Juan was on a high from the night's activities. All of his careful planning had paid off, and he did not feel like napping when they returned to the base in the middle of the morning on Wednesday. Diane was fully rested, of course, and she wanted to get out of the house. So, after an unsuccessful attempt to sleep, Juan suggested that he and Di take some tracts and head into the city while the others recovered from the previous night's activities.
At around 5:30pm that same day, Roger Seeker walked up to where Diane stood on the footpath in front of Hoyts Cinema. He worked in an office on the far side of Town Hall Station, and he rarely came down as far as Hoyts. But he had been checking for Anna each afternoon that week. "What are you giving out?" he asked.
"It's an article about sincerity," she replied. "Would you like one?"
"Yes, I would. And I suppose you would like a few cents to help with the printing costs?"
"Yes, thank you."
"I got something from a different woman here last week, a slightly older woman. It was about the commands of Jesus. Are you the same people?"
"Yes, that's right. What did you think of it?"
"Very thought-provoking. But tell me more about what it is that you're trying to say."
"There are a lot of different ways to say it," said Diane. "Are you a Christian?"
"Yes, I am. Born again and spirit filled. Are you born again Christians?"
"Is there such a thing as a Christian who's not born again?" asked Diane.
"Well, now that you mention it, I guess not. But I just asked because there are a lot of people who say they are Christians, when they really aren't."
"And how do you know that someone who says they are born-again isn't lying as well?"
Roger looked at Diane in surprise for a moment. "You got me there," he said with a grin. "I never thought of it like that."
"What we teach is sincerity. Not what religion you belong to, or how perfect your theology is, but whether you are living up to the truth as you know it."
"That's what you teach. But is it what the Bible teaches?" Roger was going to beat them at their own game.
"Not in so many words," said Diane, as she motioned for Roger to sit down with her on the steps at the side of the cinema entrance.
"I've been standing for two hours. It'll be good to rest my legs," she said.
"Now where was I? Oh yeah, sincerity. Well, the Bible calls it faith. But people seem to confuse that with theology, which doesn't really change anyone. We think Jesus was talking about the kind of faith in God that causes people to try to obey him. We reckon that real faith in God and real sincerity are much the same."
"And how do you figure that?" asked Roger.
"Well, they're both about what we do with what we know. If there really is a God, and if he really can give us eternal life, then a real believer would literally jump off a cliff if God told him to. Jumping off a cliff would be proof of his faith, and it would be proof of his sincerity too. How many people do you know who have that kind of faith?"
"It's not like they don't have faith." said Roger. "It's just that they want to be sure it's really God telling them before they start doing something foolish. Is that so wrong?"
"And do they go to as much trouble to be sure that God is telling them not to jump off a cliff, or not to give up their job, or not to leave their families and go into all the world preaching the gospel?" Diane was getting worked up as she continued.
"How sure are they that God really wants them to put all their money into a church building, or into a new car? People spend their whole lives doing things that they have never seriously questioned; and then as soon as they hear God telling them to do something that's a little difficult, they pretend to be worried about the danger of doing the wrong thing. Is that faith, or is it fear?"
"I don't want to argue about it," Roger said, turning both palms toward Sue. "I really liked the tract you gave me last time, but now it sounds like you're not following the commands of Jesus yourselves. If Jesus didn't say anything about sincerity, then why are you preaching it?"
"Hi. I'm Diane's husband," said Juan, who had wandered over to see if Diane heeded help. He had been listening for a few moments by this time, and he was starting to think that Roger was another time bandit.
"It doesn't matter to us if you call it faith or if you call it sincerity. As long as you start doing what Jesus said. Our position is written right there in the tract if you'll read it."
Juan was about to lead Diane away, when he had a second thought. "I'll just ask you one thing, and then we'll get back to what we were doing before you came along: If Jesus said to give up everything you own to follow him, would you do it?" Juan never was one for beating around the bush.
"We both know that he did say it," replied Roger. "It was on the tract you people gave me last week. And I am thinking about it. Believe me, I really am."
"Great," said Juan, who was encouraged by Roger's honesty. Maybe Roger was worth another shot. "So, ask yourself this," he added. "Does your faith in Jesus seem to be pushing you in the direction of obeying him or in the direction of disobeying him?"
"Obeying him, of course."
"And what about your church friends? Do you think they would push you in the direction of obeying Jesus, or would they push you in the direction of disobeying him?"
"I haven't really discussed it with them yet," said Roger. But he had a rough idea as to which way they would lean on this particular issue. "Believe it or not, I'm supposed to be discussing some of these things with people from my church tonight. I'm going to have to leave if I don't want to miss the meeting."
This took Juan by surprise, and he wondered secretly whether Roger may have been making up such a story. Nevertheless, he gave Roger the base phone number, and encouraged him to stay in touch. "Just remember what I said," he added as he shook Roger's hand. "Keep asking yourself whether they are arguing for the teachings of Jesus or if they are arguing against them. That's the way to find out who has real faith in Jesus, and not just faith in their religious arguments."
Roger rushed through dinner in order to leave early for the prayer meeting. His wife, Barbara, stayed home. She often skipped the mid-week meeting, but the truth was that she had sensed trouble in the exchange with Pastor Toogood the week before; and Roger had shared enough with her during the week to make her especially uneasy about what might transpire at tonight's meeting. Their marriage had been shaky for some time, and this latest interest of Roger's in a group of questionable street people frightened Barbara. They each had good jobs, and a nice home; but Roger didn't seem satisfied with that. Barbara was afraid of where it was all going to lead. When Roger arrived at Pastor Toogood's house, three other men were already there, talking with Ganley. Roger knew two of them, although they were not regular attenders at the prayer meetings. The third man was a stranger.
"Roger, I want you to meet John Groenig," Ganley said. "John will be sharing some important information with us tonight."
"Will it be about the teachings of Jesus?" Roger asked suspiciously. He had the feeling that Ganley was trying to pull out of his agreed topic.
"It'll be about that pamphlet you gave me last week," said the pastor.
Just then the doorbell rang and Ganley was called away. Roger asked a few questions and learned that the visitor was not from his denomination. In fact, he wasn't even a pentecostal. He was from a Presbyterian Church. So why was he the special speaker at a mid-week meeting that had earlier promised to deal with the commands of Jesus?
After a short opening prayer, Pastor Toogood announced that he was altering the usual format for the evening. He had invited a special speaker to share with the prayer group about a matter of extreme urgency, which had arisen out of a pamphlet that Roger Seeker had given to him the week before.
"The Bible warns us to be on guard against false christs and false prophets," he said. "There are so many different cults and isms spreading their teachings around in these last days, that we need to know how to deal with them. The Bible says that the devil himself will come to us as an angel of light. Because of this I've asked John Groenig to share some information that he has with us tonight.
"John is the founder of Cult Alert, a non-profit Christian organisation that does research into new sects and religions. I checked with John this week to find out about the group that has been distributing the pamphlet that Roger picked up in the city last week. What I learned is something that I think we all need to hear."
After a few comments about the overall work of Cult Alert, John Groenig's talk turned to the bin raiders.
"The people who have produced this tract, which our Brother Roger received, are highly secretive and very well organised," said John. "They have bases in every capital city of Australia and are believed to exist in a number of country centres as well. They are known to target impressionable young people through their work on the streets and at universities. They have links to several larger cults. The leader of the Adelaide group is a former member of the Children of God; one of their Queensland members is a former Hare Krishna devotee; and they have expressed official sympathy for Jehovah's Witnesses.
"It's difficult to get accurate information on all of their teachings, because each group makes up its own rules. What we do know," and here he counted the items off on his fingers as he listed them, "is that they don't believe the Bible is the Word of God. They don't believe in the Trinity. They believe in salvation by works. And they teach that all of their leaders are Messiahs. And this is just the start."
Roger listened intently, as Groenig continued.
Groenig returned to finger counting: "They pass harsh judgment on orthodox Christianity, and they ridicule the faith of other Christians. They do not pay taxes. They teach followers to break the law.
"We have spoken with ex-members, and learned that most of the leaders in this group are experts in mind control. They are able to make new recruits believe that what they are saying makes perfect sense. They set out to destroy marriages and to turn young people against their parents. The Sydney leader has recently kicked his own wife out of the cult, and he is now living with two younger women who are also married to other cult members." Groenig had stopped counting by this time.
Roger was shocked. Could these be the same people that he had spoken to less than two hours ago?
He had no idea what he had been getting himself involved in.
Groenig continued: "They do not have a name, and if you ask them for one, they'll tell you they are just 'believers' or 'Christians' or some other equally innocuous response. Ask who their leader is and they'll say Jesus. Ask where they worship and they'll say anywhere. They are nearly impossible to nail down.
"They go to extreme lengths to cut themselves off from mainstream society. They don't work. They refuse to collect the dole. University students drop out of their studies after joining up with them. Their marriages are not legalised. It's believed that they do not register births or deaths. Younger members could actually be killed, and their bodies disposed of, without the government even knowing that they ever existed.
"Some cult experts believe that this could be the most dangerous manipulative cult ever to have hit Australia."
"So what should we do if we see one of them?" asked Bob Yardley, one of the church pillars, who normally did not attend the Wednesday night meetings.
"The best thing you can do is to pray for them," Groenig advised. "If they offer you their literature, take it and tear it up. If they ask for a donation, tell them that the Gospel is free. Do not get into an argument with them. They're far too clever. If you know anyone who has been influenced by them, contact Cult Alert and we can give you literature which exposes the lies in what they are saying. We are always prepared to address church gatherings, and to assist families who have relatives trapped in the cults."
When the talk was over, and before general discussion, Pastor Toogood announced that there would be a special offering on Sunday, to help Cult Aware with their expenses. Roger was grateful to have a fuller picture of what the group really believed, but he thought it was a bit hypocritical to condemn people like Diane and Anna for requesting five or ten cents for their tracts, and then to push for a thousand times as much money in contributions to fight them.
During question time, Roger shared a little about his encounter with the group that afternoon, and some of the more extreme things that they had said.
Then Juan's words came back to him: "Ask yourself if they are arguing for the teachings of Jesus, or against them." Pastor Toogood had turned the whole meeting into an attack on the cult. He wasn't exactly arguing against the teachings of Jesus, but he wasn't arguing for them either. Roger raised his hand to be heard.
"Thank you for setting the record straight on these people, Brother Groenig," he began. "I had no idea that they believed all these things. But suppose there was a group who was just teaching the commands of Jesus, without all the other stuff. Would you consider that to be a good thing?" "What are you getting at?" asked Groenig, with a suspicious tilt of his head. "The church is already teaching what Jesus said."
"I mean, what if a church started teaching people to give up everything and live by faith? What if they taught us to love our enemies and turn the other cheek? What if they taught people to fast and pray secretly and not to swear oaths, and not to use titles? What if they started blessing the poor and warning the rich? Would you think that was a good thing or a bad thing?" "You have to ask yourself what those things mean," said the cult expert, "and why the people teaching them are so keen to teach them. It's fine for people to give up everything for Jesus, but they need to do it because God has told them to do it, and not because some greedy cult leader is trying to get their money from them."
Roger decided to give it one more try. "I'm not talking about any cult that already exists. I'm just being hypothetical. Let's say that we started teaching these things. Would that be a good thing or a bad thing?"
"We are teaching those things, Roger," interrupted Pastor Toogood. His voice was a bit too shrill. "You don't need to literally sell your house and quit your job to follow Christ," he said, laughing contemptuously. "Be reasonable, Roger! Forsaking all that you have is an attitude of the heart."
"What these people are talking about is salvation by works," added the visitor, who turned his attention back to the bin raiders. "A lot of Christians get drawn in by cults because they don't have a proper understanding of the gospel themselves. We're not saved by obeying Jesus, Roger. We're saved by his blood. That's why Christ died." Groenig was using his most condescending pastoral voice now. It was almost musical.
"Jesus paid it all, so that you and I don't need to turn to these cults for the answers. The work is done, Rogerů finished on Calvary. All God wants us to do now is to thank him for his glorious redemptive work." There was something hypnotic about the soothing way these words rolled off Groenig's tongue. But it wasn't working on Roger Seeker this time.
"They're really scared of the teachings of Jesus!" he thought to himself. "Cults don't have anything to do with it. It's like Juan said; they're arguing against obeying Jesus. They're arguing against faith! But they pretend that it's all about cults."