Have you ever mistakenly joined a cult?

Dr. Paul R. Martin: (How do you make your children resistant to cults?)
Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1993
ISBN 0-310-53761-4.

- Walter Schreibman, in High Risk: Children Without Conscience

As a child, Jane went to a Hebrew school where she learned all about cults. They were informed about how cults recruit new members: by "love bombing", by offering free meals, by "weekend stays" and by run-up organizations that act as youth service offices. She also learned about specific cults such as the Moonies, the Scientologists, and the Children of God.

Jane felt up to the encounter with a cult. In fact, she had completed one of the best cult prevention programs available in schools. However, none of the cult education was of any use, for Jane joined the "Universal and Triumphant Church" after being referred to by a close friend. She later realized her mistake and came to Wellspring to recover from her involvement in the cult. (Note from the translator: Wellspring is the rehabilitation center for cult victims managed by the author).

How did Jane, on earth, get into a cult? This young woman did not realize that cults advertise in different ways. Nor did she realize that even the best books on cults fail to mention hundreds, if not thousands, of other groups that are cultic in nature. Instead, Jane considered, "Unless she's a Moonie or a member of the Way or a Scientologist, she's not using love bombing on me. I'm not pressured to go to any special meetings so it cannot be a cult ".

Nobody has ever peddled to join a cult. No one has ever intentionally chosen an organization where they could be manipulated economically, physically, and emotionally. Every day, however, people are lured into cults and marginalized groups who promise one thing and offer something completely different.

How can you now recognize a cult? How can one look behind the initial and superficial appearances that the cults offer in order to get to know their inner mechanism? One way to do this is to understand the main characteristics of cults.

Cult traits

Cults manipulate people

The key to being advertised by any cult is how they manipulate people. Take a look at the following definitions of manipulators:

  • Manipulators take advantage of themselves and self-destructively control themselves like things. (1)
  • Manipulators "try to get someone to do what they do not want to do themselves". (2)
  • Manipulateurs "cannot and will not be satisfied even if you sacrifice your mind, heart, and body for them, for they will always be left with a lonely void within". (3)
  • The typical characteristic of the manipulator is to be demanding instead of attentive:
  • Manipulators are "rigid automatons who waste hours capturing the past or securing the future. They talk about their feelings, but are rarely in lively contact with them." (5)
  • Manipulators habitually hide and "hide real feelings behind a repertoire of behaviors ranging from submissive flattery to arrogant hostility to withdrawn arrogance, in a constant effort to satisfy their own desires or unconscious needs."
  • Manipulators do not allow you to confront them with your true ideas or feelings. Manipulators do not allow you to be angry with them, nor do they allow you to get close to their "inside", close to any of their real but hidden feelings.
  • Manipulators "fear vulnerability, fear exposure to others or be judged. They fear that constant contact with others could reveal a dimension of their selves that they have denied or refuse to see ... the manipulator chooses to take risks by trying to manipulate the people around him. " (7)
  • Manipulators tend to want to manipulate everything, including other people's conversations. "They judge rather than appreciate something ... (they) try to convince others instead of exchanging ideas with others. They limit themselves to safe 'small talk'". (8)
  • Past events - real or imagined - offer manipulators excuses for mistakes. Many manipulators base their promises on the future. Present-day manipulators "talk a lot about what they are doing and may appear busy, but in reality they seldom get anything done." (9)

In order to be manipulated, one has to give up some degree of control. How does that happen? First, manipulators address a person's needs, desires, longings and weaknesses. They offer something that seems to satisfy.

Second, manipulators base their claims on emotions rather than logic. People seem to be won over by the dynamics of the performance these days rather than the content of a message. Harold Busséll noted that Gordon College students were drawn to a powerful performance rather than the content of a sermon. Almost invariably, the students demanded that certain ministers be invited back if they were dynamic ministers. (10). Content or substance had little to do with their requirements. If we are no longer interested in logic than emotion, we will be endlessly manipulated by the "packaging" of a message.

Third, manipulators have learned how to work just as effectively in destructive cults as they do in advertising. Cult advertisers work like sophisticated sellers of used cars. Old poison mixtures were brewed into new elixirs of spiritual vitality and physical well-being. Throughout history, people have fallen prey to simple answers, quick fixes, and big wins.

Cults do not allow questions

True leadership allows questions to be asked and even recognizes the importance of occasional disputes. One of the earliest characteristics of cults or other groups with cultic tendencies is condemnation of questioning.

A friend recently told me how outraged she was when she saw a sticker that said, "Question Authority". Like so many other evangelicals, she viewed authority questioning as a sign of anarchy, disrespect, and rebellion. Not only does the Bible allow authorities to be challenged, but it also says that it is the responsibility of every Christian to do so. For example:

  • Paul rebukes the believers in Colossae for not questioning their leaders. He writes: "Be careful that nobody deceives you with his philosophy and false doctrine, which are based only on human tradition and appeal to the elementary powers of the world, not to Christ" (Col 2: 8). He adds: "Therefore no one should condemn you for food and drink or for a festival, whether it is a new moon or a Sabbath" (Col 2:16). He says to the Colossians: "No one should despise you who, in apparent humility, appeals to the veneration that he shows the angels" (Col 2:18).
  • The Bereans were recommended because they did not blindly accept Paul's interpretation of the scriptures. This is how Luke puts it: "These (the Bereans) had a nobler character than the Thessalonians, because they received the word with great willingness and searched the scriptures day after day to see whether this was really the case" (Acts 17 , 11).

In contrast to this spirit, the cult hammered in the belief that questioning authority is sin. But questions can be the sign of a justly investigative and analytical consciousness. If only people had been allowed to ask Jim Jones questions long before they took the poisonous potion! The questioning itself is not a sign of rebellion, as almost all cults teach, but the attitude of the questioner, which may show defiance against authority.

Cults require submission to authority

Cults demand dependence and call it biblical submission. In response to this false concept of submission, one also discards the concept of true submission - because it is mistakenly viewed as unhealthy, crippling, and psychologically enslaved. Sadly, this is what many experience when indulging in cultic submission - unhealthy and crippling psychological addiction.

In cultic submission there are no or few possibilities for self-expression. Validity, initiative, questioning and the expression of feelings of individuality are strictly forbidden or are severely disapproved of. In cultic submission, one fears rejection, asks permission, needs constant reassurance and advice from the leaders, and panics if one fears that one has displeased them.

Cultic "submission" is dependence - not submission. What is healthy submission? In biblical submission there is no negation of one's personality, thoughts, or feelings

his expression. "To deny yourself" does not mean to deny your personality. We are supposed to deny the selfish, sinful, and hurtful qualities of our selves, but certainly not our personalities. We submit because we want to serve someone else or because we want to promote a particular ministry. Eventually Christ submitted to his disciples - he served them constantly.

Paul, an apostle who submitted to the Lord and the brothers, did not hesitate to reprimand Peter for his hypocrisy when he refused to eat with the Gentiles (Gal. 2: 11-14). Even pious women reported in the scriptures did not hesitate to express their opinions when the situation required. Caleb's daughter demanded that she receive not only an inheritance from (dry) land, but also springs (Jos 15:19). Sarah protested against the continued presence of Hagar and her son. This was not against submission, for God instructed Abraham to listen to Sarah and send Hagar and the boy away (Gen 21: 8-21). Abigail acted contrary to her husband Nabal after he refused to provide food and assistance to David's army by providing supplies to David's people. This prevented David from taking deadly vengeance on Nabal. David thanked God for Abigail's generosity and praised her wisdom (1 Sam 25: 9-38).

In biblical submission, we may give of our time, talents, and energy to please and serve others, but not to our own harm. I submit to my employer by doing my job as directed. But I will not submit to attempts to label myself and define my existence. I will not allow anyone to tell me what to feel or not to feel. I obey when asked to do something consistent with my job responsibilities, but I am under no obligation to submit to anything that is wrong.

As a believing Christian and as a serious church member, there are times for me when I willingly submit. The authority of church leaders, however, lies mainly in the areas of faith and morals. Outside of responsibility for directing proper teaching and promoting moral conduct, church leaders cannot reasonably expect submission. In these areas, too, leaders have no authority to go beyond the plain teaching of Scripture. There are many secondary doctrinal issues on which the church has always been undecided (the type of baptism, the role of women in the church and at home, the type of worship, etc.). On such points pastors and others are free to express their opinions and conclusions, but apart from the clear and unambiguous teaching of Scripture, no one has the authority to compel his or her personal viewpoints to be accepted.

This also applies to questions of behavior or lifestyle. When scripture is silent about it, leaders should not make laws. They may guide members on Bible principles and suggest ways of applying those principles in specific situations, but they must respect the ultimate decision as a matter between the individual and God. In the second chapter of the Epistle to the Colossians, Paul clearly teaches that Christians should not follow their leaders on things unrelated to the gospel or on things that are actually perversions of the gospel. In this regard, the rules of observing special days, eating or not eating certain foods, or taking special notice of leaders who boast of visions and enjoy particular kinds of self-humiliation should be avoided. Paul's hint to us is clear - the worship of leaders has its limits, and the responsibility for discernment in faith is never removed from the individual Christian. We must judge all things in the light of what we know to be the truth - the gospel as originally taught by the apostles and as we find it in the New Testament.

I am also under no obligation to submit by remaining silent when my pastor sins. Paul tells us in the first chapter of Galatians that we should never submit to anyone who teaches or practices error. Paul himself refused to remain silent while so-called spiritual leaders acted hypocritically (Gal 2: 11-14). Indeed, a true sign of my submission to my pastor would be to confront him or her when he or she makes mistakes, and to continue to follow and confront correct biblical guidelines until he or she she changes behavior.

One last word about submission. The whole concept of submission must be understood in the context of Christian grace and freedom. If submission to one another does not lead to greater grace and freedom, then it is not biblical submission. It's dependency and tyranny.

Cults motivate through fear and guilt

Why do we obey each other? Is it because we feel compelled, anxious, and timid? If that is the case, we are guided by problems. Others can then motivate us by playing on our neuroses - our fears, fear, and compulsions.

Cults demand obedience and motivate their victims through fear and guilt. In fact, some cults and fringe churches teach that members who disobey and leave the group go to hell. In some groups, disobedient members are publicly ridiculed and sometimes even publicly beaten. Sometimes leaders teach that certain curses, diseases, or possibly demonic possessions await those who are not fully in line with the Church's program.

A young man was told after leaving his Pentecostal fringe church that his negative influence would result in demonic attacks on his family. Faced with the unsolvable dilemma - he did not want to return to the group's heresy, but neither did he want demonic attacks on his family - he decided to kill himself, believing that at least his family would be spared the demonic battle. He drove deep into the forest, parked his car and ran into the furthest corner of the forest. There he sat down next to a tree and drank a whole bottle of sedative. Fortunately, he was saved by a lumberjack who found him before it was too late.

This story of the young man is not alone. Suicide attempts are fairly regular in the cults. Even among those who have not attempted suicide, I should first find someone who left a cultic group and denied that the group ruled through intimidation with fear and guilt.

In the first "honeymoon" period of admission to a cult, members usually spend long and stressful hours doing whatever the leaders propose to be the will of God. In some groups it may be evangelization. Members start evangelizing early in the morning and work late into the night handing out tracts, knocking on doors, selling literature, and having discussions with people in the park. Community "back-to-nature" groups may encourage members to spend long hours tending gardens, selling organic food, or repairing farm equipment.Full-time students who e.g. For example, those active in the Boston Church of Christ spend an average of twenty to thirty-five hours per week in Bible study, Bible discussions (evangelistic Bible studies), prayers, evangelization, and gatherings with their older partners who train them. In a great many cults it is common for male members to be forced into services as "voluntary" maintenance workers, lawn care workers, drivers or anything else that the group leaders need. Female members often serve as unpaid babysitters, housekeepers, or cooks for the leaders' wives.

No one should doubt that these groups are producing a lot of "fruits" in terms of numerical growth and financial gain. But what kind of fruits are they? Are they real or are they forced by fear and guilt? How long will such fruits last? Many members leave these groups feeling that they have failed; they couldn't keep up any longer. You are exhausted, confused, discouraged, and plagued with guilt. Others become bitter. A former member of Great Commission International told me that because of its spiritual burnout due to its activity in GCI, it will not even set foot in church. Burnout, fear, and guilt can cause lives to fail.

Fear and guilt are negative emotions. They can produce tremendous (but temporary) successes for religious organizations by recruiting new members, working too long hours for the "cause", and increasing the wealth and power of the group. Motivation through fear and guilt can solve problems quickly. However, they should never be motives for completing a task and carrying out a mission.

Of course, fear and guilt are in themselves neither good nor bad. They are feelings that cannot be denied. But we can't make a living from it. Fear and guilt are like flashing red lights telling us something is wrong. The lights say there is a problem, please find the cause and fix it.

Cults are fanatical

Although many Christians will at times be tempted to lie, cheat, steal, or commit immoral acts, most will not give in to temptation. Yet many of these people, who would not give in to carnal temptation, could be pushed to other extremes - devoting long hours to something, loosening ties with friends and relatives, or developing an elite mentality in which they regard their group as spiritual and of Seeing God more favorably than other groups. What they fail to realize is that Pharisee fanaticism and extremism are as destructive as the sins of the flesh.

When I was on the Great Commission International there was a man I will call John. John became one of the leaders of our movement. In the early days some of the leaders and I had observed some problems in the movement and we wanted to speak openly and freely with John about these problems. While agreeing with our analysis, John argued away the team's problems. He said we were young and still had to learn that there was no spiritual "action" anywhere else and that no one else was doing what we were doing to reach the world. Any other group is dead compared to us.

In this way, John and countless other excuses for excesses and mistakes of many kinds. And they have often been justified by out of context scriptures. "Be cunning as snakes and simple-minded as doves" (Mt 10, 16) and "Wisdom has got it right by the deeds it has done" (Mt 11, 19) were two of the most abused verses.

Other groups have used similar arguments to protect their pastors from charges of immorality. "How could such a dynamic and spiritual soul-winner do something bad?" I knew of pastors who justified their own sexual immorality because they "weren't like other men" and "God knew their special needs." Some claim that their sexual ties are the only way to show some women (and in some cases, men) the love of God. This is how cults and fringe churches justify their practices and excuse their leaders.

Cults abuse the Holy Spirit

Many spiritual "antics" disguise themselves as signs of the Holy Spirit. The former child evangelist Marjoe Gortner was able to "kill" others in the spirit, perform "healings" and let people "speak in tongues" - long after he had given up his Christian faith. Often hailed as the world's youngest ordained preacher, he gradually lost enthusiasm for the preaching business and quit at thirteen. About 14 years later he wanted to expose other evangelists and healers as charlatans and show people. Gortner worked on the production of the film "Marjoe," in which he pointed out the deceit and cunning acting that many preachers use to convince people that the power of the Holy Spirit is moving in their particular ministry.

Franz Anton Mesmer (1734 - 1815), the great hypnosis scientist, was able to anticipate almost everything that can be seen today in a modern charismatic church service. He claimed that he could heal people with magnets and also "healed" a number of hysterical patients suffering from neuralgia and various other ailments, including convulsions. His theory of "animal magnetism" stated that magnets could transfer certain fluids from the atmosphere into the body and thus rejuvenate it. It was unanimously rejected by the scientific world. It was later found that these procedures were based on the principles of hypnosis. Hence the word "mesmerized" now means that one is being hypnotized or fascinated. One of Mesmer's tricks was to put a staff on the shoulders of people seeking healing. Immediately these people would fall backwards and become unconscious. Mesmer's procedure is similar to that of modern healers or evangelists, who put their hand on the forehead of someone who comes forward to prayer and healing, thereby making them unconscious and falling backwards, "struck dead" by the spirit. Mesmer did this long before the modern charismatic movement began in the early part of our century.

Some non-Christian religions also practice speaking in tongues, healing and "spiritual dancing". Many consider these practices problematic for Christians because they can be so easily imitated by non-Christians. On the other hand, something is not of the devil because it is said to be. The point is that almost all of these phenomena result from states of expanded consciousness that can be generated in various ways, such as deep relaxation, mixed messages causing confusion or divided attention, heightened emotional excitement, and physical fatigue.

The biblical admonition to "test the spirits whether they come from God" (1 Jn 4: 1) still applies. We must be extremely careful if our child or a relative joins a group that includes "supernatural signs". Does the Church claim that only she has such marks? Are the Signs Associated with Sound Doctrine? Who are the people who evoke these wonderful signs? Can the healings be medically verified? Does the pastor forbid others to question their authority and power? If so, then the group is likely cultic.

Cults put experience above reason

Do we know the truth from experience? No. We only know the truth when we have examined, assessed and checked the evidence for contradictions and then consent based on our knowledge.

Followers of Guru Maharaj Ji, the head of the Hindu cult "Divine Light Mission", "know" that he is the truth because they tasted "divine nectar", saw a "divine light" and heard "divine music" afterwards had followed some of his meditation practices. Another example of "knowledge" by experience would be the followers of Jim Jones, who were convinced of his integrity because of his "cures," "words of knowledge," and his apparent passion for the poor.

And Christians can make the same mistake. In the middle of a public discussion on Ascension Day on a university campus, a pastor rose to speak to the audience and, he believed, decide the matter once and for all. He said: "I know that Jesus lives and that he rose from the dead because he lives in my heart". He repeated the phrase from the ancient hymn, "He Lives," but almost everyone doubled over at the utterly subjective and anti-intellectual nature of this pastor's "belief".

Cults disapprove of individual freedom

Much of the concept of freedom as we know it today stems from the Judeo-Christian tradition, as many authors have pointed out (11). The Westminster Confession clearly affirms the principle of freedom: "God alone is the Lord of conscience, and He kept it free from the doctrines and commandments of men ... and absolute and blind obedience means freedom of conscience and thought to destroy." (12)

Freedom means loyalty to truth, to conscience and to the ability to make one's own decisions on matters of faith, ethics and morals. Cult leaders, on the other hand, claim that their members are incapable of making wise personal decisions. They tend to dictate the use of time, appointments, thoughts, and beliefs of their members, among other things.

The lack of freedom is at the heart of the cult. Indeed, it is the ground on which the cult flourishes.

Cults offer things that are too good to be true.

Our nation has many programs to prevent consumer fraud and protect our money; however, there are no programs to prevent someone from stealing our sanity or our souls themselves. Unscrupulous business people who sell a defective product or service cannot hide behind the First Amendment. But religious cults can and do it all the time. When the abusive work of destructive religious cults is exposed, the cry, "Religious Discrimination!"

Whenever someone offers you a product or service, ask if it doesn't sound too good to be true. If so, then it's probably too good to be true. As Jeannie Mills, a dropout from the "Temple of the People" by Jim Jones, who was subsequently murdered, said.

Ask questions !

My wife and I once wrote to a friend warning her that we thought her church group had cultic tendencies. What did she do ? She invited the pastors of the Church to dinner

and then asked her if her group was a cult! What do you think they told her? "Yes, we are a cult and we want to harm you"? Of course not. Manipulative fringe or cult church leaders will never admit using guilt, fear, and intimidation to manipulate their members.

Our friend must have asked differently. When buying a used car, it would no doubt be wise to ask someone other than the seller about the condition of the car. Have a trusted mechanic check it out. Ask your bank how much the car is worth. Likewise, if you are unsure about a church group, either one you want to join or one you are currently a part of; around the world: ask questions! Only by asking questions will you be able to judge whether a group is a cult or not.

Here is a list of questions you might ask about a group. Take the time to answer as many as you can. They will help you identify the problem areas in the group and enable them to spot a group with cult-like tendencies.

  • What is so appealing about what the group has to offer?
  • Does the group make its members feel good, fearful, guilty, or a combination of these feelings?
  • Does the leader of the group have a special charm and persuasiveness that his people find inexplicable and irresistible?
  • Do the people in the group seem a little too friendly, loving, smiling, and happy?
  • Do the people in the group visit you, call you and offer help with almost anything?
  • Does the group claim to have a special mission or calling that is unique and cannot be found anywhere else?
  • Does the leader claim to have unique power, vision, knowledge, or other ability?
  • How many leaders have left the group and why?
  • What is the group's reputation like in society?
  • What legal action has been taken against you?
  • Are there any control measures and compensation options for the management and the power structure?
  • Does the group have a constitution or governance principles?
  • How many meetings per week does the group have? Are these meetings always necessary?
  • Do people always talk about their pastor as if he were closest to God?
  • What are the group's views on leadership authority and discipleship?
  • What are the group's views on dating and marriage?
  • Does the pastor encourage people to read various Christian authors or attend seminars and conferences hosted by other churches and organizations?
  • Is there an isolationist or elitist mentality?
  • If the group is independent or non-denominational, which organization does it belong to?
  • Ask other local pastors or officials. Have you heard any complaints about the group?
  • Ask selected religious or secular organizations (some are listed in this chapter and in other parts of this book) that observe such groups. Do you know this group?
  • Have you heard any complaints?
  • Does the group belong to a larger, well-known, and honorable organization?
  • What is the reputation record of their leaders?
  • What do your parents, other relatives or close friends think of the group? Do you have reservations?
  • Is the Church extremely separatist?
  • How is the group financed? Are there any secrets? Do the leaders live differently from the followers, do they drive better cars, do they take longer vacations, do they live in a nicer house than people with comparable education and experience?
  • Does the group motivate its members primarily through fear and guilt?
  • Who invited you to the group or to a meeting. Was it someone completely stranger? (If so, be very careful.)
  • Are there any essays or books about the group?
  • Do you know of any criminal investigations into the Church or its leader?
  • Was there a split in the group and why?
  • Are there any disgruntled former members?
  • Are the disgruntled former members all telling more or less similar stories about why they quit? Did they quit because they were inconsistent with either the teaching or practice of the group or its leaders? How was the disagreement handled?
  • Does your inner voice tell you from time to time that something is wrong with the group?

We have to ask questions and we also have to teach our children to ask such questions if we want to make them cult-proof in our society.

Notes to Chapter 5:

  1. Everett I. Shostrom and Dam Montgomery, The manipulators (Nashville, Tenn .: Abingdon Press, 1990), 29.
  2. Ibid., 27.
  3. Ibid., 27, 28.
  4. Ibid. 28.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid., 29-30.
  7. Ibid., 82.
  8. Ibid., 84.
  9. Ibid., 89.
  10. Harold Busséll, Unholy devotion (Grand Rapids, Mich .: Zondervan Publishing House), 62, 63.
  11. Richard V. Pierard, "Schaeffer on History", in Reflections on Francis Schaeffer, Ronald Ruegsegger. ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich .: Zondervan Publishing House), 209; Rousas J. Rushdoony, This IndependentRepublic (Fairfax, Va .: Thoburn Press, 1978 (, 24, 25; Junius Brutus, A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: Still Waters Revival Books, 1989), 31.
  12. Westminster Confession, chapter 20, paragraph 2, "Of Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience."
  13. Cited in Sandy Andron, Cultivating Cult Evading (Miami: Central Agency for Jewish Education, 1983), Appendix f