What Is a Cult? And How Do I Spot One?

By skippyjon from imcreator

By skippyjon from imcreator

“The end is here!” “Drink the Kool-Aid!” There’s even a cult that claims that they’ve been commissioned to kill demons and that their leader is the only one who hears from God. Are the alarms ringing yet? If they are, you might know how to spot a cult.

It has and always will be incredibly important to know what you believe. With the chaos in the world that seems to only loom nearer, we’re all faced with choices every day that challenge our faith and how we act or make decisions, spiritually and intellectually. It’s easy to simply find a group of well-polished people with like-minded beliefs and adhere to their doctrines. They look like a tightly-knit community, never lonely, always united, but what runs in the undercurrent? Is the fruit of their gospel good? Do they stick to the basic tenets of biblical Christianity?

Here are 7 ways to spot a cult*:

  1. Who Is Jesus?
    • Does the group believe that Jesus is God or do they believe he is just a man? Is Jesus the only way to God or does the group advocate otherwise? Do they believe that Jesus’ work of salvation was left unfinished? See below for basic Christian beliefs
  2. Does the group encourage critical thinking?
    • In 1 John 4:1 we’re encouraged to “test the spirits,” but a cult will most likely tell you not to challenge their doctrine, particularly that of their leader
  3.  Does the group tend to isolate itself from others or from family?
    • Some cults twist Luke 14:26 to get members to cut off from their biological families, old friends, or from church unity. In Mark 7 and Ephesians 6, believers are urged to honor their parents in love and integrity. And rather than isolation, conflict resolution and interdependent confrontation is supported by the Word (Matthew 18:15-17).
  4. Do they contradict Scripture or basic biblical tenets?
    • This one should be a breeze, but cults with very zealous leaders can be very convincing. In the epistles, we’re cautioned to be wary of false teachers with fine-sounding arguments or philosophies. Are the fruits of their works good? (Galatians 5)
  5. Is shaming and shunning used to conform members?
    • When someone leaves the group/congregation, are they shunned, shamed or cut off by members? Or are they encouraged to do God’s will?
  6. Is there inappropriate loyalty to the group’s leadership?
    • Are boundaries crossed? Are members always encouraged to follow the leader’s call, rather than the call of God? Does the word of the leader take more precedence than the Word of God? Colossians 2:19 asserts that we are first loyal to God. All other authority is submissive to God and His Word.
    • Some cults even require or encourage sinful behavior to demonstrate loyalty. 2 Peter 2 clearly demonstrates what the Lord has said about inappropriate behavior.
  7. Is there a culture of control in the group?**
    • Cults tend to implement various forms of control (physical, psychological, spiritual or emotional) to varying degrees. Punishment, fear-based leadership, and coercion create a walking-on-eggshells environment where freedom is limited. What members say, how they dress, what they read or watch… it’s all monitored!

**Thanks for your input, Nolan!

Is there anything else you’ve witnessed that could be added to the list?

This Week’s Giveaway!

We’re also giving away a FREE chart from Christianity, Cults, and Religions that easily displays biblical Christianity in a simple layout. For you, your friends, or family, this chart conveniently shows the basic beliefs and history of Christianity from the popular side-by-side comparison:

Basic Christianity

*The list is not extensive and there may be more key ways to discern a cult. Not all cults or non-Christian religions may fit into this mold exactly.


FREE “What is a Cult?” eChart

This “What is a Cult?” eChart was written by cults expert and former co-host of “Bible Answer Man” radio program, Dr. Ron Rhodes. This fact sheet gives quick answers for Christians to these questions:

  1. What is a cult? How is it different from a religion?
  2. What are the central beliefs of Christianity?
  3. What are some of the most common cults of Christianity.
  4. 3 Christian beliefs that most cult groups reject.
  5. Scripture verses about the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and salvation.

Dr. Ron Rhodes is the president and founder of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries. This free Bible chart is from his pamphlet 10 Keys to Witnessing to the Cults.

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2 Thoughts on “What Is a Cult? And How Do I Spot One?

  1. Thank you for the article and chart. Both are short, sweet and to the point.

    One quick comment, if i may. It might be helpful to suggest a definition for “cult”. Having grown up in a christian community that i now consider to be a cult, this is the definition that i formed during my (still on-going) deprogramming process.

    CULT, a community where the culture is controlled by a head.

    community … network of relationships.
    culture … how people live.
    control … effect of exerted force. forces may be physical, spiritual, emotional, psychological, etc.
    head … a few people, or position that holds a few people.

    This definition allowed me to make several mental breakthroughs.

    1) Other religions have “cults”. “Cults” are not just a “christian” phenomenon.
    2) Other types of communities have “cults”. Business, technology, health, fitness, education, etc.
    3) In “cults”, control comes in many different shapes and sizes. Some “cults” exert stronger forms of control than others. I say i came from a “weak cult”; meaning the control methods were lesser in strength.
    4) In “cults”, people are prevented from “being themselves”. Only if you naturally “fit the cookie cutter” are you allowed to “be yourself”.

    Anyways, thanks for the post.

    • Hi Nolan! Thanks for the input–that is very helpful information. It’s really important to know that cults don’t have to fall under religious categories as well and control is one of the main facets of what makes a cult.

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