This article below was originally penned almost 2 years ago, yet it is worth reviewing.
The original heading of this article has been updated to accommodate the series.
The second article address identifiable signs that can indicate if the group or church that you are meeting with is teaching error, and ultimately becoming a cult in the process, down the road.
The two articles within this series are entitled: “Part 1 – Signs of a Christian Cult,” and “Part 2 – Indeed has God said?”
The common theme of these two articles is deception of the believer.
The way to look at these two articles is that part one is for those people that are worried that their sons or daughters, or other loved ones have joined a Christian cult, and organization that claims to be Christian yet is actually twisting the Bible in a Christian manner.
The second article, part two is for those that may be an established group and more mature in the Lord, And they might need to look at the church, home church, Bible study or other organizations that they belong to and make sure that it is not starting to become a cult at some time during the road.
We must remember the old engineering adage concerning laying a train track.
The error starts when the engineer is only one degree off, which seems small at first, yet 100 miles down the road is when the error is apparent.
Have you ever noticed how many times Jesus or His apostles warned their followers in one form or another to “be not deceived,” in regards to false teaching or teachers – understanding that they were speaking to believers, not unbelievers or even new believers, but established Christians (Matthew 7:15; 10:16-17; 24:3-8; Mark 13:3-8; 13:22; Luke 21:7-11; Acts 20:29-30; 2nd Corinthians 11:13-19; Galatians 1:6; Ephesians 4:14-15; 5:6; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1).
Jesus and the apostles were letting us know that even a born-again believer, who is sealed with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13; 4:30); is subject to deception.
God’s Word is the Foundation for our Protection
There is one standard which is our protection against such a situation – it is the Word of God – The Holy Bible – See Endnote #.1
You see many people mistake their emotions for a leading of the Spirit of God.
We are told in 2nd Corinthians 5:7,
“For we walk by faith, not by sight.”
Our five senses are: seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching.
Yet, our senses are more than the physical aspects of this perception – it is where the mind perceives something that alerts the emotions – in fact the word “senses” is a word which also refers to our discernment concerning our environment and how it affects our emotional feelings or emotional state.
The technical definition of the word senses is: “a faculty by which the body perceives an external stimulus”.
When we see a scary movie we cringe and may get goosebumps – we even produce static electricity within our body, wherein the old movies used to show people’s hair standing on end when they were afraid.
When we are surprised by someone jumping out of the dark, we physically repel ourselves from the person.
When we feel joy we smile and even cry.
When we see sadness we frown and also cry.
There are four physical expression of our senses which are understood in every culture, and go beyond spoken or written language; a smile, a frown, tears, and laughter.
When we are within a worship service and we are crying while praising God, this is our emotions based upon the sense of where we are, and what we are doing, what we are experiencing – it is an expression no doubt of the joy, but most definable in our emotions.
However this is not the movement of the Holy Spirit per se, though in some cases it can be; this may be a reaction to the perception that the Holy Spirit is in that place, it is an action of our emotions based upon this type of perception.
However this is all said to indicate that we are never to allow our emotions to lead us in our day by day walk upon this earth – we are to be led by our minds (Please see our article which defines the biblical word “heart” ~ LINK) in faith, hence the above Scripture.
We are to walk not by sight but by faith – we are to make decisions based upon God’s word using our minds, where we walk step-by-step in faith knowing that God’s Word is more real than the reality that we see and perceive with our senses.
We are not to live our lives, by walking by our perception, our sight.
We are to live our lives and walk by faith, Yet that faith is to be based upon the Word of God.
The Word of God is our sure foundation concerning that which God wishes to communicate to us in order to lead us in our lives.
How many Christians think that the little voice in their head is the Holy Spirit telling them something, and how many times has that voice been found to be wrong, proving it wasn’t the Holy Spirit, it was their thinking stimulated by an emotion or sense.
This is why so many young people who become believers are baited into the Cults which utilize experience and emotions rather than God’s Word as their sure foundation – hence the reason for the first article in this series.
What is unfortunate is that in the day when a majority of churches no longer dig deep into God’s Word, where superficiality rather than deep study is found within Christian churches on the earth, it is unfortunate that older believers are being drawn away to groups and organizations which take their focus off Jesus Christ and God’s Word, and place it upon something else – hence the reason for the second article in this series.
And for those that think that they are far beyond any capability of being deceived, we should remember 1 Corinthians 10:12, which states:
“Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”
Recently I was involved in a situation concerning a very close family member that had joined an organization that according to many Internet sources was a Christian cult.
It was due to the love I have for this person that I invested a small amount of time into defining what the warning signs of a Christian cult were which also involved defining characteristics of a dysfunctional church.
The difference between the two is that the Christian cults, whether directly acknowledged or known by its leadership are Satanic; yet concerning a dysfunctional church, a lack of spiritual maturity may be the main problem; however if left un-addressed the dysfunctional church can evolve into a heretical Christian cult (Christian in name only for sake of identification, but not Christian concerning following God or his word).
Many of what some once thought to be Orthodox organizations, movements, and denominations which 20 or 30 years ago began sliding down this road toward being un-Christian at best and anti-Christian at worst. I was aware of it then and their professed positions today prove how far off mark they strayed.
It is the casualty of the train track laid 1 percent off, where the frog and the boiling water syndrome come into play, and a lack of in-depth biblical teaching leaves from what once appeared to be a Christian movement, to what is now recognized as a Christian cult.
A cult, which is correctly termed as a Christian cult; is an organization that claims to be Christian, yet does not teach Orthodox doctrine leading unto salvation, and accepted Biblical exegesis (the term occult refers to an openly anti-Christian satanic / demonic organization).
In simpler days the main groups of Christian cults were: Mormons, Jehovah’s Witness, and Church of Scientology; however currently it is unfortunate that the list has expanded way beyond the scope and time necessary to list them in this short essay.
The following list is what I came up with off the top of my head.
If anyone can think of any others signs or characteristics of a Christian cult, please leave them in the comments section.
It is unfortunate that this is an area that we must all stay up to-date on and aware of concerning our loved ones as Satan attempts through any and every opportunity to either divert the believer who is young or immature into ineffectiveness, sabotage the believer who is growing, or derail the older believer who is not well grounded in doctrine.
Warning Signs of Dysfunctional or Cultic Christian Groups
Progressive Isolation – Whether Direct or Indirect – the “We Are the Only Ones” Attitude is Displayed.
Communal Structure in Order to Control Individuals – Communal Living is Not Taught in the Bible (Like the Essenes, see our article “Sects at the time of Jesus” ~ LINK).
A Lack of Individualism – Group Centered Is the Mantra – Though Person Centered is the Structure.
The Value of the Individual is Only Found in the Group – Self-Loathing is Emphasized, Directly or Indirectly.
Guilt and Shame are Reinforced – Shame of Who the Person is – Guilt for what they did.
A Lack of Autonomy – Not Free to Leave the Group – Everyone Else is Wrong.
Communal Sharing – Support Leadership Financially Either Directly or Indirectly.
Attempt to Isolate from Others – Rather Directly or Indirectly, Especially Family or Friends.
These Groups Are Only Leader Based – Leader Centered – Not Christ Centered.
Authority Seated in the Leader – As Opposed to Jesus Christ or the Word of God.
Leaders May Be Paranoid, Angry, Dictatorial, and Rigid (Though Not Necessarily as Manipulation Takes Many Forms).
Patriarchal or Matriarchal – Centered on a Person (the Maypole Experience), Rather Than Centered on the person of Jesus Christ (watch how they use His name, is Jesus simply a prop to support what they say).
Dominant Dictatorial Leadership is Practiced – As Opposed to Jesus Type of Servitude.
The Leader is the Father and Knows Best – and is Not to be Questioned – Leadership is Abusive
Leaders Can Justify Their Own Behaviors – Those Same Behaviors Are Condemned in Others.
Rigid Structure – A pyramid structure to leadership – where the leader is the capstone.
Questions Are Considered a Lack of Faith – Blind Obedience is Viewed as Loyalty and faith.
The Bible is Not the Rule or standard – The Interpretation of the Leader is the Basis for Teaching.
Minimal Listing of Scriptures Reference – The Teachings Are More like Talks than Expositional Presentations.
Vagueness concerning Doctrine – a Lack of Specificity concerning Orthodox Christian Doctrines.
God and the Bible never function in accordance with words such as: almost, nearly, sometimes, roughly, just about, occasionally.
When the Bible speaks of prophecy, it is exact; when God speaks His Will, it is specific; when man is given directions, they are precise.
False teachers need room to move around in order to distort the Word of God to say what they wanted it to say, this mandates hazy terminology and ambiguity.
The normal understanding of Biblical words are distorted or changed; or a special spiritual translation is implied directly or indirectly.
It is paramount to Satan’s deception to change the meaning of words, or words within a Scripture, or the general interpretation normally accepted of a text.
This also includes false teachers stating that what God’s Word says is figurative – not literal.
There are “Figures of Speech” (which are specific terms and expressions readily identified) wherein the text identifies one of the 218 different figures that are being used for emphasis sake.
“Figures of Speech” are where normal words are used in a context that displays that the original meaning is not meant. Current examples are: far out, get off my back, you make me sick to my stomach, bad.
Biblical figures of speech are somewhat different in that the literal use of the word is always present, With the diversity in context used simply as emphasis on top of the literal meaning. Biblically, figures do not change the meaning of the word they simply enhance it, such as adding color to a black-and-white photo
To reiterate: “Figures of Speech” never disavow the literal meaning, and are only used to give precision to the literal, never making what is literal figurative.
To reiterate: “Figures of Speech” are always used for emphasis and clarity, never to change the meaning of a word to the opposite of what it is used (please see our essay on: “Rhetorical Figures of Speech ” ~ LINK, and LINK).
The Term God, Which is Simply a Title for Deity is Mainly Used – As Opposed to the Name of the person, Jesus the Christ. (Such as the “Green Christianity”)
They Practice Ritualistic Worship is Practiced – Repetitive Chanting, Which Lacks Scriptural Basis or Reference – Emotionalism And experience are the emphasis.
To them the Bible is Simply a Tool Where Verses are References for Talks, Rather Than Biblical Teaching with Multiple Verses used to link together biblical doctrines.
God and the Bible Are used as Props – Rather Than the Center of Attention.
“Part 2 – Indeed has God said?” ~ LINK
1. God’s Word is the Foundation for our Protection
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine [What is Right], for reproof [What is not Right], for correction [How to get Right], for instruction in righteousness [How to Stay Right]” ~ 2 Timothy 3:16 [Chuck Missler inserts] .
“Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” ~ 1 Peter 1:23-25
“Knowing this first, that no prophecy [Greek: “speaking for another”] of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” ~ 2 Peter 1:20-21
“For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 2:13
OT Warning Concerning Tampering with the Word of God
Deuteronomy 4:2 – “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.”
NT Warning Concerning Tampering with the Word of God
Revelation 22:19 – “And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”
The Bible is the Word of God – Its Authority
Isaiah 55:10-11 – “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it”.
1 Corinthians 2:13 – “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.”
1 Corinthians 14:37 – “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.”
2 Corinthians 5:19-20 – “To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.”
1 Thessalonians 2:4 – “But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.”
1 Thessalonians 2:13 – “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.”
2 Thessalonians 2:14-15 – “Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.”
1 Timothy 4:1 – “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.”
1 Peter 1:25 – “But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.”
2 Peter 3:1-2 – “This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour”
2 Peter 3:15-16 – “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.”
Jude 3 – “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”
Revelation 1:1-3 – “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent as and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.”
Revelation 22:9-10 – “Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God. And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand.”
Revelation 22:18 – “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:”
The Word of God – It’s Exhortations
Deuteronomy 11:18-20 – “Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes. And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thine house, and upon thy gates”
Psalms 119:11 – “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.”
Psalms 119:98-105 – “Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts. I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy word. I have not departed from thy judgments: for thou hast taught me. How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”
Psalms 138:2 – “I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.”
Proverbs 25:2 – “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.”
Isaiah 28:10 – “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little”
Hosea 12:10 – “I have also spoken by the prophets, and I have multiplied visions, and used similitudes, by the ministry of the prophets.”
Amos 3:7 – “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.”
Matthew 15:6 – “…Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.”
Acts 20:27 – “For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.”
Romans 15:4 – “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”
Hebrews 4:12-13 – “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.”
1 Corinthians 1:20-21 – “Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”
1 Corinthians 9:22 – “To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”
2 Corinthians 4:5-7 – “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”
1 Thessalonians 2:4 – “But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.”
1 Timothy 6:20-21 – “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: Which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen.”
2 Timothy 2:2 – “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”
2 Peter 1:3-4 – “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”
Jude 1:3 – “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”
Revelation 22:18-19 – “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”
Very astute synopsis Brent, without our reliance of the Word being a lamp unto our feet finding that we are stumbling in the dark as a result should come as no surprise.
Most leaders in the church err by bringing in the vain teachings of men or by promoting and quoting false teachers. This behavior is rampant in the church and is the source of much error and stumbling. God bless you:)
I agree. We see them all around us, with churches becoming more about self and less about Jesus. The messages are so weak, teaching the lie that broad is the way to the Kingdom, yet Christ said:
“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.” (Matt. 7:13-17)
However, even in these evil days we can take comfort because our God in His great power foreknew all these things*, and in this is our faith grown as we see not only how our Father saw these things coming, but will never forsake us even if the days are bad+.
*”But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not. For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly; And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;) The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished” (2 Pet. 2:1-9)
*”Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained.” (1 Tim. 4:1-6)
And it is left to us to speak the truth in love, humble and bold, sharing the faith which produces the hope that they do not have.
“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Pet. 3:15)
And being willing to suffer if need be, as God prepares to clean His House:
“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.” (1 Pet. 4:12-19)
But we have something that is far greater, His promise to be with us…
+“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matt. 28:18-20)
Thank you for your kind words, Your Brother in Christ, Brent