Summary: Don’t get sucked in. Know the truth and use the Sword!
1. A cult worships its leader… instead of or more than Jesus.
2. A cult quotes its leader… instead of or more than the Bible.
3. A cult only believes part of the Bible.
4. A cult uses other books for Divine truth.
5. A cult requires allegiance to the leader rather than parents.
6. A cult leader lies and makes threats.
7. A cult emphasizes money and the leader controls it.
The above is not original with me. It has been a part of my notes for years. It is pretty concise and accurate but I have decided to elaborate on this and point out in the standard preacher alliteration of seven “Ss”, which is the number of perfection for folks who are into both of those areas. The seven areas are a good summary of the major doctrinal errors of cults and they just happened to be able to addressed with seven words starting with s. I didn’t stay up nights trying to do this like some lads do. ;-) A cult’s doctrinal errors will be mainly in relation to the following seven areas though they may have many other errors.
Scripture – They will add to or take away from it and deny its ultimate authority. They will use obviously inferior texts, books by (wo)men and vain philosophies to change or deny various truths. Their teachings will usually confuse the issues that the text clearly speaks to or they will give the same text different meanings depending on the culture or the level of the people to whom they are speaking. Of course, if there are three levels of understanding of the text only the holy men be they priests or professors will be able to understand the highest level thus securing their position of authority and control over the minions. Ah, I mean members.
Sin - They will either redefine or deny biblical sin or they may make nearly everything a sin to the point where you can only breathe on days with an “s” in them or abstain from certain foods on certain days. They either deny the spirit of the text or chuck the letters away because we are under grace not law. There is no balance
Salvation – They will either have a system of works, which is often very complex, to obtain salvation or deny that man can exercise his free will to receive or reject Christ’s offer of salvation. Often the leader(s) will be able to give it and take it away using the threat of that possibility to silence opposition. Others won’t say they can take away salvation but will warn of terrible punishments and trials awaiting those who would dare “go up against God’s man or touch His anointed”. The method of control is different but the effect is the same.
Savior – Jesus will be a Savior that needs help to save sinners or they will redefine His entire character and role making Him a wonderful man or even a spirit thus denying His death and resurrection. He may become the brother of the devil or one of many masters in the universe. He can even have a lad present today to make up for His “failures” and completing His mission for Him. Sometimes they are the very people who proclaim His sovereignty because they tell Him what He can and cannot do making their theologians sovereign rather than Christ thereby in reality denying His sovereignty.
Sex - They will demand celibacy, even in marriage, or only during periods dictated by the leaders. On the other hand, they may condone religious prostitution, harems and other sexual practices that are against the teachings of the Scripture like the Ranters, Oneidas, Shakers, and similar groups today. They justify polygamy or other forms of harems by pointing to David and Solomon but they forget that both those lads broke the Law in that area. (Deut. 17:17) They will also either deny the roles of the genders or reverse them.
Shekel – The leader will want full control of the money rather than removing himself from it to avoid temptation or the appearance of evil which would be the ethical thing to do. They will seek to increase in riches while their congregations suffer or suggest that materialism and its fruit is a proof of the blessing of God.
They appear in their Armani suits, wear expensive watches and jewelry while pleading for folks to send them money to fulfill their “vision” and maintain their radio/TV show which they will leave in their luxury car to go to their several million dollar homes. Their churches will be filled with expensive accouterments even in countries where the people are dressed in rags and live in constant fear of starvation yet they are told to plant their seed faith money or pay for their prayer cloths or other items to get in touch with God.