The Christian Broadcasting Network

Spiritual Growth

How Do I Recognize a Cult?

By -- Practically every cult has certain characteristics that can tell the careful observer that something is wrong.

For instance, what does a group think about Jesus? Jesus Christ is God, Lord of all, the only source of salvation. Invariably, a cult will put something else on an equal footing with Christ. It will have a ritual that is equal to Christ, or it will have a doctrine equal to Christ, or it will have a leader who is equal to Christ. In other words, even if it acknowledges Christ as Savior, it will say that you need something else before you can get into heaven. Cults teach that salvation comes through Christ, plus their little unique way. Some cults do not acknowledge Christ at all. They may make Him coequal with their religious teachers or with certain great men of history. The quickest way to recognize a cult is by its treatment of Jesus.

Second, cults frequently attempt to instill fear into their followers. The followers are taught constantly that salvation comes only through the cult. "If you leave us, you will lose your salvation," they say.

The third area has to do with the exaltation of the leader of the cult. Cults often center around a man or woman who is trying to gain power, money, or influence from manipulating people. This appears to be the case in the Unification church with Sun Myung Moon. In the Children of God, Moses David Berg is an autocratic leader. In the People's Temple, Jim Jones drew attention to himself and asked his followers to die with him. A true leader who serves Jesus Christ has one goal, and that is to exalt and manifest Jesus. When someone says he has unique insight into God or is the special one that God has anointed to reach the world, you are dealing with cultic behavior.

A final mark of a cult is the unwillingness of the leaders to let the people grow up. A true shepherd will do everything he can to bring Christian people to maturity as quickly as he can. He will not seek to avoid necessary teaching, nor will he try to keep people from maturity. Many cults perpetuate spiritual dependence so that their followers lose the ability to make independent, rational decisions. Often techniques of brainwashing are used to create robotlike behavior.

Although there are other marks of cultic behavior, these seem to be the ones that stand out.


Mormons are some of the most exemplary human beings, especially in regard to their behavior patterns and their adherence to the fundamental values of our society. But their religious beliefs are, to put is simply, wrong. They believe that an angel named Moroni left some gold tablets in upstate New York and that these tablets were discovered by a man named Joseph Smith. From these tablets, Joseph Smith "translated" the Book of Mormon, which is the foundation upon which Mormonism is built. Mormons also consider two other books, Doctrine and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price, to be divinely inspired.

Mormonism differs from biblical Christianity in several areas. Mormons do not believe, for example, that salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Mormons must work their way to heaven. (B. R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City:1958), p. 191.)

Mormonism teaches that God is not the only deity and that we all have the potential of becoming gods. (Ibid., p. 576.) (Remember that Satan's fall came about because he wanted to be like God.) God, according to Mormons, is not just Spirit but has "a body of flesh and bones as tangible as a man's." (Doctrine and Covenants, 130:22.) They teach, "As we are, he was. As he is, we shall become." (Joseph Smith, "The King Follett Discourse," p. 9.) There has been constant revision of Mormon doctrine over the years, as church leaders have changed their minds on a number of subjects including polygamy, which was once sanctioned by the church.

In summary, the Mormon church is a prosperous, growing organization that has produced many people of exemplary character. But when it comes to spiritual matters, the Mormons are far from the truth.


Jehovah's Witnesses believe, essentially, that to gain salvation you must witness for Jehovah; you must go out on the streets and proclaim salvation in Jehovah. They are different from Christians in that they believe Jesus Christ is only one of many gods and that He is a created being. They translate John 1:1 as, "In the beginning was the word...and the word was a god." The Greek says, instead, "And the word was God" (John 1:1).

Because Jehovah's Witnesses give allegiance only to Jehovah, they do not pledge allegiance to the flag, they do not vote, they do not serve in armed forces, and they do not hold public office. They do not celebrate holidays or birthdays. Another unique teaching prohibits them from taking blood transfusions.

Jehovah's Witnesses originally taught that the world would end in 1914. It obviously did not. They also taught that there were only 144,000 people who were going to be saved by going to heaven. When Jehovah's Witnesses membership went past 144,000, they said they were the meek and were going to inherit the earth.

A major problem with the tenets of Jehovah's Witnesses is that there is never an assurance of salvation. In Christianity, a person can know that he is saved by trusting in Jesus. Jehovah's Witnesses believe that salvation comes through good works, so they must work continuously, without ever really knowing whether they will be saved. Many of their other doctrines are not biblical either.


In one way or another each of these cults focuses on the "universal consciousness" concept that human beings --

  • are part of a vast, timeless consciousness,
  • are ultimately divine,
  • will live forever in various forms,
  • can communicate with the dead or various spirits in the universe through reincarnation,
  • and can receive power through psychic and, in some instances, bodily exercise to transcend nature, understand mysteries, and affect their own destinies or the lives of those around them.

These groups, in the name of "research and enlightenment," "psychic research," "transcendental meditation," "yoga," etc., are actually not in touch with some great "God consciousness" or psychic power, but Satan and demons.

The Greek word psuche is translated "soul," and from that we get the term psychic. Most of these things deal with psychic, or soulish, phenomena. When people touch the true God, they do so through the human spirit. God does not work on the soul of man but the spirit.

The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, said the psuchikos man, the soulish man, will not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him (see I Corinthians 2:14). Mind control, the Edgar Cayce teachings, and the new age movement all appeal to the soulish man, because they do not require repentance. They do not require being born again. A concept in most of these cults is that if a person gains sufficient knowledge, he can dominate and control the events of the world because he is part of god. He can manipulate god, because he is god. He is part of the universal consciousness, and as he opens himself up to progressive revelations, he in turn is lifted to higher and higher levels of understanding. As he advances, they teach, he gains authority over himself, his body, and those around him.

We must remember that the soulish realm is the realm of demons. Demons can and often do enter into this psychic area. The people who are in touch with the dead, in touch with "the other world," are not tapping into some universal consciousness. They are in touch with demons. Demons lurk behind the Hindu and other oriental religions, as well as behind the mind control teachings. As people try to exercise their soulish powers and manipulate others, they are trying to project themselves into this world of demonic power. They are not asking for a savior. They are not asking for forgiveness. Instead, they are asking for human power, for expansion of human psychic potential, and therein is their downfall. Those who stay with these beliefs long enough get deeper and deeper into them. They will sooner or later be in touch with, and perhaps even possessed by, demons.

The Bible does not tell us to get involved in sharpening our psychic powers. Such things are not of God. God will give people the wisdom they need through the Bible. And through the Holy Spirit, He will give them the power they need to live the life they are supposed to live. This inordinate seeking of knowledge about the future, the inordinate seeking of power over other people, the inordinate seeking of enhancement of human potential, is dangerous. Just entering into such activity is bad. I have heard of people who have started to levitate, and some who have had horrible faces appear to them in the night. All such things are symbols and signs that these people are in touch with demons.

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