Patterns in the Cults
However, most cults are not that bizarre. Their followers dress like everyone else, work normal jobs, and by and large, are very sincere and honest individuals. As a matter of fact, most followers use Christian terminology very fluently thus making a cult very difficult to spot at times.
The difference between the cult and true Christianity lies in belief. Though the average cult member will confess a belief in Jesus Christ, a reliance on the Bible as his authority, and devotion to God as a lifestyle, in reality, all of the terms have been redefined. What appears on the surface to be Christian deviates greatly from what the Scriptures actually teach concerning the key doctrines of the Christian faith.
Due to this subtle deception, it is imperative that people know what to look for in trying to determine if a particular group is a cult or not. In light of this need, there are four basic patterns which exist in all cults who claim to be Christian.
Adding to the Word of God
The first pattern apparent in all cults is the habit of adding to the Bible instead of accepting it as the sole authority of one's faith. Throughout Scripture, God warns against this practice. For example, in Proverbs 30:5-6, the Bible states, "Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar."
However, the cults disregard this warning constantly. In the Articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints (the Mormons), they state in the eighth article, "We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God." Note the condition placed on the Bible, "as far as it is translated correctly" whereas the Book of Mormon is accepted as Scripture period!! Thus, the Book of Mormon takes precedence over the Bible.
The Unification Church (the Moonies) take a similar stand. In the Divine Principle, the following statement is made, "The Bible, however, is not the truth itself, but a textbook teaching the truth. Naturally, the quality of teaching and the method and extent of giving the truth must vary according to each age...Therefore, we must not regard the textbook as absolute in every detail" (p. 9).
In other words, the Bible is true only in a relative sense, not an absolute sense thus opening the doors for the Moonies to accept any source as their authority whether it contradicts the Bible or not!
Subtracting from the Person of Christ
The second and most important pattern to look for is the practice of subtracting from the person of Jesus Christ, usually by denying the fact that He is God. This belief is the cornerstone of the Christian faith and supported by numerous passages of Scripture (John 1:1, John 20:27-28, Revelation 1:17 compared with Isaiah 44:6).
Nevertheless, from the beginning of the Christian Church, there have been those who have distorted the person of Jesus Christ, thus creating another Jesus. In II Corinthians 11:4, Paul dealt with this problem when he scolded the Corinthian Christians for accepting another Jesus, "For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached...ye might well bear with him."
Of all the cults, the Jehovah's Witnesses have done one of the most thorough jobs in creating another Jesus. In The Truth Shall Make You Free, they state, "Being the only begotten Son of God and the 'firstborn of every creature', the Word would be a prince among all other creatures. In this office, he bore another name in heaven, which name is 'Michael'" (p. 49). In other words, Jesus in merely a created being not God the Creator.
They further teach that after his death, God the Father disposed of his body and he was resurrected as a spirit creature (Things In Which It Is Impossible for God to Lie, pp. 211, 354). This is definitely not the Jesus of Scripture who has always existed, created all things, died for our sins and rose again bodily!
Multiplication of Salvation Requirements
In Ephesians 2:8-9, the Apostle Paul clearly stated, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast." The Word of God plainly teaches that salvation is a gift that God offers sinful man. There is nothing anyone can do to earn it, it is gift to be accepted or rejected.
Though this teaching is so clear in the Scriptures, the cults constantly pervert it. A perfect example of this is found in the writings of Herbert W. Armstrong, the founder of the Worldwide Church of God which publishes the magazine, The Plain Truth.
In the Ambassador College Correspondence Course, Lesson 8, page 3, the following statement is made, "Most professing Christians think they were 'BORN AGAIN' when they 'accepted Christ' and were 'baptized.' From that time, supposedly, they received the Holy Spirit and have been living a NEW LIFE in Christ." He further states in his book, Which Day Is the Christian Sabbath?, "You shall be saved by GRACE, but God does lay down conditions. You can comply, and receive glorious GRACE - or you can rebel, and pay the DEATH PENALTY - for eternity! (p. 107).
Thus, while teaching salvation by grace, Armstrong has redefined grace to include conditions which one must keep in order to receive eternal life. By doing so, he has nullified the meaning of grace for grace is God's undeserving love which He pours out on mankind.
Dividing the Loyalty of the Follower
The fourth and final pattern found in the cults is the practice of dividing the loyalty of the follower between God and an organization or individual. Whereas the cult will convince its followers that they are an organization wholly devoted to God, the follower is taught to put his trust in the organization instead of God.
A clear example of this can be found in two issues of the Watchtower magazine released in 1979. The cover of the May 15th issue posed the question, "Is Your Trust in God or in a Man?" By the wording and the graphics on the cover, the writers were emphasizing one putting their trust in God. However, two months earlier, in the March 1st issue, the cover read, "Put Faith in a Victorious Organization."
So, as a Jehovah's Witness, in whom do you trust; God or the Watchtower Society? In all reality, the Watchtower for they are placed before the Witnesses as God's only true organization on earth (The Watchtower, July 1, 1973, p. 402). Thus, while the Witness believes he is trusting God, his loyalty has been divided between God and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.
Over and over again, this deceptive practice is found throughout the cults as the followers are told to put their faith in God alone but then are commanded to place their faith in the cult! The sad thing is that many cultists are so deceived that they don't see the division and feel that they are fully trusting God.
As you have read through this vital information on how to spot a cult, some of the patterns may have sounded similar to some of the practices in a group to which you belong. If so, you are involved in a group which is not based solidly on the Word of God. Due to that, you may have never been told to place your faith in Jesus alone who said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no man cometh unto the Father but by me" (John 14:6). If this is the case, we invite you to trust Him alone as your Lord and Savior.
On the other hand, you may have already made this important decision and are actively involved in a strong Christ-centered church. However, just because you are a believer, don't ever think that you could never be led astray and begin adopting some of these patterns in your own life. Remember, these patterns are presented in a very subtle fashion using Christian terminology and the Bible as a springboard!