The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a cult as “a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious.” In this context, spurious can mean deceitful or manipulative. A cult is a fake religion that is nothing like it appears.
Some cults are easier to recognize than others. They may have “off-the-wall” beliefs or very bizarre ways of worshipping. But some of the most influential and impactful cults are more deceptive. They use familiar jargon but change the meaning ever so slightly. They may even meet in a traditional Christian church building.
Let’s take a look at how you can recognize a religious cult to ensure you don’t get deceived and trapped in its snares.
What Does the Group Think About Jesus?
Many cults will have absolutely no problem with the person of Jesus. In fact, most will make him the centerpiece of their doctrine and conversation. What you’ll want to be on the lookout for is whether or not they make anything equal to Jesus.
Is there a certain ritual that they require in order to “obtain salvation”? Are there additional doctrines that they equate with the Bible or the words of Jesus? Do they insist that there is something else other than Jesus that a person needs in order to enter Heaven?
If the answer is “yes,” than its more than likely a cult.
How Does the Group View its Leader?
Often, the leader of a cult will possess great power and authority. Now, there’s nothing wrong with having a healthy level of authority within a church, but it’s the abuse and manipulation of that authority that is concerning.
The leader of a cult will almost always point others to himself rather than the cross. The leader will require irrational devotion from his followers in order to exploit them for money, fame, and power. Unfortunately, many cult leaders have required sexual acts in order to join the group.
If we know anything about Jesus, it’s that he always pointed people to the Father and never once used sex, money, or fear to intimidate others to follow Him.
How Does the Group View its Members?
A cult and its leader(s) will never focus on the growth of their followers’ spiritual lives. They will only seek to oppress its members by making them feel unworthy if complete obedience isn’t achieved.
Open and honest questions or discussions about life are discouraged. The cult has all the answers to life and its members must not doubt the leadership or their teachings. Blind faith and obedience are tantamount to salvation.
This is the complete opposite of what Jesus teaches. He even gave us the Spirit after he ascended to heaven so that we could grow to be more like him. Jesus wants the best for us, whereas a cult leader wants what’s best for himself.
Well-Known Cults Now and Then
The People’s Temple was a cult started and led by Jim Jones in 1955. In November of 1978, he led his followers to Jonestown, Guyana, and had them consume grape juice laced with poison. Over 900 people died that evening.
In 1993, David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidians, was responsible for the death of 76 people in Waco, Texas.
Today, religious groups such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses are cults that mask themselves as Bible-believing Christians. A closer look at their doctrine and how they twist and add to the Scriptures will demonstrate their cultic leanings.
Know the Scriptures, seek the Lord for discernment, and keep Jesus as the focal point—this is how you avoid the snares of a cult.