Born SEPTEMBER 10, 1928
When New York native Walter Martin passed away in California in 1989, his specialized ministry had not only stretched from coast to coast, but had spanned the globe. He wasn’t the first to write about cults. Yet Walter had an immense know-ledge of America-born cults and an ability to clearly inform others about them. He legitimized the need for believers to know about the Christianesque groups.
JUST THE FACTS
Walter’s interest in uncovering the truth about religious cults began in his early twenties. He started writing and speaking on the subject while he was a freshman at New York’s Shelton College. From Walter’s birth until then, Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United States had risen from 44,000 to 100,000 members. Practicing Mormons had jumped from around 65,000 to beyond 900,000. Most Americans weren’t well-informed about what the groups believed.
Walter was ordained a Baptist minister and graduated from Shelton. His first book, published in 1954, was titled Jehovah of the Watch Tower, revealing what most Americans may not have known about the Jehovah’s Witnesses. By then they had grown almost 600,000 members strong (nearing ten times as many as in 1928).
His knowledge of cults gave Walter credentials to further expose religious groups in print. At Zondervan Publishing House, Walter founded the Division of Cult Apologetics. While with Zondervan, he published no fewer than eight cult-themed books. In them, he revealed the doctrinal distinctive of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, and Mormonism. He specifically showed how they digress from rather than affirm the biblical points of Jesus’ deity.
THE ADVENTIST QUESTION
During the second half of the 1950s, Walter teamed up with pioneer radio preacher Donald Barnhouse. Walter and Donald sought to determine whether or not the Seventh-day Adventist Church was a cult.
They met with Adventist leaders. From 1955-1960, Walter wrote a column for Eternity Magazine, founded by Mr. Barnhouse. Some of his articles reported their findings about the Adventist church. The writings helped clear America’s hazy understanding of Seventh-day Adventists.
They concluded the church was not a cult. They found only minor issues that separated Adventists from most traditional Christian denominations. In 1960, Walter published his findings in the book The Truth About Seventh-day Adventism.
SPREADING THE TRUTH FURTHER
Also in 1960, Walter founded Christian Research Institute. Through the organization, he was able to centralize his resources and train others to critique American-born cults for the Christian world.
The 1960s became a strong decade for Walter’s writings. He penned a number of books that put countercult facts at the general public’s fingertips. In 1961, Christian Research Institute launched a quarterly called The Religious Research Digest. The following year, Walter made two books available: he defined Christian orthodoxy in Essential Christianity and revealed non-orthodox theology in The Maze of Mormonism.
Walter took a large step in 1965. After appearing on other people’s radio programs, he began his own radio ministry with The Bible Answer Man. That same year he published his best known book, The Kingdom of the Cults.
By 1965, the general public had become more aware of the major groups Walter wrote about. An increasing number of Americans had experienced strangers knocking on their doors in pairs. By the mid-1960s, membership of Jehovah’s Witnesses had climbed to one million, with Mormonism reaching two million adherents.
Why all the fuss? Walter explained in the opening chapter of The Kingdom of the Cults. He described a cult as “a group of people gathered about a specific person or person’s misinterpretation of the Bible.” In The Kingdom of the Cults, Walter compared each group’s own writings to the Bible’s clear teachings, letting us see for ourselves why the fuss.
William and Randy Petersen mention in 100 Christian Books That Changed the Century, “Martin points out how cults redefine historic doctrines in ways that can easily make the average Christian think there is no difference at all.” Those historic doctrines talk about Jesus’ preincarnate Godliness, His mission to earth, and what He accomplished by His death and resurrection.
THE GROWING NEED
In 1974, Walter moved the operations of the Christian Research Institute to California. There he established the organization’s international headquarters. New cultic groups were on the rise. They exceeded Walter’s initial concerns. They differed from standard Christianity more than just doctrinally; the new cults purposefully divided families and earned suspicion as social threats.
Cults were everywhere in the 1970s. Early in the decade radios blared George Harrison’s promotion for the Hare Krishna cult: the song “My Sweet Lord.” That group and Moonies were often visible at airports where they sold flowers. In 1978, the whole world woke up to the power of cults: Jim Jones led 909 of his followers to drink cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. In the wake of that tragedy in Jonestown, Guyana, NBC TV interviewed Walter as a cult expert.
There were growing numbers of rescues from cult groups. Cult watchdog organizations sprang up. Walter alerted us to the new groups in his 1980 book The New Cults. An up-dated edition of The Kingdom of the Cults in 1985 included groups that weren’t a big threat twenty years earlier.
Walter spent much of the 1980s traveling, informing other countries, and opening Christian Research Institute branch offices. He endeavored to keep his readers up-to-date. The less-organized New Age Movement was growing. In 1989, Walter addressed it in his final book, The New Age Cult.
Walter died in his sleep on June 26, 1989, having helped the church by sounding the trumpet of warning. Other countercult authors and speakers have built upon the strong foundation Walter laid during his lifetime. Cults of all kinds continue to grow, but we’re equipped to at least define them for what they are thanks to Walter Martin.
LET ME KNOW: How has Walter’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.
Petersen, William and Randy Petersen. 100 Christian Books That Changed the World. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2000.
- Discover a variety of informational resources offered by Walter Martin’s family at http://www.waltermartin.com/.
- Find a wider listing of Walter’s books at Amazon.com (last link in bibliography).
- Walter Martin on Youtube http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Dr.+Walter+Martin&oq=Dr.+Walter+Martin&gs_l=youtube-reduced.12..0l3j0i33.57952.57952.0.100084.1.1.0.0.0.0.281.281.2-1.1.0…0.0…1ac.3_EZLN4LR1s