10 Characteristics of a Cult Masquerading as a Church
This is a follow-up to our last article on Deception in the Church: Cults and False Prophets Masquerading as Christian Ministries. Based on our experience, here are ten signs to help you identify a cult that is masquerading as a church. In this article, our focus is not on the cult of personalities, such as when people enthusiastically and blindly follow a political leader, but specifically on religious cults that claim to preach the gospel.
1. The Pastor / Ministry Leader is Always Right and is Above the Law
If your Church pastor or ministry leader is always claiming to be right, acts as the ultimate authority, and you are not allowed to criticize that leader, this may be a sign that you are in a cult. Because cults usually have a weak foundation that is not grounded on true Christian doctrine, they do not tolerate questions or criticism very well, and one is not allowed to criticize the leader, even if the criticism is true and has merit. If you disagree with church leadership, then you are told it is your personal problem because you must submit to their authority. Whenever you bring up a legitimate, Biblical issue to leadership, they will find a way to flip the script (turn it around on you) and point out that you are not only hurting them but that you also have no right to question them. Cult leaders are not readily willing to confess or admit their mistakes, even when confronted with solid facts. They are neither approachable nor open to constructive criticism or legitimate concerns and are driven by pride.
While cult leaders claim to preach the gospel, they don’t preach the true gospel as presented in the Bible, i.e. what God says in the Bible. Instead, they attempt to interpret the Bible to line up with their beliefs. In the cases we encountered, the ministry leaders blatantly uplifted their “dreams” and “visions” and interpreted the Bible strictly in accordance with their phantasmagorical delusions. When we questioned their teachings in the light of God’s Word, they became defensive and began to attack us personally instead of addressing the issues we raised. They also upheld their dreams and visions at the same level as the Bible, even when these visions clearly contradicted the Scriptures. Many times the cult leader would receive visions from a spirit extolling him as righteous and special, which would, in turn, elevate his ego and pride.
2. The Church or Ministry Promotes Exclusivity / Elitism
A normal church or religious organization would not have any trouble with you moving to another similar organization as long as you stayed in that same religion because it is the belief system that matters, not membership in an organization. So, if you are Christian, then you could move from one church to another and still be Christian. Cults and cult leaders, however, will tell you that you can only be saved or can only be successful in their organization or ministry alone. They might even threaten to get a message from “the Lord” to rebuke you or they employ other hostile or violent measures to discourage you from following your conscience. They claim that no other church has the truth – in their eyes, all others are false and miss the mark! So it is not your faith in Christ that decides your future, but it is your belief system and your membership within that particular group. The cult leaders will make you believe there is nowhere else you can go and still be saved, and if you ever leave their “one true church” or their ministry, they will tell you that you are going to hell. This is a fear-based control strategy designed to instill fear and control over you and keep you in the cult.
The cult leader may also from time to time claim to have special visions indicating that the faithful ministry members (usually their own family members and ardent supporters) will be “raptured,” while the other members have to do more or else they will be “left behind.” The other members are left striving without complete rest in Jesus’ finished work and continually feeling inadequate and wondering if they are good enough to be caught up with the Lord. Their faith erodes and they further exalt these other “holy” members who have already received a badge for heaven. We believe in the resurrection and that the Lord Jesus Christ is coming again, but throughout this article, we reference “rapture” in quotes because we are prayerfully doing a study about Jesus’ Coming and plan to investigate false rapture teachings.
If your church or ministry claims to have all the answers to solve the world’s problems, or claims to have some special or exclusive revelation or message from God that no one else has, you’re probably in a cult. This exclusivism or elitism creates a strong sense of group unity and responsibility that is often manipulated by the cult leader, who may coerce members to give most of their finances to the ministry, request free labor, require more of your time and services or force members to recruit more members to support the ministry. If you are insatiably and constantly being pressured by your ministry to give more money, more time, or more free labor, and every time you raise legitimate concerns you are scolded or threatened or called “unfaithful”, you are most likely in a cult.
3. Use of Fear and Intimidation
Cult leaders and their leadership team often operate using the spirit of fear and intimidation, which is not of God (2 Timothy 1:7). According to them, to disagree with leadership or rightfully call out their wrongs is the same as disagreeing with God, and they may claim that they are being persecuted when their doctrines are rightly questioned. The cult leaders will often claim to have direct authority from God to control almost all aspects of your life or they may consult a “prophet” or “prophetess” whom they control or have authority over (e.g. a close relative or child). If the cult is not a religious group, then questioning the leaders or their teachings will still be seen as a sign of rebellion or “unfaithfulness”. Cults will also often use guilt and scare tactics to control their members and will make such claims as: “you are broke because you’re not ‘being obedient to God and giving more to the ministry’, or “you received that promotion and/or raise at work because you give to this ministry”, etc. Additionally, if you question them, they might preach a sermon about some “former ministry member” and embellish it with lies to make themselves look good while making false accusations against you. They love to make “an example” of those who challenge and question their false teaching as a warning to others not to dare do the same. In our case, a cult leader threatened to shame us on his website and he cooked a bunch of unsubstantiated lies to gain sympathy from his followers. What shocked us was that this cult leader saw himself as above the law of God because he has dreams and visions (false) that he believes are from Jesus Christ. Yes, instead of resolving disputes as Moses, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Apostle Paul all taught by bringing two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Timothy 5:19; 2 Corinthians 13:1), the self-declared prophet chose to execute his own vengeful form of justice by making accusations against us publicly without following the due process the Bible mandates. He was acting as the petitioner, jury, judge, and executioner, all in one! Jesus warned us to “beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:15-20). A true man of God should bear good fruit, not blatantly act contrary to what the Bible says! This form of intimidation only emboldened us to further seek refuge and in the Lord, and we found much grace, peace, assurance, and strength as we prayed and sought God’s protection from this man who we once thought was a friend but turned out to be a cunning enemy. Even though the public persecution and false accusations he meted out to us were stunning, hurtful, and had the potential to cause anxiety and sleeplessness, God was faithful to us. The Holy Spirit gave us great comfort and granted us sleep and rest as we endured the hostile and fiercely hateful act. Our faith and peace have grown since then, and we are so thankful that God’s Word sets us free and reestablishes and restores our souls (Psalm 23:3). The Word is true and powerful, and no matter how convincing people may sound or no matter what dreams or visions they share, we are no longer intimidated as we believe the Bible alone is the authoritative source of truth for the Christian faith.
4. Lack of Accountability or Limited Accountability for Leadership
Cult leaders only allow those who agree with them to have leadership positions, and this will be mostly family members or very close friends. It is Biblical for a church to have elders or overseers in place, but they need to be mature elders – not puppets of the pastors. The elders are to be fair-minded and are the buffer between the shepherd and the sheep and provide checks and balances. In fact, elders are the basis for the New Testament church and as Paul planted churches, he appointed elders in every church (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5), and there were elders in Jerusalem (Acts 11:30; 15:2), Ephesus (Acts 20:17), and Philippi (Philippians 1:1). So, if your church leaders refuse to allow a mature elder board or council to be put into place, your church might be a cult. If you are not free to serve willingly, but rather coerced, compelled, manipulated, or forced to serve by the ministry leadership, then they have become your slave masters and this is not of God. Our Heavenly Father gives free will to be His chosen vessels and servants, and He never requires us to be His slaves. He invites us to serve Him and if we fall short, He does not reject us or shun us when we confess and repent – His love is unconditional. If your free will has been taken from you in these areas, your church might be a cult. It’s worth noting that a ministry may begin on a sound spiritual footing and with humility, but as it grows with either more money coming in or gaining more followers, the ministry leader may soon be corrupted by power and pride, fame or fortune, and shun godly correction and accountability.
As we shared in Part 1 of this article, be on guard when you hear someone calling their website, book, Twitter account, podcast, YouTube channel, etc. as the Lord’s. Beware of the cunning idolatry that may come with that! What may have begun as a true ministry to serve the Lord ends up being the personal property of the ministry leader, which soon evolves into a cult! We heard about one ministry leader who called his ministry “the Lord’s ministry” and his website “the Lord’s website”, but when he was confronted about some of the unbiblical teachings he shared, he sternly gave a warning not to be questioned about the contents of his “personal space”! As the saying goes, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
5. The Church or Ministry Suppresses Skepticism and Discourages/Opposes Critical Thinking
Cults have little tolerance for questions and try to tightly control any opposing viewpoints. They actively suppress critical thinking, forbid criticism, and anyone who doubts is encouraged to isolate themselves from outside influences and focus solely on the doctrine of the cult. Whenever the group/leader is criticized or questioned it is characterized as “persecution” and you will often see cult leaders going off on “former ministry members” and calling them names and never giving the accused members a fair chance to respond to the accusations. They may even concoct a vision supposedly from the Lord that certain members have been gossipping about the cult leader and their family and the Lord is going to punish them for their many sins. The purpose of such manipulative visions is to restrain and muzzle all the other members so that they are constantly afraid and not allowed to question anything even while alone. If they find themselves questioning, they will repent lest their secrets be exposed in a vision. Members are essentially shut up and expected to be yes-men. Whenever we questioned some of the false and unBiblical visions that one of the ministry leaders shared, the ministry leader would start making all forms of accusations against us, chastising us for doubting and claiming that the Lord had warned us through a vision to him or his personal prophet/prophetess that we should not “censor” the visions. Never mind the fact that the Bereans were commended by Paul for testing his teachings against Scripture (Acts 17:11), and that Christians should “test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21), and “…not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). We have learned never to allow anyone to take away our freedom to question and learn. As long as you never question, you stay enslaved and in darkness. The Lord Jesus Christ does not operate like this. He allows questions and says “Come now, and let us reason together…”.
6. The Group Shames Members and Delegitimizes or Penalizes Former Members
Cult leaders often manipulate their followers’ feelings in order to make them feel special and loved. They may use endearing words to address their members and even concoct dreams and visions or certain “special messages from the Lord” for certain members. If the member questions the cult leaders’ decisions, the cult leader will be heavy-handed, taking credit for the members’ growth and achievements. Cult leaders may use controlling tactics such as “I taught you…” and “if it were not for me…” in order to make the members believe that they are insufficient, weak, or unworthy on their own. Cult members then have their self-esteem and self-worth diminished and tied to the ministry or church, and they become subjects or servants of the cult leader. The cult leader will seldom own up to his or her mistakes, even when caught red-handed (for example, when a clearly false vision or false prophecy is proven as such), but will instead flip the script and berate or attack the member in order to shut them down. They may also try to find another justification for the failed prophecy or giving excuses such as “even Moses was wrong sometimes” or “Samuel missed it too” or “David sinned, yet he was a man after God’s heart.” However, if a member falls short, the cult leader would want the member to bow down to them and confess all their shortcomings, even trying to act as their mediator before God! Many times, cult leaders have received and believed false messages in dreams and visions that they are holy, heaven-bound, and never commit unrighteousness. Therefore, they cannot admit to being wrong or confess their sins as the Bible teaches because this would be admitting their dream, vision, or message was false.
Cult leaders use shame to manipulate followers into doing anything, even if it’s against their own self-interest or better judgment. Anything the cult leader does is justified no matter how harsh or harmful. Cult leaders may also try to shame or silence their members by imposing abnormally strict punishments or codes of conduct, for example, “you MUST pray three times a day”, “you MUST pray all night,” “you MUST fast”, “you MUST give money to the ministry”, “You MUST buy the ministry a car”, etc. The issue here is the compulsion and forcing people to perform spiritual acts against their own will, which is against Biblical teachings. To the cult member, it may not feel like a compulsion at first because a lot of cult members are people who want to obey the Lord but haven’t learned to rely on the Word of God – the Bible. So to a deceived cult member who already believes that “The Man of God” hears from the Lord, this would sound like a great opportunity to invest in the Kingdom of Heaven. If the cult member is married, carrying out the command to buy a car for example, will not happen without great disagreement and potential arguments with the spouse. Be warned that often time, these “Men of God” will take advantage of this division in the marriage and will not show care for your unity but for “obedience” to the twisted command that was given. God is always trying to help us avoid wrong decisions and will often times use a spouse. If there is no agreement even in doing what seems to be good works, then it might not be God’s will for you. As a couple, we had such decisions to make and have learned to value each others’ opinions because God loves His children and will use us to help each other maintain peace, avoid being taken advantage of, or ripped off and abused. We hope to share more about the power of agreement as a couple in a future article.
As we allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit, we would give, fast and pray in obedience to and relationship with God and without force. One person may pray 10 times or more in one day and others may choose to have scheduled appointments to pray 1-3 times or more per day. Each believer is on a personal journey and the material things and time we choose to give to God and others should be voluntary as God loves a joyful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). Otherwise, carrying out these manmade laws could lead to self-justification when a believer successfully does it or guilt or condemnation when one unable to carry it out.
Ministries or churches that regard themselves as having the ultimate authority on the truth, especially because they have had access to the supernatural via dreams, visions, prophecies, or other gifts, can’t imagine anybody leaving them with integrity or a clean conscience. They will thus start sharing lies and false accusations, without clear evidence or witnesses, that the former members were deceived, proud, self-seeking, immoral, selfish, crazy, lazy, evil, stupid, bitter, angry, dishonest, and outright wicked. Cults often impose some kind of shunning and shaming to former members to prevent them from “infecting” other members with the truth. Again, these are often one-sided accusations and the former members are never given a chance to defend themselves. When we confronted one of the cult leaders in private for bearing false witness against us, the leader expressed regret, but publicly he was acting like a ravenous wolf and kept the false accusations up on his website for one week, giving lame excuses why he couldn’t remove them. This cult leader was trying to exercise power and control over us, trying to show that he was not to be messed with. Quite frankly we were very disturbed at first seeing a man we’ve never met in person publicly assassinating our character before the world. We were horrified when he coerced his wife to side with him and come up with fabricated stories that had no merit. However, as we read sought the Lord’s guidance and read His Word, the Holy Spirit gave us much confidence and comfort: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12 NKJV). While the ministry’s leadership intended to shame us and break our spirits, just like the apostles we “departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that [we] were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41; 2 Timothy 3:12).
7. Cults Emphasizing “special” Doctrines Outside the Scriptures
The Bible says that the “Holy Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15-17). The Bible also warns us that we should not add to subtract from God’s Word (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Proverbs 30:6; Revelation 22:18-19). Cults and false teachers, however, seek to amend the Bible, claiming that they’ve been given new “revelations” or that certain teachings in the Bible do not apply today.
False Prophets such as Balaam (Numbers 31:8,16, Revelation 2:14), the 400 court prophets and Zedekiah son of Chenaanah (1 Kings 22:1-28), Hananiah who came against Jeremiah (Jeremiah 28:1-17), and many other false prophets were all deceived and blind to their sins. The servant girl who was prophesying was also deceived, but thankfully she was delivered, leaving her masters livid with Paul and Silas for healing her in the name of Jesus Christ, because they profited from her (Acts 16:17-19). This is akin to today’s false prophets who have built business enterprises around their false teachings – books, TV stations, etc. – and when their schemes are exposed they start screaming and complaining that they are being “persecuted”.
Cults and false teachers peddle doctrines such as two raptures, two judgments, spiritual warfare with fire or karate kicks or other strange weapons, prosperity gospel, weird healing ceremonies, strange practices, claims that a special neighborhood is reserved in heaven for their followers, etc. They may also employ distinctly Charismatic vocabulary, such as “spiritual warfare” and claims of communicating directly with God and being shown special places in heaven that no man alive or dead has ever seen, or being taken up (or down) by angels via special portals, visions, etc. They may also claim to have special sessions or many occasions where they have “face-to-face” discussions with God or with Christ, and they even claim to have special angels who reveal things to them. Some of the false teachers will even tell you the names of their angel mediums. They may also claim to have many tourist visits to heaven or hell, communicate with loved ones who died, predict when someone will die, see a living person in heaven or hell in advance, etc. Brothers and Sisters, while these extra-biblical doctrines may sound interesting, entertaining, and even appealing, they are not of God! What they are practicing is the sin of divination!
There are only about a dozen post-resurrection appearances of Jesus recorded in the New Testament, and Jesus Himself warned us that “many false prophets will rise up and deceive many” (Matthew 24:11 NKJV), and that “if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. “Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:23-27 NKJV). Why should we believe these self-declared prophets who boast about having special, personal visitations with Jesus and tour heaven regularly, sharing minute details of what they heard and saw, when Paul Himself was careful not to reveal what He saw when he was caught up into heaven? (2 Corinthians 12:2-5). The Apostle Paul alluded to the self-justification of such people when he states: “But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast. For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works” (2 Corinthians 11:10-16).
The Apostle Paul further warned thus: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:1-2 NKJV). Additionally, Apostle Peter warns us that “…there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber” (2 Peter 2:1-3 NKJV).
Some false prophets boastfully claim that their “divine” encounters, visions, or dreams are the “foundation” of their ministry, and they make a livelihood out of tickling people’s ears with the latest prophecies and “special message from the Lord”. Please don’t let the deceptive, short-lived messages of cult leaders and false prophets be your foundation. Instead, Jesus Christ, the Word of God, who has stood since the foundation of the world and will endure forever (1 Peter 1:25), should be your firm foundation and the gates of hell shall never prevail (Matthew 16:18). Furthermore, as the Lord Jesus promised:
“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall” (Matthew 7:24-27).
8. Deception and Indoctrination
A cult needs to recruit and operate using deception. Why? Because if people knew their true practices and beliefs beforehand, then they would not join. A cult needs to hide the truth from you until they think you are ready to accept it. A cult will also have a slick well-rehearsed public relations front which hides what the group is really like. The mission of the cult may look similar to a church. You will hear how they help the poor, support each other in community, emphasize peace or save the environment. They will tell you how happy you will be in their group. Everyone in the cult always appears to be happy and enthusiastic, mainly because they have been told to act happy and will get in trouble if they don’t. But you will not be told what life is really like in the group, or what they really believe. These things will be introduced to you slowly, one at a time, so you will not notice the gradual change until eventually you are practicing and believing things which at the start would have caused you to run a mile.
Indoctrination or “brainwashing” is the process through which a cult slowly breaks down a person’s sense of identity and ability to think rationally. Behaviors like excessive fasting, prayer, hypnosis, Scripture reading, chanting, meditation, or drug usage can all be used to increase a person’s vulnerability to the leader’s suggestions. You will repeatedly and continually hear how the Lord loves the cult leader and his family “very, very, very, very, very, much” while the Lord just loves other believers (with no very). You will repeatedly hear the cult leader sharing visions and dreams starring the cult leader and/or the cult leader’s family as the heroes who are full of faith, pleasing to God, experiencing being caught up to heaven, beating up demons, and supposedly receiving promises from God that they will all make it heaven but that other ministry members won’t make. This is nothing but a cunning ploy of the enemy to get you to elevate them in your heart, follow them and learn to do what they do (including their wicked behavior). If you challenge their visions and dreams, they will concoct false visions or dreams about you where you are the vile villain, or they will preach a sermon about you as some rebellious, backslidden ministry member or former member who is out to destroy the ministry and wage war against the Church. From experience, cult leaders are not really interested in winning you to become a disciple of Jesus Christ but to be their disciple; to point people to their ministry and to them. If you stop doing that and try to leave, they like to beat you down with words of condemnation until you feel useless for true ministry. Who would be joyful about going out to share the gospel if a ministry leader they look up to says to them, “God said you are worldly, wicked, and have demons in you”? This is the kind of message an escaping member would be given in an attempt to cripple them. If you have experienced this, please be encouraged that by the grace of God and help through His Word, prayer, and time, you can be RESTORED with a SOUND MIND and SOUL. The Bible says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 2:7); “He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.”(Psalm 23:3 NIV). God is willing and able and says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV).
9. The Ministry Exercise Tight Control of Members and Members’ Resources; There is no Financial Accountability and Transparency
In a cult, everything revolves around the cult leader. The cult leader’s name appears everywhere. They want to control members’ finances, contributions, intellectual property, etc. The cult leader may also keep tight control of his family and others to make sure outside influence is restricted or minimized. Cult leaders will attempt to isolate you from your extended family and friends unless they demonstrate an interest in the ministry. Cult leaders also have no problem isolating married couples from their spouses, especially if they question their ministry. They may also sweet talk and complement the spouse who is faithful to the ministry while ridiculing and badmouthing the “rebellious” spouse. Unfortunately, they are fine with seeing division continue in marriage while still benefiting from and manipulating at least one of the spouses.
Cults also go to great lengths to manipulate or coerce their members to contribute money, but they are not transparent as to what they actually do with the money. Cult leaders may claim to be poor and always in need, always asking and taking, but in reality, they are receiving some big donations and tithes and busy secretly buying cars and houses for their families (claiming these as “gifts” or “blessings”) and living opulently while their followers are making financial sacrifices. Money raised is often used for the exclusive benefit of the cult leader’s family. If a member asks for help or seeks to understand how the ministry’s finances are used, they might be accused of committing the sin of “faithless”, “demanding” or “doubting”. The cult leader may also claim that Jesus is the ministry’s treasurer, which is contrary to what the Bible truly teaches. In the Bible, we don’t see God or Jesus actually handling money, but people were appointed to handle finances (1 Chronicles 29; 2 Kings 12:4; Ezra 8:30; Matthew 17:24-27; John 13:29). So, if a ministry or church refuses to disclose its finances, this is a huge red flag!
10. The Ministry or Church is Paranoid about the End of the World
While the Bible clearly teaches that the end will indeed come someday (Daniel 12:13; Matthew 24:14), cults position themselves as the sole custodian of truth pertaining to the end time. They will claim to have special, divine visions about the end time, and when something remotely close to their “prophecy” occurs they will jump to the conclusion that their vision has been fulfilled! Cult leaders will also claim to have many dreams and visions about the secret “rapture,” and even make claims that are clearly unbiblical such as “two raptures”, “two judgments,” or “two heavens,” etc. If someone questions their unbiblical teachings, they will be quick to claim that they are being “persecuted”. Cult leaders will often claim that special revelations “Jesus is coming imminently or soon” without providing any concrete details or Biblical support. It always seems to be impending and about weeks or months away. We heard one false prophet say something like “The rapture airplane is ready” and a few months later after nothing happened, he came back and said that God decided to be merciful and give people more time to prepare. They present a God who frustratingly changes his mind all the time so that people are constantly in limbo and no knowing how to move forward. By constantly sharing visions, dreams, and messages supposedly from the Lord, their followers are subconsciously indoctrinated “follow us because we are hearing from the Lord” and “listen to us and believer everything we say” and are left confused because of the yeast in these messages. The result is that their members are always anxious about Jesus’ return, and as a result, they don’t bother to make any long-term plans or investments. In addition, after many years of what seems to be empty promises and disappointment, many members may lose their faith. Consequently, cult members end up in poverty because of this deception. The Bible does teach that Jesus’ return is certain and will be quick and sudden, but Jesus and the apostles did warn believers of the signs of the end time and the things that must take place. One of the warnings for the end time is the proliferation of false prophets and false teachers, as well as false christs (Matthew 24:23-25, 2 Peter 2). Another warning is that there must be a great falling away and the antichrist must be revealed first (2 Thessalonians 2:2-4). Therefore, don’t let your faith be rattled by empty promises from false words about the endtime. The Bible says “God is not human, that He should lie, not a human being, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?”(Numbers 23:19). No one knows the day or the hour of Jesus’ Coming, but there is an appointed time for the end (Daniel 8:19; 12:9-13).
Encouragement to Leave a Cult
Joining a cult or a controlling church is easy, but leaving can be daunting, painful, and sometimes even dangerous. If you express a desire to leave such a church or ministry, the cult leader may at first act nice by sweet-talking you and reassuring you so as to discourage you from leaving. If you leave, you may be subject to malicious attacks, shunning, shaming, and character assassination by the ministry’s leadership and/or members. Cult leaders are usually experts in manipulating people using whatever tactics are at their disposal. They may even use “divide and conquer” tactics to separate families and couples. If a person recognizes that they are in a cult, it may take a while for either a spouse or close friend to come to the same realization. As such, trying to leave a cult can be a very lonely and challenging experience, and it takes a lot of prayer, fasting, and determination to walk away. It can be very confusing when trying to get out and you will probably see a little error but you will see more error as you allow yourself to have space to clearly think and assess the teachings on your own outside of cult influence. The camaraderie that you may have developed with certain members of the church or ministry may make you feel like you are leaving a family behind or betraying close friends. The teachings you may have received may cause fear and anxiety. You may feel that you are abandoning God, and if you leave you may have fear of being hit by a bus or fear that some other calamity may befall you or worse, fear that you may be condemned to hell. Brother or Sisters, leaving a cult is something that you do with God’s help. He will not force you to leave a cult but if you ask Him to show you the truth, He will faithfully show you. He enables you and gives you the wisdom and courage to question unbiblical teachings and the strength to leave. As a believer and follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, rest assured that you have the wonderful Holy Spirit who will both comfort you and “…guide you into ALL TRUTH…” (John 16:13).
And finally, there’s the uncertainty and fear of the future: “What will people think of me when they learn that I left a cult? Will they accept me, or judge me and reject? Will I be able to find another church to fellowship with? What about if I fall into another cult and get hurt again?” Be assured that such negative and fear-inducing thoughts are not from God, “for God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7) and “you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15).
While we cannot give specific advice to people wishing to leave a cult due to varying circumstances, we can give encouragement from the Word of God. Additionally, we have information in our messages on Spiritual Abuse in the Church (Part 1 and Part 2).
- Build a strong foundation of the Word of God. Do not simply swallow every sermon or teaching you hear, no matter who the preacher is. Always test and verify the message against what the Bible says, like what the Bereans did (Acts 17:11). If a preacher castigates you for questioning their teachings, messages, prophecies, dreams, or visions in the light of God’s Word, run for your [eternal] life! Remember Paul’s warning: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron…” (1 Timothy 4:1-2). The truth (God’s Word) does set us free, and if Jesus sets us free, we are free indeed! (John 8:32, 36)
- Share all your anxieties with God (1 Peter 5:7; Philippians 4:6-7).
- Choose not to fear of man; this is a deadly snare. We should never, ever fear man, but God alone. Any man, no matter how influential, wealthy, or powerful he may be, will be subject to God’s judgment! God is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), and we should, therefore, NEVER allow anyone to steal our destiny in Christ (Proverbs 29:25; Isaiah 51:12-13).
- Wholeheartedly put your trust in God, not man (Jeremiah 17:5-8). We were purchased at a great price and should, therefore, may we live our lives to glorify God, not as slaves of men (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23). When you fully put your trust in the Lord, He is able willing to deliver you from the traps of men. “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.” Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence. He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler” (Psalm 91:1-4).
If you have not yet received Jesus Christ as your Lord, we invited you to seek Him and pray for your salvation. For any questions or comments on this article, please contact us.
May the Lord give you grace and peace as you call on Him!
Abes and Jan.