A cult can be defined as a religious group which teaches doctrines or beliefs which deviate from the broad consensus of orthodox Christian doctrine down through the ages. Cults either distort truth or focus on half-truths. The small amount of truth which they do proclaim is often mixed with doctrinal error and is therefore dangerous. Cults succeed in deceiving many. As Paul warned, “The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. . . . They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3–4, NIV). Jesus said, “For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and will deceive many” (Mark 13:6).
What Has Caused the Proliferation of Cults?
Cults thrive on ignorance and uncertainty. Christians who do not know what they believe or why they believe it are especially vulnerable. Churches are lax in their responsibility to teach God’s Word and disciple Christians. Paul admonished Timothy to, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and
encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2, NIV).
Features Common to All Cults
• Extra-biblical or special revelation. To the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, cults typically add their own revelations, which take precedence over the Bible. Or, a limited number of Scripture passages are used completely out of context, resulting in erroneous interpretations. The Bible is explicit in defending its own integrity: “If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (Galatians 1:9, NIV; see also Revelation 22:18–19).
• Salvation by works. Any teaching that encourages people to seek a right relationship with God apart from the person and work of Jesus Christ is in error. This can take the form of a complete rejection of
Christ and His work, or a partial rejection that tries to add to His work. The Gospel consists of grace—plus nothing and minus nothing (Ephesians 2:8–9).
• A denial of or lack of full recognition of Jesus Christ as God’s Son. Cults either totally deny Christ or relegate Him to a place that is less than He merits.
“Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22).
“For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11).
“Christ is the exact likeness of the unseen God. He existed before God made anything at all, and, in fact, Christ himself is the Creator who made everything in heaven and earth” (Colossians 1:15–16, TLB).
“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17, NIV).
“The Word [Jesus] became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
“Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
1. The Christian who has been deceived into joining a cult should be encouraged to:
A. Reassure himself or herself about his or her personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Happy indeed is that believer who can say with the apostle Paul, “For I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (2 Timothy 1:12).
B. Constantly reaffirm his or her faith and commitment by adhering to the teachings of the Bible: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:6–8, NIV).
C. Be sure he or she is identified with an evangelical church and takes an active part in the ministry of that church.
D. Pray with the person for definite deliverance from the cult and commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word.
2. If you are talking with an aggressive cult member, you will find it necessary to assume command of the conversation; otherwise, you may be overwhelmed with an endless defense of the cult’s false doctrines and organization. If this happens, you might try interrupting with a statement such as, “Yes, I understand that this is very meaningful to you, but let me ask you a few important questions.”
Here are some questions you should ask the cultist:
A. What do you think of Jesus? Is He God’s Son? Is He the only Savior? (Recite John 3:16 and Acts 4:12.)
B. What do you believe about sin? Are you a sinner? If you don’t trust Jesus Christ for forgiveness, how will you find it?
C. Whether you receive positive or negative answers to the above, ask the most important question of all: Have you ever received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? Or: Do you know God’s plan for peace and life? Share Christian Biblical Counsel: STEPS TO PEACE WITH GOD.
D. Encourage the person to take a definite stand for Christ by leaving the cult and former associations. There must be a complete break with the past.
E. Encourage him or her to get into a church that holds to the historical evangelical Christian position, where he or she can begin to study the Bible for what it actually says.
F. Pray with him or her for complete deliverance and for complete commitment to Christ and to the Word of God.
False Teachers, False Doctrines Prophesied:
“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve” (2 Corinthians 11:13–15, NIV).
“But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, ‘In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.’ These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit” (Jude 17–19, NIV).
How to Discern Error:
“At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect—if that were possible. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time” (Mark 13:21–23, NIV).
“Evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:13–15, NIV).
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world” (1 John 4:1–3, NIV).
How to Resist Error:
“Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38).
“. . . that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:10–11).
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
“But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh” (Jude 20–23, NIV).
Other suggested Scriptures:
2 Timothy 4:3–5, NIV
See also False Teaching
The Billy Graham Christian Worker’s Handbook; World Wide Publications, 1984, 1996
The Truth Twisters
by June Hunt
Why are people so fascinated with cults? What is their lure? What is their hook? If the apostle Paul was distressed by the Greeks’ fascination with the newest religious fads (Acts 17:16, 21), he would be dismayed over the potpourri of false gospels flourishing today. Many seekers of truth are ensnared by Christian counterfeits … drawn and deluded by doctrines of deceit.
“He [Paul] was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.… (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)”
(Acts 17:16, 21)
Those drawn into cults are asking questions and looking for answers. But they are asking the wrong questions. Instead of, “Which group accepts me and provides answers for my life?” they need to be asking, “Will I accept the truth God has already revealed in the Bible and His answers for my life?”
A. What Is a Cult?
• A cult is a sect or group of people that holds to deviant doctrines. A cult is a system of religious beliefs that distorts orthodox Biblical doctrine.
— “Orthodox” refers to basic beliefs that conform to established doctrine.
— “Doctrine” refers to a general teaching or a system of principles. Biblical doctrine is teaching based on the self-evident truths of Scripture.
• The word cult comes from the Latin word cultus, which means “worship” or “adoration.”
• The word cult became an English word only in the 1600s. It is not used in Scripture. However, the Bible does refer to those who are “turning to a different gospel,” whose leaders “pervert the gospel of Christ.”
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.”
B. “How do cults vary from orthodox Christianity?”
Every cult varies in its teachings from one or more of six fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith.
Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin.
“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: his mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.… ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’—which means, ‘God with us.’ ” (Matthew 1:18, 23)
Only the shed blood of Jesus Christ can pay the penalty for personal sin.
“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (Romans 5:8–9)
Jesus Christ was raised from the dead in bodily form and was seen on earth by many.
“Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time.” (1 Corinthians 15:3–6)
Jesus Christ, who is God, took on human form and was fully God and fully man.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1–3, 14)
After Jesus Christ visibly returns to earth during the end times, a final judgment is a certainty, sending the unrighteous to eternal punishment and the righteous to eternal life.
“Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.… Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Hebrews 9:27–28; Matthew 25:46)
The Bible is wholly inspired by God, is without error in the original writings and revelation, and is the only authority for righteous living.
“Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.… All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (Proverbs 30:5–6; 2 Timothy 3:16)
C. How Can a Person Dissect a Sect?
• A heretical sect is a religious group that separates from the established religion and is usually founded by someone who has left that organization.
• The Greek word translated “sect” is the word hairesis, from which comes the English word heresy. Hairesis means “a choosing,” usually referring to a division. While all religions have their various sects, which differ among themselves in minor areas of doctrine or policy, each religion has also spawned heretical sects.
• An heretical sect creates division in a church over teaching that perverts Biblical truth. The result is the formation of a group that chooses to separate from God’s people and God’s truth!
• Although an heretical sect has questionable doctrine, its deviation from a mainline group is usually a question of what or who will be the source of authority.
The Jewish leaders charged the apostle Paul with being the ringleader of a sect.
“We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him.”
Question: “Didn’t the apostle Paul start an heretical sect—Christianity—which Christ never intended?”
Answer: No. Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah, who fulfilled all the Old Testament prophesies about the “anointed one” who was to come. Christianity is not a perversion of truth, but the perfection of truth. Christ did not come to create a new teaching, but rather to fulfill the old.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17)
D. How Can a Person Distinguish the Cults?
Question: “Are all cults basically the same?”
Answer: Yes and no. Cults exhibit similar psychological patterns …
— closed-mindedness … not interested in a rational evaluation of the facts
— blind obedience to authority … the dogma of leader or founder is supreme
— controlled living … details of daily life are dictated by the leader
— contempt for outsiders … intolerance for any belief system other than their own
“There will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.” (2 Peter 2:1)
Question: “Is there a difference between a cult and the occult?”
Answer: Yes. A cult is a deviant organized religion. The occult refers to diverse practices used in religion as an attempt to gain supernatural power or knowledge apart from the God of the Bible. (The word occult means “hidden” or “secret.”) Although cults are not the same as the occult, some cults do engage in occultic practices. The Bible opposes all occult practices because reliance is on demonic spiritual power, not on the sovereign power of God.
“When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God?” (Isaiah 8:19)
Occult practices are forbidden in Scripture!
Modern-day occult practices include …
• tarot cards
• ouija boards
• crystal balls
“Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord.”
Who wouldn’t feel gravely concerned if a religious group seems to have snatched a loved one’s heart? A daughter pulls away … a son disappears … a friend drops all contact. Could this be harmless enthusiasm toward a godly group or escalating enslavement to a deviant cult? To determine the answer, obtain printed material or any other information from the group, and apply the—
|to God’s Word?||from the Person of Jesus Christ?|
|Mormons add three other books of Scripture, including the Book of Mormon, “the most correct book on earth.” Rosicrucians include, along with the Bible, the Egyptian Book of the Dead and The Lost Books of Jesusas their holy books.||Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus was actually Michael the Archangel, not God in the flesh.The Unification Church (“Moonies”) teaches that Jesus failed in His mission on earth and that Reverend Moon is the second coming of the Messiah.
|“Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words,or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.”(Proverbs 30:5–6)
|“He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God.… For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.”(Colossians 1:15–16)
|Salvation Requirements?||the Follower’s Loyalty?|
|The New Age Movement denies Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for salvation and substitutes reincarnation as the means of perfecting the soul.Scientology teaches that “engrams” (subconscious negative impressions) have developed for 74 trillion years, causing health and psychological problems. Only through countless therapeutic sessions at costly fees can people achieve the ultimate state to become “theta clear.” The goal of an “operating thetan” is to be clear from the necessity of having a body and to live with “supernatural power” outside the body.
|Heaven’s Gate taught that one must renounce family ties and all sexual relations in order to enter the Level Beyond Human (heaven).Branch Davidians taught that one cannot be loyal to God without being loyal to David Koresh.
|“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”(Ephesians 2:8–9)
|“You shall have no other gods before me.”(Exodus 20:3)
|Portions of this graphic are from “Patterns in the Cults,” The Watchman ExpositorVol. 6, no. 10 (1989), published by Watchman Fellowship, Inc., P.O. Box 13340, Arlington, TX 76094. Used by permission.|
A. What is the Message of Manipulation by Cult Leaders?
Characteristic of all cult leaders is the belief that they alone have the one true message from God.
• They present themselves as infallible authorities, requiring absolute loyalty.
• They persuade through their strong, charismatic personalities.
• They prohibit individual freedom, expecting unquestioned obedience.
• They promote themselves as divine or as God’s sole agent on earth.
• They possess “new truth” from God, while perverting Biblical truth.
• They provide simplistic answers for complex problems.
“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.”
(2 Corinthians 11:13–15)
B. What is the Mentality of Cult Followers?
Cults thrive on people who know little or nothing of the Bible and who readily replace logical reasoning with emotional decisions. They willingly pledge allegiance to charismatic leaders who claim to have the key to deeper truths and the answers to all the details of daily living.
• They follow the cult leader blindly.
• They forfeit individual freedom.
• They forsake friends and family to have a new “family.”
• They fear punishment for not conforming to legalistic rules and regulations.
• They feel misunderstood and persecuted by the outside world.
• They forego reason for emotion.
“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”
(2 Timothy 4:3)
Question: “What type of people are most susceptible to being lured into a cult?”
Answer: People who join cults do not knowingly submit their lives to deceit and error. They are typically intelligent, sincere seekers of truth caught in the snare of subversive spiritual forces. The following characteristics describe the average cult member:
— between ages eighteen and twenty-eight
— most are males
— middle to upper class
— low self-esteem
— alienated from family
— experiencing a crisis
— religious background, but not spiritually grounded
— looking for meaning and purpose to life
— disillusioned with life
— naive or too trusting
“He feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, ‘Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?’ ” (Isaiah 44:20)
C. What is the Aftermath of Mind Control?
New recruits converted by cults initially experience a false euphoria. Along with rigid schedules of intense indoctrination, the mind control tactics of cults rob members of their independence and sense of well-being. The exhilarating highs typically take a downward turn as many leaders employ intimidation, which leads to emotional suppression … even suicide in extreme cases.
Cult members will exhibit some or all of the following symptoms:
• inability to make rational judgments
• loss of free will and control over the choices of life
• identity confusion: cutting ties to the past
• inability to establish intimate friendships
• paranoia and irrational distrust of others
• guilt and fear of expressing doubts
• unhealthy dependency on the cult and other cult members
• loss of spontaneous joy
• prolonged depression
• thoughts of suicide
“I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.”
“When you meet the friendliest people you have ever known, who introduce you to the most loving group of people you’ve ever encountered, and you find the leader to be the most inspired, caring, compassionate and understanding person you’ve ever met, and then you learn that the cause of the group is something you never dared hope could be accomplished, and all of this sounds too good to betrue—it probably is too good to be true!”
—Jeanne Mills (former follower of cult leader Jim Jones)
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”
A. Have I Got a Deal for You!
The word cult is so encumbered with negative implications that no one envisions being a member of a crazy group that ends up “shooting it out” with the federal authorities (the Branch Davidians and David Koresh) or lining up for a lethal dose of liquid suicide (Jim Jones and the Jonestown Massacre). Can you imagine a neighbor saying, “I have joined a wonderful cult. Would you like me to tell you about it?” Of course not! Cults are much more subtle in their approach, using deceptive statements like these:
• “Join us for a free dinner and discussion group about current events.”
• “You can reach your true potential by attending this course on self-awareness.”
• “Come with me to our retreat this weekend—you have to be present to experience its power.”
• “Would you be interested in helping us bring love and unity to all mankind?”
• “This seminar will teach you a new technique for handling stress in your life.”
• “We have a new Bible study that reveals ancient secrets unknown to most Christians.”
“Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them.”
Question: “What is the breeding ground for cult involvement?”
Answer: Many people are in cults simply because they are “born” into them—their parents or guardians were members. However, the rapid growth of new cults today is basically a reflection of the self-centered philosophies of our culture.
— demoralization of values
— disrespect for authority
— deterioration of the family
— disillusionment with the “good life”
— drug culture
— demonic fascination with the occult
— decline of church influence
— decrease in doctrinal teaching
“The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” (1 Timothy 4:1)
B. Am I My Brother’s Keeper?
No one can make another person change. So, what is the responsibility of family members when they fear their loved ones are led astray? Is it wrong to impose your values on someone else? Some don’t feel that they have the right to use family influence and thus never try. However, God calls us to rescue those walking in darkness.
“Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?”
Question: “Why do family members not take action?”
Answer: The reasons for inaction depend on each family.
— The family isn’t knowledgeable about the cult.
— The family doesn’t see anything harmful about the cult.
— The family wants the loved one to make the first move.
— The family fears further estrangement.
— The family has no solutions.
— The family feels powerless.
“If one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19–20)
C. New Places—New Faces!
People are usually drawn into cults not because of doctrine, but because of unmet emotional needs such as a deep desire for a new family that offers a new purpose. Since God created every person with three inner needs (for love, for significance and for security), the appeal of cults is powerful. They appear to meet …
• the emotional need for love
• the spiritual need for significance
• the social need for security
Because cults are counterfeit “need-meeters,” when the excitement of the new family wears off … or dramatic life changes don’t last … or problems become evident, the same unfulfilled needs reemerge.
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”
A cult appeals to one of three inner needs—love, significance and security.
• The need for love
— “This group makes me feel like I’m really loved. They care about me.”
Both the Unification Church (the Moonies) and the International Churches of Christ are known for using the tactic called “Love bombing,” overwhelming the victims daily with loving words and emotional embraces.
• The need for significance … meaning and purpose
— “This group has given me a new purpose for living. I feel like my life now has meaning and direction.”
Mormons teach that Mormon men who have obtained perfection have the potential to attain godhood and to rule over their own planet.
• The need for security … a sense of belonging
— “My new family has given me the acceptance I’ve always wanted. I feel like I belong in the group.… I feel like I really fit in.”
The Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) teaches that members of all religions except their own will soon be destroyed at Armageddon. The only hope to escape annihilation is to remain faithful to the Watchtower organization.
The Lord promises to meet all our deepest inner needs.
“My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”
• The need for love is met.
— I know God loves me unconditionally because Jesus sacrificed His life on the cross for me so that I could have eternal life.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
• The need for significance is met.
— When I put my trust in the person of Jesus Christ alone to save me from my sins, I gave Him control of my life. Christ is now living in me, fulfilling the Lord’s purpose for me.
“ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ” (Jeremiah 29:11)
• The need for security is met.
— When I gave my life to the Lord Jesus Christ I received eternal life. I was adopted as a child of God and made secure in the family of God.
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13)
IV. Steps to Solution
A. Key Verse to Memorize
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”
(2 Timothy 2:15)
B. Key Passage to Read and Reread
Who Is the Real Christ?
• The ultimate questions concerning cults and their claims are …
— Who is God?
— Who is Jesus?
— Who or what is the final authority regarding truth?
Confusion over these three questions lies at the very heart of cults and their twisting of the truth. This explains why cults either ignore the Bible, interpret Scripture out of context or boldly rewrite passages to create another bible. When people center their hearts and minds only on the unchanging truths of the Bible, then they are not captured by erroneous religious beliefs. The Bible clearly addresses the three questions concerning God, Jesus and the final authority on truth.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
• “Word” in Greek is logos, which means
— “the expression of thought”
— “the revealed will of God”
— “the personal expression of God”
• The first chapter of John teaches that Jesus is God and the source of Truth!
— Jesus existed at the beginning of creation v. 1
“In the beginning was the Word.”
— Jesus was with God at the beginning v. 1
“The Word was with God.”
— Jesus was God at the beginning v. 1
“The Word was God.”
— Jesus is coeternal with God vv. 1–2
“He was with God in the beginning.”
— Jesus created the world v. 3
“Through him all things were made.”
— Jesus is the source of life v. 4
“In him was life.”
— Jesus is the light for the world vv. 4–9
“That life was the light of men.”
— Jesus gave believers in him the right to become children of God vv. 12–13
“He gave the right to become children of God.”
— Jesus, as God, took on human form. v. 14
“The Word became flesh.”
— Jesus is the only begotten Son of God v. 14
“The One and Only, who came from the Father.”
— Jesus is full of grace and truth v. 14
“Full of grace and truth.”
— Jesus is the source of truth v. 17
“Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
— Jesus is the only Son. v. 18
“The One and Only.”
— Jesus is now at the Father’s side v. 18
“Who [Jesus] is at the Father’s side.”
— Jesus reveals the character of God the Father v. 18
“Has made him known.”
“I wrote as I did so that when I came I should not be distressed by those who ought to make me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.… I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-by to them and went on to Macedonia.”
(2 Corinthians 2:3–4, 13)
C. First Things First
The initial goal of concerned family members is to become a unified, supportive family … to be emotionally and spiritually healthy yourselves before trying to reestablish contact with your loved one in a cult. Recognize what must be learned and unlearned.
• Seek information from cult awareness experts and organizations (for example, Watchman Fellowship, Spiritual Counterfeits Projects, Personal Freedom Outreach, American Family Foundation).
— Learn options and strategies that are available for families.
— Learn about cults, cult tactics and mind control.
— Learn what need (love, significance or security) the cult is appearing to meet for your loved one.
“Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.” (Proverbs 1:5)
• Seek group counseling with other families in the same situation.
— Realize that you are not alone in your suffering.
— See what other families are doing to reestablish relationships with loved ones caught up in cults.
— Solicit critiques about the content and “tone” of letters you plan to send.
“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22)
• Seek outside help to evaluate and improve your family dynamics.
— As a family, talk through your pain, anger, guilt, confusion and bitterness.
— Let go of blaming each other and extend forgiveness toward one another.
— Role-play and replace negative patterns of relating that could hamper future contact.
“See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:15)
Question: “Is complete recovery possible?”
“For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)
D. Reach Out through Relationship
Merely loving those who are lost will not get them through the gates of heaven, but neither will a dissertation on doctrine. Remember, a person is drawn into a cult assuming it will meet emotional needs. If you care about loved ones caught in the clutches of a cult, realize their first need is to know you respect them as creations of God with God-given worth. Only then will the soil of their hearts be prepared for you to plant seeds of doubt and to replace false teaching with truth. Ultimately, through gentle reasoning and persistent prayer, God can use you to help open a closed heart, clear a confused mind and restore a damaged relationship.
“In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. 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 Peter 3:15)
As long as your loved one is in the cult, make every effort to reestablish and remain in contact. With the following three do’s and don’ts, build a bridge that won’t blow up.
Don’t criticize or make fun of the cult leader and members—this only causes defensiveness.
Do … Be polite when reference is made to the cult and its leaders.
“A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue.”
Don’t project negative emotions or get into arguments, in spite of your own discomfort.
Do … Allow Christ to control your anger, responding always with kindness.
“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.”
(2 Timothy 2:23–24)
Don’t interrupt, regardless of your disapproval. Instead, learn to listen without interruption.
Do … Listen more than you talk.
“Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.”
Question: “What is the most effective thing I can do to help pull someone out of a cult?”
Answer: Plant a seed of doubt in the mind of the cult member, which, in time, can grow into bigger and bigger doubts. This can help the person become more objective and see errors in the cult’s teaching. God’s Spirit can cultivate the smallest seed to convict the cult member that something is terribly wrong.
“There is a time for everything … a time to plant and a time to uproot.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1–2)
Seed of Doubt
• Plant the realization that joy does exist outside the cult.
Send a scrapbook of family pictures to bring to mind happy memories prior to your loved one’s cult involvement.
• Plant specific proof of cult errors.
Show photocopies of unfulfilled prophecies by the Jehovah’s Witnesses from their own writings.
• Plant a fresh awareness that your loved one’s freedom to choose has been stifled.
Sincerely say, without sarcasm, “It’s a shame that you don’t have the freedom to decide for yourself when you can visit us.”
• Plant factual information on the cult, facts about which your loved one is probably unaware.
Provide proof of the prison record of a cult leader, stockpiling of arms, drug involvement with negative repercussions.
• Plant examples of inconsistencies within the cult’s doctrinal teachings.
Ask, “Is it true that Mormons teach ‘as man now is God once was’?” Show passages from the Book of Mormon (Mormon 9:9–11 and Moroni 7:22; 8:18) that say God doesn’t change. “Please help me understand which you think is incorrect, the Mormon teaching or the Mormon writings?”
|Goal #1:||Regain basic cognitive skills lost during cult involvement.|
|Duration:||From up to six or eight weeks after leaving a cult|
• To recall memory … The past is often suppressed.
— Recall in detail positive events prior to cult involvement.
— Talk about positive childhood friends and family members.
— Laugh about previous humorous situations. (Do not “walk on eggshells.”)
• To speak clearly … Speech patterns are often broken.
— If the voice trails off, say, “Would you please repeat that?”
— If abstract global terms are used, ask what the terms mean for today.
— If the focus is on the future, talk about current events.
• To make decisions … Decision making is difficult because it was discouraged or denied.
— Discourage blind conformity by assuring them of their ability to make good individual choices, rather than conformity.
— Encourage them to choose their own food from the menu.
— Let them choose and purchase their own clothing.
“If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” (Galatians 6:1)
|Goal #2:||Regain a sense of God-given worth and individuality lost during cult involvement.|
|Duration:||From the first or second month to as long as 24 months|
• To diffuse rage … Unhealthy regression when in the cult can swing to unhealthy aggression after leaving the cult, with violent verbal attacks toward the cult and its leaders.
— Help them focus not only on the wrong doctrine and deeds of the cult, but also on the inner unmet needs of individuals in the cult.
— Help them see that polarized black and white thinking was the breeding ground for their initial cult involvement. The initial teaching of a cult must contain some grains of truth, or no one would be drawn into it.
— Have them list ten important lessons they have learned as a result of their cult experience.
“For man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:20)
• To dispel taboos … The ex-cult member’s attitudes and beliefs can still be in bondage to the cult’s taboos.
— Regarding the physical body … ask,
“Since God created our physical bodies and He called what He created ‘very good,’ do you think it wise to agree with those who say our bodies are bad (or mere illusions)?”
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ … God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:26, 31)
— Regarding sex … say,
“God created the marriage covenant, and He also created sexual intimacy for bonding in marriage. Do you think it wise to be against what God chooses to bless?”
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) (Also see 1 Corinthians 7:3–5.)
— Regarding exclusion of certain foods … ask,
“Since the New Testament repealed the dietary law and Jesus declared ‘all foods clean,’ do you really think it wise to place human teaching above God’s teaching?” (Read Acts 10:11–16; Mark 7:19 and Colossians 2:16.)
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
• To decrease insecurity … Ex-cult members usually feel as though they are living in a goldfish bowl and that the eyes of all the family are on them.
— Let go of overprotective behavior even though your heart still fears that your loved one may return to the cult.
— Initiate the subject, “Before you went into the cult, did you feel smothered and in need of a safe place to escape?”
— Ask, “Now what can I do differently that would be meaningful to you?”
“The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” (Proverbs 20:5)
• To direct aimlessness … When a cult member finally leaves a group that seemed to have all the answers to life, finding purpose in life can present a huge internal battle.
— Help them establish a purpose for living.
“Let’s make a short list of God’s purposes for your life. Let’s especially look at your God-given responsibilities.”
— Help them establish future-oriented goals, both short-term and long-term.
“Now, let’s list a few six month goals and five year goals to help you fulfill each of these purposes.”
— Help them establish their priorities.
“Let’s make a plan with action steps for you to accomplish your goals. What do you think should be first?”
— Help them establish a Christ-centered spiritual family.
“Let’s establish some criteria and set a goal for finding a healthy, Bible believing church. I would enjoy helping you find a safe and supportive family of believers.”
“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)
E. Trade Lies for Truth
The Bible calls Satan “the father of lies” (John 8:44), and Satan’s goal is to deceive us with lies. When we believe his lies, they take root in our minds, and Satan establishes a stronghold. This is why it is so difficult to identify the lies, and even more difficult to stop believing them.
The good news is Jesus is Truth, and He is more powerful than Satan. Therefore, His truths are more powerful than Satan’s lies. By allowing truth to take root in our minds, Satan’s stronghold is weakened and eventually destroyed. God claims the ground once occupied by Satan, renews our minds and sets us free. Nothing is more victorious for a person captive to a cult than to recognize the lies and be set free.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
Pray for the Lord to reveal every single lie.
Renounce each and every lie, every false teaching.
Accept truth in place of the lies.
Yield yourself to Christ in order for Him to continually renew your mind.
Claim the truths that counter each of the lies. The following prayer can help you in this process.
|Heavenly Father, in Jesus name, I ask You to remove the blinders Satan has placed over the eyes of my mind. Show me the lies I have believed and show me Your truths. Right now I reject the lies I have believed. I renounce (name the cult and the lies). Lord, I choose to accept only Your truth. I accept that (name truths). I ask You to demolish Satan’s stronghold and reclaim the ground he has had in my life. I claim the victory I have in Christ over all Satan’s tactics. Lord, continually renew my mind through Your truth.In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
F. Rocky Road of Recovery
When cult members discover they have been taught error and they decide to leave, their road back to reality is rocky. Although many were victims of manipulation and cultic indoctrination, they feel guilty, confused and fearful for being lured into the cult as well as for leaving the cult.
“Be merciful to those who doubt.”
|Post Cult Features||Plan For Family & Friends|
|• Anger and depression|
|If exiting cult members feel empty and disillusioned when the cause to which they gave themselves seems no longer valid, they can become angry and/or depressed.||Look for ways to help them and others … in time possibly helping other cult members escape involvement.|
|“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”(Galatians 6:2)
|If exiting cult members focus on feeling deceived and duped, they can overgeneralize and trust no one.||Change their focus by helping them understand the general nature of cults, and thus narrow their distrust to leaders who distort truth and use mind control.|
|“How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver!”(Proverbs 16:16)
|If exiting cult members were forced to conform to rigid rules, they may have difficulty making their own decisions.||Restrain the urge to make decisions for them and have them choose between two or three options.|
|“A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered.”(Proverbs 17:27)
|• Sexual Confusion|
|If talk about sexual morals, intimacy or relationships with the opposite sex is feared, the cult most likely twisted the issue of sex to gain control, which is not uncommon.||Although often awkward, a discussion of healthy sex can be most beneficial. Explain that God intended sexual union for procreation and bonding in marriage.|
|“The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”(1 Corinthians 7:3–5)
|If loved ones seem to go into a trance or have flashbacks, something from their cultic experience has been triggered.||Draw them back into the present by engaging them in conversation about something that is occurring here and now.|
|“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.”(Isaiah 43:18)
|If loved ones don’t know what they believe, they may still be confused by false cultic teaching.||Don’t demand that they adopt your values. Instead of coercing (as cults do), give them information; then let them decide in their own time.|
|“A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction.”(Proverbs 16:23)
|If loved ones are overly defensive and argumentative, they are guarding against further emotional vulnerability.||Allow them sufficient time at home to heal and to build healthy emotional defenses that have been torn down.|
|“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven … a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build.”(Ecclesiastes 3:1, 3)
|If your loved ones seem reluctant to interact with others, they fear rejection and don’t know who to trust.||Encourage positive interaction with proven friends, especially with ex-cult members who can identify with their experiences.|
|“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”(Proverbs 27:17)
|If your loved ones appear despondent and unhappy, they may be grieving over the personal loss of time and credibility.||Without preaching, reveal God’s marvelous ability to turn our mistakes into something positive and good. He promises to bring value out of the time we lost.|
|“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.”(Joel 2:25)
|If your loved ones seem apprehensive or suspicious, they could have legitimate fear of being abducted or harmed by the cult members.||Share with them that each of us experiences some form of fear, but God promises to keep us safe.|
|“Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.”(Proverbs 29:25)
|• Black and white thinking|
|If your loved ones are verbally attacking and hostile against the cult, they are repeating the same judgmental thinking fostered by the cult.||To overcome judgmental attitudes, help your loved one look for the glimmer of good in “all things.” Speak about something of value experienced in the cult (such as learning to approach strangers with confidence).|
|“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”(Romans 8:28)
|If your loved ones want to reestablish contact with a cult member, they probably feel the need to be connected with someone special.||Discourage visits or calls to cultic friends. Be available to listen, interact and befriend. Encourage interaction with others.|
|“If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!”(Ecclesiastes 4:10)
Because of the powerful hold cults have over a person’s mind, will and emotions, family and friends often become frightened and bewildered. They find it difficult to believe that the cult continues to have such a lingering influence. However, learning to walk in freedom takes time. God takes us where we are and moves us along the road of freedom one step at a time … replacing one lie at a time … with one truth at a time.
“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”
G. Pointers from Paul
The apostle Paul, with his sensitive yet persuasive presentation of Jesus Christ, gave us the model for cult evangelism when he confronted those who were spiritually misguided on the streets of ancient Greece.
Read Acts 17:16–34.
• Paul had a heart of conviction.
“While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, ‘What is this babbler trying to say?’ Others remarked, ‘He seems to be advocating foreign gods.’ They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.” (Acts 17:16–18)
— Be convinced of your own faith.
— Be committed to the authority of God’s Word.
— Write out and know how to share your own testimony.
— Learn how to communicate the gospel.
— Ask a mature Christian to critique your presentation.
— Pray continually for the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”
• Paul made himself available.
“Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.’ (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)” (Acts 17:19–21)
— Be informed about the nature of cults through writings, tapes and conferences, especially the cult you are interested in.
— Be ready to share reasons for your faith.
— Be prepared with answers from the Bible.
— Be warm and friendly—cults teach that outsiders are uncaring.
— Be attentive to what they say.
— Be willing to “hang in there” unless they refuse contact.
“Every prudent man acts out of knowledge, but a fool exposes his folly.”
• Paul treated them with respect.
“Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: ‘Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.’ ” (Acts 17:22)
— Don’t be “better-than-thou”—see them as created and loved by God.
— Don’t be critical—compliment them when you can.
— Don’t think they wanted to be duped—acknowledge the sincerity of their spiritual search.
— Don’t be negative toward them—look for areas of agreement.
— Don’t slander or belittle the group’s leaders—they will become defensive.
— Don’t argue or lose your temper—that confirms they don’t want what you have.
“The wise in heart are called discerning, and pleasant words promote instruction.” (Proverbs 16:21)
• Paul planted seeds of doubt.
“For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: To an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:23)
— Ask about their personal values.
— Ask about their personal reason for living.
— Ask for definitions of words like God, Christ and Scripture.
— Ask, “Can you explain to me (present a problem with the cult)?”
— Ask sensitive questions like these:
a. “Does your belief give you that inner peace every heart desires?”
Answer: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
b. “Do you know for sure that you will go to heaven when you die?”
Answer: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13)
c. “Do you think we will all be held accountable for what we do?”
Answer: “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)
d. “Do you believe that Jesus would lie to you?”
Answer: “I [Jesus] am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
e. “Do you feel completely forgiven?”
Answer: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
• Paul presented the gospel. (Acts 17:24–34)
— All of us are sinners.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
— God loves us in spite of our sins.
“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
— God is just and must punish sin.
“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23).
— Those who put their trust in Christ are saved.
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13)
— We are saved only by faith, not by works.
“It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9)
— Once we trust only in Christ, not ourselves or others, we have peace with God!
“Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)
“Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”
(2 Timothy 2:25–26)
H. A Pound of Prevention
Question: “What is the best deterrent to cult entrapment?”
» Knowing the Word of God
A warm and loving family
» A warm and loving church that—
— teaches sound Biblical doctrine
versus extra “new truth”
— provides a non-extravagant pastor
versus a self-indulgent leader
— tresses loyalty to Jesus as Lord
versus loyalty to human leaders
— prioritizes a personal relationship with Christ
versus religious ritual
— relates Scripture to personal experiences
versus determining truth based only on experience
— encourages fellowship with family
versus separation from family
— offers Bible studies that are inclusive
versus study groups that are exclusive
— views their church as one of many doing God’s work
versus God working solely through them
— furnishes all teachings for public scrutiny
versus fostering an air of secrecy
— respects everyone’s right to privacy
versus intruding into personal matters
— confronts privately about personal sin
versus humiliating people in public
— encourages financial giving as God leads
versus demanding specific amounts
— allows any member to freely leave the church
versus curtailing freedom with threats or guilt
— invites critical thinkers to ask any question
versus stifling those with objections
“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.”
Question: “Since becoming a true Christian, I now realize that I’ve been in a cult. Should I stay involved in the cult to help other members open their eyes to see the truth?”
Answer: Imagine you are standing on a desk and someone else is standing on the floor. Is it easier for you to pull that person up or is it easier for you to be pulled down? The obvious answer is the latter. Christians and cult members do not have equal footing. They are not equally yoked. Reasons for leaving the cult are these:
— Someone else may join the cult to follow your example.
— Over time, you could be pulled back down.
— The Bible says, “Come out”—come out of the cult.
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.… Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?… ‘Therefore come out from them and be separate,’ says the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 6:14, 17)
|Bank tellers are taught to spot counterfeits not by focusing on fake bills but by continuously handling “the real thing.” The best deterrent from being deceived by a cult is to know Biblical doctrine. It’s easy to detect the false when you know the truth.—June Hunt
With grateful appreciation for editorial review by Watchman Fellowship, Inc. http://www.watchman.org
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