In today’s religiously eclectic culture, labeling a group a cult may step on a few toes, but never have ideas moved about so abundantly as they do today. We live in a sound-bite culture where information is multiplying at rapid speeds, and there’s no shortage of false truth claims hanging out in this world filled with so many clashing ideas.
Dealing with false teaching is nothing new. John the apostle writes, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). If the early church needed to exercise discernment, how much more so do we two thousand years later? Here are two simple marks to discern as it relates to cults.
This is seen in their rejection of one or more of the core Christian doctrines or by their addition to those doctrines. Typically, a cult is marked by added revelation, a distorted view of Christ, a dismissal of original sin, a deconstructing of the Trinity, a redefining of grace, and a works-based salvation.
Cults are often brainwashed by an ultra-authoritarian leader, as in the tragic case of David Koresh, the Branch Davidian leader in Waco, Texas. Or an ultra-authoritarian organization, such as the Watch Tower Society that oversees the cultic group known as Jehovah’s Witnesses. These leaders and organizations create a sociological wedge between their followers and the world, which inevitably promotes isolationism. Cult leaders often dictate what their followers are to believe, think, speak, feel, eat, drink, and even wear. Some cults are easy to identify, while others are more difficult for the less discerning to detect.
In order to recognize a cult, you must first be theologically rooted in your own faith. Be sure to be a student of Scripture. Once you are biblically grounded, compare what Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses say about Jesus, the Trinity, salvation, the cross, eternity, Scripture, and sin. You’ll find that they may use some of the same lingo, but their beliefs, when contrasted with Christianity, are worlds apart.