Exit and Support Network

Identifying a Cultic Church

Not all of the following signs need be present for a church to be considered cultic, but the more signs that are present, and the more fully they are present, the more likely it is one.

Depending on the religious group you are examining, the word "minister" can be substituted for the word "shepherd" below. 

  1. Members are gathered into small tightly knit groups under a "shepherd" or designated "spiritual leader." (Creates cloning effect)

  2. This group is part of a larger congress or movement, which has strong central leadership, normally with one very predominate man or woman at its head. (Often with a guise of plurality of leadership)

  3. Book, tapes, publishers and the like are normally limited to only a few very central people, primarily the key leader. (In other words, only the centralized leaders, or the predominate leader are allowed to write or circulate "approved" material within the group.) While some other lesser members may attempt to write, their material is not likely to receive wide distribution or acceptance without clear-cut approval from the centralized leadership.

  4. There tends to be an intense or high level of control of the shepherds over the sheep. The shepherds' advice and/or approval is thought necessary, or very strongly urged in a number of normally personal areas, such as dating, marriage, housing, jobs, education, career, relocating to another city, etc. (This level of control is often strengthened by the practice of communal style living. By having several group members living in one household, the shepherds gain leverage in the home environment, and are able to influence such personal areas as eating, sleeping, reading, hygiene, purchasing of personal or "luxury" items, etc.)

  5. Mundane activities tend to be determined and directed by the leaders rather than by doctrine.

  6. Shepherds, or their designates, tend to see the "sheep" several times a week.

  7. There is a great deal of pressure upon the individual to live up to or to conform to group criteria above and beyond what can be clearly seen as biblical criteria.

  8. To question a shepherd's teaching or conduct is considered as questioning God, particularly if the shepherd has already defended himself against questioning on that point of teaching or conduct. To continue to question or challenge will likely result in "marking," "shunning," or "excommunication."

  9. Submission/obedience to authority is a heavily emphasized doctrine.

  10. Guilt by association is generally accepted, in that if someone is known to have had contact with a dissenter or "marked" person, that one then is considered to have been contaminated or "poisoned."

  11. There is no accountability of the group to the wider Body of Christ The group vigorously avoids any efforts to have their doctrine or methods, or even specific instances, examined objectively by outside Christian leaders or theologians. Financial and business records are not made available for public scrutiny.

  12. The group is often an independent church or "fellowship" which has broken off from a mainline denomination or otherwise generally accepted Christian association.

  13. There tends to be a monotonous repetition of certain doctrinal themes or the group's "positions," which is observed in the group's teachings, tapes and literature. Systematic theology is rarely, if ever, taught, and true expositional type teaching is rarely, if ever, heard.

  14. There is an emphasis, either implicitly or explicitly stated that this particular group is "special." "We are God's assemblies." "We are the true expression of the church." "We are not the only group, but we are a very special group in God's eyes." "Eventually, all Christians will do what we're doing, or else we will be persecuted by other Christians." Unity with the "church" is heavily stressed, usually to the point where it becomes the chief doctrine of the group.

  15. Unity is considered to be more important than "doctrine," yet the group cites its own pet doctrines as the reason why they had to leave their parent organization or why they cannot work more closely with other Christians, or why their members should remain with them rather than join another group.

  16. There tends to be an alienation from, or antagonism towards, other sources of information, such as families, churches, authors, etc., especially if these other sources challenge or question the pet doctrine of the group.

  17. The defensive mentality of the group is so pronounced as to actually be institutionalized. Elaborate, mechanisms and doctrines are in place to tell the members how to cope with criticism of the group. This defensiveness has far more to do with defending the group or its leaders, than it does with defending the Faith "once for all delivered to the saints.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. Have you ever had a Christian leader imply that you were either rebellious or disobedient to God because you didn't take their advice?
  2. Have you ever had a Christian leader tell you that you had an evil spirit or a spirit of rebellion simply because you asked questions?
  3. Have you ever challenged a leader and they saw this as an assault on their authority?
  4. Have you ever felt that a leader (or leaders) was (were) lording it over you?
  5. Does it ever bother you when a Christian group, community, or Bible study all look, act and talk alike?
  6. Has another Christian ever told you that they were your shepherd?

If any of these questions ignite a positive response in you, you may be involved in an aberrant and potentially destructive relationship or group.

The New Testament gives us some basic guidelines to protect us from getting involved in relationships which are destructive both emotionally and spiritually.

~Excerpted from an outline by Harold Bussell, author of Unholy Devotion.

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