How To Recognize A Cult

by Terry James

Perhaps no end-time signal is more prominent today than current activities by false teachers and false prophets. Jesus clearly warned of these people and their deluding work.

“And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (Matt. 24:4-5).

This is the very first warning Jesus gave in answer to His disciples’ question: “What will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?” The Lord put this signal at the very front of the list of things for which we should watch. There must be great significance in the placement of His answer.

Later, in the Matthew 24 account of the Olivet Discourse, Jesus said: “Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not” (Matt. 24: 23-24).

We know from sensational reports in recent history that this phenomenon is with us today. Think on Jim Jones, David Koresh, and those who thought they could hitch a ride on the Hale-Bopp Comet if they committed suicide. However, those are the fringe, radical elements of what Jesus called “false teachers,” and “false prophets.” There are far more subtle, seemingly loving, caring false teachers, and false prophets in our midst today, just as dangerous, and as deadly, as were these just mentioned.

There is nothing more important than for Christians to recognize these evil organizations. It is so important to recognize them, because they usually have just enough truth in their deceptive messages to keep their victims from coming to know Christ as Savior and Lord.

I am personally acquainted with a couple that was deeply involved in such a soul-destroying cult before Christ rescued them, and brought them into God’s true family.

Dan and Agusta Harting have, for years, worked tirelessly in their counter-cult ministry, exposing at every opportunity the truth about cults while lifting the name of Jesus so many will be drawn to Him by the Holy Spirit. (Their ministry is Families Against Cults. Their contact information is at the bottom of this column.)

The Hartings have spoken in 600 church of all denominations, both here and in Europe. The thrust of these talks is to warn the Body of Christ about the pernicious doctrines of the cults, and to teach people how to witness to those caught up in cults.

Dan and Agusta have been dear friends of mine for many years, and I can heartily recommend them to any church concerned with this last-days cult plague.

Recently, they have dealt with someone who is within the grasp of a cult organization. Although he believes he is right and they are wrong, they continue to deal lovingly with him, trying to explain the dangers of his position with regard to his soul’s relationship to Christ.

Agusta presented to him the following ways to recognize a cult, and to determine whether the organization to which he is a member belongs in the cult category.

Agusta put together a cult ‘recipe’ from a Christian standpoint; I hope it helps!

– A strong and charismatic leader, who professes to be God’s spokesman/woman on the Earth for today. This is allegedly because he/she was called by dreams, visions, voices, angels, revelation, etc.

– The Bible is allegedly not enough (in spite of its claims that it is completely sufficient!). It is “missing books,” “incorrectly translated,” “not reliable for today,” needs the leader’s interpretation, etc.

– Other writings (usually by the leader) are put on par with, or even higher, than the Bible. Magazines from headquarters are often binding as “scripture” or inspired by God.

– Fanatical control is exercised over members. They must report to their “superiors” frequently. Interviews are set up to see how “worthy” they are.

– Demands for total obedience are exercised. Tabs are kept on the members as to their meeting attendance, as well as other issued callings that the cult demands.

– Mind control; food and drink control; what to wear; what not to wear; underwear; hair length; where and how members should serve God (according to the cult authorities), and how much money should be given, etc. Even marriages are null and void if not performed by the leader’s “authority.”

– Threats of dis-fellowshipping, ex-communication, or discipline are very common. Spy systems are set up, such as surprise visits.

– Former members are maligned, persecuted, and ridiculed, and said to be “sinners,” “unworthy,” or suspect in some character shortcomings.

– Reading of literature opposing the cult is often discouraged or forbidden. It is said to be “lies,” “anti truth,” “out of context,” “spiritual pornography,” “half-truths,” etc.

– Leaders are engaged in some sexual deviation, adultery, spiritual wifery, polygamy, homosexuality, etc.

– Jesus’ name is profusely used to legitimize the group, but His Person and nature have been altered to suit the doctrine of the cult. He is no longer the Eternal, Almighty God of the Bible.

– God is supposedly not the triune God that Christians have believed in from the beginning. The Trinity is said to be “pagan.”

– Salvation is not by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. Rather, it is by a long list of commandment keeping, rituals, and especially loyalty to and membership in the group. One can never know if he/she has eternal life until death.

– “New truths,” “lost truths,” or “restored doctrines” are frequently professed. Secret rituals are practiced in many cults.

– Reverence for the cross is discouraged. No crosses are found in or on the cult buildings; members are not allowed to wear crosses (but in some cults this is not so).

– All other churches are “false.” Membership in another church warrants excommunication, or disfellowshipping. Leaving the cult equals being “eternally lost.”

Agusta continued in her note to this man:

“…How does [cult to which he belongs] stack up to this list? Please think hard and objectively before you deny that it fits like a kidskin glove! How old are you…? I suspect that perhaps you are very young, and that you do not know enough doctrine and history of [cult to which he belongs] in order to be able to discuss it in any depth…

I want you to know that Jesus Christ (the REAL ONE) loves and died for you. If you put your whole trust in Him, and His gift to you of eternal life, without any of your own righteousness, you will be saved! This is the Good News! My prayer for you, my friend, is that you will repent and cast all your cares on Him who cares for you.”

Again, I can’t recommend the Hartings in strong enough terms when it comes to dealing effectively with the plague of last-days false teachers, false prophets, and their anti-Christ, anti-God organizations.

Their mailing address is:

Families Against Cults
PO Box 491, CARMEL, IN 46082-0491
Phone: 317-844-8055

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