What is a cult? Are you wondering, "Am I in a cult?" First of all, lets define what a cult is.
The term cult usually refers to a social group defined by their religious, spiritual, or philosophical beliefs, or common interest in a particular personality, object or goal. The term itself is controversial and has divergent definitions in popular culture and in academia and has been an ongoing source of contention among scholars across several fields of study.
In religious studies, this term is admittedly subjective and used as an ad hominem attack against groups with differing doctrines or practices. This term is not exclusive to Christianity but can be used for any belief structure. Within mainstream Christianity, it is actually quite clear which groups are considered cults. The basis for identifying most of these groups as cults is that they have beliefs which are directly contrary and contradictory to the Word of God. In the past 2,000 years since Christ came and the Bible was written, the Church has clearly defined what the essential doctrines of the Church are, so it is fairly easy to identify unorthodox beliefs, or beliefs which haven't been traditionally held by the Church. The Word of God is also very clear in mainstream Christianity and following a different translation of the Bible is not a reason for someone to be considered a cult, because the translations go back to the same original language. For example the New Testament is primarily written in Greek and we have over 24,000 manuscripts of the New Testament, and they all agree. The only differences are essentially minor "typos." See my article on "The History of the Bible" for more information on this.
Several different terms may be used to identify the type of cult. Some of the main types are "destructive cults," "doomsday cults," polygamist cults," "political cults," "racist cults," and "terrorist cults."
Unfortunately, there are some major differences within Christianity when it comes to non-essential doctrines. Often the term "false teaching" is employed to describe a teaching that is taught by someone that you think is false, but it may not be an essential doctrine and may not be a teaching of a cult.
So how do I know if I (or someone I know) is in a cult? There are several ways:
2. If the websites don't have as much information as you would like, you can do a search (try searching the name of the group you are wondering about with the word "cult" or "false teaching") and read what people are saying about it. Click here for SEEKFIND, a Christian search engine for Biblical and Theological Research.
3. Frankly just contact me and I will give you all the information you need from the Bible, books and resources, and what is the position of the Christian Church overall on it.
4. Go to a regular public town library or a Christian bookstore (not connected to the group you are researching of course) to find out the truth. It may take a lot of searching to get the answers you need.
5. Study the genuine - The most important thing is to study the Bible correctly, from the true experts who have analyzed the original language and context so you know exactly what it is saying. Cults study the Bible too but they put their own slant on it which the Biblical experts would disagree with. The cults are always in the minority. The Church has been around for 2,000 years and has heard pretty much everything so they overwhelmingly know what is truth and what is not. The essential doctrines are clear and agreed upon. It is the non-essential doctrines (minor issues) that the Church may have different opinions on but they don't really matter, and certainly won't keep you out of heaven. For more on this subject, click here.
If it's someone you know that is in a cult, there are a lot of resources online and a lot of great books on this topic. Here are some links.
- The Kingdom of the Cults (Walter Martin)
- The Kingdom of the Occult (Walter Martin)
- Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults, and Beliefs (Steven Hassan)
- Controlling People: How to Recognize, Understand, and Deal with People Who Try to Control You (Patricia Evans)
1. Zablocki, Benjamin David; Thomas Robbins (2001). Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field. University of Toronto Press. p. 474. ISBN 0-8020-8188-6.
2. Richardson, James T. (1993). "Definitions of Cult: From Sociological-Technical to Popular-Negative". Review of Religious Research. Religious Research Association, Inc. 34 (4): 348–356.
© Todd Tyszka
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, you do not make more than 500 physical copies, and you include the following statement on any distributed copy:
From Todd Tyszka. © Todd Tyszka. Website: www.toddtyszka.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For web posting, a link to this document on our website is required. Any exceptions to the above must be formally approved by Todd Tyszka.