“You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so
that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall
from your own steadfastness” (2 Timothy 4:3).
A number of cults exist within what is broadly considered the Christian church. Not all are easily recognizable. They vary in degrees of cohesiveness and legalism. The first thing to look for is exclusiveness; the church/organization and leader are followed regardless of some questionable teachings.
Many devoted believers who love the Lord and are seeking genuine fellowship and spiritual growth may find themselves unwittingly involved in a church that actually restricts the Holy Spirit from ministering to them. A sort of slow brainwashing, an indoctrination takes place with some teachings that are not biblically sound. Most of these dear folks are sincere in their quest to serve the Lord, but are sincerely deceived and being misled.
In time, church attendance and group functions and anything related to the church/group become a huge priority. Slowly but surely and sometimes suddenly, close friends, other believers and family members are neglected, choosing the church or group instead. By deliberately avoiding those who do not follow their church’s teachings, these people think they are being true to the Lord, but they are actually doing the opposite.
This is especially true if the church came together under seemingly extraordinary events, which the congregants feel were God-directed. We must remember Satan can orchestrate very attractive and amazing situations that can deceive people. The world has many beautiful church buildings that came to be by the dedicated hard work of the congregants, when so many things seemed to just fall into place giving birth to a new church. That is all well and good if it is the God of the Bible who is exalted, and not the pastor and his contrived unbiblical ideas. (Consider the beautiful churches that the Mormons have built, and the Catholics, etc.)
Many fascinating storylines can be heard on how particular groups and churches came to be. Some of them are God-directed and some are not. The test of authenticity is sound doctrine, and not divisive teachings endorsed only by the church leader regardless of how exceptionally nice that person can be and how nice the congregants are.
In such cases a genuine personal relationship with Jesus Christ turns into allegiance to the pastor and the church (even when some of the teachings are false and problematic). Church attendance, group activities, reading and “studying” the designated Bible chosen by the pastor takes the place of an authentic relationship and walk with the Lord God Almighty.
What makes it difficult for those who have become entangled in such situations is that some of the teachings they are exposed to are very sound, so they think all is well but they are weak in their understanding of Bible interpretation making it possible for false teachings to seep in, contaminating the truth of God’s holy Word.
One thing for sure, those who are participating in such an environment with these dynamics will rarely, if ever, recognize and admit that they have become part of cult. And trying to convince them that they have crossed the line from walking with the Lord to walking with indoctrinated teachings of their church leader is a daunting, if not an impossible task.
Cult identification experts, Janja Lalich, Ph.D. and Michael D. Langone, Ph.D. state, “Concerted efforts at influence and control lie at the core of cultic groups, programs, and relationships. Many members, former members, and supporters of cults are not fully aware of the extent to which members may have been manipulated, exploited, even abused.”
The following is a list of social-structural, social-psychological, and interpersonal behavioural patterns commonly found in cultic environments which may be helpful in assessing a particular group or relationship. Not all of these points apply to each person affected by a cult or a legalistic church but many of them will.....
Church members think they are the only ones who understand Scripture, as interpreted by the pastor or group leader. They consider those who reject their version of the truth inept, unlearned and/or lost; flawed in their understanding of what they consider to be the “real” Bible.
Fellowship outside the church is discouraged.
A haughty spirit of superiority may exist toward those who reject the church’s teachings.
Reading Bible translations that the pastor (leader) does not approve of is discouraged or forbidden.
Church members are not allowed to question what is taught or the materials used. The leader’s belief system, ideology and practices are considered as the Truth, as law. Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged, even reprimanded.
Congregants become isolated from others and are watched over overtly or covertly.
Church members are discouraged or not allowed to read works written by those outside of the church’s belief system.
Church participants may become distant toward friends and family; church attendance and the pastor’s directives take first place.
Even when errors in Scripture are pointed out, church members will not reject the group leader’s flawed analysis. Spiritual blindness and spiritual stagnation take place.
The leader (pastor) is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
The church leader acts as the sole authority of the group.
Church members become overly zealous in attending their church and adhering to its teachings and “rules.”
The guidance of the Holy Spirit is replaced with the guidance of the pastor/ministry claiming to be the voice of the Lord. Of course the church members are oblivious to this sleight of (spirit) and they mistakenly think they are being led by the Holy Spirit.
The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with family, friends and society as a whole.