For a preview of our video on Christian Counterfeiters or ordering information click here.
How can you tell if a group is a cult or not? Many groups claim to be "Christian". Is there a way to identify them quickly?
What is Counterfeit Christianity?
Webster's Dictionary defines a cult as:
1. A system of religious worship.
2. Devoted attachment to a person, principle, etc.
3. A sect.
Webster's then goes on to define a sect as a "religious denomination".
With this hazy definition for a cult, it is no wonder people are confused. We need to turn from the pages of the dictionary to the pages of the Bible.
A Cult is Counterfeit Christianity
"Counterfeit Christianity" is probably the best description we can give for a cult. Counterfeit Christianity is an imitation of real Christianity. Bible terms like "Jesus Christ", "Resurrection", "Salvation" and "Atonement" are used by the Cult, but entirely different meanings have been assigned to these terms by the various cult groups.
Like counterfeit money which is sometimes difficult to detect, so it is difficult to detect counterfeit Christianity, since it looks like the real thing. Experts examining counterfeit money often hold it up to a strong light and look for identifying marks. Counterfeit Christianity also has identifying marks which can be seen when held up to an even stronger light, the light of God's word, the Bible.
We are repeatedly warned in Scripture to watch out for false prophets, false teachers, and false doctrine. To do this, we need to examine the prophecies, teachings, and doctrines of the various groups claiming to be Christian, and then we need to expose them. This is what the Apostle Paul did in 2 Timothy 2:17,18, where he said,
"...Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and thus they upset the faith of some."
Jesus named, "the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate." (Revelation 2:6).
All this "detecting" of a Cult takes time, so we need some methods whereby we can readily detect a cult without time-consuming research. This is possible, and we outline the methods here.
Early detection and the Church
We are at an advantage if we know what to expect from a cult. Cultists are very well trained to appear "Christian", and indeed believe they are the true church, and you need the deliverance!
Therefore, be bold and ask the question, "Do you believe the group you represent is the ONLY TRUE CHURCH on the face of the earth? "
If they reply that they are, or if they are evasive, making remarks like, "Well, every church has a measure of truth BUT....", you have made an early detection of a Cultist!
Every Christian, if asked the same question, regardless of his denomination, would reply that the true church is comprised of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that HE (not some organization) is THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE. (John 14:6). No legitimate denomination would claim that they alone and their members have salvation EXCLUSIVELY, but the Cults (the counterfeits) do.
Early detection and the Bible
Again, under the subject of early detection of a Cult, find out if the person talking to you believes in MORE THAN THE BIBLE.
For example, the Mormons will SAY they believe the Bible, but they will be anxious to let you know that they have FURTHER REVELATION in the form of the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, etc., which they also consider inspired.
Jehovah's Witnesses believe the Bible, especially their own altered version, The New World Translation, which has altered most scriptures dealing with the Deity of Christ. Jehovah's Witnesses will tell you that the Bible can only be understood by their particular organization, the Watchtower Society. I often ask Jehovah's Witnesses,
"Has anyone ever become a Jehovah's Witness by studying the Bible alone?" Of course not. Other Cults also believe they have EXCLUSIVE UNDERSTANDING of the Bible, as it is explained to them by their particular prophet.
Watch out for anyone trying to interpret Scripture for you, or using the Bible like a "dictionary". That is, they make their point, and then refer to isolated texts, often hop scotching all over the Bible to "prove" their point. Used this way, the Bible can be made to say almost anything. Here are two Scriptures that don't belong together: "Judas went out and hanged himself", coupled with "Go thou and do likewise". Behold! A new doctrine formed in exactly the way the cults use the Bible.
Also, be careful of groups stressing prophecy out of proportion to other subjects in Scripture. "Prophecy Seminars" are often the first step into a cult group.
Remember also, that it is the Holy Spirit who will guide you into all truth, not some self-appointed prophet or organization. John 16:13 reads,
"But when He, the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come."
Where are the Cults evangelizing?
The Holy Spirit, through the Apostle Paul gives the Church divine warning in 2 Corinthians, chapter 11, verse 4, that there would be those "COMING TO US" (that is, the Church), and preaching to us "ANOTHER JESUS", a "DIFFERENT GOSPEL", with a "DIFFERENT SPIRIT". This is perhaps the best definition of a Cult in the Bible.In Verse 13, Paul further tells us that their leaders would be disguised as "apostles of Christ". Although Satanically-inspired, they would appear as "angels of light" Therefore do not think a cult has to appear bad to be bad.
On the contrary, a Cult often looks extra good. How do you think the person at your door became so deceived, except that the cult looked so good to them? Bear in mind that you are usually not talking to a deliberate deceiver, but a poor, misguided soul. Cults may look and seem like genuine Christians, perhaps even just another denomination. Do not look on the outward appearance--use your detectors!
Many Cults have begun as "interdenominational Bible Study Groups". As long as neighborhood study groups are under the headship outlined in the Bible in Ephesians 4:11-15, you are protected under the "umbrella" of oversight outlined in Scripture, but if one "lone ranger" leader is answering to no one for his teachings, then look out! As long as he is teaching truth, you are fine, but if he goes out into "left field" with some doctrine, you will go with him into deception.
The purpose of the Cults is to divide the body of Christ. The thrust of their "missionary activities" is not to the unchurched, but to believers in Christ. Missionaries often tell of going to the unsaved and preaching the gospel, finally getting a church going, and then "here come the cults!" We all need to heed the warning in Scripture, "Keep your eye on those who cause divisions among you--and turn away from them". (Romans 16:17).
Detect what "Salvation" the Cult offers
Without fail, the Cults have done away with salvation by GRACE alone. Their salvation is always GRACE PLUS WORKS, and in their organizations you can never be SURE of your salvation until your death, or "until Armageddon".
Cults keep you in a constant state of anxiety and fear of impending judgment. The strongest witness the Christian can present in this situation is the ASSURANCE they have RIGHT NOW that they ARE SAVED! Good works are a RESULT of salvation, not a CONDITION of salvation.
"For by GRACE you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the GIFT OF GOD; NOT AS A RESULT OF WORKS, that no one should boast. (Eph. 2:8,9).
"...God has GIVEN US eternal life, and this life is in His Son. These things I have written to you who BELIEVE in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may KNOW that you HAVE ETERNAL LIFE." (1 John 5: 11 & 13).
Recognize the two classes in the Cults
In the world of the Cults, there are two classes of people. At the high levels, we find the DECEIVERS. At the lower levels, we find the DECEIVED. Remember, you will usually be dealing with the honest-hearted DECEIVED ones, so remember our instructions in 2 Timothy 2: 24-26,
"And the Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance, leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will."
Those using 2 John as an excuse not to witness to the Cultists, should realize that this admonition not to let such a one into their house is referring to anyone who "does not abide in the teachings of Christ" (vs.9), obviously now-departed members of the Christian congregation. This describes most high-ranking cult leaders, but those at your door usually have never "abided" in the doctrine of Christ. Indeed, most of them have had Christ misrepresented to them, and do not even know who Christ really is.
What do the Cults think of Jesus Christ?
This question is the most important one we could possibly ask, for every Cult presents "another Jesus" (2 Cor. 11:4). Listed at the end of this booklet are the names of the various cults and their teachings on the person of Jesus Christ. Cults are often unwilling to share with you their REAL view on Christ until they have drawn you in and won your friendship.
It may be necessary for YOU to present THEM with their own doctrine, and confront them on this most important issue. Remember, if we have the right Jesus Christ we are right for all eternity, but if we have the wrong Jesus Christ, we are wrong for all eternity!
The prime question to ask the Cultist is, "Do you believe that Jesus Christ is ALMIGHTY God, manifest in the flesh?" (Matthew 1:23, John 1:1,14, etc.)
If they cannot agree, you have detected a cult! Jesus is NOT some lesser or extra god, or any kind of an angel. He is not just one of many prophets and gurus, or an extraordinarily good man, but He is THE ONLY TRUE GOD (1 Tim. 1:16,17). As Jesus is TRULY GOD, He is also TRULY MAN (Romans 5:15, 1 Tim. 2:5). This is the Jesus Christ of the Bible, truly God, truly man! For a fuller explanation, please refer to our book "Coping with the Cults" and the chapter "Defending the Deity of Jesus Christ to the Cults".
Cults often humanize God and deify man
Eastern mysticism and humanism have been making steady inroads of late into the Christian Church. Beware of any teacher telling you that you can be "a god", or "part of God" or the "Godhead" or "Godfamily". Especially be on guard for those calling God a "Godforce". Remember that the original lie that Satan whispered in Eve's ear way back in the Garden of Eden was that she could be "as God" or "a god". There is only ONE TRUE GOD (Deut. 6:4), and we are his creation, not His equal. Watch out for the groups that humanize God and deify man.
Remember that persons who have been led into Cults have gone because they were sincerely seeking for God, and no true Christian bore witness to them. Or, after receiving Christ they received wrong teaching, supposing that what they did pleased God. Cults are clever counterfeits for those not grounded solidly in Bible teachings. It is not too late to lead them to the true Christ, or win them back to their original commitment.
Remember to fight SPIRITUAL BATTLES with SPIRITUAL WEAPONS. Prayer is your chief weapon. Take your authority as a Christian and bind the spirit of deception operating in the Cultist's life, loosing him/her to hear the Gospel of Christ. (See Matthew 18:18-20). Prepare yourself to witness as the Holy Spirit makes opportunity for you, by becoming acquainted with cult views on Christ and Salvation, as well as the Scriptures to correct these views.