When needed, the Bible authorizes strong, corrective sermons, so much so that the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus: “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2). “These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man [disregard] thee” (Titus 2:15). On occasion strong preaching is needed. But to repeat what Paul said: “Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand” (2 Cor. 1:24). The failing in both established churches and in many cults is the lack of purposeful sermons that are both edifying and based on the Scriptures. Members should always be informed that the choices they make in life must be their own, as they will be the ones to stand before God in the Judgment. Most important of all is that members should be taught to rely on God and Christ, and to not place too much confidence in men. “For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3).
Cults View Outsiders as Hostile
This view is in contrast to mainstream churches who readily accept all persons regardless of their beliefs as long as they accept Christ. Many orthodox believers think there are many differing ways to heaven as long as the candidate believes in Christ. Mainstream Christianity is an amalgamation of broad spectrum fellowship with any and all who think they are “in Christ.” The outlook is that since we are all going to the same place, it does not matter which church we attend.
There can be extremes in any religious organization, but the Bible does indeed depict the world as an evil society that should be avoided. The failure to recognize this leads to many problems. We read: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:15-16). “And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19). The Apostle Paul referred to this world as an evil place. He wrote that it was Christ “Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father” (Gal.1:4). The key to a proper balance in how we live is the way we react to what is around us. Those who “hole up” in heavily fortified compounds, armed to the teeth, and ready to resist any unwelcome guests are certainly unbalanced and setting the wrong Christian example. But some cults do take this approach-a reflection of a misunderstanding of the Scriptures. Jesus said: “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16).
Christians are required to be obedient to the laws of the land as long as these laws are not contrary to the Law of God. In some states it is illegal to possess stockpiles of weapons, and those who do so are suspect. Such actions by cult members are extreme because they want to disassociate from the world. But it is just as bad for Christians to mingle with the world and attempt to become a part of it. Many mainstream churches have joined the ecumenical movement-the intent to amalgamate all churches, Christian and otherwise, into one worldwide religion. Yet what did Jesus say in His last prayer? “I pray for them [disciples]: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine . . . . I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil” (John 17:9, 14-15). So the question we need to ask is this: Why do so many Christians overlook these words? These words inform us that true followers of Christ recognize the world for what it is, and do not allow themselves to become a part of it. Christians should be in the world (not in an armed bunker) but not be a part of the world. Jesus said: “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:19). True Christians do not embrace the fundamental concepts, philosophies, and ideas so rampant in the world today. There are many customs and practices of this world that are contrary to the Law of God, especially in these latter days.
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2 Tim. 3:1-5)
The Apostle Paul wrote that God commands Christians to ” . . . Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you” (2 Cor. 6:17). “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier” (2 Tim. 2:4). Most important, however, is that while Christians are to hate evil, they are not to hate the men who do evil.
Many cults feel endowed with a superior insight that is not known by others. They believe there is a special knowledge that they alone possess. This is a Bible principle. Jesus said this to His true disciples: ” . . . Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand” (Luke 8:10). The Apostle Paul wrote: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God” (1 Cor. 2:12). The problem with many cults is that their “insight” or “special knowledge” disagrees with the Bible revelation. This is particularly true in the area of Bible prophecy. So sure are they of their prophetic understanding that some of these cults feel it is their duty to force prophecy-that is, they think they can bring about the fulfillment of Bible prophecy by what they do. The fact is: God does not need any help. He is perfectly capable of fulfilling prophecy when it is His time to do so.
There is validity to the accusation that cult members are elitist or exclusive, which again goes back to the hostility they have toward outsiders. But again this accusation depends upon how cultists apply their religion. A feeling of superiority or self-righteousness that makes one feel above others lends itself to this syndrome. What needs to be realized is this: What separates true Christians from others is the fact that God called them to knowledge of the Truth. This knowledge does not come by human reasoning or scholarship. It comes by divine revelation. “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). This should not make anyone feel superior, but grateful and yet sober. Why? “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?” (1 Pet. 4:17). Knowing the Truth places a serious responsibility upon those who have been called at this time. If one truly appreciates the scope of this responsibility, there will be little room for feelings of superiority.
Cults Reject Orthodox Christianity
There is good reason to reject Orthodox Christianity, but cults do so for the wrong reasons. Mainly, many cult doctrines and belief systems not only reject orthodoxy but are in serious error with respect to biblical truth. The Apostle Paul warned about the doctrinal error that would occur after his death. “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Tim. 4:2-4). Such fables as Christmas, New Year’s Day, Valentines Day, Easter, and Halloween mirror these fables.
The truth is: Doctrinal error began to infiltrate the Church beginning in the latter part of the first century and continued unabated for about 300 years, when it jelled into what we know today as orthodoxy. What is called orthodox doctrine is a far cry from what the Bible states and what Christ and the Apostles preached. A dark period of biblical history took place shortly after the death of the original Apostles and lasted about 60 years. When the Apostolic Fathers appeared on the scene about the middle of the second century, their writings differed considerably from what the Bible teaches. This fact is clearly established by many works on Church history. The Christianity of the third and fourth centuries, which is the standard of today, does not remotely resemble the original revelation.
Many cults correctly reject central orthodox beliefs. Because of the refusal to accept the doctrine of the Trinity, many cults are accused of demoting God and devaluating Christ. The doctrine of the triune nature of God (the Trinity) can certainly be rejected. Scriptures quoted to “prove” the Trinity is at best interpretations of what had been believed in the pagan world long before the time of Christ. The Apostle’s Creed, which was formulated from the second to ninth centuries AD, introduces concepts foreign to what the Bible teaches and to what Christ brought. Developed by the intellectuals of the time, it would have sounded foreign to Peter and Paul. Most people cannot understand it and accept it solely because the church said so. The result is that millions of people believe God is a Trinity without the slightest idea of what that means. For a more complete explanation refer to the article, “The Trinity and the Nature of God,” on our website. It can be located by clicking the “additional articles” hotspot near the bottom of the home page. Other articles on our website address many issues discussed in this article, and the interested reader can check them out by clicking the various hotspots that will bring them up.
Cults Are Committed to Proselytizing
This practice is considered a bane in the eyes of orthodox churches, yet it is the very thing many orthodox churches do. The difference is that orthodoxy believes that the correct doctrines are those embraced by the mainstream, not by dissenting cults. According to them cults should be ostracized for “misleading” the sheep. Little do they know that mainstream churches have accepted doctrines that were foreign to Christ and the Apostles-doctrines that were developed some centuries after the time of Christ. While all Christian churches that proselytize believe they are following Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy [Spirit]: 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,” they fail to heed what Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves” (Matt. 23:15). These Pharisees thought they were right, and so do many churches today. They did not teach what Jesus taught and neither does orthodoxy.
What will be the state of the churches when Christ returns? Here is what Jesus said, “. . Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). The Apostle Paul added regarding the state of religion near the time of the end: He said people will have a form of godliness, but deny its power. We are admonished to turn away from such (2 Tim. 3:5). Many so called cults have much more truth than does orthodoxy-but also may have defective leaders. Based on the definition that cults do not follow the orthodox line, one can conclude that what is called orthodoxy today-a myriad of churches comprised of many sects and divisions-is itself a series of cults. Why? They do not follow the orthodox teachings of Christ and the Apostles!
Cult Members Are Not Allowed to Think for Themselves
Quite often the dominant spirit and tone of the words being stated by a leader of a cult make it difficult, if not impossible, for one to think through the things that are being said. This is true as long as one is a member of or under the influence of a cult. Sometimes the deliberation of the leader will be so long and with such an endless drone that the listener is lulled into a state of lethargy, incapable of grasping what is being said. The subconscious mind, though, is absorbing the message as the listener is led along an insidious path. Speech teachers know that the attention span of a listener is just a little short of an hour. After that, the listener absorbs little, except subliminally. Is this approach by cult leaders being done deliberately? Not likely. But there is an inspiration that often comes upon cult leaders of which they themselves may not be aware.
A true minister of God will recognize the need to speak to an alert audience and will rely on God and the Scriptures for inspiration. People do think for themselves, and should not be hindered in doing so. But there is a responsibility placed upon everyone who seeks to know the will of God. Here is what the Bible says about this responsibility.
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isa. 55:7-9)
The Apostle Paul admonished: “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Rom. 12:3). A man is responsible for what he thinks, and what he thinks can have either a good or detrimental effect upon his life. “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he . . . . ” “The LORD knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity” (Ps. 94:11). And Jesus said: “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh” (Luke 6:45). Remember, the carnal mind is opposed to God’s Way of Life, and man can overcome it except by the Spirit of God. “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom 8:7).
The Apostle Paul understood this dilemma when he wrote:
For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. (Rom. 7:22-25)
Every man must be given the freedom to think for himself, but he must be aware of the importance of thinking wholesome things. One who always thinks negatively harms himself and others. Paul wrote: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil. 4:8).Unwholesome or heretical thoughts, if nourished, can bring about destruction.
The true ministry must preach the Truth of God. Titus was told to “. . . speak thou the things which become sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1-2). If the listener can see what is clearly demonstrated by the Word of God, these are the things that should permeate his heart and mind. Human beings are free moral agents, allowed to make choices of either right or wrong. The thought processes are an important aspect of free moral agency.
Cult Members Are Made Dependent upon the Cult
Some cults are so authoritarian that members lose all self-confidence and soon become dependent upon the leadership for every decision. The result is that members gradually accept every idea, fancy, or whim that emanate from the cult leader. What these members do not realize is that many of these rules and directives are based upon the personal preferences and views of those in charge. Members are afraid to make their own decisions lest they make a mistake’ or fall out of favor. There may be the desire to avoid personal responsibility by allowing others to make decisions for them. They reason that it is best to obey because God will hold the leaders responsible if any mistakes are made. Personal views of those in charge can go so far as to dictate what color of automobile, what kind of suit to wear, or what kind of hair styles women should choose.
Why do people tend to gravitate toward destructive, controlling cults? Most orthodox churches would not think of forcing their membership into behavioral patterns or a belief system by means of coercion. And herein may lay the answer. Today there is a large departure from old line denominations because thousands of people do not feel they are being spiritually fed. The formality and lack of powerful messages leaves them wanting. Many want to feel good after attending church services. The hollow void left by many standard churches leaves them empty. Cults can and often do provide this need.
Many people attend church for social recognition or reasons of prestige. They like to be looked up to in the community. Some mega-churches provide stage and sound regalia that make for good entertainment. Above all, such a ministry would never think of rebuking the congregation for anything. Those who attend these churches would be unlikely to gravitate toward cults, but many others attend church to learn about the Bible or to hear something they can personally use in their lives. Since many of the standard churches do not or cannot provide this, these people are open to cults. The authoritative approach appeals to them and gives them a church or group they can depend upon. The authoritarian approach found in many cults does the job, but likely will be unscriptural and based on private interpretations of the Bible.
A Cult Has a Centralized Authority and Tightly Structured Beliefs
Does this definition really define one of the signs of a cult? The answer is yes and no. Consider what we see in the New Testament. For instance, how important is doctrine? Paul emphasized its importance when he wrote Timothy: “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Tim. 4:16). Clearly then, Church doctrine should consist of tightly structured beliefs. One who would define a cult as a group that adheres to tightly structured beliefs must be one who has no tightly structured beliefs. Such a “broad-minded” person obviously believes about anything he wishes as long as he professes Christ. Yet the Apostle Paul wrote: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” (Rom. 16:17). So doctrine is important, and it involves more than just believing in Christ. The truth is: Doctrine requires obedience. We read: “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you” (Rom. 6:17). How many professing Christians today believe that the doctrine they believe is something to be obeyed? While it is true that destructive and dangerous cults demand obedience to every whim of a leader, according to the Bible obedience is voluntary. Today, no one is forced by law to obey God’s Commandments. But without obedience to them no one can be saved.
If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. (Jas. 2:8-11)
As we saw above, the ministry is required to take action when a member begins to upset others by causing divisions contrary to the doctrine. While many members may have varying ideas regarding Bible teachings, they do not have the right to disseminate these ideas when they are contrary to church teachings. So in that sense, a tightly structured authority is justified. Members are required to respect the peace that must prevail in the Church. The function of the ministry is to guide and encourage, not forcing compliance. As Paul stated: “Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand” (2 Cor. 1:24).
The problem with many mainstream churches today is that there is so little difference in their teachings that they can easily commingle without offense to anyone. There is little to worry about as long as the various members profess Christ. Many professing Christians have been led to believe that doctrine is not really that important. To them, what is important is to believe in Christ and have the love of God. Yet, how does the Bible define God’s love? “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3). Did we not read above that doctrine requires obedience?
A Cult Has a Charismatic Leader
A bonafide cult requires a charismatic leader who demands unquestioning obedience to every rule and regulation set forth. The Jim Jones cult is an example of this. Conformity may require 24 hours a day of obedience and submission to every whim and notion of the leader. But what does the Bible say about this kind of authority? What authority does the ministry possess, if any? A few texts suffice to illustrate this. Notice 1 Timothy 5:17: “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.” Referring to elders, Paul wrote: “For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?” (1 Tim. 3:5). “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you” (1 Thess. 5:12). “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation” (Heb. 13:7).
In the above texts, the word “rule” does not imply the kind of power exercised by the leader of a cult. In the first three texts above, the word “rule” means “to preside over,” “to superintend,” “to care for,” “to give aid.” The principle meaning is expressed by Paul who wrote: “For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building” (1 Cor. 3:9). The principle duty of the layman is, “That ye submit yourselves unto such, and to every one that helpeth with us, and laboureth” (1 Cor. 16:16). This is not to say that there is no authority of any kind in the Church. The buck must stop somewhere, but this authority must be limited to maintaining peace within the Church, or by taking steps to prevent heresy, or by maintaining the smooth function of the Church as a whole. “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40) applies here.
The Bible is the final authority in all spiritual matters, and the head of the Church is Jesus Christ. This is because God “. . . hath put all things under his [Christ’s] feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church” (Eph. 1:22). “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,” (Heb. 13:20). No man, regardless who he may be, can add to or subtract from God’s Word. Therefore any charismatic leader who assumes prerogatives not authorized in the Bible, and who attempts to rule the personal lives of member’s acts in contempt of God’s Word and the authority granted by Christ.
Much has been written to expose the evils of cults. Organizations such as the Cult Awareness Network (acronym CAN) are particularly active in exposing their nature. Dictionaries define a cult as a religious group that is unorthodox or spurious, a religion that does not follow the orthodox line. Briefly, cults are defined as those religious organizations which hold views that are outside of mainstream churches. The word cult carries a negative connotation and indicates morally reprehensible practices or beliefs that significantly depart from historic Christianity. Admittedly, those who identify cults acknowledge that their evaluations are subjective value judgments. Subjective refers to perceived personal views that may lack reality. In brief, this means that what one may think about cults may not be necessarily true-that is, it may be simply a matter of opinion. So the question that needs to be asked is this: What was historic Christianity?
What Was Historic Christianity?
It may come as a shock to many, but the original Church that Jesus built was not a part of the mainstream religion of his time, and was itself regarded as a cult. Here is what the Apostle Paul told the Roman governor and the council: “But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets” (Acts 24:14). Paul was regarded as a ringleader of this sect (v. 5). Cults are regarded as heretical. So, was the Church that Jesus built popular? Indeed not! In Rome the Jews told Paul: “But we desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest: for as concerning this sect, we know that every where it is spoken against” (Acts 28:22). Little known by most professing Christians is what took place historically beginning in the latter part of the first century AD.
The Apostle Paul warned:
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy [Spirit] hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. (Acts 20:28-31) In the second century AD, a Jewish writer by the name of Hegesippus related some startling facts. Church historians tell us that Hegesippus demonstrated the pure apostolic tradition. See A Church History, by Johann Heinrich Kurtz, Volume 1, pages 157-158, and A History of the Christian Church by Wilhelm Moeller, translated by Andrew Rutherford, page 116. The work of Hegesippus, which contained five volumes, has been lost, but Eusebius of Caesarea wrote that Hegesippus was a Jew of Ebionite-leaning who reported that after the death of the Apostles, false teachers introduced impious error, fraud, and delusions (Ecclesiastical History, Eusebuis, and Chapter 17). Shirley Jackson Case summarized what happened to the teachings of the original Apostles. According to Case, Christianity, as accepted by the Gentile world, was not the original revelation. It represented a change (The Social Origins of Christianity, pp. 72-74). What we have today is a Christianity that is not what Jesus and the Apostles taught! Therefore, by the modern definition of a cult, the Christianity that came on the scene after the time of the Apostles is now comprised of many cults.