(1 Peter 3:15) Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
1. Definition of a Cult
|1.1||"A cult of Christianity is a group of people, which claiming to be Christian, embraces a particular doctrinal system taught by an individual leader, group of leaders, or organization, which (system) denies (either explicitly or implicitly) one or more of the central doctrines of the Christian faith as taught in the sixty-six books of the Bible."(1)|
|1.2||Some observations: |
|1.3 Other terms |
2. Common Characteristics of Cults
|2.1.1||Denial of the Trinity - Probably all cults deny the doctrine of the Trinity. Some deny the doctrine outright, and others redefine it so the doctrine is not orthodox (e.g., teaching three gods instead of one God who exists in three persons).|
|2.1.2||Denial of salvation by grace through faith - "Every cult ultimately teaches that we must save ourselves."(3) Many place limits on his saving work, and say that Christ was unable to complete his mission, and that we must add our works.|
|2.1.3||Denial of the bodily resurrection - The bodily resurrection is central to the Christian faith (1 Corinthians 15). Many cults spiritualize the resurrection.|
|2.1.4||Reduction of the absolute authority of Scripture - Some cults accuse the Bible of containing errors, or undermine it by calling it "old light" and adding the cult's own teaching ("new light"). Some produce their own translations, which change certain doctrines, or introduce new books with greater authority.|
|2.1.5||Redefinition of Biblical terminology - Often the cultist will seem to agree with everything a Christian is saying. They are using Christian vocabulary, but redefining the terms (such as Jesus, the gospel, salvation, heaven).|
|2.1.6||Exclusive belief system - Cults often claim to have the sole corner on truth.|
|2.1.7||Other characteristics include an emphasis on direct revelations from God (particularly in the experience of the leaders), a fixation with end times, and an overemphasis on isolated Scriptures.|
2.2 Practices of Cults
|2.2.1||Authoritarianism - There is usually a dominant leader, and chains of command. In some cults, permission must be granted for many life decisions.|
|2.2.2||Stripping of past associations - Some cults require that the person renounce past associations, especially family members.|
|2.2.3||Unusual degree of commitment and zeal - Not a bad thing in itself. Many cults require great sacrifice and commitment.|
|2.2.4||Antagonism toward orthodox Christian denominations - "Cults sometimes expend considerable energy denouncing other religious groups - particularly Christian churches."(4)|
|2.2.5||Love bombing - "Group members give prospects an overwhelming sense of acceptance, belonging, and significance by 'bombing' them with flattery, touching, and hugging."(5)|
|2.2.6||Other characteristics may include a communal lifestyle, familial imagery, distorted sexual teachings and practices, opposition toward autonomous thinking, a change of diet, and conformity of dress.|
3. Why Do People Join Cults?
|3.1||Love - "People affiliate with groups because they want affection; they want friends and loved ones to care for them."(6)|
|3.2||Family - "One reason that young people join cults is to find a family."(7)|
|3.3||Acceptance and self-worth - A sense of belonging and purpose.|
|3.4||Idealism and spiritual hunger - Part of an enthusiastic group that offers spiritual fulfillment.|
|3.5||Answers to intellectual questions - They have answers to questions people ask.|
|3.6||Wholesome lifestyle - A way to experience purity.|
|3.7||High degree of commitment required - This is attractive to many people.|
4. Becoming Cult-proof
|4.1||Know what you believe and why - Become grounded in basic Christian doctrine. "It is a sad fact that a ninety-day [i.e., newly trained] wonder from the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society can turn the average Christian into a doctrinal pretzel in fifteen minutes."(8)|
|4.2||Meet people's social and emotional needs - Cults meet needs many churches don't. Churches should be places of love and acceptance. "Cults are the unpaid bills of the church."(9)|
|4.3||Meet spiritual needs - Many cults rightfully claim to be more "sold out" than those in the church. Many Christians could afford to be more zealous and committed. "A healthy church is the best weapon against losing people to cults."(10)|
5. Checklist of Cult Characteristics
(1) Alan W. Gomes, Unmasking the Cults (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 7.
(2) Gomes 17.
(3) Gomes 26.
(4) Ronald Enroth, "Churches on the Fringe" in Contend for the Faith, 196.
(5) Citizens Freedom Foundation, The Cult Crisis
(6) Richardson, "Conversion, Brainwashing, and Deprogramming," 37.
(7) Doress and Porter, "Kids in Cults," 297.
(8) Walter Martin, quoted by Gomes, 87.
(9)Dr. Martin Van Baalen, quoted in Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1965), 14