Exposing Deception and Discerning Cults

Jesus warned about false prophets and cults

When Jesus taught on the end times, He warned us to beware of false teachers who could gain a large following, thus starting new cults. Jesus twice emphasized that “many” will respond to false leaders (v. 5, 11). False teaching will accelerate (v. 11) as the gospel accelerates (v. 14).
  1. 4Take heed that no one deceives you. 5For many will come in My name, saying, “I am the Christ,” and will deceive many11Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many
  2. 14This gospel…will be preached in all the world… then the end will come. (Matthew 24:4-14)

Jesus said that “many” false prophets will come, and that “many” will follow false teachers in the end times. There will be a great increase both in the number of cults and in the number of people who join them.
A cult is a group that rejects historic Christianity and has an unusual devotion to one leader whose set of beliefs is not found in Scripture (as affirmed in historic Christianity). Members of a cult sees themselves as the only ones with the truth and they see the larger Body as apostate.
We must both warn and rescue those who are involved in false teaching and practices. It is easier to prevent someone from joining a cult than it is to get them out afterwards. Part of the forerunner ministry is to warn and rescue loved ones involved in cults. False teachers do not hold to the main and plain doctrines of Scripture. Historic Christianity is defined by statements from the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Westminster Confession

Seven characteristics of cults

#1 Opposing critical thinking
versus letting people think for themselves. Cults: Their members must accept what the cult believes without challenging their doctrines. The Bible: We must all examine each teaching that we hear in the light of Scripture. Do not believe a teaching that you cannot see with your eyes in your Bible. Think for yourself.
#2 Isolating members and penalizing them for leaving

versus helping people do God’s will in their life. Cults:
They isolate their people and then reject any who leave. Rejection, shunning, and warnings of judgement are given. People are taught to make lifelong commitments to the group and/or to seek permission to join another ministry. The Bible:
A leader’s first concern should be for the good of the people he is leading. Leaders are to help people succeed in following God’s will for their own lives, regardless of whether it means joining another ministry.
#3 Emphasizing special doctrines outside Scripture

versus loyalty to Scripture. Cults:
Cults brainwash their people and emphasize the special revelations of their “anointed” leader who presents himself as having unique insights that no one else has. The Bible:
We must emphasize the supremacy and infallibility of Scripture as the final authority on truth.
#4 Seeking inappropriate loyalty to their leaders versus connecting people to Jesus. Cults: Cults require loyalty to the leaders first. The Bible:

Our first loyalty and connection is to Jesus.
#5 Dishonouring the family unit versus insisting on the biblical priority of the family unit. Cults: Children are taught to be more loyal to the leaders than to their parents. Women are to be more loyal to the leaders than to their husbands, and husbands are taught to accept this as normal. The Bible: The first relational priority of commitment is to one’s marriage, children, and parents.
#6 Crossing biblical boundaries of behaviour versus sexual purity and personal ownership. Cults:
Cults emphasize special revelations that allow their leaders to cross biblical boundaries in the areas of immorality and finances. They usually insist on owning the money and property of members who “join the community.” The Bible: Sexual purity and private ownership of finances and property. In Acts 4, the disciples laid their money and property at the apostles’ feet as a one-time, free-will offering, not as a permanent economic arrangement.
#7 Separation from the Church versus a culture of honour towards the whole Church. Cults: Cults criticize and exclude the larger Body of Christ and claim to be the only ones truly saved. They separate from the wider Church with an elite spirit, believing that they alone have a special calling and status with God. The Bible:
We love the whole Church that is so dear to Jesus. We are to cultivate a culture of honour in our midst that promotes and blesses other ministries without criticizing, along with a spirit of inclusion without elitism. We are to bless the virtues of all ministries, regardless of their deficiencies and without needing to point out their differences in ministry focus, style, and standards of excellence. We all have deficiencies in ministry, but we need other ministries to show forth the fullness of Christ to our city and nation.

Christians are exhorted to test the spirits, or to discern the spirit that is behind a teaching ministry. We are called to test all doctrines and ministries that we are open to receive from. We must challenge each teaching that we hear in the light of Scripture.

1Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)

We must raise awareness of the dangers of cults with their deceptive practices and dangerous psychological pressure techniques such as brainwashing.

We can all avoid deception by loving the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:10) and by growing in our relationship to Jesus, holding fast to Him as the Head of the Body. Practical ways to hold fast to the Head include regular, prayerful Bible reading, setting our hearts to obey the Lord, and staying in relationship with others with a teachable spirit—a spirit that receives the truth.

10…all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. (2 Thessalonians 2:10)

19…holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God. (Col. 2:19)


The following link is to a 72 page document on the subject Cults by John Edmiston

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