Cults differ in terms of the adopted belief systems and as a result, individuals who specialize in the study of cults have tried hard to find some of the characteristics common to cults so that they can use them as a basis for studying them.
These characteristics are then put to use at a time when the cult experts are about to identify how new cults now operate. As a result, it is now possible and easier to easily identify if an organization is a cult or not, regardless of their beliefs.
A cult can be defined as any religion whose teachings are not based on the God of the Bible. They manipulate scriptures and infringe on one’s decision making ability. Cult leaders can never admit that they are one and always justify their beliefs.
We cannot recognize cults by the mere use of common sense and the need to develop unbiased methods is important. Cults are based on two foundations; altering the bible and presenting alternative foundations that are separate from the Bible. Control and influence of lies is at the core of most cults’ activities, programs and relationships (Langone 17).
Characteristics of cult include the pyramid power structure where the top figure head is at the apex. In ‘find it quick handbook on cults and new religions’, Rhodes states that authoritarianism is much prevalent in any cult (Rhodes, R. 12).
As long as they are alive, the authority of the leaders is usually absolute and although they deny that their followers should not submit their conscience to them, people find themselves submitting to their rules because of the pressure put on them.
Kaslow, F. & Sussman, M. (159) state that the authoritarian leader often makes absolute claims about his character, abilities or knowledge. The above authors suggest that those cult members who submit to the authority of their leader are never corrected. This shows the consent and acceptance to the unlawful activities involved.
Cult leaders are manipulative of their followers’ character and will always accuse one’s character if you raise questions that differ with their standard doctrine because they feel threatened.
The followers’ minds are controlled by men and not God’s spirit since the cult has distorted view of the Holy Spirit (Rhodes, R. 13). Information passed on to the flock is also tightly controlled and censured. A careful evaluation of their arguments shows that fairness does not prevail in its operations though they paint a persuasive outward picture.
This is contrary to the biblical teachings that say we should not appeal to one’s authority but God’s anointing: In (The Holy Bible New International Version 1113), the Bible says we have anointing from the Holy one and all human beings know the truth. Other human beings may lead us astray because their anointing is counterfeit, thus the need to remain in the Lord (The Holy Bible New International Version 1113).
Cult followers are usually isolated from close family members and close influences/friends to avoid potential critics over their activities. They sometimes create fortified boundaries and some of them require members to renounce and break off their associations with relatives (Rhodes, R. 13).
At initiation, a cult follower is normally instructed to minimize association with close allies and this is justified by the literature given to converts by the cult leaders so that they can read and familiarize themselves with the requirements of the movement. New members are usually given materials to read about the cult which they find captivating (Clark 181). Therefore, according to the above authors, isolation and fortification is a common characteristic of cults.
The bible says that we should grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ (The Holy Bible New International Version 1070). Christ is the way the truth and life but cult leaders make their followers believe that they are the way to the God and as such, no one can go directly to the father without first passing through them.
Due to monopoly of information, cult followers become dependent on their leaders who continue benefitting from the gifts given to them. The members fear asking questions because they will be excommunicated (Rhodes, R. 13). The leaders use trickery and deceitful scheming as they toss people about to retain their command. Thus, while the bible teaches that we should believe only in one God, Rhodes (13) confirms the contrary of this warning that happens in cults.
Cult doctrines are opposed to historical spiritual foundations and they always claim to restore New Testament Christianity. Thus, they redefine biblical terms such as God, Jesus, and sin to mean something totally different (Rhodes, R. 13).
They use restoration from spiritual slavery as a trick to prey on potential converts. Their reform initiatives are usually selective though they claim to be based on God’s law which is neglected in many aspects. Their leaders show no mercy whenever an offense is committed causing stigmatization among other members.
If we alienate God and oppress the Holy trinity we divide the body of Christ. People should learn to read between the lines on the teachings they receive since most cults will teach what the Bible says but act contrary to the teachings. Cults have both good and bad people and therefore Christians should always be their brother’s keeper so that they bring the brethren who have gone astray to Christ.
We are called to be united in the body of Christ by being completely humble, gentle, patient and bearing with one another in love (The Holy Bible New International Version 1070). Rhodes observes the distortion of God’s word that is contrary to what the bible says about misinterpretation of His word.
A lot of confusion and disputes have been generated because of the psychological manipulation associated with cults that demands for total commitment. Some of these groups even harm people who defy their doctrines making it hard for its followers to leave. This creates a state of paranoia due to the fear caused by the leader (Deception Bytes 19).
Some of the cult members found guilty of destructive behavior also buy their way to justice causing their activities to prevail. Some cult leaders often lie about their spiritual inclination when approaching and recruiting new members making it unethical (Deception Bytes 3).
In family settings some of these unethical teachings are passed onto children. Some children are even abused because they are subjected to assertive parental authority. Cults raise social concerns in cases where they adapt unconventional practices and lifestyles. Their members devote a lot of time to the group, they change or modify their personal goals and they are also barred from socializing with outside members (ApologeticsIndex 2).
Cults also infiltrate into positions of power and force their subjects to participate in their educational programs. In societies where they are dominant, they engage in deceptive sales practices, fundraising activities and sponsorships to lure people to their side (ApologeticsIndex 2).
Theological concerns also arise from people’s beliefs and the foundations upon which these beliefs are formed. While deception bites (3) recognizes the aspect of paranoia and fear in cults, apologeticsindex (2) confirm this by noting how the members group themselves together so that they are not enlightened by what is going on outside their leader’s sphere of influence.
The Holy Bible New International Version (1050) tells us that our conflict is necessary and that if only we can rely on Jesus, he shall surely lead us to the truth and an eternal life. This is a truth that no cult has any knowledge about. There is no need for any one of us to remain as slaves of our fellow men because after all, when Jesus died on the cross, he died for our sins and redeemed us from our sins.
Every thought of Christians should be preoccupied with the need to remain captive obedience to Christ who strengthens us. In addition, exit counseling is important for people who leave cults because of the psychological trauma that comes with their teachings and practices (Galanter 984).
Cults differ in terms of the adopted belief systems and as a result, individuals who specialize in the study of cults have tried hard to find some of the characteristics common to cults so that they can use them as a basis for studying them. Characteristics of cult include the pyramid power structure where the top figure head is at the apex.
Cult leaders are manipulative of their followers’ character and will always accuse one’s character if you raise questions that differ with their standard doctrine because they feel threatened. Cult followers are usually isolated from close family members and close influences/friends to avoid potential critics over their activities.
They sometimes create fortified boundaries and some of them require members to renounce and break off their associations with relatives. Cults have both good and bad people and therefore Christians should always be their brother’s keeper so that they bring the brethren who have gone astray to Christ.
Apologetics index. Characteristics of cults. N.d. 14 April, 2011.
Clark, John. Cults. Journal of the American Medical Association, 242(1979): 181.1979.
Deception Bytes. Twenty characteristics of a cult. N. d. 14 April, 2011.
Galanter Mark. Unification Church (“Moonie”) dropouts: Psychological Re-adjustment after leaving a charismatic religious group. American Journal of Psychiatry, 140(1983): 984-989.
Kaslow, Florence and Sussman, Marvin. Cults and the family, Vol 4. Haworth Press, Inc. Binghamton, 1982. Print.
Langone, Joseph. Social influence: Ethical considerations. Cultic Studies Journal, 6. 1(1989):16-24.
Rhodes, Ron. Find it quick handbook on cults and new religions. Harvest House publishers. Oregon. 2005: 12-13.
The Holy Bible New International Version (1979, 1980, 1982)