In very recent history, the tragic mass suicide of the People’s Temple in Guyana, the horrific flaming destruction of the Branch Davidians in Texas, the self-destruction of the members of Heaven’s Gate in California, the deadly collapse of the Solar Temple in Quebec are stark reminders of sects or cults that have spun out of control and have exited in bizarre and extremely tragic circumstances.
Cults or sects are religious movements, churches, or other organisations that have all or some of the following characteristics:
1. Cults and sects usually claim to be biblically-based, Christian organisations. For example, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) maintains that it is a Christian church centered on Christ and His teachings. The Christian Science church also often refers to itself as a Christian movement.
2. All cults deny or redefine any or all essential Christian doctrines. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for instance, absolutely deny the deity of Jesus Christ.
3. Sects may adhere officially to essential Christian teachings while exhibiting other characteristics of cults or sects. The International Church of Christ, for example, adheres to traditional views about God and Christ, but members regard their movement as the only one proclaiming the true message of salvation today.
4. Cults and sects usually claim to be led by divinely inspired leaders. They usually believe their leaders are capable of receiving direct revelation from God or have a special, inspired understanding of the Bible. One example is Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder and leader of the Unification Church. His followers regard him as “Lord of the Second Advent,” a position equal to that of Christ. The LDS believes its president is a “living prophet, seer, and revelator” who can receive direct revelation from God (Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonisim, Vol. 3 [New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992], p. 1126).
5. Cults and sects usually claim to possess a new and inspired written scripture that supplements or supersedes the authority of the Bible. Christian Science teaches that Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures is an inspired adjunct to the Bible. Likewise, Scientologists regard the writings of L. Ron Hubbard as the works of a genius who discovered the keys to understanding life and death.
6. Cults and sects usually claim to be the only true (or the most true) church in the world. Full salvation is said to be found only by membership in the movement. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for instance, regard all other religious organizations as devoid of truth. In their view, only their Watchtower Bible and Tract Society has the truth that leads to eternal life. The LDS teaches that eternal life (exaltation) can be achieved only by being a baptized member of the LDS church.
None of this is new! Even Paul was concerned with the Galatians that they would be led astray!
Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you. My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you! Galatians 4:17-20.
He observed that they had lost their joy and were observing special days and months and seasons and years. And the dead give-a-way is that they want to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them.
The difference between Paul, an Apostle, and the various sect leaders is that Paul never pointed anyone to himself… it was always towards Jesus Christ. His heart was motivated by love and he made himself a servant to all.
So what can you do if you come across people who are in a cult or sect?
1. Have a clear understanding of the biblical basis of historic Christian doctrine. Focus particularly on biblical teachings about the nature of God, the person and work of Jesus Christ, the plan of salvation, and life after death.
2. Take the initiative in the witnessing encounter and seek to develop a friendly relationship with the person in the cult or sect. Remember, you are sharing Christ with a person, not just debating a movement’s doctrine.
3. Listen carefully to determine how committed the person is to the cult or sect and its teachings.
4. Establish the sole authority of the Bible. Be aware of how cults and sects may misuse the Bible, often quoting verses out of context or using symbolic meanings.
5. Define all terms clearly. Remember, cults and sects often redefine standard Christian or biblical terms to accommodate their preconceived doctrines. Explain carefully what you mean by the words you use and ask the person in the cult or sect to do the same.
6. Focus on basic issues and do not get sidetracked with secondary issues or defending your denomination.
7. Share your testimony of faith in Jesus Christ. Describe your salvation experience and relationship with Christ in personal terms. Center on God’s grace as shown in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Avoid emphasizing emotional feelings, but focus on your assurance of eternal life through Christ.
8. Explain carefully the biblical plan of salvation. Emphasize the following points:
a. God’s desire is that all people have eternal life
(see Romans 6:23b; John 3:16; 10:10; 14:3).
b. People have a problem, which is sin
(see Romans 3:23; 6:23a).
c. God’s only provision for sin is Jesus Christ
(see John 1:1,14; Romans 4:25; 1 Peter 3:18).
d. Each person must repent of his or her sin and by faith receive Jesus as his or her Lord and Savior
(see John 1;12; Acts 3:19; 26:20; Eph. 2:8-9).
9. Pray earnestly, be patient, and trust the Holy Spirit to lead you in your witnessing to people in cults and sects.
Today, more than any other day, we need to encourage one another in developing our relationship with Jesus Christ, read the Bible diligently, understand what we believe and why we believe, and guard our hearts and minds from personalities that would lead us astray.
Author’s Note: Components of this blog were directly derived or copied from various sources including 4Truth.net