Cults and False Doctrine: What the Bible Says about False Religions
By Betty Miller
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world….Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. 1 John 4:1-3
The term “cult” is typically used by the secular media to describe religious or semi-religious groups whose members are controlled in almost every single respect by a single individual. Visions of Waco, Texas or the Jonestown Massacre flash before our eyes. However, groups which claim to be in harmony with Christianity but deny foundational Christian doctrines — such as the Trinity, or the unique deity of Jesus Christ — are cults or false religions in a theological sense. We are commanded as believers to “try” every spirit, prove all things against what the Word of God tells us. If it does n0t line up, do not just walk away, run. Paul also warns in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 to let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day (the day of the Lord’s return) will not come unless the falling away comes first. This would suggest that there will be many who will be deceived before Christ’s return.
Spiritual Counterfeits: False Religions
Satan, the great deceiver himself, loves religion. Satan, by acting as an angel of light, has tried to devise a spiritual counterfeit for all of God’s real workings. One of Satan’s favorite frauds is to have a false religion “preach a counterfeit gospel.” Satan loves religion and has many people practicing false ones all around the world. Many of them even mention the name of Jesus. Satan does not mind even a little truth mixed into his false religions as long as The Truth (Jesus), is not taught. In fact, most counterfeit religions have a thread of truth running through them with the devil’s lies woven around it. Otherwise Satan could not ensnare people into them. Satan even takes man’s craving for the supernatural and creates religions that perform supernatural feats.
For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Matthew 24:24
“Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:” 2 Thessalonians 2:9-11
Many precious Christians have been deceived and become totally or partially involved with one or more of these religions. Since these religions have their origin from the devil, and even the elect can be deceived, this is a deception of epic proportions and is not to be taken lightly. Involvement in these false doctrines can produce many needless problems and sicknesses for the person involved because they are forms of idolatry.
If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching (of Christ), do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. 2 John 1:10-11 (ESV)
Gods And Idols
What is idolatry? It is the worship of any god outside of the true and living God. Worship is not confined to prayer in a church service, but is having an intense love or admiration for anything or anyone. This includes the reverence of any deity, supernatural manifestation, or “man of god” above the Lord God Himself.
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.” Exodus 20:3-6
The word “god” has many meanings. Anything or anyone which a man considers to be most important in his life, whose power is the greatest, and whose favor he would do anything or give anything to win, is properly called his “god.” A man may have many gods. When a man worships anything other than the God of the Bible, we say he is worshipping an idol.
An idol may be attractive or ugly. An idol may be a concrete thing, a mythical character, or a mental ideal. But, it is always something a person serves with all he is or has. Some people worship drink, pleasure, money, power and even other people. Whatever or whomever I put first in my heart is god to me. Sometimes a person will worship himself. He can do this by living for himself and doing only the things which please him. This is in essence the religion of “Humanism,” one of Satan’s favorite false religions. Colossians 3:5 says, “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” We are to have no other gods before the true and living God. When Christians speak of God, they mean the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God of the Bible.
Well known cults display the most obvious false doctrine and religions, as they do not preach the true gospel message which includes repentance and the atoning blood of Jesus, His second coming to this earth, a literal fiery hell that is eternal, and the one way to heaven through Jesus Christ alone. These false religions show us many paths to heaven and subsequent escape from eternal hell, or they discount hell altogether. Let us look at some of the well-known religions which are classified as cults. Remember that a cult has threads of truth from the Bible, but is in gross error in one or more of the basic Bible doctrines. Some churches have entered into cultic practices because they have embraced doctrines that either “add to” or “take away” from the Word of God. Some have a greater percentage of error than others, but any degree of error leads to God’s disapproval.
“What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it..” Deuteronomy 12:32
“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book..” Revelation 22:18-19
Cults and Religious Movements
- Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God
- Christian Science
- Concept Therapy
- Holistic Healing
- I AM
- Inner Peace Movement
- Jehovah’s Witnesses
- National Council of Churches
- New Age Movement
- New Thought
- Secret Societies
- Social Gospel
- Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship
- Theosophical Society
- Ultimate Reconciliation
- Unification Church (Moonies)
- Unity School of Christianity
- Unity Church
- World Council of Churches
NOTE: Although some churches are not traditionally known as cults, they embrace cultic practices; thereby much error is present. These churches practice pagan idolatry as they worship statues and exalt other people above Jesus. They also communicate with the dead which is forbidden in the Bible as it is call Necromancy (Deuteronomy 18:10-12). Legalism is very prevalent in these churches. Of course, there are those in these groups who have accepted Jesus as their personal Savior and have been “born again;” however, they never can rise to the overcoming life in Christ due to the cultic influences of these churches. There are, of course, many other cults not listed, but the complete list would be endless. These cults represent the earnest attempt of millions of people to fulfill deep and legitimate needs of the human spirit, which many seem not to have found in the established churches. God loves all these people and desires that they come to the knowledge of the truth. (Some people within these groups are Christians as they have found the Lord in spite of the doctrinal errors. The Holy Spirit will always attempt to lead them out from under the bondage these sects have brought them if their hearts are right.) Dr. Walter Martin’s The Kingdom of the Cults is a very thorough study of cultic doctrines if you desire information about any of these groups.
GOD’S WAY IS NARROW
The way of the masses is not the pathway Jesus speaks of in the Bible. Matthew 7:13-14 says, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Right after this verse the Lord warns us of the false prophets which are ravening wolves who can be recognized by their fruits. Satan seeks to lead men down any path except the one that leads to life in Christ. True religion is not a particular church or denomination, but an attitude of our hearts combined with a relationship with Jesus Christ. We are the church; our body becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit when we are “born again.” The Lord does lead us to fellowship with other members of the body of Christ and those local gatherings have come to be known as the church. However, all believers make up the true church, and the true kingdom is within.
“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:20-21
It would take an overly extensive volume to cover all the Scriptures that reveal errors in each of the cults and the occult groups individually, so we cannot pursue that study here. However, there are certain characteristics and marks that identify their practices. If we are aware of these, we can avoid being led astray and also help others to see the error. Cults and the occult are religious perversions and are spoken of as heresies in the Bible.
But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not. 2 Peter 2:1-3
- Heresy #1 – Denying Jesus as Saviour: From a portion of this passage, “denying the Lord the bought them,” we can see that one of the first signs of a false religion is that its followers deny the Lord Jesus as Saviour of the world. It is clear then that the test of a true representative of the Gospel has to do with the definition of the person and the work of Jesus Christ.
Christianity always affirms the true deity and the true humanity of our blessed Savior. He is both fully God and fully man, being the true union of the two natures. Denial of Christ’s atoning work on the cross is another heresy accepted by those that are false. They discount the blood shed by Jesus on the cross and become “bloodless religions,” speaking of Jesus as a good man or a prophet of God, but denying Him as the Son of God. They also deny the virgin birth, His bodily resurrection and/or discount His second return to the earth. The Holy Trinity of God is rejected by many of the cults.
The question “What think ye of Jesus?” is answered correctly only by the believing Christian. The Christian gladly answers, “Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of the Living God, God incarnate in the form of human flesh, born of a virgin. He is the Son of man, the only Saviour of the world, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who, through His death on the cross, provides redemption for all who believe in Him. He is the one who died for our sins, rose again on the third day, who lives to make intercession for us before the Father, and who will one day come in His glorious body returning to judge the quick and the dead at His appearing in His Kingdom. He is Lord and God, and in Him alone we have life, and life more abundantly. Jesus is the Son represented in the Godhead. The only true God is one God, eternally existent in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each person of the Godhead is eternal and coequal with the others. The Holy Bible is the recorded Word of God and is infallible. It is the final authority in regard to all Christian doctrine. Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, is the central figure of the Bible and we have our life solely in Him.”
False views of God and the Savior make references to them in such terms as “the ideal truth,” “the divine idea,” “the greatest person-age,” “the chief agent of life,” “the glorious spirit creature,” “the unity of all mankind,” and “the greatest master teacher.” Their terms and definitions of God are vague and confusing. They talk of having “conscious communion with God,” “experiencing eternal order by inner sublime peace,” and “universal unity coexisting with man’s spirit.”
2. Heresy #2 – Doctrinal Confusion: Doctrinal ambiguity is thus another definite mark of cults. They are never clear in their definitions or explanations and frequently change their beliefs and rules to adapt to their continued doctrinal alterations. When any of their beliefs stem from the Bible, they come from segmented emphasis on portions of Scripture taken out of context to read as they dictate. Usually a misplaced emphasis on a portion of the Word becomes the test of true religion to them. If others do not accept and believe their doctrine, they are not considered saved.
3. Heresy #3 – Cults Clannishness: Cults are vey clannish and look on all others as lost except for those in their group. They cease to base salvation on a person’s individual relationship with Christ and extend it only to those who have membership in their group. This membership then brings the people into bondage as they are required to follow a certain set of rules in order to be acceptable to God. Many are brought into slavery to their leaders. They must follow their advice and their dictates, for to do otherwise would mean loss of their salvation. Heaven is attained by working to please the leaders of these false religions. Some serve living leaders, while other follow the teachings of a “master” who has written a book considered equal to the Bible. Examples would be the Book of Mormon, the Koran and the Vedas. These leaders are generally people who claim to have had “special revelation.” We find the spirit of pride and self-elevation is always present in these groups. They speak of “my message,” “my revelation,” “my leadership,” and “my people.” Their followers become so mesmerized that many become unable to even seek a way out. Others are held in bondage by a spirit of fear and dependency. They would love to be free but are threatened with all kinds of disasters and the fear of going to hell should they depart.
4. Heresy #4 – Spirit of Fear: Only through Christ can this spirit of fear and bondage be broken. Fear is never from the Lord, and a good test to see if we are serving the true God is to check and see if we are following out of fear or out of love. “For God hath not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (II Timothy 1:7). God leads His followers with respect and love. Satan’s false religions enslave through fear and false promises. There is always a “carrot on a stick” which one never does quite get. Uncertainty is another favorite cult weapon. One never knows exactly where he stands or whether he will make heaven or not. Legalism reigns and there are myriad sets of rules that must be followed. If they are violated, certain disaster is prophesied by those in command. Anything that brings a person into bondage is never from the Lord. Jesus came to set us free, and we should flee anything that would bring us into bondage of man or Satan.
“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:32
“Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.” I Corinthians 7:23
“Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” II Corinthians 3:17
5. Heresy #5 – Denial of the Reality of Hell: Another earmark of cultic religions is their views about hell. If they do not use the fear of going to hell to bring people into bondage, then they try to discount hell altogether. One of Satan’s favorite lies is to try to convince people that they suffer their hell on earth and that there is none hereafter. He also tries to get them to believe the lie that death only brings a state of sleep or rest. Another doctrine teaches that hell is only temporary and eventually after being in the fires of hell people become cleansed and purified to the degree that they will then be accepted into heaven. These terrible heresies are believed by many Christians who are ignorant of what God’s Word has to say about it. Cults also teach that hell is a place where souls are simple annihilated and therefore no longer exist. Some teach reincarnation, giving people another chance to be born on this earth for as many times as it takes to become purified, progressing to higher forms each time they return. Others say hell is only a place away from God, but it is not a literal burning fiery hell.
6. Heresy #6 – Enslaved Followers: The New Testament emphasizes that Christian leaders are never to dominate the lives of others. True men of God lead their followers by being an example to them.
“The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” 1 Peter 5:1-3
7. Heresy #7 – Love of Money: Cults and the occult have the “love of money” at the root of their religions. In 1 Timothy 6:10 we are told that “…the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” God’s true leaders invite Christians to give gladly out of a full heart, while they conduct their own lives on a plane of personal sacrifice, just as the early Christian leaders did. This is in striking contrast to cultic practitioners of today. They strongly imply that money contributed to the cause will buy privileges, gifts, or powers for the beneficent follower. They offer healing and deliverance from accidents for a price. One can even buy his own salvation for a price. Followers are pressured and exploited to the point of economic exhaustion. There are many accounts of wives and children who have been brought to the point of hunger and impoverishment because of the cultic contributions of their husbands and fathers. Enamored of their new spiritual leader, they forget the clear teaching of the Scripture.
“But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” I Timothy 5:8
Many false religious leaders have their consciences seared and provide for themselves massive homes, spacious estates, private jet planes, and large holdings in the commercial world while their follows live in want and poverty.
“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;” 1 Timothy 4:1-2
These evil men enslave their followers not only physically by extracting funds from them, but psychologically and spiritually as well.
8. Heresy #8 – False Revelation: Another “red flag” to watch for as a sign of the false cults is the promise of a “secret revelation” to the members of their group. Many secret societies give information and privileges to only those within who are promised spiritual advancement not attainable by others. Any time something is presented as “secret,” “special” or “the hidden mystery” for only a few (those few who join them), we can deduce that it is not of the Lord. Jesus came with His teachings and message of salvation for all. Witchcraft in the United States is prospering because of leaders who claim to have discovered the “secrets” of prosperity, health, victory over our environment or some other quest or desire. People willingly flock around the religious leader who has “discovered the secret” and is willing to pass it on to them, or course for a price. Jesus warned of these people.
“For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.” Matthew 24:24-26
Most people do not know that all the hidden mysteries are to be revealed to those who follow Christ and are given freely without cost.
“And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God.” Mark 4:11
“Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:” Romans 16:25-26
Nevertheless, the deceitful infection of the cultic promoters continues as they beguile unstable souls away from the clear and obvious truth of God into unprovable “mysteries” that they themselves cannot explain. they talk in long discourses, asking many questions, but giving no real answers. Their speech is mere circumlocution.
One of God’s gifts to His true ministers is the ability to take the mysteries of God and make them plain as expressed in 2 Corinthians 3:12, “Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech.” The normal direction of the cultic promoter and false prophet is to take the plain truth of the Word of God and turn it into a mysterious message. The word “occult” means secret or hidden, thus we can see this is one method Satan uses to deceive those who do not know the Word of God. Clarity of belief is one of the characteristics of true Christianity.
9. Heresy #9 – Stifle the Operation of the Whole Man: Cults and the occult discourage the operation of the whole man. They stress either the spiritual part of man, the soulish part of man (mind, emotions and will), or the physical man. Many are encouraged to become so spiritual as to ignore all the other needs of life. They are not to think or reason but to accept spiritual truths only as taught by those in authority. The mind is unimportant according to them. This is completely contrary to Scripture for the Word tells us to channel our thoughts into certain areas and not others. We are told in Philippians 4:7-8: “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
Meditation groups encourage people to blank out their minds which leaves them open for demonic influences. As Christians, we are instructed to think soberly, not to leave our minds blank. According to Matthew 22:37-38: We are to love God with all our minds and soul, as well as our spirit. “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.”
Many cults prey on people with passive natures so they can implant their ideas and thoughts without any resistance from them. Some groups emphasize physical pleasure, while others stress extreme physical denial. The Trinity of man is either ignored or pushed out of balance, thus allowing the enemy to take his toll in the lives of many victims. Many false doctrines over-stress the separation of the spirit and body of man by allowing the body to sin, claiming that the spirit is holy and does not sin no matter what the body or soul does.
In Healing of Spirit, Soul, & Body, we do a complete study on this showing that the spirit, soul and body are a functioning unit, and the proper order for their function is the reborn spirit in charge of the soul (mind, emotions and will) with the body in subjection to them. False religions also go to extremes by teaching asceticism which abuses the body of man. All natural physical desires and pleasures are thought to be evil, so rigorous self-denial is practiced for religious purposes. Some teach that even sex in marriage is unholy, thus eventually destroying those marriages.
10. Heresy #10 – Extreme Legalism: Another earmark of cults and the occult is the extreme legalism which exists within their organizations. In their legalistic approach to the Scriptures, they set up rules and regulations that must be kept while mercy and faith are omitted. Jesus spoke about the scribes and Pharisees of His day being guilty of the same thing.
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” Matthew 23:23
The leaders of these cults elevate themselves as exalted messiahs and are presumptuous egotists. If we are aware of these organized heresies, we can keep ourselves and others from becoming involved.
In review, the cults and occult are devoted to a religious view or leader that is centered in false doctrine. Identifying marks are extra-Biblical revelation; salvation outside of Jesus Christ; manipulation of followers through fear, bondage to organizational rules; egocentric leadership; financial exploitation; secrecy; basic Bible doctrines perverted; partial Bible truths taught in extremes, and the claim that only their group is going to heaven.
Cult Involvement Brings a Curse
The danger of becoming involved with these groups is very grave as the Lord has pronounced a curse on all Satanic involvement. Many suffer today from demonic harassment that takes such forms as abnormal fears, nightmares, unusual and tormenting sights and sounds, freak accidents, fatal illnesses, and torturous diseases which are directly attributable to cultic involvement.
Many Christians are not even aware that their involvement in any of these organizations or practices (past or present) opens the door for demonic influences and attacks. Looking to God’s Word, He clearly warns and admonishes us to avoid these cults and cultic practices.
“When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee. Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God. For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the LORD thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.” Deuteronomy 18:9-14
Many people are ignorantly engaged in things that are an abomination unto the Lord because they are not aware of the Scriptures that give such solemn warnings to stay away from these things.
If we know any people that are involved in any of these cults, we should love them, pray for them, and seek the Lord as to how we can minister the truth to them. We should not condemn them because Satan has them blinded; they need our love and prayers.
Perhaps you have been involved in one of these cults or false religions and did not know it was in error. You can be set free by seeking the Lord and asking for His truth about it, and then asking Him to deliver you from all its spiritual bondage and physical involvement. A good check to see if any one of these holds spiritual bondage over your life is to note your reaction while reading the list. Many people become angry when a certain one is mentioned and cannot believe that particular group could be in error. This indicates the need to seek the Lord. (Why the anger if they have the truth?) When we walk in the truth, we do not become angry if someone disagrees with us. We have an inner witness of God’s peace when we are walking in the light.
To delve into further details concerning these topics we suggest reading Exposing Satan’s Devices by Betty Miller. Exposing Satan’s Devices is a spiritual tool chest of the many devices Satan uses to keep people under his lies and deceptions which eventually destroys them. It is an exposé of Satan and his methods and how to overcome him through spiritual warfare. As overcomers we have the victory.
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Topic: What the Bible Says about False Religions
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