My first run in with alternative *christian* religion was as a brand new believer. I was hanging out with my soon to be husband; Tim and my sister. The door rang and a couple young men introduced themselves as members of a church, something to do with saints and Jesus Christ. I excitedly let them in. Tim was motioning ‘no’ to me but I didn’t understand why.
I had really no clue that they were mormons- or even what mormons believed. We sat down and I was hearing them out. Tim, of course, knew a lot that I didn’t and started grilling them with tough questions. I was just wondering why he was being rude to these nice young christian guys.
After they left Tim explained that they went door to door and present themelves as a form of christianity but what they really believe is completely contrary to biblical christian doctrine. When you get to the higher levels you find out about the planets to be populated, becoming a God yourself, and of course- the special underwear that you need to wear.
That event and many other run-ins peaked my interest in cults, especially those that are based off of a false Christ- like the J.W.’s and Mormons. In case you think I am being narrow minded or whatever- consider this. Both of these two religions reject the inherit diety of Jesus Christ. Mormons say Jesus attained godhood through obeying his own gospel. J.W.’s reject that Jesus was God at all.
One young J.W. women I talked to extensively revealed to me that her hope was basically to survive the apocalypse without sinning and then she might be admitted into heaven. She wasn’t one of the supposed 144,000 special chosen ones who get a pass. It sounded desperately sad to me. Sad and dead wrong. “For God does not show favoritism.” Romans 2:11
I honestly could go on and on about the horribly false teachings within just these two groups but I won’t. The point is- there are many false teachers, religions, and dangerous cults out there and we need to have a basic knowledge of them. These false religions are so dangerous because they aggresively recruit. They prey on people’s inherent need to belong and find answers. Then once you are in they exercise a growing level of control over every aspect of your life. And finally and worst of all- they are leading people to hell with their false promise of exclusive salvation.
Salvation isn’t complicated. It goes something like this- the Holy Spirit starts to stir your heart and woo you. You realize you need forgiveness and saving. You believe and repent of your sins. Boom. Saved. If it sounds too simple- well check out the thief on the cross. Luke 23 records this un-named thief crying out, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” Jesus replied, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” All the thief had done was to cry out, as an act of faith, and he was saved. No time for penence. No religious affiliation. No tithing. Just a desperate plea and simple faith. And that was enough.
We get problems when people don’t accept that salvation is truly grace working through our faith; God’s provision meeting our desperate need. When people add in hoops to jump through, ‘special extra-biblical revelations’, or even/especially the law. Throw in a charismatic (nutjob) leader and his *exclusively correct* interpretation of scripture and you have all the makings of a cult.
The first church Tim and I went to was a non-demoninational church that had gotten caught up in the ‘prosperity’ gospel. When the congregation was encouraged to ‘sow generous seeds’ with credit cards we realized it was time to switch churches.
There are no perfect churches, because they are filled with imperfect people, of course. But a church should be a safe place to grow in your faith with other believers. Churches should be like a family. And the leadership should be approachable and open to criticism. Most importantly, the scripture needs to be taught by a Holy Spirit led Pastor who genuinely cares for those under his care.
It angers me that people seeking God would be so twarthed, hurt, manipulated or used. So many have been wounded, brainwashed, isolated, and even killed- such as in the Jonestown massacre.
Our best defense is certainly asking the Holy Spirit for guidance. Jesus promised to send him to help, comfort, teach, advocate, and guide us into the truth always. John 14:16 The Holy Spirit actually indwells every believer and is the down payment, the promise of our salvation. Jesus told us that we don’t need anyone to tell us how to think or feel or make our decisions. We can have direct access to the Heaveny Father and be enabled to understand scripture for ourselves because we are indwelt with the Spirit of God himself. ““But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth…” John 16:13 That promise is for ALL believers. Not a select few who want to gain power over others.
Here is a list of ten warning signs for a cult from http://www.cultwatch.com/cultic-warning-signs.html
- Single charismatic leader.
- People always seeming constantly happy and enthusiastic. Especially if you discover that they have been told to act that way for the potential new recruits.
- Instant friends.
- If you are told who you can or cannot talk to or associate with.
- They hide what they teach.
- Say they are the only true group, or the best so why go anywhere else.
- Hyped meetings, get you to meetings rather than share with you.
- Experiential rather than logical.
- Asking for money for the next level.
- Some cults travel door to door during times when women are home alone. They, and this is rather sexist, think that women are easier to recruit and once they have the woman then it will be easier to snare the husband or partner.
- Saying that they have to make people pay for it because otherwise they will not appreciate it. This is of course a very silly reason, plenty of people are able to appreciate things which they did not pay for.
- They do not allow their teachings or practices to be questioned. If you question, then automatically the group assumes that something is wrong with you. It can never be the case that anything is wrong with the group’s practices or teachings. Often they will try to shut you down by accusing you of having a “bad attitude”.
- They will push you to obey by using guilt. They will demand complete “submission” to the group, its leaders and its teachings. They will do this by making you feel absolutely rotten about yourself. They will ridicule you and attack any weakness you might have (or invent weaknesses you might have if they can’t find any). Their goal is to break your will by causing you mental anguish.
Interestingly, a lot of pyramind MLM companies have a lot of the same charactersitics. Not all cults are religions. But most are, because people do have a driving need to find truth, answers, connection and God. Even if a church doesn’t necessarily meet the criteria to be a cult, there can still be spiritual abuse going on. If there is coercion of any kind, run the other way. If your church is becoming more legalist and less about grace, run the other way. If you feel major warning tugs in your spirirt, run the other way. Abuse could also come in the form of an unhealthy, predatory relationship between a mentor and impressionable believer.
Christianity is primarily a personal religion. You can’t be saved by belonging to a group. Your pastor can’t save you. It is that personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ that saves you. Church is just a wonderful added bonus (or should be!) to help you find that sense of community and grow in your faith.
I think ultimately the goal of a cult is to steal that. To steal the joy and freedom that is available in Jesus Christ. To ensnare people to a counterfeit faith that destroys their lives and ultimately leads them to hell.
I am so sorry if you have been hurt by a religious group. But please don’t give up on seeking God. Many people, claiming to speak for Him, have horribly represented Him. The Bible says that God is love and that Jesus is the way. People let us down, but God does not.