In Part one, we discussed the meaning and origins of the word “cult” in the English language and how top experts currently define it. Now, let’s delve into the differences between cults and how to analyze them from a Christian perspective.

We see false teachers and false gospels are frequently mentioned in the New Testament, with the exception of the book of Philemon. Jesus Himself warned His followers to be cautious of false prophets and false Christs (Matthew 7:15-23 and 24:5). The apostle Paul also warned about those who preach a different Jesus or a different gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4, Galatians 1:8), and false apostles (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). The writer of 1 John urges believers to test the spirits, as false teachings have eternal consequences. It is important to be vigilant against counterfeit prophets and their counterfeit gospels, as they can only offer a counterfeit salvation.

It is important for us to understand the various cults that exist in our society. However, it can be difficult to define what exactly constitutes a cult, as different experts have different perspectives on the matter. Sociologists may focus on authoritarianism and exclusivism, psychologists may emphasize mind control, theologians may be concerned with heretical beliefs, and journalists may highlight sensational aspects such as mass suicides and strange rituals. In order to effectively study cults, it is necessary to consider all of these various perspectives.

Orville Swenson defines in his book The Perilous Path of Cultism a cult as a religious group with distorted beliefs, excessive devotion to leaders, and divisive practices that deviate from traditional Christianity. Alan Gomes adds that cults also originate from a parent or host religion, and deviate from the central beliefs of that religion. For example, a cult of Christianity would be a group claiming to be Christian, but denying central Christian teachings, while a cult of Islam might be the Nation of Islam, and a cult of Hinduism could be the Hare Krishnas. These groups all have their roots in a parent religion, but deviate from the core beliefs of that religion.

I believe that Gomes’s definition is accurate because it accurately identifies that not all cults are identical:

  1. Not all cults are associated with Christianity.
  2. Cults often stray from the teachings of a parent or host religion, such as Christianity, Islam, or Hinduism, or from another religion altogether.
  3. Cults may be led by a single individual, like the Unification Church under Reverend Moon, or by an organization, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses under the leadership of the Watchtower Society’s Governing Body.
  4. Cults typically diverge from the central beliefs of a parent religion, such as the deity of Christ, rather than peripheral practices like the mode of baptism or church governance.
  5. Cults may deviate from the teachings of a parent religion in explicit ways, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ denial of the Trinity, or in more subtle ways, such as the Mormon belief in a “heavenly Father” who is reinterpreted as an exalted man.
  6. Cults may have a unique or unconventional interpretation of religious texts that differs from parent or host teachings.

It is important to have a clear understanding of the essential or major doctrines of Christianity if the above definition of a cult is accurate.

There are five key Christian doctrines that are relevant for the study of cults, in my opinion:

  1. The doctrine of God, including the biblical truths that there is only one God who is triune in nature, and who is infinite and eternal.
  2. The doctrine of Jesus Christ, including the biblical truths that He is the second person of the Trinity, therefore being eternal God, was born of a virgin, died for the sins of humanity, and was resurrected from the dead in a physical body.
  3. The doctrine of humanity, including the biblical truths that humans were created in God’s image, are distinct from God, are morally responsible to Him, and are destined to either live forever with God in heaven or suffer eternally in hell, depending on their salvation status.
  4. The doctrine of sin and salvation, including the biblical truths that all people are born into the world in a state of sin, cannot earn their own salvation or gain favor with God through their actions, and are saved by grace through faith in Christ’s atoning work on their behalf.
  5. The doctrine of scripture, including the biblical truths that both the Old and New Testaments are inspired by God, are without error, and are therefore authoritative.

According to the above definition, a cult of Christianity is a group that claims to be Christian but actually denies one or more of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith, either explicitly or implicitly. These essential doctrines include the nature of God, the person and work of Jesus Christ, the nature of humanity, the concepts of sin and salvation, and the authority of scripture.

Doctrinal Characteristics Of Cults

It is important to understand the characteristics of cults, particularly those within Christianity, as these are the most influential and prominent cults that we encounter. These characteristics are common among cults, although not every cult exhibits all of them or exhibits them to the same extent.

Some of these characteristics are more significant than others in cults of Christianity:

  • New Revelation from God
  • Denial of the Trinity
  • Denial of the Sole Authority of the Bible
  • Denial of the Full Deity of Christ
  • Devaluation of the Work of Christ
  • Denial of the Personality and Deity of the Holy Spirit
  • Denial of Salvation by Grace
  • Denial of the Priesthood of the Believer
  • Redefinition of Christian Terms
  • Compartmentalizing Conflicting Facts
  • A Central Role in Fulfilling Prophecy
  • A Tendency to Revise the History of the Cult

Although not every cult exhibits all of these characteristics or exhibits them to the same extent, it is important to note that these characteristics are quite common among cults.

Please pray that I may find sometime soon to touch base on each of the characteristics that I have outlined above to provide more clarity. In the meantime, if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me.


Works Cited:

  • Christian Research Institute. (n.d.). What is a cult? Retrieved from
  • Confronting the Cults (1976) Gordon Lewis, Published by Zondervan.
  • The Cult Explosion (1980) Gordon Lewis, Published by Fleming H. Revell Co.
  • Cults and the Occult (1983) Gordon Lewis, Published by Zondervan.
  • The New Cults: An Analysis of the Religious Landscape (2007) Alan Gomes, Published by Kregel Publications
  • Faith Foundations: An Overview of Basic Christian Doctrine (1989) Gordon Lewis, Published by Crossway Books
  • Scripture Twisting: 20 Ways the Cults Misread the Bible (1980) James Sire, Published by InterVarsity Press
  • The Culting of America (1982) Walter Martin, Published by Bethany House Publishers

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Written by
Paul Natekin
Paul Natekin

Paul Natekin

Paul Natekin is the Chief Editor of “Мир Вашему Дому” Peace to Your Home magazine and a teaching fellow at Emmaus School and the Great Commission Missionary School. He also writes apologetic blogs aimed at questioning Christians and sincere skeptics.

As a disciple of Christ, I aspire to lead others to Him through my actions. His transformative grace and plan is crafting my simple life into a marvel beyond comprehension.

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