Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., Doug.Groothuis@denverseminary.edu
How to Spot a Cult
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.—Colossians 2:8.
I. Discerning Truth from Error
A. Christ, the church, and the truth
1. Jesus is Truth Incarnate (John 14:1-6)
2. The church is the pillar and foundation of the truth
3. The truth about God, salvation, ethics, and history is found in the Bible (2 Timothy 3:15-16; 2 Peter 1:20-21)
B. The challenge of theological error
1. The wide road to destruction (Matthew 7:14-14)
2. Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:20-28)
3. Being rooted in the truth (1 John 4:1-6)
II. What is a Cult?
A. Historically: groups that split off from an established religious body
Christian cults: significant deviations from Christian orthodoxy
B. Scaling the language barrier (Walter Martin)
Cults use Christian vocabulary without using our dictionary (the Bible’s meaning of these terms)
C. Theologically: teachings deny key orthodox beliefs about God and salvation
1. Source of authority: the Bible alone (sola scriptura) or the Bible plus another source?
a. Mormonism: Book of Mormon,
b. Jehovah’s Witnesses: Watchtower Society pronouncements
c. Christian Science: Science and Health with a Key to the Scriptures
d. Other Mind science groups: Unity, Religious Science
2. Understanding of human nature
a. Cults always demote God and promote humans (Walter Martin), thus denying the need for the Cross of Christ
b. Cults deny total depravity and original sin (Mark 7:21-23; Romans 3:9-20)
3. Redefining the person and work of Jesus Christ
a. Cults diminish the work of Christ for our salvation (Galatians 1:6-11)
b. Deny his deity (John 1; Colossians 2:9)
c. Deny his full atonement for sins (Romans 5:1-8)
d. Deny his physical resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-8)
4. Cults deny the gospel of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:6-11; 2 Corinthians 11:14)
a. The gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-8; John 3:16-17; Romans 5:1-5; Ephesians 2:8-9)
b. Faith plus good works or mystical experience
Mormons: We do all we can—and God makes up the rest
c. Salvation is found only in Christ (Acts 4:12) and received only by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9)
III. Reaching Those in Cults
A. Know what you believe and why you believe it (Romans 12:1-2)
B. Be prepared for spiritual warfare (Acts 13:1-12; Ephesians 6:10-19; 1 Peter 5:8-9)
C. Be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8)
D. Treat the cultist as a human being needing salvation, not on object for evangelism
E. Discern the cultists beliefs and gently challenge them with biblical truth and apologetics (1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults. Several editions.
Gordon Lewis, Confronting the Cults (P&R Publishing).
Robert Bowman, Orthodoxy and Heresy (Baker, 1992).
Ron Rhodes, The Challenge of Cults and New Religions (Zondervan, 2001).
Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality (Tyndale) A classic on living the Christian life biblically. I have read this many times.
Magazine: The Christian Research Journal. See www.equip.org
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