Defining a Cult
While the specifics vary from group to group, here are some general characteristics of religious cults that distinguish them from genuine Christian beliefs:
All-knowing leadership. An individual or group of people claims to be sent by God to "rule" the one true religion—which only includes members of that particular cult.
No room for differences. Cult members must believe exactly the same way and in exactly the same things; there is no room for disagreeing with the cult's rules or doctrines.
A new and better way. Cults often claim they've been given a "special revelation" from God that's superior to the Bible, or explains what the Bible is really trying to say.
Down on Christian doctrine. Cults often depict basic Christian doctrines and beliefs (like the Trinity, deity of Christ, salvation by grace through faith) as "full of holes" and completely illogical.
Scriptures get an added twist. Bible verses are often taken out of context or twisted to mean something very different than what was originally intended.
"Christians are wrong." Cult members believe God has given their group the job of pointing out "heretical and evil" teachings of Christianity.
Works prove faith. Cult members often claim their good works are superior to those performed by Christians, and they say their works prove their religion is the one-and-only truth.
Salvation is a big unknown. Since cults often teach that salvation is based on performance, cult members can never know if they've done everything necessary to get to heaven.
No exit. Leaving the cult is not an option, and intimidation is often used to keep cult members from even thinking about getting out.
There's more! What's with the Dudes at the Door? by Kevin Johnson and James White (Bethany House) is packed with information and details about various popular cults. Look for it at your local Christian bookstore, or purchase online at amazon.com.
Don is president of Midwest Christian Outreach (MCO)—an organization that provides resources and seminars on detecting cults and on defending your Christian faith. For more information, see www.midwestoutreach.org.