“Then 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” (Matthew 24:23-24).
“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” (Matthew 7:15-16a)
When you hear of “cult”, what is the first picture that comes to mind? Is it an image of some “ignorant” people idolizing their charismatic spiritual leader or practicing satanic rituals? Contrary to popular opinion and belief, the most dangerous cults are not always easy to recognize but are very, very cleverly masked, and well camouflaged. They may appear to preach from the Bible and even selectively quote verses from Scriptures, but in the same measure cleverly sneak in messages to promote themselves, or skew the truth to make them look good and have people follow them. They may abuse you, insult you, kick you, and venomously mistreat you in private, and then turn around and preach to the world on how we should forgive and love one another; or they may share a grandiose dream or vision trying to show that they (unlike you) hear from “the Lord” and that He is on their side and favors them and approves of the way they mistreated you. They may also share a “powerful” vision, like one we witnessed whereby a certain preacher declared during a church service that the Lord and the angels had just entered into the room and EVERYONE present in the service would go to heaven. It is not for me to judge others, but at the time I know that my heart was not right with God and I’d met several people at the meeting who were having bizarre experiences and literally idolizing that preacher. Another time, one of the so-called prophets shared a grandiose dream/vision how the Lord approved of his work and thought highly of him, yet around the very same time one of his very close associates confided with us in frustration regarding how this “prophet” was so unreasonable, pushy, and difficult to deal with and this associate was just waiting for the “rapture” for deliverance from the misery of being with him! What we gathered later, based on a similar experience with this self-declared prophet, was that whenever the prophet and his close acquaintances had a conflict, the prophet would concoct a dream/vision that favored/supported his position! Simply put, false teachers and cult leaders are master manipulators and master craftsmen in creating confusion by “mouthing empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error” (2 Peter 2: 18 NIV). This is why the Lord Jesus warned His followers to “Watch out and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6). Unless you truly have a strong personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, false teachers and cult leaders will take you for a ride and before you know it, you’ll find yourself broke, hurt, confused, battered, and beaten under their demonic spell. From our personal experience, we now understand what Jesus meant when He called such teachers “wolf in sheep clothing” (Matthew 7:15) and warned us that “they are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch” (Matthew 15:14). In other words, if you follow a false teacher, you risk losing your salvation along with them. Here’s how the Apostle Paul further explains their deception and depravity:
“But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption, and will receive the wages of unrighteousness, as those who count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime. They are spots and blemishes, carousing in their own deceptions while they feast with you, having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls. They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children. They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he was rebuked for his iniquity: a dumb donkey speaking with a man’s voice restrained the madness of the prophet. These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever. For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage (2 Peter 2:12-19).
Some well-meaning ministries may start on the right footing, but later they stray from the foundation of the Word and become cults. Other cults may begin with either a calculating charismatic leader who claims to have divine revelation/knowledge or an unassuming, seemingly innocent, and “nice” person or child who claims to have supernatural visitations. Sooner or later, their followers elevate the person’s or child’s teachings as an authoritative source of truth that is equal to or greater than the Bible. Oftentimes, they will claim that their words/visions/revelations are from the Lord Jesus Christ or an angel of the Lord. On the surface, these false claims may seem to line up with the Bible, and the casual Christian will easily fall for this deceptive, demonic scheme. However, the Holy Spirit will give discernment to the Christian who diligently studies the Word of God and believes that it’s the authoritative source of Truth (Acts 17:11) – the plumb line and true measure we can use and weigh and judge all spiritual claims. Cult leaders may call themselves prophet, messiah, messenger, or some other type of enlightened teacher or self-help guru. On the outside, most cults appear appealing and welcoming, but once you are tricked into joining them, you eventually discover that they are very cunning, calculating, and manipulating.
Cults employ sophisticated techniques, such as mind and spiritual control. Over time they refine and adjust these techniques to become even more sophisticated. For example, they will use technology, blogs, books, social media, mass media, billboards, and other avenues to recruit their followers. They will not say something obvious like, “come join our cult”. However, be on ALERT when you hear a minister present his or her work as “The Lord’s”. We have heard some false ministers present their church or ministry by saying, “This is the Lord’s church and the only church God is happy with” or “The Lord spoke to us and said this is His ministry” or if the cult leader has a social media platform, he might say “The Lord said this is His website”, or “This is the Lord’s book” or “Jesus is the Leader of our ministry and He commands everything we must say and do”. Such statements pull Christians into idolatry and captivity. Subconsciously, they are saying to you, “You must believe everything we say without question or you are disobedient”, “Be part of this church congregation or ministry”, “invest your time, money, and energy here”, “never leave”, or “invite people here”.
Christians all over the world are scared to leave unhealthy churches and ministries because of being bullied and believing such lies. Our willingness to obey the Lord has been abused and taken advantage of by the enemy through these false ministers and prophets. Brethren, the Lord knows who are truly His (2 Timothy 2:19) and He does not endorse a specific church congregation, church building, website, radio station, Youtube channel, or social media account. If He does, where in the Bible does it say God owns a specific denomination, website or twitter account that we must listen to (1 Thessalonians 5:21)? Nowhere! Furthermore, simply being part of these “special” groups does not guarantee you heaven. The Lord Jesus Christ upholds the Bible as the truth and He is the Truth (John 1:1-4, 1:14). He said “…I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me “(John 14:6). He is the simple truth we need and The Word of God is truly His!
In the case of cults that masquerade as a church or Christian ministry, they might even hold services online, meet in regular buildings, hold a “revival” in a city near you, or conduct open-air crusades to attract new members. You may also see them on a late-night infomercial on Television. Cult leaders simply love it when you are blindly obedient and liberally give them your time, effort, and money. Many Christians think that they can’t be deceived by a cult, but that’s simply not true, as no one is immune from cult involvement. Some cults masquerade very well, that the Apostle Paul warned: “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 11:14-15). Additionally, ministers, pastors, other church leaders, and any Christian can also be severely deceived and yet blissfully ignorant of their blindness. Simply because someone is confidently declaring that they have a “personal revelation” or vision of some spirit they call “Christ,” who appears to them in their bedrooms, and as a result, they perform miracles, signs, and wonders, we should not just believe them or blindly follow them! The Lord Jesus Christ warns us:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matthew 7:21-23).
“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 (Matthew 24:26).
Below, we will share a brief testimony of our personal encounters with some cults, and then share some additional information to help you identify whether your Church or ministry is a cult in disguise. The purpose of this article is not to point accusations at one specific church or ministry since there are thousands of churches and ministries out there in the world that are deceiving people, concocting and peddling false dreams and visions to attract followers, and promoting unbiblical teachings, “worshipping God in vain and teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9). We just want to point you to the Lord Jesus Christ as the Sole Savior of Humanity and His Holy Word as the sole authoritative Source of Truth.
Several years ago, we were interested in growing into a deeper, closer, personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and so we decided to search on the Internet for resources to use in this spiritual journey. If you are spiritually discerning, you may already be wondering: why in the world were we busy searching online for such resources? Isn’t the Bible a sufficient resource? This is a very good question and our answer is probably as good as yours since you are interested in this message. As we continued to research, certain websites that promoted testimonies about “face to face” encounters with Jesus soon piqued our interest. At first, we were very skeptical about such encounters, especially given that there are many warnings in the Bible about false prophets and false Christs. Some of the stories were intriguing and very compelling. Granted that several of these “testimonies” seemed to have a common theme on face-to-face encounters with “Jesus” or deep visions of the supernatural, we soon began drifting into a dangerous spiritual realm. To make a long story short, we were very disturbed by some of the things we witnessed in these ministries, and after praying and crying out to the Lord for help, He in His wonderful mercy and grace rescued us and led us back to His Holy Word, the Word of Truth that has stood for thousands of generations (John 1:1). This made us realize that the spiritual manifestations in the ministries we were involved in were contrary to Biblical teachings about the Lord God and our Savior Jesus Christ. In other words, these ministries were preaching another gospel and witnessing another christ, a false christ (Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22). As long as we were submissive, supportive, and giving much time, resources, money, and efforts, we were patted on the back as faithful, holy children of God, full of the Holy Spirit, wonderful, precious brethren, dearly loved by the Lord, working alongside the Lord and heaven-bound. However, when we began questioning some of the unbiblical teachings of these ministries (such as multiple “raptures”, multiple judgments, making false predictions, communicating with the dead, claims of weird spiritual weapons, self-serving visions, etc.), these false teachers began vilifying us and attempted to viciously assassinate our character. They began to hurl insults at us and slander us, concocting all sorts of false accusations against us, and attempting to shame us on their websites in a bid to make an “example” of us. The laundry list of false, unsubstantiated allegations, included absolute balderdash such as accusations that we were embarking on a “campaign to destroy the Church.” The truth is “We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments” (2 Corinthians 10:4 NLV). Shockingly, these self-declared prophets could not provide any corroborating evidence or witnesses, and their language sounded eerily similar to the exaggerated accusations that Tertullus brought against the Apostle Paul (Acts 24:1-9). Nowhere in the Scriptures do we see the Church being “afraid” that it will be “destroyed”. On the contrary, Jesus promised that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the solid-rock-built foundation of His Church (Matthew 16:18). Why would someone act so harshly and violently when confronted with the truth? The Bible gives us some clues in the story of the slave girl who was possessed with a spirit of divination (fortune-telling) and made much profit for her masters, and when Paul healed her the girl’s masters falsely accused Paul and had him imprisoned (Acts 16:16-24). Sadly, the servant girl was bound spiritually (demon-possessed) and economically (to her masters). Incidentally, some cults and false ministries today actually also have a young boy or girl who has “supernatural” gifts and who is celebrated as a “prophet” or “prophetess” for the ministry — potentially the spirits of divination and mammon are at work here too! We also read how the men of Ephesus were full of wrath against Paul and his travel companions after “Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen” called together workers of similar occupation and trade, and expressed how “this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands. So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship” (Acts 19:21-34). Again here we see how the Truth of the gospel threatens false religion. Paul Himself was persecuting Christians prior to his conversion (Acts 9:1-2), and after his conversion, we do not read of him beating up fellow believers. Our experience with false ministries sometimes included words of pats on the back as heaven-bound with many amazing rewards waiting for serving, giving money, and being part of a false ministry, but otherwise, it was mostly punctuated with visions of the “the Lord says” followed by condemnation, abusive, sharp, and unreasonable rebukes, and unjust judgments — the source of which we now believe is NOT the Lord Jesus Christ of the Bible, but a false christ, a lying spirit — or this was concocted in the lying mind of the false prophet (Jeremiah 23:16, 26; 2 Timothy 2:24-25).
Although we were willing to resolve our disagreements using the Biblical process, the ministry leadership refused to follow the basic, due process that Moses, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Apostle Paul all clearly taught that a matter should be established by two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1). False prophets believe they are above the law of God, and in this case, they were acting as a law unto themselves, assuming the roles of prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner – all in one! For us, this was a taste of persecution – where someone you respected and once considered a fellow believer suddenly becomes your archenemy, all because you question their teachings in the light of Scriptural authority! The persecution was shocking and traumatizing at the time. However, we experienced great comfort from the Holy Spirit. He did not allow us to be anxious all night but granted us amazing comfort, sweet sleep, and rest (John 14:16 KJV). Instead of humility, love, and a willingness to accept that they could be wrong, we finally saw their true colors and their fruit! The Bible warns 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. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:15-23).
We endured much condemnation, false accusations, and spiritual abuse in these ministries (refer to the link above for a detailed article on the topic), and since most of this abuse, harshness, and scathing condemnation was delivered as a vision or message from what the ministry leader called the “Lord Jesus Christ”, we finally reached a critical decision point: if this is how harshly and unreasonably Jesus treats His own children who are seeking to obey him, we wanted NOTHING to do with Him! It is at this time that something amazing happened. The Holy Spirit led us to understand what the Bible truly says, and we soon realized that the spirit that was operating in these ministries was actually a false christ! The True Jesus, the Son of God and King of Kings is not only just, reasonable and understanding but extremely loving and merciful as well for He expresses the very character and image of God (Psalm 100:5; 103:14, 17-18; Isaiah 1:18; John 10:30; 13:31-35). Ministry leaders who publicly claim to be speaking on God’s behalf while privately living in devious character opposite of what they preach and abusing other believers are not furthering the cause of Christ but serving the enemy. The Bible warns that “false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22). The Lord Jesus Christ is a humble King, and all Christian believers are expected to exude the same character (Philippians 2:5-11). Shepherds who think they are powerful because they have certain gifts and act like wicked slavemasters who beat up their flocks are not serving the cause of Christ and will eventually reap what they have sown (Jeremiah 23:1-4; Matthew 20:25-26; Matthew 24:48-51; Luke 22:25-26; 1 Peter 5:2-4).
Many false ministries claim regular “visitations” or “visions” or “dreams” from “the Lord Jesus Christ”, but in the Bible, we do not see any evidence of Jesus appearing on a weekly or daily basis to anyone after the resurrection, even to His disciples. As a matter of fact, after the resurrection, we read that Jesus appeared to the apostles only about a dozen times, and in over a period of two thousand years we do not have much credible evidence of Jesus appearing to anyone, yet some of these false prophets claim weekly or daily visions “from the Lord” or several sightseeing tours of heaven and hell – teachings that are not supported by Biblical evidence. Because many people may have many similar dreams and visions, this may confuse people to think that the dreams and visions are legitimately from the Lord. What we discovered is that “birds of the same feather flock together” – false prophets and many people who experience “supernatural” visions and dreams usually follow other prophets and dreamers and covet the same gifts. Consequently, some kind of “replication” or “copying” of similar false dreams and false visions happens, caused by a lying spirit as was the case with the 400 prophets who falsely prophesied to King Ahab (1 Kings 22). Also, if you spend a lot of time watching or reading about something, it’s very likely that you will start having dreams about what you saw or read! The New Testament records only a dozen or so instances of dreams and visions (which is not to say that these are only visions people had), but this validates the warnings from God’s prophets about the dangers of visions and dreams, “for a dream comes through much activity, and a fool’s voice is known by his many words”, and “in the multitude of dreams and many words there is also vanity. But fear God” (Ecclesiastes 5:3, 7). Believers who diligently seek the Lord can still experience His grace, love, peace, presence as He has given us the Holy Spirit to teach us and strengthen us till Jesus returns (John 16:7-10; 14:1-6, 26).
Reflecting upon our own experience with some charismatic ministries and on further Bible research, we are convinced that many so-called prophets of today are no different from the many false prophets throughout history, except that the scale, scope, and influence of today’s “prophets” has exponentially increased due to increased channels of communication (TV, Internet, radio, social media, etc.). Here are some explicit warnings in the Bible about false prophets:
“The prophets prophesy lies in My name. I have not sent them, commanded them, nor spoken to them; they prophesy to you a false vision, divination, a worthless thing, and the deceit of their heart (Jeremiah 14:14 NKJV).
Thus says the Lord God: “Woe to the foolish prophets, who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing! O Israel, your prophets are like foxes in the deserts. You have not gone up into the gaps to build a wall for the house of Israel to stand in battle on the day of the Lord. They have envisioned futility and false divination, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord!’ But the Lord has not sent them; yet they hope that the word may be confirmed. Have you not seen a futile vision, and have you not spoken false divination? You say, ‘The Lord says,’ but I have not spoken” (Ezekiel 13:3-7 NKJV).
Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They make you worthless; They speak a vision of their own heart, Not from the mouth of the Lord (Jeremiah 23:16 NKJV).
“I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in My name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ How long will this be in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies? Indeed they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart, who try to make My people forget My name by their dreams which everyone tells his neighbor, as their fathers forgot My name for Baal. “The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream;
And he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat?” says the Lord. “Is not My word like a fire?” says the Lord, “And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:25-29 NKJV)
For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are in your midst deceive you, nor listen to your dreams which you cause to be dreamed. For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them, says the Lord (Jeremiah 29:8-9 NKJV)
Thus says the Lord God: “Woe to the foolish prophets, who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing! O Israel, your prophets are like foxes in the deserts. 5 You have not gone up into the gaps to build a wall for the house of Israel to stand in battle on the day of the Lord. They have envisioned futility and false divination, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord!’ But the Lord has not sent them; yet they hope that the word may be confirmed. Have you not seen a futile vision, and have you not spoken false divination? You say, ‘The Lord says,’ but I have not spoken.” (Ezekiel 13:3-7 NKJV)
For the idols speak delusion; the diviners envision lies, and tell false dreams; they comfort in vain. Therefore the people wend their way like sheep; they are in trouble because there is no shepherd (Zechariah 10:2 NKJV).
The Lord Jesus Christ knew that there would be a proliferation of false prophets today and He repeatedly warned that in the last days:
Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many (Matthew 24:11)
“Then 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 (Matthew 24:23-25 NKJV)
Results of Forsaking Error and Abiding in God’s Truth
Peace and courage to follow Christ alone: We have experienced great peace of mind and spirit ever since we fully confessed and repented from following false teachers and their phantasmagoric dreams and visions. Even though when we confronted the false teachers they hurled insults and abuses at us, and one of the self-declared prophets even chose to slander us on his website, we counted it all joy and rejoiced that we were “counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). Cults and false ministries are filled with drama. No longer are we afraid of men, no matter how powerful they may be or claim to be, and more so in the matters affecting our eternal salvation. We fully embrace the fact that our salvation was purchased at a great price and no longer will allow ourselves to become spiritual slaves of anyone (1 Corinthians 7:23), people who will perish like grass and vanish like smoke (Psalm 37:20; Isaiah 51:12).
More Peace: In cults and false ministries, the messages you receive are mostly flattering when you are walking the line and not questioning anything, and very troubling and fear-filled when you question any of the messages. However, when you truly seek and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you experience His true peace, joy, and strength: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
Freedom in Christ: When you are in a legalistic church, false ministry or church that operates as a cult, you are compelled or forced to follow certain rules, failure to which you are strongly condemned and judged. There is no joy when you do things out of compulsion instead of out of your free will, and true freedom in Christ is when you choose to follow Christ and obey Him out of your own will (Joshua 24:15; 2 Corinthians 9:7; 1 Peter 5:2; Philemon 1:14). False ministries and cults make the wonderful gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ taste harsh, bitter, unreasonable, and unbearable – which as a reflection of the character of the false teachers themselves! In truth, the Word of God is powerfully wonderful and sweet (Hebrews 4:12; Psalm 119:103).
Restoration of Blessings: When you are in a cult or in a church or ministry that controls members and all their resources, you get robbed literally of your material and spiritual blessings (John 10:10). The constant fear of the future and reminder of “imminent rapture” discourages one from making any long-term investments or planning, and can also create the fear of getting married or having children. Consequently being in a cult can relegate one to abject poverty (save for the cult leaders who is always milking whatever little the members have). In such a hostile environment where there is no peace and much strife, there will be little or no peace in marriages. On the contrary, when you are truly following the Lord, you experience His grace, favor, and protection, He supplies all your needs (Philippians 4:19) and strengthens you through trials (2 Corinthians 12:9). You feel free to set goals and achieve them without condemnation (Phillipians 4:13). The Lord truly does restore the years that the locusts ate (Joel 2:25). Just to be clear, we are not advocating for the prosperity gospel (we reject it), but trusting in God for provision and sustenance.
Based on our experience, we felt strongly convicted in our spirits to share this message, so that you can be equipped and forewarned about false teachers, false prophets, and cults that masquerade as Christian ministries or churches. You might already be trapped in such a cult, ministry or church where you are spiritually and emotionally abused and forced to do things against your will. You may be afraid or scared to leave that church because you’ll be alone and abandoned. You may be worried that the moment that you leave that cult you’ll be hit by a bus, lose your job, some misfortune will fall you, or you will lose all means of sustenance. Brother or Sister, the Lord Jesus Christ, through His Word and His Holy Spirit, will set you free (John 8:32; Luke 4:18). The Lord gives us encouragement thus: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
In Part II of this article, we will share 10 characteristics to help you identify cults, as well as encouragement for those trapped in such churches or ministries that attempt to, or actually, exercise excessive control over their members.
May the Lord give you grace and peace as you call on Him!
Abes and Jan.