Did you know there are cults within Christianity?
The term, “Christian cult,” is kind of an oxymoron. It’s a commonly known fact that at the birth of Christianity other religious groups labeled Christians as atheists and cult members. This was because of the Christian’s denial of all other gods and their singular devotion to, and worship of, Jesus as the one true God. That being said to say that for a very long time Christianity itself was considered a cult. Merriam-Webster online provides the following definition of cult (link):
1: a religion regarded as unorthodox and spurious; also : its body of adherents
2 a : a great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (such as a film or book)
b : the object of such devotion
c : a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion
Technically, Christianity is a “cult” because of the Christian’s singular devotion to Jesus and the Christian’s belief in the verbal plenary inspiration of the Bible. That’s one reason “Christian cult” is an oxymoron. Another reason “Christian cult” is an oxymoron is that technically any cult that claims to be “Christian” isn’t actually Christian.
1) The Definition of a Bible-based cult:
a non-Christian religious group that claims to believe in Jesus, and uses the Bible to recruit and train new members; but adheres to teachings outside the historical-orthodox teachings of the Church
We only identify them as a “Christian cult” because of their attempt to appear to be Christian. And because they are often very successful at deceiving their adherents and others into thinking they actually are a legitimate branch of Christianity. This is why the term “Bible-based cult” is a more accurate description of these groups. (Many Christian scholars also use the term “non-Christian cult” to describe these groups.)
A few well-known examples of such Bible-based cults are Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, Seventh Day Adventists, and Oneness Pentecostalism. These are some well-known religions that claim to be Christian, claim to follow Jesus, and use the Bible as an integral part of their religious system. A lot of people inside and outside the church believe these particular religions to simply be a different “branch” or “denomination” of Christianity. But in actuality, they are entirely different religious systems with occult beliefs and practices contrary to the foundational beliefs and practices of Christianity.
2) The Dangers of Bible-based Cults
The existence of Bible-based cults masquerading under the umbrella of Christianity means that not every “Christian church” is actually a Christian church. Many people get sucked into cults believing they’ve simply found a good church with different teachings or a church that is simply a different branch/denomination of Christianity. The danger of this basically boils down to idolatry and the deception of thinking your saved when you’re not. Please refer to the following articles for further reading regarding the dangers of idolatry and false conversion:
- What is a “Professing” Christian?
- 10 Warnings About False Conversion
- 14 Proofs Your Salvation is Genuine (1 John)
3) The Recruitment Process of Bible-based Cults
Their goal is conversion, not evangelism.
Bible-based cults take a conversion approach to recruitment. What does this mean? Conversion seeks to recruit new members to a particular religious system. In contrast, evangelism seeks to present the gospel to the unbeliever for the salvation of the soul. Simply put:
Their goal in “evangelism” is not the salvation of the soul but the recruiting and conversion of the individual to their church/religious system.
Their “evangelical outreach” is technically not evangelism at all. Biblically, evangelism is simply the presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, a Bible-based cult doesn’t actually believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. CARM.org (Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry) notes the following observations about Bible-based, non-Christian cults:
Due to their distorted views of salvation, the conversion/recruitment process they use will often try to avoid answering direct questions like, “Who is Jesus?” or, “How can I be saved?” Instead, they will use a number of other methods to convert and recruit new members to their organization.
They prey on new/uninformed Christians
Bible-based cults will appear to be big on missions, evangelism, and outreach. There will be a lot of talk about missions and evangelism in the Bible-based cult. But again, their primary goal is recruitment to their group and not the evangelism of the unbeliever. Keep in mind, They use the Bible (but not the gospel) as the main tool of their recruitment process. Therefore, they often target the people who:
- Would be willing to study the Bible with them, and;
- Know very little about the Bible.
Unfortunately, the majority of the time the people who fit this description are mostly new/uninformed Christians. Essentially, these non-Christian cults mostly recruit new members from those who already have some kind of faith but very little knowledge.
4) How to Identify a Bible-based cult
Ask the toughest questions right away
The easiest way to identify a Bible-based, non-Christian cult is to start with the tough questions. There are three in particular that will tell you all you need to know:
Who is Jesus?
What must I do to be saved?
Is it necessary for me to join your church/organization to be saved?
It is understandable that not all Christians are going to be in agreement in every area of their theology. And there are variations of different doctrines that are not foundational to Christianity, to our salvation, or to our spiritual growth. To argue over these non-essentials is pointless because it bears no fruit. (cf., 2 Timothy 2:23-26; Titus 3:9-10)
However, these two questions are the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Jesus is God. He is the second person of the Trinity. Salvation is found in no other and the only way to be saved is to believe in Jesus as God, the Son of God, and the One who paid the penalty for our sins. Here’s the thing with Bible-based cults:
Because of their distorted views of Jesus and salvation very rarely will they provide a simple and direct answer to these questions.
There are three main reasons they rarely provide simple and direct answers to these questions:
- They themselves don’t really have a clear and simple understanding of Jesus and salvation. Therefore, it’s hard for them to provide a clear and simple explanation.
- Their focus is conversion, not salvation.
- They don’t want to expose themselves.
Due to these factors, they become evasive in answering these questions. Direct answers to these questions are usually saved for after they’re confident you’re a loyal member of their organization and will believe anything they tell you. I’ve had quite a few encounters with members from different cults claiming to be Christian. They always lock up or become evasive when asked any one of these questions.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of cutting through all the nonsense by sticking to these questions!
Members of these Bible-based cults are trained very well to stay away from these questions and try to get you to focus on other doctrines that can be more easily argued in their favor. They will always attempt to first tear down your faith in “less-important” teachings before they try to teach you their beliefs on the more important teachings.
If you feel like something isn’t quite right about the church, denomination, or organization that you’ve been fellowshipping with or learning from; just pop one of these questions on them and see how they respond.
If they can’t provide a simple, clear and direct answer then just run and don’t look back. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a cult. But even if they’re not a cult, why would you want to learn from someone who can’t provide simple and clear answers to the most basic questions of the faith? Cult or not, anyone who can’t answer these questions simply and clearly will only bring confusion into your faith and understanding of God.