Unwittingly my parents enrolled me in a cult when I was six. It wasn’t until the start of my senior year in college that I came to faith in Christ and escaped the clutches of the cult.
Every religion has cults. A cult is a group that deviates from the fundamental teaching of that religion.
Even cults have cults. One major cult is called Mormonism, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or LDS. There is a Mormon cult called the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or, RLDS.
Christian cults are groups that deviate from one or more of the core teachings of the Bible, often called the fundamentals of the faith.
Different people have different lists of the fundamentals. But nearly all agree that the fundamentals include: 1) the full deity and perfect humanity of Christ, 2) His substitutionary death on the cross for our sins, 3) the Trinity, 4) justification or salvation by faith alone apart from works, 5) the virgin birth of Christ, 6) the Bible as without error, 7) the Bible as the only book that God has given, and 8) the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Many of the cults tend to deny #1, #4, and #7.
Number 4 is tricky. A cult will directly and unambiguously deny that salvation is by faith alone, apart from works. Yet even most Evangelicals do not believe in salvation by faith alone, apart from works, though they say that they do. As a result, such people and groups are not identified as cults, even though they deny one of the major fundamentals.
I worked with Cru for four years in college ministry. I remember once I had an appointment with a young man to talk about the Christian faith. I met him in the student center. As luck would have it, two Mormon missionaries in their short sleeved white shirts, ties, and name plates that said Elder So and So were only about ten feet away. The young man I was meeting leaned over and said, “Those are Mormon missionaries. Mormonism is a cult. I used to be a Mormon, but then I saw the truth and got out. Thank God I did.”
I told him I agreed. Then I asked him what church he attended now. “Oh. I’m a Jehovah’s Witness.”
From one cult to another. Sadly, escaping one cult does not guarantee that one will find and embrace the truth.
The cults are more evangelistic than most born-again people are. In fact, sharing their faith is often a requirement of their making it to heaven. Jehovah’s Witnesses go door to door in pairs. They are required to give a monthly written report of their preaching, both door to door and online.
Mormons do their evangelism a bit differently. All able-bodied Mormon young men between 19 and 26 are expected to go on a two-year mission, which might be somewhere in the U.S. or some other country. It is not required. But it is highly encouraged. Young Mormon women are expected to serve for 18 months.
Of course, all Mormons are encouraged to share their beliefs with their non-Mormon friends.
Most would say that there are four leading Christian cults today—all founded in the 1800s: the Mormons (LDS), the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs), Christian Scientists, and Seventh Day Adventists (SDAs).
The Mormons were founded by Joseph Smith. Today the authority resides in their twelve apostles. In addition to the Bible, Mormons regard the following as inspired books on par with the Bible: The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses were founded by Charles Taze Russell. They have their own translation of the Bible, The New World Translation. All publications from the Watch Tower Society are from God.
Mary Baker Eddy founded the Christian Science religion. Her major work was Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (though much of it was apparently plagiarized). Followers go to Christian Science reading rooms.
Ellen White and her husband James started the Seventh Day Adventists. Today the leaders are called the General Conference. Among her writings was the book Steps to Christ. There are over 1.5 million pages of writings found in the online archives of the SDA.
The major false teachings of each group include:
Mormons: Jesus and God the Father were once men. We can become Gods. Salvation is by faith plus obedience to God’s commands. They believe in degrees of salvation.
JWs: Jesus is not God. God is not a Trinity. Blood transfusions are discouraged. Salvation is by repentance and faith, followed by a life of good works
Christian Science: The physical world is an illusion. Reality is purely spiritual. Disease is a mental disorder, not a physical one. God is “Father-Mother God.” Jesus is not God, but the most perfect man. Salvation is deliverance from delusion and entrance into Christian Science.
SDA: Worship must be on the Sabbath (Saturday). Everyone is unconscious after death (soul sleep). Those who fail to obtain salvation will cease to exist (annihilationism), They promote vegetarianism. Salvation is by works, and who will be saved will be determined by “the investigative judgment” of works at the final judgment. Assurance of salvation before the judgment would be presumptuous.
I have four suggestions on how to avoid being misled by a cult:
- Know and hold to the fundamental Christian truths.
- Only accept the Bible as inspired, as God’s Word (2 Tim 3:16-17).
- Go regularly to a solid Bible-teaching church (Heb 10:23-25).
- Do not try to engage the cults unless and until you become a mature believer who is quite well grounded in the faith.