Question 32 (ABM) - Is the message a cult?
The following are a series of questions and answers between one of our editors (referred to as BTS) and an anonymous Branham minister (referred to as ABM). This subset of the Q&A relates to the current status of the "message". The full text of this question and its answer is below.
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Is the message a cult?
Thanks for your kind words regarding my talk on finding the will of God. I only speak occasionally but I do enjoy sharing what I have learned in my spiritual journey as I try to follow Christ and be led by his Spirit.
I find some of your responses puzzling. You seem at times partly "in the message" and partly outside, at least from my perspective in that you do not necessarily accept everything William Branham said as being perfect truth.
I want to look at the legacy of William Branham in terms of his followers:
You stated in your response to the last question:
I think that what William Branham started was a cult. And I think he was directly responsible for what one sees today.
Why do I say this? In Robert Morey's book, How to Answer a Mormon: Practical Guidelines for What to Expect and What to Reply When the Mormons Come to Your Door, he states:
When William Branham was alive, he did not have a lot of people following him. I have visited Branham Tabernacle and it is tiny. And as you indicated, a number of the people that did follow him were imbalanced spiritually. However, William Branham did many things to encourage this.
For example, in 1964 he stated:
William Branham is effectively stating that his interpretation of the Bible is perfect. But we have already seen issues where you disagree with him and I will be bringing up a lot more such cases. He invites people to take his interpretation of the Bible over the plain reading of scripture.
Furthermore, he states that believing William Branham's interpretation of scripture is the evidence that someone has the Holy Spirit:
I agree with you when you state, after having listened to our podcasts that "...it is unfortunate how many people have been hurt by wicked men." And the majority of pastors in the message are wrongly motivated. They are not true followers of Jesus.
But they got there by listening very closely to what William Branham stated. They believe what he said and they think his interpretation of the word was perfect, so they don't need anything else. They take his word over the Bible because his interpretation is perfect. Therefore, if the Bible clearly says one thing but William Branham says it means something else, they have to go with William Branham or they don't have the Holy Spirit and they have rejected the perfect interpretation of the word.
William Branham held himself out to be the source of perfect biblical interpretation and the benefit from following him was that it was evidence that you were filled with the Holy Spirit, a true Christian. He said, "Say what the tapes say!" But I think that will only lead me away from being a true follower of Christ.
Question: Are you beginning to understand why I must reject William Branham as being "the last prophet to the last age"? How can I follow someone who stated that I only have the Holy Spirit if I follow his interpretation of the Bible? How can I follow someone who thought his interpretation of scripture was perfect when it wasn't?
Response from ABM - Parts of the message are a cult
I can appreciate that you may consider me partly outside of the message, but that is because you define the message in the way the idolators do. I knew Bro. Branham personally. The leading men of our "sect" did. Men of our sect preached his funeral. The idolaters have all kinds of marvelous hunting stories, and saw many miracles, but they never understood the revelation behind Bro. Branham's messages. All they have is the words of man. We are not the majority of the Branham movement, but we have been here from the beginning. Our members have been prominent from the beginning. But after Bro. Neville died the idolaters completely took over and we parted company with most of the movement. So perhaps you have not been in the message that long. Most of the leaders in the movement today like to pretend we do not exist, because after Billy Paul, the leaders of our "sect" were the closest to Bro. Branham. We were not rich like Sothesman and Green, so we could not afford to leave our jobs and spend all our time chasing Bro. Branham, but we were there. The idolaters have been deceiving people for a long time. It is a shame.
I will tell you this, it is much easier to convince a message believer that they misunderstood Bro. Branham, than it is to convince them he was a false prophet.
Bro. Branham believed in progressive revelation. We do too. If progressive revelation is true, then why did the progression stop when Bro. Branham died? We understand things better now than when Bro. Branham was here. The idolators are stuck in 1965. They are even more confused today than ever.
Is the message a cult? That is a difficult question. I do not believe the entire message is a cult. I do not think I am in a cult. There are others sects of the movement I would not consider a cult. Large parts of the message are most certainly a cult. The Branham Tabernacle has been a cult since they overthrew the ministry and started playing tapes. Their members have been cultish since one of them disinterred Bro. Branham to install a phone in a casket so he could call out when he was resurrected. The things they have covered up would fill a big book. Byskal, Green, and their ilk have been cultish since they stopped preaching Jesus and started preaching Branham. Vayle's followers is less clearly a cult, but he had some wacky doctrine. Coleman's sect is a borderline cult. Some of my family followed after him, and in the time around 1977 and that area, they definitely did some cultish things. Paulaseer Laurie was definitely a cult. Alot of what has happened in Africa and South America has been cultish. There are alot of things I could say here, but I do not want to compromise my anonymity.
I know you probably will not agree, but there is a big difference between what the message movement is today, and what it was when Bro. Branham was here. When he was here, the craziness was kept at bay by him. He held back the idolators. He promoted the men who were more even keeled. But after he died, the nuts took over.
Here is a point where we differ. I do not believe Bro. Branham started a cult. I believe the idolaters who took over after Bro. Branham died started a cult. I think he realized they were turnign into a cult. That is why he left Jeffersonville and moved to Arizona, to escape the nuts. He told us so.
There is more than enough decent and good teachings by Bro. Branham to lead his followers to NOT be a cult. There is a plenty large enough body of teachings that, if people had not idolized Bro. Branham, they could have continued on in truth and went on with God. Instead many are just the very thing he warned against: a denomination. They have turned his opinions into their creed, and they turned things like church order into their liturgy. I can probably tear them apart far more effectively you can. And they so deserve to be tore apart. They are wicked and are leading people astray.
When Bro. Branham died, I think it is fair to say he had 15,000 close followers. You are perfectly right, the Tabernacle was not a big church and did not have alot of people after you come to the 1970s and later. Do you know why? Because most of us left because we could not stomach the idolatry. They took down the picture of Jesus over the altar and hung up a picture of Bro. Branham... I could give so many examples that drove people away. These are not things the idolators would ever tell you. The majority of the members of the Tabernacle when Bro. Branham died are in our fellowships. Including deacons, and people who knew Bro. Branham all the way back to the 1930s. Sis Branham came to our churches more so than the Tabernacle after Bro. Branham died... Not all of the Branham family stayed with the Tabernacle... I could say more. The reason you could not find eyewitnesses in your (former) fellowships from the early days of Bro. Branham's ministry is because they were in our fellowships. I know and have known people who were in the Tabernacle before any of the healing revivals, back when he first started out.
You include the following quote: "And we do have today, by God's help, the perfect interpretation of the Word with Divine vindication. Then that which is in part is done away with." But this is not something Bro. Branham said, he is reading a question and reading what someone else said this. He is reading it. Secondly, the statement "when that which is perfect is come" is a reference to the eternal age of time, when the perfect age has come. It it is a future perfect time. This references back to Isaiah when it tells there will time that prophecy will cease, Zech 13:3, etc. So the question being asked itself is flawed. Bro. Branham does not point this out the person. He answers in a different way. He does not endorse the premise of the question as being accurate.
You give the following quote: "The evidence of receiving the Holy Ghost today is just the same as it was back in the day of our Lord. It is receiving the Word of truth for the day in which you live." I am sure you know the scripture behind this. (John 16:13) But there is nothing here to make me think Bro. Branham thought he had a final perfect revelation. He had the Word of truth for his day. But his day was 60 years ago. So if all you have is something 60 years old, how then are you still in the word of truth for the day? Nothing Bro. Branham taught should have led those people to stop going on with God and his truth.
You state: "I agree with you when you state, after having listened to our podcasts that "...it is unfortunate how many people have been hurt by wicked men." And the majority of pastors in the message are wrongly motivated. They are not true followers of Jesus." I wish so very much you were wrong, but you are right. But we have been saying that very thing for decades. My purpose in corresponding with you has never been to defend what is the message movement today. My purpose has been to defend Bro. Branham and what he stood for, and stream in which I stand. Bro. Branham's message was fit for the day in which he lived.
You ask: "Are you beginning to understand why I must reject William Branham as being "the last prophet to the last age"?
I can understand and agree with you in part. Bro. Branham was not the last prophet to the last age. But he was most certainly a prophet to the last age. I may be mistaken, but did Bro. Branham claim to be the last prophet to the last age? I don't recall that and a brief search did not find that in the spoken word. I am afraid you are rejecting a premise that was invented by the idolaters, not by Bro. Branham.
You ask: "How can I follow someone who stated that I only have the Holy Spirit if I follow his interpretation of the Bible? "
Answer: But that is not what he said. He did not say people who do not believe him do not have the holy spirit. He said believing the truth is proof of the holy spirit. And believing the truth is certainly proof. But it is not the only proof. I would also point you to multiple sermons and things he said, which we have already discussed, in which he said people who do not believe like him will be saved. Just like the plum and apple tree vision. I just want to repeat back the quote to you: "It is receiving the Word of truth for the day in which you live". This is not 1965. That statement had a time limit on it.
You ask: "How can I follow someone who thought his interpretation of scripture was perfect when it wasn't?"
Answer: Did Bro. Branham believe his word was an infallible and perfect interpretation? I think he certainly thought it was an improvement and a clearer understanding than preceded him. But he clearly thought and taught that something greater was coming after him. We are following Bro. Branham in a stream of revelation. That is different than adhering to every word he spoke. If we find something he said was mistaken, then improve our understanding. That is what he did. Why can't we do that? Where did the premise ever come from that understanding could not improve since 1965? The idolaters. Not Bro. Branham. In fact he told us quite clearly and plainly to go on and and expect something greater.
Clarification by ABM - The definition of a cult
I have been considering this question a little further and wanted to add just a bit more. I occurred to me we did not define the word "cult". This could lead to a misunderstanding. I just go through the different possible meanings.
In the most basic and historic definition, the word cult means "a unique culture." In that regard, the entire Branham movement represents a unique religious culture.
In Christian theological terms, a Christian cult is a group who denies the supremacy of Christ. This is really the aspect on which I answered your question. A large part of the message groups have abandoned the supremacy of Christ.
The pop-culture definition of a cult is a kool-aid drinking, suicidal, brainwashed bunch of nuts. I was not considering that definition when I answered your question, and I do not think the message movement fits that definition. I would say there are a very tiny minority of historic fringe groups that would fall into this category, but to my knowledge, there are no groups like that which still exist. Leo Mercer, Paul Shaffer, and the men like that are all dead, and they never represented anything beyond a tiny minority.
Response from BTS - What is a cult?
Sorry to go back to this but I think you missed part of my email. I specifically referred to Robert Morey's definition of a cult in his book, How to Answer a Mormon: Practical Guidelines for What to Expect and What to Reply When the Mormons Come to Your Door:
I think this definition is reasonable and it holds for virtually everyone I have met in the message. Message followers often state that they believe in the supremacy of the scriptures but when pushed will admit that they cannot point out a single doctrinal point where they would not follow William Branham. As such, they have effectively exalted William Branham's message above the Bible.
ABM - What is a cult?
I do not think we are differing substantially. I was primarily concerned I was not clear in my original answer that I was not supporting a pop-culture definition of the word "cult".
I believe the definition you give can be succinctly described and denying the supremacy of Christ. I agree, the majority of message believers would argue that the Bible and Christ are the final authority, but in practice, most will consider the statements of Bro. Branham to carry greater weight than scripture or the words of Christ. But certainly not all of them fit that definition, and I would also suggest that a large percentage of those who take Bro. Branham's statements out of context and place their interpretation above the scripture do so unknowingly, because they have never heard the correct or more full viewpoint. Most who I come into contact with are not hard to persuade that they simply misunderstood Bro. Branham when you can show them the clear biblical meaning. (As opposed to trying to convince them he was a false prophet) I think that is a noteworthy fact. Paul did not convince the pagans to give up their false beliefs by first convincing them their gods were false, but rather by showing them a better way. I do not believe Bro. Branham was a false teacher or false prophet, he just was confusing from time to time in his doctrines and people have twisted it. But I certainly believe the manner in which some have subsequently used and interpreted his teachings are certainly wrong. When I minister to message people I do so with the intention of helping them see the proper biblical interpretations which I believe Bro. Branham himself held, as opposed to the doctrinal trainwreck some parts of the message have become. It is often the basic and most elementary teachings which message preachers seem to neglect. I find people to be very receptive of such a message.
My primary concern on this point is to clarify is that by using the word "cult" here, it is not to convey the pop-culture image of a cult. As far as people go, most message believers are kind and pleasant people. To quote former message believer Peter Duyzer from his book, he "never experienced friendship, or love, like we did there. It was the closest thing, in our minds, to the early church." I will also quote critic and author Edward Babinski who said they are "odd in their beliefs, but for the most part honest hard-working citizens". My basis for saying some segments are a cult is only because in my view they have denied the supremacy of Christ, in word or deed. Those who have not done so, are not a cult.
For your specific definition, I would say the average person would not consider the LDS to be a cult, because most people really only consider the pop-culture definition of the word. But from a purely Christian theological standpoint, we would indeed consider them a cult. Not because they are drinking blood, or worshiping Satan, or sacrificing children, or passing around the kool-aid, but because they have denied the supremacy of Christ.