Common threads of cults
When looking at the beliefs of the world from a Christian perspective, one can be overwhelmed by the variety of belief systems out there. It is a popular criticism that Christians have not examined all the other world views before determining if theirs is true. Of course, if that were the criteria then nobody could come to any conclusions. Belief is always based on the reasonable conclusion given the evidence that has been able to be examined. A belief is warranted when someone honestly deals with the available evidence.
In other blogs, most notably “the cosmological argument”, I refute the world views of atheism, pantheism, and polytheism. However, we are still left with many different ideas surrounding monotheism. There are also a lot of ideas about the nature of Jesus Christ and the Bible. How do we begin to evaluate whether they are true or false? Is it fair just to assume that historic Christianity is true and refute other religions based on that criteria?
In this blog I want to identify some of the major issues that cults generally have in common that go against biblical Christianity. By cult I don’t mean brainwashing spiritism with poison Kool Aid, I simply mean a group that claims to have the exclusive gospel truth but which denies some of the essential truths of Christianity. I will leave out most of the specifics so that you can come to some conclusions yourself and apply the generalities wherever necessary.
The first issue: what is the religion’s authoritative source? In biblical Christianity the Bible serves as the final authority. Even feelings and unctions from the Holy Spirit need to be subjected to the authority of Scripture. Scripture is sufficient: 2 Timothy 3: 16,17 says “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Scripture is unchanging: Isaiah 40: 8 says “The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God remains forever.” If something contradicts the Bible it is not from God.
Many cults accept that the Bible is authoritative. They realize the impact that the Bible has had throughout history. Rather than telling people that they must reject the Bible they just tell people that the Bible means something different than what has been understood throughout history. Rejection of the original meaning of the Bible is the first major flaw in modern cults. But the evidence is in, there have been no significant changes to the text of the Bible. What we read now is what was originally written, except for a few questionable sections that do not add or remove any established doctrine.
The second issue: who stands between the person and the knowledge of God. What is the character and credentials of their so-called prophet, or leader? In biblical Christianity the Trinity works to bring the believer to the knowledge of God. 1 Timothy 2:5 says “there is one God and one mediator between God and man, a man, Christ Jesus.” In John chapter 14 Jesus talks about the sending of the Holy Spirit that will teach and lead his disciples into the truth. In verse 21 Jesus says “The one who has my commands and keep them is the one who loves me. And the one who loves me will be loved by my Father. I also will love him and will reveal myself to him.” 1 John 2: 27 tells us that the anointing of the Holy Spirit teaches us and that we have no need for any other person to teach us.
Being able to know God personally through His Holy Spirit and being able to understand the Bible is not something that the cults encourage. Every cult throws some other type of mediator in between man and God. It may be that they claim that it is only by their writings or their interpretation of the Bible that we have the full knowledge of God. It maybe the church hierarchy that we are dependent on in order to be in a right understanding of God. A sure sign of a cult is a religion that seeks to make man dependent on a person or group other than Jesus Christ.
The third issue: what is required for salvation. In biblical Christianity salvation was accomplished by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. It is efficacious through our faith and by God’s grace. Good works are an outpouring of salvation, not the means to it. Ephesians 2: 8-10 says “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift- not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation- created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.” Galatians 2:16 says “by the works of the law no human being will be justified.” Romans 5: 1 says “we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
For every pseudo-Christian cult, this grace and faith in Jesus Christ is not enough (or out of the picture). The cults put reliance on works and a dependence on their authority as a contingency to a person’s salvation. They make it so that you have to earn your way through good behavior as defined by the religious group. Since cult leaders love to be depended on, they seek to make salvation dependent upon their organization.
The 4th issue: the person of Jesus Christ. in biblical Christianity Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. John 1: 1 says “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” He is God manifested in flesh: (John 1:14) “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” He is eternal. He is the creator. He is perfect. He possesses the attributes of Jehovah God. Colossians 2:9 says “in him the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily.” Though fully God, he willingly laid aside certain aspects of his divinity in becoming man (Philippians 2:6). Nothing less then the sinless Son of God would have been sufficient as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind (Hebrews 9:14).
The cults as a whole misconstrue the person and the mission of Jesus Christ. Thus, other than Roman Catholicism, they are rejectors of the Trinity. They’ll say that Jesus Christ is a created being. They may say that Jesus, through his good works and obedience, attained godhood. They may say that Jesus was an example of what we can be. They may say that Jesus was merely a prophet of God. Generally they assume that being the Son of God makes him less than God. However, it is evident that the people Jesus was speaking to clearly understood that Jesus was claiming to be God. This is why they wanted to kill him for blasphemy (and this happened more than once). God, the Son, may be a better way to interpret it. If a dog has a son it’s a dog, if a man has a son it’s a man, if God has a son he is…
These are 4 of the main issues that are common threads throughout pseudo-Christian cults. There are other issues, such as greed, the control of lives, modern/ contradictory revelation, fear and intimidation to keep members, and exclusivism to the complete exclusion of traditional Christianity. I hope that Christians are aware of what constitutes a cult and even aware of cult-like practices within their life. I hope that Christians are able to intelligently explain and defend the true Christian faith in the face of lies presented by modern cults. There are massive groups of people that are being deceived because they are so ingrained in their cults. Many go years without a person confronting them intelligently from the perspective of biblical Christianity.