From the beginning of the church we are warned against divisions (Schisms a breaking away which means heresy Rom.16:17-18)
1 Jn.2:19 "they went out from us but they were not of us, if they had been of us , they would have continued with us, but they went out that they might be made known that none of them were of us." John is writing about those who denied Jesus came in the flesh (meaning they did not believe God came as a human and rose bodily). They left the fellowship of believers that were holding to the apostles doctrine. Today many other aberrations just as false have arisen, and given birth to offshoots in the Church.
Sociologist, John Lofland, comments that '"cults are 'little groups' which break off from the conventional consensus and espouse very different views of the real, the possible, and the moral."' (Quoted in Ronald Enroth, "What Is a Cult?" in A Guide to Cults and New Religions 1983, p.14.)
Throughout the old and New Testament we are warned of false teaching and teachers. Here are only a few references. False teachers in Isa.8:2 false prophets in Deut.13 and 18. Jesus warned of false prophets and teachers in Mt.7:15, Mt.24:23-24; Mk.13:6,21-22. we are warned by Paul in 2 Cor. 11:14; Gal.1:8-9; Col.2:8-9; 2 Thess. 2, 1 Tim.1:3-4,4:1-2. By Peter in 1 Pt.5:8-9,2 Pt.2:1-3. By John 1 Jn.2:18-23, 2 Cor. 4:1-5. Just about every book of the Bible mentions a warning of error and falsehood.
There are two ways a cult operates in falsehood. Theologically and sociologically. From belief and practice. Some are theologically dangerous others are sociologically dangerous. Not all cults are harmful to someone’s physical well being, but they are harmful spiritually if they mislead someone in their relationship to God through another gospel. They will all have control or manipulation over people in some fashion. They will hold the person to this particular group or church often with fear convincing them that there is no where else to go, no one else has the truth like they do.
When the term cult is used by the secular world they mean any religious group viewed as strange or what may be considered dangerous. Christians point to major errors in core doctrines for justification in using the word cult. Cults contain deviations from the doctrines of historic orthodox Christianity.
When we hear the word cult we envision people held against their will confined away from society, working with little or no pay, or abused. They are unable to think for themselves having been changed into religious robotic zealots. While these descriptions are possible and have occurred in extreme circumstances they are often unlikely. Someone once said a cult is everyone who disagrees with your belief. This is essentially what the leaders of the these groups will state. If someone does not agree with their particular interpretation of the Bible or of God they are against God. This is their exclusivism at work. The word 'Cult' does have a stigma attached to it and has been thrown around too easily and can be a mislabeling if not understood or explained. So we want to explain what are the common practice's that the majority of Cults share to help you identify them. We need to understand that a cult (or a aberrational group) can be identified into two categories. By theology and or sociological behavior.
There are two categories of cults, non -Christian and Christian cults. The Christian cult claims to have the truth of Christ and salvation but they deny one or more of the core doctrines of the Christian faith. To simplify an identification of a Christian cult it would be noticeable in several categories. Who is Jesus, the way of salvation, what is your final source of authority and how they relate to others. They want to call themselves Christian without adhering to the tenets of the historic "doctrinal " faith. They change the major core teachings to mean something other than they are defined in the Bible and by the history of the church. The cults do not agree with the historic (Biblical) Christian faith.
The Bible does not use the word "cult." However the Bible does address religious errors in teaching and practice. It does not take these teachers lightly and it does not excuse those who teach them. The Bible applies to them words such as "heresy," "heretic," "false teachers," "false prophets," "false apostles, and "false Christ's". Those who teach contrary to the core teachings may say of themselves "we are not a "cult" but this does not change the fact that they are in this category. The Bible reprimands heresy, false teachings, false doctrines, and false prophecy and tells us to refute, reproof, correct, and expose it by defending the truth (Jude 3).
This can often take place publicly as they teach their falsehood publicly. Those who claim to be Christian that are found to teach heresy will often be the strongest opponents against those who point out their false teachings. They want to censure them so they can continue to teach unchallenged. It is for this reason cults do not like be too noticed and will not debate or discuss the issues brought up publicly. For the most part, they will avoid public exposure or scrutiny because they will lose their membership.
Both cult's and a sect adhere to a distinctive doctrine that oftentimes is majoring on the minors. Sect's on the other hand refer to a religious denomination or a group of people that broke from another body they were involved with to form their own. For example there are sects in Islam and Mormonism (like the RLDS). The term sect can at time have similarities to a cult but its identification does not help someone identify how severe a deviation from the original they are. This is especially true with those who claim their Christianity is exclusive only to themselves being the only way as the one true Church.
THE ORIGINAL USE OF THE WORD "CULT" AS WELL AS IT'S USE TODAY DERIVES FROM THE LATIN WORD "CULTUS" WHICH MEANS "WORSHIP".
Definition of a cult
DICTIONARY DEFINITION- A GROUP BOUND TOGETHER IN A INTENSE DEVOTION TO A PERSON, IDEAL OR THING; A SYSTEM OF BELIEFS AND RITUALS THAT ARE BOGUS. In other words they are practicing a false system of spirituality while claiming to be authentic.
In 1912 Ernst Troeltsch in the book social teaching of the Christian church, classified religious groups in three groups: "Church", "sect", and "cult". A cult represented a mystical or spiritual religion to intellectuals and educated classes.
With a more Biblical perspective, in 1938 Jan Van Baalens' "The Chaos of Cults" critiqued Theosophy, Mormonism, Christian Science, and Jehovah's Witnesses as 'Cults.' Because they were aberrant in their teachings while claiming to be Christian.
Christian apologist Robert Bowman defines a cult as A religious group originating as a heretical sect and maintaining fervent commitment to heresy. Adj.: "cultic" (may be used with reference to tendencies as well as full cult status.( Robert Bowman, A Biblical guide to Orthodoxy and heresy.)Cult's will say they are the way to Christ and Christ Himself is not the way. So they put themselves as a group or their teaching in between man and God. They become mediators between God and man. They do not have the Christian distinctive, but will claim to be Christian in their beliefs and practices. It was Christ himself who Said "I Am the way, the truth the life."
A THEOLOGICAL DEFINITION A THEOLOGICAL DEFINITION OF "CULT" MUST BE BASED ON A STANDARD OF CHRISTIAN ORTHODOXY. USING THE BIBLE'S TEACHING AS A FOCAL POINT. A CULT IS ANY RELIGIOUS GROUP THAT CLAIMS TO BE CHRISTIAN (OR MAY NOT BE) IS DISTINCT AND HAS DOCTRINES AND PRACTICES THAT CONTRADICT THOSE OF THE SCRIPTURES AS INTERPRETED BY ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY. THOSE THINGS THAT HAVE BEEN UPHELD IN HISTORIC CHRISTIANITY .ORTHODOXY IS REPRESENTED FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE CHURCH, AND IS EXPRESSED IN STATEMENTS SUCH AS THE APOSTLES CREED WHICH ARE DENIED . THEY WILL DENY THE BIBLE AS THE COMPLETE BOOK OF REVELATION AND OUR GUIDE TO KNOWING GOD. THEY WILL DISTORT THE CENTRAL MESSAGE OF THE SCRIPTURES AS CHRIST BEING THE SAVIOR ALONE. THEY WILL DENY HIS DEITY AND DISTORT HIS NATURE. THEY FORM THEIR GROUP AROUND A SINGLE PERSONS INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE, OR CHRIST USUALLY BY A NEW REVELATION. THEY REMOVE THEMSELVES FROM THE LARGER BODY AND OPERATE AUTONOMOUSLY. A CULT IS ORGANIZED HERESY. THEY WILL DISTORT ONE OR MORE OF THE FUNDAMENTALS.
Walter Martin described a cult like this: "as a group of people gathered about a specific persons interpretation of the bible... from a theological view point, the cults contain not only a few major deviations from historic Christianity. They paradoxically, they continue to insist that they are entitled to be classified as Christians." (Kingdom of the cults p.11)
In his book The New Cults, Walter Martin defines a cult as “a group religious in nature which surrounds a leader, or a group which either denies or misinterprets essential biblical doctrines.”
The difference between a sect and a cultThe term sect comes from the Late Latin secta, which means an “organized church body.” That in turn is rooted in the Latin sequi, which means “to follow,” and is used of “way of life,” or “class of persons.” The term sect, can and is sometimes exchanged for the term cult. A Sect can refer to: a religious denomination a group of people that broke from another greater body of religion to form their own. It can be to reform and go back to truth or deviate further from it.
Most offshoots are formed as the result of schism (division; separation). In this case, the term also borrows from the Latin sectus, which means “cut” or “divide.” They are distinguished because of their adherence to their own religious beliefs. An example of a sect would be the Re-organized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints who are an offshoot of The Mormons Latter-day Saints. However this is a group that claims they are the original Latter Day Saints.
The term sect can be exchanged for cult but does not carry the weight of severity that most want to get across. Both a cult and a sect adhere to a distinctive doctrine that oftentimes is majoring on the minors. The members have a leader or a groups teachings that are used to interpret the bible. The main difference between the two is that a cult is more exclusive in its demands on its people and their claims as being the only true way to salvation as the one true Church.Counter-cult (Christian) organizations usually oppose cults for their deviation in doctrinal matters. Their intention is to warn and rescue those who are involved in false teaching and practice. Some false teaching and practices are more serious than others as they are an immediate threat to ones welfare or physical life. Most of these ministries (both religious and secular) provide the service to cult-members and their loved ones information that may help them leave those movements.
It is easier to prevent someone from joining a cult than it is to get them out afterwards. So we want to give the other side of the story that they often do not tell. We are not subscribing any enforcement on ones decision. It is a persons own choice what group or religion they will join. What is important before one invests their time and money is to find out what the group really teaches. This information often does not come openly from the group but will be told after one has committed themselves to the teachings.
LegalismThere are some groups that have right doctrine but are steeped in legalism. Legalism are laws that are unscriptural or biblical laws that are no longer to be practiced. They make ones walk heavy and the effect is having them lose their joy. They become toilsome, harsh and inflexible. The Pharisees couldn’t show mercy the heavier matters of the law because of their legalism although they knew the Scriptures well enough. Love and legalism don’t mix, love is flexible willing to yield. Love, grace and peace are a family they bring health and growth to an individual. While extra laws are a burden and often times bring bondage if not exercised by an individuals own free choice, legalism may not affect ones salvation as much as it will affect their spiritual growth. It certainly can affect their relationship to the Lord. churches that are orthodox in doctrine can fall under a pastor or leadership that goes beyond their God given authority and manipulate the congregation or individual members.
What are some of the teachings that cults hold in common?
TEACHING THAT MAN MAY BECOME GOD, OR IS A PART OF GOD. MAN NEEDS TO BE A PART OF A CERTAIN GROUP OR CHURCH TO LEARN NEW REVELATION OR KNOWLEDGE TO PROGRESS TO GODHOOD. SOMEONE, USUALLY THE LEADER WILL SAY THEY ARE GOD OR HAS THE CHRIST SPIRIT IN A GREATER WAY. THAT THEY ARE COMMISSIONED OR APPOINTED TO BE THE LEADER BY GOD.1. THEY DEIFY MAN
2.THEY HUMANIZE GODSOME GROUPS DENY THAT GOD IS ETERNAL. SOME BELIEVE IN MANY GODS, OR THAT ALL IS GOD (PANTHEISM). OTHER GROUPS SUCH AS JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES TEACH THAT GOD'S NATURE OR STATE OF BEING MUST BE UNDERSTOOD AND REASONABLE TO BE TRUE. IN OTHER WORDS, IF FINITE MAN CANNOT UNDERSTAND SOMETHING ABOUT GOD THEN IT IS NOT TRUE. THIS TECHNIQUE SUBTLY ELEVATES MAN'S MENTAL ABILITY TO THAT OF GOD.
THE BIBLICAL CONCEPT OF SIN IS NOT TAUGHT, OR IS COMPLETELY ELIMINATED BY SOME GROUPS. THIS IS SEEN IN CHRISTIAN SCIENCE, MIND SCIENCE, RELIGIOUS SCIENCE, AND NEW AGE GROUPS. MEANINGS THAT ARE BIBLICAL ARE CHANGED TO THEIR OWN PERSONAL INTERPRETATIONS THAT ARE NOT RELATED TO THE CONTEXT OR ORIGINAL INTENT OF THE AUTHOR..3.THEY MINIMIZE OR ELIMINATE SIN
4.THEY MINIMIZE THE IMPORTANCE OF THE BIBLEMOST ORGANIZED HERESIES (CULTS) USE "ANOINTED" INFORMATION, BOOKS, MAGAZINES OR SCRIPTURES. THESE ARE BELIEVED TO BE JUST AS OR MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE BIBLE. THEY ARE INDISPENSABLE IN UNDERSTANDING THE BIBLE. SOME GROUPS STRONGLY DISCOURAGE THEIR MEMBERS FROM READING THE BIBLE ALONE, AND SOME DO NOT BELIEVE THE BIBLE IS THE WORD OF GOD ALONE. OTHERS USE THE BIBLE WITH THEIR OWN UNIQUE INTERPRETATION UNKNOWN EVER IN THE CHURCH HISTORY OR ALIGN THEMSELVES WITH WHAT WAS CONSIDERED HERESY.
5. THEY HAVE A DIFFERENT WAY OF SALVATIONMANY ORGANIZED HERESIES TEACH A "GRACE PLUS WORKS" SALVATION. MANY TEACH THAT MAN POSSESSES AT LEAST SOME ABILITY TO EARN ETERNAL LIFE BY THEIR OWN WORKS BY GRACE PERFECTED THROUGH THEIR WORKS. SALVATION BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH IN THE FINISHED WORK OF JESUS CHRIST ON CALVARY IS DENIED. THE CROSS IS NOT SUFFICIENT. A SYSTEM OF GOOD WORKS, DICTATED BY THE GROUP, HELPS THE MEMBERS EARN ETERNAL LIFE . MEMBERSHIP IN THEIR ORGANIZATION OR CHURCH IS A REQUIREMENT FOR SALVATION IN MOST OF THESE CULTS.
VIRTUALLY ALL ORGANIZED HERESIES DENY THE DEITY OF JESUS CHRIST, THEY TEACH THAT JESUS IS NOT THE TRUE GOD MANIFEST IN HUMAN FORM BUT SOMETHING LESS, SUCH AS A CREATED BEING, AN ANGEL, A PROPHET, AN ASCENDED MASTER OR JUST "a god" (SECONDARY). SOME TEACH WE TOO CAN BE THE VERY SAME AS JESUS. IN THIS WAY THEY CHANGE THE CLEAR TEACHING OF THE BIBLE OF HIM BEING THE UNIQUE (ONLY BEGOTTEN) SON OF GOD.6. THEY HAVE A DIFFERENT JESUS
7. THEY HAVE A DIFFERENT SPIRIT
MOST ORGANIZED HERESIES TEACH THAT THE HOLY SPIRIT IS NOT GOD BUT AN IMPERSONAL FORCE OR ENERGY THAT EMANATES FROM GOD TO PERFORM CERTAIN FUNCTIONS, MUCH LIKE THE ENERGY FLOWING FROM A BATTERY TO START A CAR. SOME TEACH THAT IT PERMEATES EVERYTHING AND WE CAN BREATHE IT IN. PRACTICES OF SPIRITISM INCLUDING VISITS BY SPIRIT BEINGS ARE COMMON IN THE NEW AGE AND THEY HAVE COUNTERFEIT MIRACLES TO VALIDATE THEMSELVES.
8. THEY BELIEVE THEY ARE THE ONLY TRUE CHURCH
THE ONE MARK OF AN ORGANIZED HERESY THAT IS THE MOST COMMON IS THEIR CLAIM TO BE THE ONLY GROUP OR CHURCH ORDAINED BY GOD. THEY ALONE SPEAK FOR GOD ON EARTH TODAY. GOD DIRECTS ONLY THEIR ORGANIZATION, OR CHURCH. THIS IS DONE EITHER THROUGH A LEADER WHO HAS ALL THE SAY OR A GROUP. IF ANYONE COMES TO YOU CLAIMING THEY REPRESENT THE ONLY TRUE CHURCH OF CHRIST OR GOD, AND DENY THAT ANYONE ELSE OUTSIDE THEMSELVES CAN BE PART, YOU CAN BE SURE THAT THEY ARE NOT FROM GOD. ALL CHRISTIAN CHURCHES WILL RECOGNIZE OTHERS THAT HOLD THE SAME CORE TEACHINGS THAT THEY DO, THAT WERE ALWAYS PART OF THE HISTORIC CHRISTIAN FAITH.
THE CORE BELIEFS UNITE ONE IN CHRIST AS THERE IS A CERTAIN CRITERIA FOR BIBLICAL DOCTRINE. THIS HAS BEEN HELD SINCE THE INCEPTION OF THE SCRIPTURES WRITTEN BY THE APOSTLES AND TAUGHT BY THE CHURCH.