What is a cult?

We live in a culture where the word cult has become pretty much anti-PC. We not supposed to call any group a cult… unless it is some really wacked-out fringe group obviously controlled by a total nut job. Jim Jones? Cult! Heaven’s Gate? Cult! David Koresh? Cult! But the Mormons? Oh, my… let’s not be unkind. Jehovah’s Witnesses or Christian Scientists? Well, maybe misguided… but really not such bad folks. Let’s not label them with the “C” word. UGH!

In this religious climate, it is important to once again consider what a cult really is.

Our first response must be biblical. In 2 Peter 2:1-3 the Apostle outlines for us three criteria for a false prophet and a false religion. Peter says that purveyors of false religion do at least one of three things (if not all three). They…

1) Teach false doctrine (verse 1)
2) Guide people into immoral behavior (v. 2)
3) Exploit people for their own ends (v. 3).

If we see any group which leads people into false teaching, excuses immoral behavior, or uses people for profit then we can justly say that they are a cult.

In addition to these three biblical definitions, there are a number of traits that are commonly seen as evident in cultic groups. These include, but are not limited to the following:

1. Scripture twisting: They use verses out of context, do not follow standard methods of
biblical study and interpretation, or apply verses in completely inappropriate ways.

2. Messianic leadership: The leader of the group is considered either a messianic figure, a specially chosen prophet of God, or may even be viewed as a deity.

3. Exclusive Community: The group views itself as the specially elected people of God, with all other churches and groups being seen as in error, and not true Christians.

4. Mind Control: Some groups actively use “brainwashing” techniques; almost all group use some type of intensive psychological or cultural manipulation to control the behavior of members.

5. Salvation by Works: Cults typically teach a legalistic, works-oriented view of salvation.

6. Heretical View of Christ: Cults teach an erroneous view of the person of Jesus Christ.

7. Heretical View of God: Cults teach an erroneous view of the nature of the Deity.

8. Redefinition of Terms: Cults usually words and terms that sound biblical and Christian, but are defined in completely heretical way.

9. Syncretism: Many cults draw their teachings from a variety of sources; for example, mixing biblical concepts with Eastern philosophy or occult concepts.

The cults are out there. They surround us. They actually come knocking on our doors. Are you prepared to address their errors, and lead them to the truth?

If you would like more information on cults, and how to deal with them, contact Victor Morris of Truth Builders Ministries, victor@advancingnativemissions.com

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