Cults are not necessarily what you might think? Christian cults are very alluring and attractive to the vulnerable masses. Who are these groups? Why do they prosper? What are the key characteristics that identify them? ♦
Think Reverend Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple, David Koresh and the Branch Davidian in Waco, Texas, or even convicted killer Charles Manson and his murderous clan.
This type of cult is usually manipulative and demands total commitment and loyalty, even unto death, from its followers who are typically cut off from their former contacts and even their own families.
Those are easy to identify. But that’s not what’s being addressed here.
Another Type: the Christian Cult
There’s another type of cult, more insidious, that is popularly defined in evangelical Christian circles. This type of cult is not necessarily holding people against their will or forcing manipulative tactics and demanding singular devotion. The Christian cult is simply any group that deviates from or distorts the orthodox teachings of the historic Christian faith being derived from the Bible.
Walter Martin gives a good definition of a cult as follows:
A cult, then, is a group of people polarized around someone’s interpretation of the Bible and is characterized by major deviations from orthodox Christianity relative to the cardinal faith, particularly the fact that God became man in Jesus Christ. (The Rise of the Cults, Walter Martin, 1978, p. 12)
These Christian cults are far more alluring and attractive to the vulnerable masses for a variety of reasons. Who are these groups? Why do they prosper? What are key characteristics that identify them?
Who Are The Christian Cults?
Here is a listing of the major groups that are considered Christian cults: Christian Science Church, Church of Scientology, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Unification Church, and the Worldwide Church of God. Other lesser known cults are: Eckankar, Universal Church, Children of God, The Way International, and the Word of Faith Movement.
Why Do They Prosper?
Here are 4 reasons why Christian cults prosper:
- Christian Cults Provide Answers – People want to know clear answers to questions like: Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? Christian cults offer certainty and easy answers to those who are unsatisfied with their present life situation. These seem in contrast to past dissatisfaction with one’s religious upbringing.
- Christian Cults Meet Human Needs – Christian cults seem to appeal to one’s sense of what Christianity is supposed to be: love, family, community, and caring for each other. Cults appeal to man’s need to be loved, to feel needed, to sense our lives have direction and meaning. Those experiencing identity crisis or personal isolation are particularly susceptible to cults that can provide a sense of belonging and acceptance.
- Christian Cults Seem to Know and Serve God – Christian cults are wrapped in words about God, Jesus, love, eternal salvation, spiritual fulfillment and power. Many cult followers desire a God connection and are open to the groups that seem to provide that. Decisions to join Christian church cults are not necessarily done after exhaustive theological analysis. Doctrinal dogma is often looked at as a high-level checklist.
- Christian Cults Seem Better/Smarter Than The Church – the traditional Christian Church (Catholic or Protestant) is set up as a straw man, a failed and deeply flawed spiritual experience in comparison to the new fresh entity. New cult converts were often raised in churches but were untaught in basic Christian doctrine. The old Church is found wanting compared to newly discovered relationships and pseudo-scholarship.
What are Their Key Characteristics?
Most cult specialists will concur that the following are key characteristics of Christian cults:
- New Truth – many cults promote the false idea that God has revealed something special to them. They claim the Bible is incomplete and insufficient.
- New Interpretations – some cults believe they alone have the key to interpreting the mysteries in the Bible; that historic beliefs are based on misunderstanding of the Bible or were pagan in origin.
- Non-Biblical Source of Authority – some cults have sacred writings or a source of authority that supersedes the Bible. The Mormons trust the Bible, but only if translated correctly. Likewise with Christian Scientists and Jehovah’s Witnesses who interject their founder’s writings as additional sacred books.
- Another Jesus – Christian cults will present false teaching about the person of Jesus Christ. The “Jesus” of the cults is always someone less than the Bible’s eternal God who became flesh, lived here on earth, and died for our sins. The Bible is clear that Jesus was God in human flesh, second person of the Holy Trinity, who lived a sinless life on earth and died as a perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world.
- Rejection of Orthodox Christianity – many cults have a full assault on orthodox Christianity. They claim that the church has departed from the true faith and that their group has the only real truth about God.
- Secrecy and Obfuscation – many cults will claim and position themselves like mainstream Christianity, but then hide or obscure their past sordid history and events, secret ceremonies, and belief systems that are far off the mark.
- Changing Theology – Christian cult doctrines are often in a state of flux and updating. The Mormons readjustment of dubious doctrine is well documented. The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ very public and embarrassing shifting explanation of the elect 144,000 Witnesses since 1914 is legendary.
- Salvation by Works – many Christian cults have their members “believe in Jesus” however they must also “do this” or “follow that.” In their schema the Biblical gospel of the grace of God is overwhelmed with human action and works to achieve salvation.
Searching for Truth
Truth is not meant to be illusive. God has been revealed through the Word of God, the Bible. It is trustworthy and authoritative. Be influenced by the reading of the Word, not the clever words of men. Cults speak a slight or major deviation of the Truth. Be wise and astute, not one vulnerable to salesmanship and shiny promises. The Truth keys are the 1) Divinity of Jesus, 2) Authority of the Bible, and 3) Salvation through God’s Grace, not human deeds. Any variation of this is suspect and not worthy of attention let alone your devotion.
Are you attracted to a Christian cult?
For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. – 2 Corinthians 11:13-14