WHAT IS A CULT?

INTRODUCTION

Walter Martin in The Kingdom of the Cults, defines a cult as "any religious group which differs significantly in some one or more respects as to belief or practice from those religious groups which are regarded as the normative expressions of religion in our total culture. I may add to this that a cult might also be defined as a group of people gathered about a specific person or person's mis-interpretation of the Bible" (11). It is by this definition that Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormonism, Christian Science, etc. are cults. It is worthwhile to note that while many groups are classified as a cult, they insist that they be classified as "Christians" but their Bible twisting doctrine proves otherwise. It is also good to note that every Christian's purpose in witnessing to those affiliated with cults is in no way to judge people's character but the doctrine that they espouse. My purpose is to let Christians know the doctrines of this cult so they can provide a "ready defense" (1 Peter 3:15) and to have cult members see the truth because it will set them free (John 8:32).

Norman L. Geisler and Ron Rhodes in When Cultists Ask says, "There are three different dimensions of a cult - doctrinal, sociological, and moral... Keep in mind, though, that not every cult manifests every single trait we discuss" (10). Let us look at the three dimensions and the traits within them. These are how you can identify a cult.

DOCTRINAL CHARACTERISTICS OF A CULT

There are four characteristics in the doctrinal dimension of a cult. They are: New Revelation, Denial of the Sole Authority of the Bible, A Distorted View of God and Jesus, and Denial of Salvation by Grace. Lets go through each of them:

  1. New Revelation - Cult's teachings often change and new revelations are needed to justify the changes.

  2. Denial of the Sole Authority of the Bible - In order of the cults to push their idea of new revelation, they need to reject the sole authority of the Bible and put it on the same or in fact lower level as the new revelation.

  3. A Distorted View of God and Jesus - Many cults do see Jesus as who he is - the Son of God who is fully God at the same time. They believe Jesus to a lower degree like a god but not the God. Cults reject the Trinity and they reject the existence of the Holy Spirit. Cults also reject the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.

  4. Denial of Salvation by Grace - Cults reject the idea of salvation by grace. They mostly hold to salvation by works.

SOCIOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF A CULT

There are seven characteristics in the sociological dimension of a cult. They are: Authoritarianism, Exclusivism, Dogmatism, Close-mindedness, Susceptibility, Isolationism, and Antagonism. Lets go through each of them:

  1. Authoritarianism - This is the acceptance of a authority figure who often uses mind-control techniques on their followers for control. The word of these authority figures (founder or prophet) are considered ultimate.

  2. Exclusivism - Cults usually believe that they alone have the truth as opposed to other Christian denominations. Some cults practice communal living (some religious groups that practice communal living are not cults) to make it easier to maintain control over cult members.

  3. Dogmatism - Cults believe that they alone have the truth and they are the only ones to interpret the Bible correctly.

  4. Close-mindedness - Cult members are so devoted to their cult that they are unwilling to even consider any other point of view even if they know they are wrong.

  5. Susceptibility - Many people that join cults are gullible and some are psychologically vulnerable. This goes hand in hand with close-mindedness in that they will ignore anything that contradicts their claims while practicing blind faith that is absent of sound reasoning.

  6. Isolationism - Extreme cults create fortified boundaries and are hard on those who are thinking or are attempting to desert. Isolationism creates fear among cult members to obey their leaders giving them even more control.

  7. Antagonism - Isolationism leads to antagonism toward the outside world. Other Christian groups are considered evil and bad.

MORAL CHARACTERISTICS OF A CULT

There are four characteristics of the moral dimension of a cult. They are: Legalism, Sexual Perversion, Physical Abuse, and Intolerance toward Others. Lets go through each of them:

  1. Legalism - Since cults reject salvation by grace, they often practice legalism. This is a setting down of rigid rules that are not Biblical. This is also for the leaders to control their members.

  2. Sexual Perversion - In cults there are huge cases of sexual perversion. Some cults allow polygamy (more than one wife). Some cults sexually lure people into their cult. The leaders of some cults have been reported to having sex with a great deal of women in their cult including young girls.

  3. Physical Abuse - Some cults are guilty of engaging in physical abuse. Many ex-cult members accuse their former leaders of beating, depriving of sleep and food as a way of control. Many times these attacks are directed at children. There is also psychological abuse (fear, isolation, intimidation). The ultimate physical abuse is killing members by making them drink poison or another way.

  4. Intolerance toward Others - Many cults have a low tolerance toward people of other groups. This is seen in antagonism and sometimes leads to killings.

It is good to note again that not every cult has all of these characteristics. But every cults has at least one or more of the characteristics listed here! My purpose in this article was to perhaps give you an introduction to cults. God Bless!

WORKS CITED

Geisler, Norman L. and Rhodes, Ron. When Cultists Ask. Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1997.
Martin, Walter. The Kingdom of the Cults. Minneapolis, Bethany House Publishers, 1985.

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Copyright 2001 by STAT

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