Why Is a Cult a Cult?

by Matthew J. Slick

There are many non-Christian cults in America: Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Science, Unity, The Way International, Unitarianism, etc. They all claim special revelation and privilege when they interpret the Bible ... and, they object to the label "cult."

The definition I use for "cult" is a group that includes the Bible in its set of scriptures, yet distorts the doctrines that effect salvation sufficiently so as to make salvation void. That is why cults are wrong, because they err in one or more of the following essential doctrines:

All of them add to the finished work of Jesus on the cross. Some cult groups even add to the Bible, (i.e., Mormonism which has the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price). Also Christian Science has added Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. The Jehovah's Witnesses, however, have actually changed the text of the Bible to make it fit what they want it to with their New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.

Cults add their own efforts, their own works of righteousness to the finished work of salvation accomplished by Jesus on the cross. All cults say that Jesus' sacrifice is sufficient, but our works must be 'mixed with' or 'added to' His in order to prove that we are saved and worthy of salvation. They say one thing but believe another. They maintain that they must prove themselves worthy and that they must try their best to pleas God and prove to Him that they are sincere, have worked hard, and are then worthy to be with Him. In other words, they do their best and God takes care of the rest.

This is absolutely wrong. The Bible says that we are saved by grace not by works "For by grace you have been saved through faith...not as a result of works, that no one should boast, (Ephesians 2:8-9 (NASB)); not by anything we do "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law" (Romans 3:28, NASB). Because if there was anything that we could do to merit the forgiveness of our sins, then Jesus died needlessly "nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified ... I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly (Galatians 2:16, 21 (NASB)).

The cults will often cite James 2:26 where it says that faith without works is dead. This, of course, is correct; faith without works is dead. If you have real faith it will result in real works of Christianity. That is what James is talking about. But he isn't saying that our works are what saves us, or that they, in combination with the finished work of Christ, save us. James was telling us that if we say we have faith (James 2:14) but you have no works, then that faith won't save us; and faith is what saves us, "Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). It is faith that saves. Incidentally, it should be noted that it is not faith only but faith in the proper object. Just having faith in something doesn't mean you're saved. Faith is only as good as the object in which it is placed. That is why it is important to have the True Jesus. Because if you have great faith but it is in the wrong Jesus, then your faith is useless.

In Mormonism Jesus is the brother of the devil begotten through sexual intercourse from a God who came from another planet. In Jehovah's Witnesses he is Michael the Archangel who became a man. In the New Age Movement he is a man in tune with the divine consciousness. Which is true? The only true Jesus is the one of the Bible, the one who is prayed to (1 Corinthians 1:1-2 with Zechariah 13:9; Acts 7:55-60); worshipped (Matthew 2:2, 11, 14:33, 28:9; John 9:35-38; Hebrews 1:8), and called God (John 20:28; Colossians 2:9). The Jesus of the cults is not prayed to, worshipped, or called God. And since the Jesus of the Bible is the only one who reveals the Father (Luke 10:22) so that you may have eternal life (John 17:3), you must have the true Jesus who alone is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

Another common denominator among the cults is their methods for twisting scripture. Some of the errors they commit in interpreting Scripture are: 1) taking Scripture out of context; 2) reading into the Scriptures information that is not there; 3) picking and choosing only the Scriptures that suit their needs; 4) ignoring other explanations; 5) combining scriptures that don't have anything to do with each other; 5) quoting a verse without giving its location; 6) incorrect definitions of key words; and 7) mistranslations. These are only a few of the many ways cults misuse Scripture.

If you want to be able to witness well to a person in a cult, you need to understand their doctrines as well as your own. Through study you will be able to answer questions that often come up in witnessing encounters. A Christian should know his doctrine well enough to be able to recognize not only what is true, but also what is false in a religious system (1 Peter 3:15; 2 Timothy 2:15).

Jesus warned us that in the last days false christs and false prophets would arise and deceive many (Matthew 24:24). The Lord knew that there would be a rise of the spirit of Antichrist (1 John 4:1-3) in the last days. Its manifestation is here in the forms of Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the New Age Movement, among others.

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