entry into the New Jerusalem described in the last two chapters of Revelation to be reserved for only those who forsook all, took up his cross and followed Jesus and shared everything in common - another way of saying to hand over everything the recruit owned, including all his bank balances, to the leaders of the commune and to live permanently in the colony, as it was called, totally regardless of the recruit's family and their suffering over their loss of a son or daughter, brother of sister, even husband or wife and children, to whom the recruit was forbidden to contact.
But one item I should have mentioned in my last blog about COG, and that of the Bible story of Ananias and Sapphira of Acts 5. Moses David had used this text to scare the recruit into giving everything to the movement, and not hold anything back, like this ancient couple did and paid with their lives. This sort of brainwashing scaremongering had a profound effect on me for many years, long after renouncing all their ways. First I believed that because I felt concern for my parent's welfare and decided to return home the next day, that I proved unfit for the Kingdom of God, according to Moses Berg's writings. Secondly, as Moses hinted, reluctance to join the group full time may be grounds to question whether I was really saved, using the couple's death as an example for my own destruction. In other words, the concept of a two-tier salvation may not have been universally accepted throughout the whole movement.

Moses David Berg - died October 1994.
All of this took place in December/January 1972/3, when I had absolutely no knowledge of the Bible. Therefore having no safeguards against such brainwashing fodder, I was extremely vulnerable. Obviously I believed everything they said to me as direct from God, and all their writings, particularly Mo Letters, as divinely inspired. Later I learned that every member of COG regarded all David Berg's writings as of equal authority as the Scriptures themselves and must be read as equal footing with the Bible.

And that's the danger with most, if not all of these cults, whatever they were. Since December 1972 I began to get familiar with various verses in the Bible and my knowledge of the Bible began to grow properly since summer of 1973, after renouncing COG and joining St. Judes Anglican Church in Brixton, South London. By summer of 1978 while packpacking across the USA, my familiarity of the Bible proved to have been a good stead.

It happened while I was in Los Angeles, after spending several days in its Downtown district and from there visiting Disneyland, Hollywood Studios and Long Beach, I was preparing for the next leg of the Greyhound Bus journey to San Francisco. That evening I was approached by two young women who showed a keen interest in me. Believe me, for a young male solo backpacker to be made to feel loved and important by two members of the opposite gender was very soul-lifting! But this was their psychological trick. These two women asked why not come with them to a talk given by a member of the Unification Church.

Unification Church? Ah! Sounds good. Christian stuff. I was happy to attend the talk. Gosh, one would think that after my experience with COG, I'll be weary of those approaching me on the street. But once bitten twice shy did not seem to have had an affect on me back then, as I entered this building in Downtown L.A. and upstairs to a large room where people, again of my own age, were to listen to a lecture delivered by one of the church elders, a thin weasly man with a goatee.

I did not find his talk that edifying and afterwards I was invited to attend a retreat, at a mansion out in the Californian countryside with, if I recall, spectacular mountain views. It was presented as a kind of holiday or vacation and a chance to get to know the Church and its people a lot better. But feeling reserved, I approached the speaker, after the lecture had ended, and asked,
"What is Jesus Christ to you? Do you see him as Lord and Saviour?"
The fellow hesitated and failed to deliver the answer I was waiting for. Then, instead of going to this retreat with the rest of the group, he asked me if I would leave. I did, in good time to board the Greyhound bus to San Francisco, to where I would have arrived by dawn the next morning.

What if I had gone to the retreat? Rather than a place of rest and vacation, it was more of a prison fortress where I would have gone through severe indoctrination. At every single moment, toilet included, I would have been accompanied by an older mentor, who would have watched every move I made, everything I said, and followed me everywhere I went. I would have been assigned duties, and received indoctrination that the Second Coming of Christ was about to happen - no, not Jesus Christ, because he failed in his mission to marry a perfect wife and father perfect children. Rather, the Messiah referred to here was Sun Myang Moon, the cult's founder who was born in North Korea, and received a call from God to enter the United States in 1972 to set up colonies there.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Despite their different beliefs, Moon and Berg would have made good companions! Or maybe not. While Moses David thought that America was doomed and therefore left the land, Exodus-style to settle in the UK, and then the rest of the world, Moon was fiercly patriotic for America, gave full support for President Nixon, believed in Capitalism and he was very anti-Communist. My simple knowlege of the Bible had actually spared me from such a horrible experience with a cult whose founder had mixed Christianity with Taoism and with the occult in general.

As throughout this week I allowed my memories of such experiences fill my mind, I was wondering why did these groups spring up? Was it really religious conviction? Or was it more of rebellion from society? One of the advantages of being self-employed is that if I need to, I can down tools for a moment and meditate, or think seriously.

I was around in 1963 during the Cuba crisis. The invasion into this island by Communist Fidel Castro, just ninety miles off the tip of the American state of Florida, brought the USA to a brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Only a last minute agreement between the two nations averted what would have been a global catastrophe, wiping out much of the world's population. Meanwhile the Vietnam war in the Far East was ongoing since 1955 and didn't end until 1975, with the American miltary losing to the Communist forces.

I but personally believe that the Cuba crisis shook the very foundation of American society. Many of the young people were disillusioned with the Protestant Work Ethic, where they saw themselves as a mere cog in the system of work, war and the machine society, for the want of  the alternate society of love, peace and music, as they sought for an in-depth, spiritual experience.

Drugs also played a role in their lifestyles as they dropped put of mainstream society. The hippie movement also made an influence on the current pop music. One of my favourites is Barry McGuire's top chart hit, Eve of Destruction, released in 1965, and it was a hippie protest about not only the Cuba crisis, but the Vietnam war and world conflict in general. The song, Eve of Destruction coined up the phrase "Let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we shall fry." In 1969 one of the first hippie rock festivals took place at Yasgurs' Farm, New York from August 15th-18th, and it was the forerunner to many rock festivals held to this day. Known as Woodstock, here hippies gathered to revel in love, peace and music. Woodstock itself became a song written in various versions, although the lyrics remained constant, different tunes were applied. Finally a version of Woodstock written and sung by the band, Matthew's Southern Comfort made it into the pop charts in 1969. One verse of the song I have found moving:
By the time I got to Woodstock
They were half a million strong.
Everywhere there were songs and celebrations.
And I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky
Turning into butterflies
Above our nation.

If only I was a few years older! How I would have loved to have dropped out of mainstream English society and head for Woodstock and remain there, or travel with the rest of the hippies to California. This would have been a lifestyle much preferred over the disciplined, militaristic, imperial, class-conscious and worst of all, hypocritical society I grew up in! The fact I sport long hair to this day was the result of this cultural rebellion.
After I was converted to Jesus Christ as Saviour, I could not help but notice - and bought - Christian music which had a strong correlation with the hippie movement. One such example was Come Together - in Jesus' Name, a recording composed of songs written and performed by Jimmy and Carol Owens, and released in 1973. These songs appealed to those like myself who linked organised religion with the work ethic, like the staff at school - and found so offputting. Then one Sunday evening in 1974 I attended a Come Together concert held at a South London venue, and to me it wasn't too different from Woodstock or any other rock concert, except with a possible veneer of middle-class and drug-free atmosphere.
Over the decades, I found that Christian music played with guitar and drums gradually replaced the traditional organ, but there were some good songs sung as well as the naff. Meanwhile, in the pop world, the band Frankie Goes to Hollywood released their single which hit the charts: Two Tribes, which peaked in 1983. The song was a direct reflection of the 1963 Cuba crisis, and the theme was centered on the USA and the Soviet Union engaged in a nuclear fallout which wiped out the entire world population. Whether there was any connection with this song or not, however, the leaders of the two great nations, Ronald Reagan and Mikail Gorbachev, signed the I.N.F. nuclear disarmanent treaty in 1987, lifting the global threat of self-extinction. The event was broadcast live on the BBC news which I remember watching.
And what of Christian music today? Only this morning, we sung one of the dullest songs I have ever heard in the fellowship. Practically tuneless, the lyrics held  no edifying or adorational power. Perhaps I thought I was being carnal. Until I looked around the congregation. When such powerful songs such as God be the Glory brings everyone standing up with their hands raised to the air, however, during this tasteless dirge, the majority in our congregation were seated, looking blankly ahead. As I remained standing I tried with some difficulty to offer my contribution, but I struggled with it. Other recently written songs such as I am richer than a king, seem to me to be man-centred. For example, I am richer than a king, my soul is well, and from another song, let the rain fall on us. To be honest, during this last week, I have wondered whether these modern songs are a reflection of our times.
And what is our times? With the threat of a nuclear fallout lifted and the decline of the hippie sub-culture as a result, it looks to me that the quest for higher education and professional careers have rocketed during the last two decades. As just about every modern Christian songwriter is middle class, well educated, earns a good income sitting all day at an office desk, and generally satisfied with himself, little wonder that our songs reflect this attitude. I am richer than a king, my soul is well, brings out this sense of self confidence very accurately.
I am aware that many of you readers have never heard of these songs, let alone sing them. But I wouldn't be too surprised that there are many more of the same kind that are going about which we have never heard of either. But one piece of Scripture may be worth some consideration:
Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. 1 Corinthians 10:12.
With the tremendous goodness of God who has mercy for every believer of all nationalities, academic levels and social classes, maybe such a Scripture is worth a thought.


  1. Dear Frank,
    Just this morning in the ladies' Bible study I teach we were discussing the New Jerusalem. How sad if it were reserved only for members of a cult! The 12 gates are always open to all who have placed their faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the only Way to Heaven. The 4 walls face the 4 points of the compass, indicating that all believers are welcome, regardless of their national origin or heritage.

    I'm with you on contemporary "Christian" music. So much of it could be a love song written to a human, except that "Jesus" is mentioned maybe once or twice. Apparently in Nashville recording labels there is a "JPM" measure -- "Jesus" per minute -- and if JPM is too high, the song has to be rewritten so as not to offend.

    I know we learn by repetition, but how many times to we need to hear a single, simple lyric before we get the point? "My Reedeemer Lives" is an awesome truth, but after it is sung 60-70 times in succession it is in danger of becoming a vain babbling. At least that song has a melody and more than 3 notes, but many do not.
    You can't begin to compare these songs with the rich, profound theological truths of hymns like "A Mighty Fortress" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." Sadly, most churches hardly ever sing hymns any more.

    Great post, Frank! God bless.

  2. Hi Frank,
    I think one of my favourite hymns is 'How great Thou art', and I don't think I have ever been able to sing it without feeling emotional. What matters to me is if I feel in my heart what the words are saying. We only have a small congregation, but the keyboard player is a really talented musician and if we feel to sing a particular song he accompanies us. As far as your experience with cults is concerned, you came through it because you saw through it, and I think what you have shared on your post can give others who might be heading in the same direction a warning. I believe that all the experiences we go through in life have a purpose in them. As I always say, empathy brings sympathy, and the best people to advise others on an issue are those who have been through it themselves. Good post.

  3. Hey Frank! I'm going to attempt this again. LOL! I tried 5 times last night, but I guess I was so long winded (trying to make up for lost time)LOL, that I kept losing it because it time out. LOL!

    Anyway, I like praise choruses, but I will admit that I like the "old hymns more". My two favorites are Amazing Grace, and Old Rugged Cross. I cry everytime I sing them. They seem to hit me down in the "core" of my being. I really enjoy it when my Pastor says "its time for some "old time singing". My problem is I am unfamiliar with many of the songs as I have only been of the Pentecostal faith for 14 years. I remember the songs I sang as a child and young adult from the Presbyterian and Baptist hymnals which are not the same.

    Thank you for your insight about the book I reviewed. Had I known more about it I wouldn't have requested to review it. In a way it scared me because He "mixed in scriptures while at the same time seeming to speak out of context of them. What it kind of reminded me of is how Satan mixes in just enough truth with his lies to make them believeable. Unless a person is very educated, (which I am not) and is good at reading between the lines (which I am not) it can be very dangerous to one's soul. I am one of those people who have to have things SPELLED OUT for me, so gray areas don't exist. I have been brought up to believe in God's Word and only God's Word. So this book really through me for a loop. It was actually categorized as "Spiritual growth", and to me it was anything but.

    I am so sorry you had to deal with cultism. One thing that is sad about them is the way they misrepresent the scriptures. For example, Annanias and Sapphira. God struck them dead not because they didn't give everything they had, but because they lied about it. They wanted to puff themselves up and look good by saying they were giving their all, when in reality they held back a portion. If they had been honest and said they would give SOME of their possessions or money, and done so, they would have not been killed.

    Thanks again!


  4. One of the problems in the church is that so often we accept the world's culture as God's and just go along without question. I was blessed by growing up in another culture, before going to Bible college, and learning that there were other ways of doing things. When I went back to the standard religious culture and they tried to tell me it had to be a certain way, I knew that the Navajos did it differently and it still worked, as a result I began to study to see how God actually said it should be. Sometimes it was one group, and sometimes the other. ffrequently both were wrong.

    The hippie generation recognized that much of what they had been taught was not valid, but unfortunately, many failed to check to see what was right, just settling for something different. That failure to look for what was correct made them susceptible to the false teachers. The same thing is true today.

    I agree with your comments about much modern religious music. Much is focused on the musician's skill, or the singer's position rather than on what God has done.

    The trend from meaningful music began several years ago. Older songs told a complete story about what God had done. Music leaders began singing only the first and last verses, leaving out details of what God had done, because they wanted to produce a more exciting music program. The trend has continued. In many cases, only the chorus is now used, and many modern song writers no longer even bother to write the verse. Many songs have little or no significant message as a result.

  5. Because I don't as yet go to any church, all the music therein obviously bypasses me. When I was kid, before I was really a Christian, there were a number of hymns that I actually liked to sing a lot like 'Oh Jesus I Have Promised' and 'Onward Christian Soldiers' especially. Can't say if singing them made me feel closer to God though, I just liked singing them!

    Now cults appeal to people possibly for a number of different reasons; one could be simply for rebellious reasons; another could be, more likely, that a person is searching for complex answers to life, the universe and everything and when someone comes along proclaiming they have the answers, they fall for it; Another reason is that people do want to belong to something bigger than themselves. There's a guy in Australia claiming to be Jesus now, and the amount of joking on the Yahoo! site about him was merciless, but he really claims to be Jesus; and people are flocking to him from all over the world. There's one born every minute hey? You're interesting story of near-misses with two very well known cults is important to warn other people about getting involved.