Cults and False Religions

Cults, sects, and false religions. is a book type article on identifying cults and false religions and abusive “good” churches to stay away from.

Cults and False Religions

By David Cox

Let’s just define these for clarity. A church has to at least have a clear, scriptural plan of salvation. If the group, church, or principal leaders have doctrinal error on the doctrine of salvation, then it is a false religion. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, etc. are all false religions because they either do not believe in Jesus Christ as the unique and singular savior of souls, or because they add works to salvation. That correct, orthodox view of salvation has to be a key principle focus of the church to even begin to consider it as a good church.

Moreover there are churches that seem to have “lost their way” as far as the spiritual fight we are in, and they have taken the Don Quixote position of attacking windmills instead of the enemy. There is a saying that is an excellent guide here. “Major on majors, and minor on minors.” Salvation, holiness, evangelism, service, these types of things are majors. A church that minors on things that are not really very important, but they make them important because of some driving obsession with proving their point on minor matters is simply a bad church. At times this becomes difficult to discern the line. I believe it is very, or rather extremely important to stress the authority of God’s word, and to uphold and defend the inspiration of Scriptures. In my book, churches that think that holding up a KJV Bible answers all of that is just off base. Why? Because issues of importance WILL ALWAYS WITHOUT EXCEPTION HAVE A FOUNDATION IN SCRIPTURES, EXPOSITING KEY VERSES.

In this KJV only controversy, I fail to read in anybody’s writings what Scripture in my KJV Bible (yes I use only a KJV in English, and RV60 in Spanish) where it says, “Thus saith the Lord, thou shalt only use the KJV.” I read the preface to the reader from the translators, and they clearly refused a “reinspiration” of their work as being the end all of English Bible translations. They mention specifically that their work will need revision in the future. I never see Paul, Peter, John, nor Moses even hinting that they may have errors in their writings and work. My KJV Bible does not even hint at a “Majority Manuscript” as the concept that decides which manuscripts are correct. In fact God leaves the whole issue of differing manuscripts of the Bible “unmentioned”. God made the 10 Commandments he gave to Moses “set in stone”, and kept in the temple. Yet the people of Israel missed the point. They missed “what it said”, and worship what it was written on (a specific copy).

Can I just run wild for a minute? Maybe, just maybe God didn’t mention specific manuscript families because he figured we should be able to figure that out for ourselves? Maybe God’s balance is perfect, and we are focusing too much on issues that divide, and really are missing the forest for the trees? In other words, we place too much emphasis and preaching on manuscripts and all involved in that, and we stop preaching what are in those manuscripts! I am a pastor of a local church. As pastor I read out of the Bible every Sunday. Pick a good translation (KJV is fine for me, and I believe it is the one to use), and then make a dictation-declaration in the church that that is the official version for our church and leave mentioning it (what version we use and why it is better) every service alone!

Moreover I also see distinct cultic tendency in squashing the liberty of the believer on matters that the Bible has not clearly taken a position. What is not clearly dictated in Scripture, be extremely careful, cautious, and respect other good Christian men’s differing views.

Technically a heresy is a schism, or a movement to divide the brethren on the basis of a difference in doctrine or practice. The Scriptures do preach separation and holy (be ye separate) as an essential element in biblical Christianity. But here we must clarify that a heresy in terms of God is a doctrine that is just wrong, or if not wrong, is not clear, and then it is pressed as a litmus test of orthodoxy. The Judaizers from Jerusalem tried to use the Apostles’ credentials (“we have their approval and seal of orthodoxy”) which the Roman Catholic church and others now try to mimic. I see the KJV movement setting a KJV only position as the end all litmus test of orthodoxy, but Branch Davidians held the same position, and they are flaky to no end. In reality, wherever the current KJV movement has come from, it has to contend with old, deep roots in the Seventh Day Adventist Cult that has preached this very same doctrine for 100 years. Many cults preach the same KJV only position, and it has not protected them at all from error. I would also note that the NIV version has a specific lightness in attitude towards inspiration and translating the exact words of the original texts, so this lightness or sloppiness attracts many churches and people who are likewise not wanting exactness and fidelity to God’s Word in their religion. This means that the non-KJV people are not necessarily right or good people either. My point is that we have to stick to what God says and allows us, and when God is silent on an issue, we cannot be absolute and unyielding. We have to say what God says, take God’s position on all subjects, and be content to be quiet on what God hasn’t clearly revealed. Which Bible translation is absolute is an issue which I do not find settled in Scripture “absolutely” as some would have us believe. Go into any other culture, country, and language in the world that doesn’t speak English, and the whole issue becomes a non-issue.

Remember that the aspects that I will deal with below are not a check list that a church has to comply with all of them or even most of them in order to be “bad” or “unbiblical.” If a church has even a few, or just one which is really glaring, it is a bad church.

Some simple “tests” to try out on the group or church:

  1. Do the leaders and lay people “look”, act, and conduct themselves like Christ?
  2. Does the church, from leaders to lowest member, act concerned for the work of God that Christ and the apostles did? Are they consumed in that work?
  3. Does their concept of salvation follow exactly what the Bible teaches about salvation?
  4. Is the atmosphere of the church one of love, support, fellowship, helping one another?
  5. Is there a clear concept, teaching, respect, and honor of Christian liberty and the priesthood of each believer, or are things controled and “locked” down by the leadership of the church to absolutely what they dictate?
  6. After following their teachings for a while, are you closer to God, do you sin less, do you do biblically what you are supposed to be doing?

Although there are a lot of issues involved in “spiritual error”, these simple tests are a good indicator without getting complicated. If you cannot honestly say that ALL of them show your church to be like the NT, then you have a problem for prayer and further study.


Marks: 1. Unscriptural Authority

One of the key elements of recognizing a cult, sect, false religion, or even an abherent traditional church is that of having an unscriptural authority. Simply put, this can only go one of two ways, you place God’s Word as your scriptural authority, and you end up with something very close to a NT church, or you use some other authority (e.g. Book of Mormon, Watchtower, etc), or twist the Scriptures, and end up with something that is not biblical. We have to affirm strongly that you cannot go wrong (be unscriptural) if you follow Scripture, and you cannot be scriptural if you refuse Scripture and make alternatives. This would seem logical and a “no brainer” but so many people miss it altogether.

Having said that, it is very important to understand that every Christian based cult and abherent or abusive church will claim that they are 100% following Scripture. You task is to analyze them to see if it is true.

One of the keys to understanding if the group has an unbiblical authority is how they interpret Scripture, and both what they profess as their guidelines as well as what they actually use in daily practice should be examined.


Marks: 2. Manipulative power over Members

Probably ALL religious groups have some kind of influence or “power” over their members or else they would not exist. The main difference here between true Christianity (the good guys) and abusive cults (the bad guys) is the extent of that control.

True Christianity has a foundational platform of the authority of God’s Word residing in the Scripture (only the 66 books of the Bible), and any other influential power of the church, the group, the leaders, the teachings, etc. is ALWAYS less authoritative than this divine authority.

True Christianity will also respect the work of the Holy Spirit in each believer’s life. (Being a Baptist, we like the Baptist term “soul liberty”). This is not that you as a member are free to believe the way we tell you to believe, but each person has the ability (defended by the group) to have individual convictions which are based on Scripture (extrapolations from Scripture) by which they can guide their life. Here we have to take a swipe at our fellow “Baptists”, because most Baptist churches today have no concept of soul liberty, and follow the cult game plan of total control of their membership, and squashing all manner of independence or individual discernment of Scripture). Sad.

At the bottom of this are two elements: (1) the leadership doesn’t believe that God can really guide and direct individual believers. (2) the leadership believes that they are better than the members at discerning the will of God.

The second point may be true to some extent. But here we must resist this conclusion. First of all, the leadership is dedicated to learning the word of God, and discerning its application in our daily life. If they can/could not do this, then they shouldn’t be leaders. They are there for that.

But the problem goes deeper because actually, “book learning” is only 50% of discerning God’s will. Other factors weigh in heavily here. First and foremost is a long past history of obedience and fulfillment in doing God’s will. Secondly, there are the experiences of life which differentiate one Christian from another, and when we look at the reality of “good biblical advice”, most is not biblical. The problem is that we respect way too much those “ivory tower” giants of the faith which book publishers want to be exalted so that they can sell their books. Christian schools also enter here in the same vein.

The point is that a good “layman” that obeys God and tries to live his Christian life in a conscientious way is as good or better a counselor than some guy writing books or teaching in a Christian school. This is because he contends with life on a real level. Want to know what’s what about young girls and abortions? Don’t go to a Christian school and ask some teacher that teaches a class on the Christian family. Go to a pastor or minister who counsels daily young women that get pregnant. If the man is a good Christian and presses his belief in God into his ministry, his counsel will be wiser and better, and he will know the “ins and outs” of the issue.


Marks: 3. Deception instead of Truth

One of the clearest marks of a false church, or a corrupt church is that they don’t have a good grasp on the truth. This can take several forms, but always it is a despising of “truth”.

First of all I see this in preachers that use the Bible as a skipping point. They want to tell stories and jokes and similar stupid things that belong on a porch around the country store or gas station. They don’t belong in a church, in a pulpit on a Sunday morning. So they read a verse of the Bible, Noah went into the ark, and then use that to tell a Noah joke. This is not preaching the word of God; this is making fun of the authority of God’s Word. God never teaches nor rebukes by jokes. We see nowhere in the Bible where some man of God got up and told a joke. Jesus never did this, and nobody else did either. But today it has become “good preaching” unfortunately.

Secondly I see the truth being “bent” by leaders. Somehow saying the truth and defending the truth is no longer accepted as the way to do the work of God. What happened? Pastors need money for a new car so they take money out of the church’s coffers (thing that would get a member sent to jail for doing), and then claim some missionary has a need and takes a special offering. This kind of deception is just how Satan works, not God.

I have seen famous pastors “bend the truth” because they see some issue that they want to happen, and they cannot generate support for it through just telling their people so they get into the game of control of their people, using lies to influence, mold, and push their people.


ch51 Cowboys versus Shepherds – Leadership style comparison in the local church.

ch16 The Example of the Man of God – How a man of God leads by example.

–more to come later–

More Posts on Error-Abuse Issues

Pastor David Cox is a missionary. See my ministry updates here.