• johned@aibi.ph

Some Marks of A Cult

Cults are unfortunately big news these days. People are desperately searching for God and there are some really dangerous frauds, con-men and lunatics out there fleecing the flock. This article deals with how to spot cults and false teachers by referring to biblical warnings about their characteristic behaviors.

Thieves And Wolves

When Jesus talks about the Good Shepherd, He talks about "the thief", and "the wolf' that comes to destroy the flock and says John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

In Matthew 7:15-16 He declares: "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them.

And in Acts 20: 28-32 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come among you.

The phrase "wolves in sheep's clothing' originated with the Greek storyteller - Aesop , and one of his fables where a cunning wolf used to dress up as a sheep in order to get close to the flock and kill them. It became a watchword people who were outwardly nice but whose real inner intent was to devour those around them.

In this article I shall tackle the question of what is a cult from two aspects - distortion of truths concerning God, and the characteristic behaviors of cults.

 Attacks on Jesus and On God.

All cults draw the person away from the truth concerning Jesus Christ ; this is done in a number of ways:

(1) By denying Jesus Christ is God

(2) By identifying Jesus with other bible characters or spiritual people e.g. by saying that instead He is the archangel Michael or Satan's brother conceived when the Father had sex with Mary.

(3) By saying that Jesus was god with a small g and that we all can become god, as the Mormons (Latter Day Saints) believe.

(4) By saying God is "The Force" or some sort of creating/evolving energy, not personal, does not possess the ability to love, forgive, hold judgment etc.

(5) By saying Jesus did not come in the flesh but is instead a divine principle a Cosmic Christ or other such being.

(6) By seeing Christ as just human nature achieving at top potential - human potential. we all have "Christ in us" and our job is to "get in contact with it" and achieve our inner potential. However this "Christ" is not a historical person but

(7) Jesus not historical - " Christ consciousness" is substituted for faith in a historical Jesus.

(8) Jesus not God, became the Christ when he attained Christ-consciousness at age 30.

(9) Two Jesus theory - outer historical and inner mystical Jesus.

(10) Jesus one of many ascended masters

(11) Jesus just a good man, prophet or teacher.

(12) Holy Spirit not God but a force emanating from God.

If a group teaches any of these things it is NOT historical, biblical Christianity. Such a group is not teaching the truth about God as recorded in the Scriptures and should be avoided by Christians.

The Characteristic Behaviors of Cults

Cults are remarkably alike in that they exhibit certain "odd' behaviors in order to appear more spiritual than the truth and freedom that is in Jesus Christ. In the end though these "super-spiritual behaviors" are profitless and often make a person eccentric, bizarre and spiritually proud.

(1 Timothy 4:1-7 NASB) But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, {2} by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, {3} men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. {4} For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; {5} for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. {6} In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. {7} But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness...

Our first four behaviors from the above passage are:

1. Involvement with spirits - which deceive them.

2. Forbidding marriage

3. Dietary restrictions on normal foods

4. Ungodly Superstition

We see cults forbidding marriage, or arranging marriages or in the case of David Koresh claiming all women belonged to him. Most cults have some dietary restrictions and forbid certain kinds of foods , not out of common sense or health reasons but but out of the desire to "be spiritual" or attain "energy" or to seem pure and exalted above the common lot of mankind. Thus people substitute food for character and handling for holiness. They think "I am good person because I do not eat pork" rather than "I am a good person because I love God and my neighbor." This leads to a false sense of spirituality that is so common in cults.

In his letter to the Colossian church Paul writes:

(Colossians 2:16-23 NASB) Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day-- {17} things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. {18} Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, {19} and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God. {20} If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, {21} "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" {22} (which all refer to things destined to perish with the using)-- in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? {23} These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.

Here Paul lists a few more behaviors associated with the false spirituality of cults:

5. Legalism - do not handle, do not taste, do not touch.

6. False humility

7. Harsh treatment of the body -especially for so called "purification"

8. Worship of angels (and other such beings)

9. People going into great detail about what they have seen in the spiritual realm.

10. Enormous spiritual pride

11. Experience takes over, Christ is no longer central and no longer a source of life.

12. Emphasis on religious festivals, new moons and Sabbath days.

13. Their regulations appear to be wise but are in fact ineffective for restraining fleshly indulgence.

14. Self-made religion - worship made up by man rather than truly revealed from God and inspired by God

The apostle Peter also had a few words to say about this self-delude form of worship:

(2 Peter 2:18-19 NASB) For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, {19} promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.

Thus we see that cults are frequently:

15. Boastful

16. Promise false "freedom" - many cults do this.

17. Appeal to the lusts of the flesh - a wise sales tactic

18. Slaves to sin and corruption

The final words must be with Jude the brother of Jesus who writes:

(Jude 1:8-16 NASB) Yet in the same manner these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties. {9} But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, "The Lord rebuke you." {10} But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed. {11} Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. {12} These men are those who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; {13} wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. {14} And about these also Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, "Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, {15} to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him." {16} These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage.

19. Boastful to the point of rejecting all authority, even that of angels.

20. Pollute their own bodies

21. Without shame

22. React abusively against whatever they do not understand.

23. Live by instinct and run headfirst into evil.

Some cults involve the promotion of the grossest immorality under the banner of "love-ins' and David Koresh's gross immorality was so he could "experience the depths of sin" for the world. These 23 points cover most of the behaviors commonly associated with cults in Scripture. Any one of them should be a "red flag" to a Christian. When three or more of them are present, the group is almost certainly wandering away from the will of God.


This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.