Cults in Society: A Christian Perspective

by Rev. Rafael Martinez, Spiritwatch Ministries

C.S. Lewis warned us years ago that Western civilization has entered what he called the "postChristian" era, a time in which the most basic knowledge and influence of Christian faith and moral principles among supposedly "Christian" nations has been largely rejected for a secular worldview. This has become an established reality in our society today with the floodtide of interest and appeal in new Western spiritualities, aggressively advanced antichristian philosophies, ancient Eastern mysticism, and aberrant forms of pseudo-Christian cults. Complete with new revelations, prophetic voices, and compelling visions of a better life, these groups have made major cultural inroads into our society at more levels than we like to admit. This is an explicitly spiritual / philosophical enterprise that has been going on since the dawn of time among the tribes of mankind since our ancestors Adam and Eve were banished from Eden after the Fall of Mankind. So the words of caution that the Lord Jesus Christ gave to us in Matthew 24 ring with even more relevance and urgency than ever before regarding this. When pressed by his disciples as to when they could expect the end of the world, what do we find is the very first sign that he indicated would signify both this and the time of his return? "Take heed that no man deceive you" (verse 4).

It is not an exaggeration to say that true examples of spiritual deception may be found in many of these so-called "cultic" groups (and not a few extremist fringe churches) that exist in our region and world. They find easy prey in the many other millions in modern society who would describe themselves as intensely religious individuals but who are Biblically illiterate and ill-equipped to discern between the false teachings of cults and those of sound Christian faith. The heartrending tragedies of Rancho Santa Fe, Cherie, Waco, Jonestown, Rajneeshpuram, and Mountain Meadows are stark proof of the magnitude of spiritual darkness to which the sincerely zealous have fallen, a darkness that has caused the physical loss of hundreds of lives. Unseen by CNN and the mass media are the hundreds of thousands of others whose lives have been cut short in anonymous, private deaths due to their obedience to cultic dogma. And also ignored are the millions of practicing members of groups who, in their misguided zeal, embrace legalistic and manipulative forms of spirituality that routinely inflict them with religious abuse and psychological bondage to the extent that they are convinced that to leave their group would mean their spiritual, social, and personal downfall.

The Counterfeit Vision: The Advance of Spiritual Deception

There cannot be a counterfeit until there is first an original, and this is true in the case of cultic groups who pattern themselves after the Christian Church. They will be found out in the streets and knocking door-to-door spreading what they call the "gospel" through free home Bible studies, magazine subscriptions, "Bible-based" publications, and videos. They give a substantial amount of financial contribution to their organization to "advance the truth." They use articulate, engaging and winsome workers as their missionaries. They delight in their radical view of the world, that defies modern secularism and "corrupt Christendom." They have a firm belief in their groups' supremacy in both authority and teaching that they claim is derived from the Bible. They'll express great apparent interest and love for anyone seeming to be interested in their teaching, and will go to great lengths to express their "concern" for them. But in many cases, many groups that espouse their own form of absolutism are now finding it advantageous to actively network and support one another on a populist platform of social and religious issues, using the buzzwords of multiculturalism and diversity as rallying points of dialogue, even if the fine details and rough edges are smoothly tabled and left undealt with. In so doing, each group gains for itself greater credibility by appearing to be more inclusive than they actually are.

Other cultic groups such as the Heaven's Gate UFO cult represent a  newer, more deceptive wave of cultic deception now afoot in our land that attempts to combine Eastern and New Age concepts with reinterpreted Christian teachings and a smattering of various philosophic and mystical tenets. These syncretic groups have an appeal to the well-educated and philosophical among us who are disillusioned with Christianity and other theistic religions and are looking for a tailor-made faith that entertains their quest for a more "relevant" mission in life. Heaven's Gate leader and ex-Presbyterian Marshal Applewhite's teachings used enough Christian terminology (reinterpreted by him) to mingle with his UFO mythology and Eastern religious god-talk to convince his followers that he knew the way to their ultimate personal fulfillment. The suicides of the group  were expressions of their faith in his vision and of their commitment to seeing it fulfilled. 

Still other groups are much more "mainstream" and go to extraordinary lengths to not only seem more Christian then orthodox Christians but to convince you they are as American as Mom, apple pie and baseball. For the most part, they wield incredible power in terms of their economic, political and cultural clout they wield in our society and have won for themselves a place in the community, the ministerial fellowship, or the city council. They have, simply by using their places in society, insinuated themselves into literally every cultural endeavor in America today and spare no effort or expense to use idealistic, appealing and energetic members of their particular sect to find a hearing for the spread of their vision and revelation. They own banks and businesses nationwide, fund political action committees in the corridors of power in Washington, and participate in community service projects across urban and rural America. Their members are impressively moral and zealous people who make no apologies for expressing their faith by their works. Therefore, cultists seem to be totally committed "true believers" whose lives are centered around their faith.

But that is where the similarities begin and end, even though cynical skeptics and the secular mindset might refuse or more unlikely recognize the distinctions. It's easy to see why seemingly these upright true believers who make much about Christ, the Bible and trust in God all around us would so readily be viewed as committed Christians who cling the same orthodoxy that others outside their folds do.  Discerning that one cultist believes Jesus is an ascended master, a spirit brother of Lucifer, an angel, or some other kind of counterfeit identity never passes their mind. Telling the difference between one zealous Jehovah's Witness twisting of John 10:30 into saying something it doesn't about Christ's divinity just isn't an issue. There just isn't much concern in our "tolerant" and pluralistic culture to even go there, even in our day of instantly accessible understanding. We must remember the explicit and blunt warning Jesus gave us in Matthew 24 and realize that sincerity and earnestness is not the same as truth and faith.

Alarmism is not our goal in speaking out about this subject, but a passion for helping men and women avoid the dangers of cultic deception is our prime motivation. This website and the ministry of many fellow countercult organizations both religious and secular are among a movement of concerned people who are well aware of the subtle snares that many dangerous groups use to recruit and retain both members and audiences across our nation. Although the First Amendment certainly grants these groups the freedom to believe as they wish, we do not believe that the Founding Fathers meant these freedoms to extend to the establishment of deliberately manipulative spiritualities that have caused untold amounts of religious abuse, domestic turmoil, and social disruption. Basic civil and human rights are violated on a routine basis by their operation through profoundly unethical mind control techniques and deceptive coercion. And from a Christian perspective, these cult philosophies are ungodly bondages that have overthrown the faith of thousands in pursuit of myths perpetuated by false prophets.

We hope that these articles may be used to help men and women being targetted or recruited by such groups retain the only tool that they have to discern them - a free mind. Please read on.

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