Exposing Deception and Discerning Cults

Exposing Deception and Discerning Cults


When Jesus taught on the end times, He warned us to beware of false teachers who could gain a large following, thus starting new cults. Jesus twice emphasized that “many” will respond to false leaders (v. 5, 11). False teaching will accelerate (v. 11) as the gospel accelerates (v. 14).

4 Take heed that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, “I am the Christ,” and will deceive many…11 Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many…

14 This gospel…will be preached in all the world… then the end will come. (Mt. 24:4-14)

Jesus said that “many” false prophets will come, and “many” will follow false teachers in the end times. There will be a great increase both in the number of cults and the people who join them.

A cult is a group that refuses historic Christianity and has an unusual devotion to one leader whose set of beliefs are not found in Scripture (as affirmed in historic Christianity). A cult sees themselves as the only ones with the truth and they see the larger Body of Christ as apostate.

Jesus urged us to take heed to avoid deception. The way to avoid deception is by receiving knowledge, or by shining the light of understanding to expose the ways of deception.

6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. (Hos. 4:6)

We must both warn and rescue those who are involved in false teaching and practice. It is easier to prevent someone from joining a cult than it is to get them out afterwards. Part of the forerunner ministry is to warn and rescue loved ones involved in cults by teaching them the truth.

The conflict in the end times will be the battle for truth. Satan’s weapon will be deception; our defense will be love for the truth. This battle will focus on defining who Jesus is and how we are to love Him. We must love God on His terms. The Spirit exalts Jesus by guiding us into all truth about Him.

13 The Spirit of truth…will guide you into all truth…He will tell you things to come. 14  He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. (Jn. 16:13-14)

Truths about Jesus that offend humanists include His right, as God, to establish absolute standards to which the nations will be held accountable. Second, Jesus is the only way of salvation. Third, Jesus possesses the wisdom and love to judge sin in time and eternity.

Paul warns us of a falling away in the end times that can be avoided by loving the truth.

3 Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day [Jesus’ return] will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin [Antichrist] is revealed…9 according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, 10 and with unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth. (2 Thes. 2:3-10)

Paul spoke about false teachers who would start cults by drawing people after themselves. He admonished the elders to be alert to this (1 Tim. 1:3-11; 4:1-8; 6:2-7, 20-21; 2 Tim. 3:1-17).

Peter warns of the dangers of false teachers who deny the main tenets of our faith. They can be detected most easily by their covetousness and immorality (2 Pet. 2:9-14; Jude 8-10).

1 There will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord…2 Many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words…14 having eyes full of adultery…they have a heart trained in covetous practices… (2 Pet. 2:1-14)

Historic orthodox Christianity is defined from statements such as the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Westminster Confession (see these creeds near the end of this document). We must accept the main historical Christian doctrines which include:
Jesus as God’s only son who is fully God and fully man, born of virgin birth, without sin Jesus’ death and bodily resurrection and ascension to the Father’s right hand

The one true God exists in three persons (the Trinity) as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit Salvation is by faith alone, through grace alone, and in Christ alone

The infallibility of Scripture as our final authority for all matters of faith and practice The unity and diversity of the Body of Christ

False teachers do not hold to the main and plain doctrines of Scripture. They pervert the teaching about the grace of God by legalism or lewdness. Legalism seeks to earn the grace of God. Lewdness reduces the message of grace to receiving forgiveness without turning from our sin. The true message of grace inspires us to deny lust and to walk in godliness (Titus 2:11-12).

4 For certain men [false teachers] have crept in unnoticed…ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny…our Lord Jesus Christ. (Jude 4)


If a group displays one of these characteristics, then they are a cult or have cult tendencies.

#1 Opposing critical thinking versus letting people think for themselves

Cults: Their members must accept what the cult believes without challenging their doctrines. They do not want their members to think critically for themselves.

Bible: We must all examine each teaching that we hear in the light of Scripture. Do not believe a teaching that you cannot see with your eyes in your Bible. Think for yourself. Do not say, “Our leaders say…” but rather say, “The Bible says…”

21 Test all things; hold fast what is good. (1 Thes. 5:21)

Christians are exhorted to test the spirits or to discern the spirit behind a teaching.

1 Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God. (1 Jn. 4:1)

#2 Isolating members and penalizing them for leaving versus helping them do God’s will

Cults: They isolate their people and then reject any who leave. They say that people will be judged by God or will lose God’s best if they leave. Rejection, shunning, and warnings of judgment are given. People are taught to make lifelong commitments to the group and/or to seek permission to join another ministry.

The Bible: A leader’s first concern should be for the good of the people he is leading. Therefore, leaders are to help people succeed as they seek to follow God’s will for their own lives, regardless of whether it means joining another ministry. The foundational value is that God owns the people, not the leader or the group in which they serve.

#3 Emphasizing special doctrines outside Scripture versus loyalty to Scripture

Cults: Cults brainwash their people and emphasize the special revelations of their “anointed” leader who presents himself as having unique insights that no one else has. They claim to be the only way of salvation and that all refusing to join them will be lost.

The Bible: We must emphasize the supremacy and infallibility of Scripture as the final authority of truth. We must emphasize the main and plain themes of Scripture: the love of Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount lifestyle, prayer, reading the Word, winning the lost, healing the sick, serving others, etc.

#4 Seeking inappropriate loyalty to their leaders versus connecting people to Jesus

Cults: Cults require loyalty and devotion to the leaders instead of to Jesus. Faithfulness is defined as supporting the leader, rather than obeying Jesus. This loyalty is achieved by forbidding them to correct or question the leader.

It is very dangerous, in any ministry, when the leader cannot be questioned. Cult leaders are not accountable to anyone, nor do they freely admit their faults or errors; rather, they warn members that they are not to correct the leaders because they “must not touch God’s anointed.”

The leader is seen as being above reproach and is not to be contradicted. Members have an inappropriate loyalty and respect for him.

The Bible: Our first loyalty and connection is to Jesus. We serve together with weak and broken leaders who do not have all the answers and who are in need of insight and correction from others.

#5 Dishonoring the family unit versus insisting on the biblical priority of the family unit

Cults: Children are taught to be more loyal to the leaders than to their parents. Women are taught to be more loyal to the leaders than to their husbands, and husbands are taught to accept this as normal behavior.

The cult leader seeks to take the place of fathers, mothers, or a pastor or authority figure. The members act as dependent children seeking to win the approval of the leaders. Leaders go beyond their God-given authority and manipulate their members.

The members are required to cut ties with their family and friends who do not join the group. They are required to socialize only with other group members.

The Bible: The first relational priority of commitment is to one’s marriage, children, and parents. The sanctity and identity one’s family is far more important than the ministry in which they are involved.

#6 Crossing biblical boundaries of behavior versus sexual purity and personal ownership

Cults: Cults emphasize special revelations that allow their leaders to cross biblical boundaries in the areas of immorality and finances. They usually insist on owning the money and property of members who “join the community.”

Peter taught that false teachers are most easily detected by covetousness and immorality.

3 By covetousness they will exploit…14 having eyes full of adultery…heart trained in covetous practices…18 They allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness. (2 Pet. 2:3-18)

They promote unethical ways to gain money (for example, lying about collecting money for charities that do not exist). Some insist on moral standards for the group, except for the leaders who are called to have “spiritual partners” for the benefit of the movement.

The Bible: Sexual purity and private ownership of finances and property. In Acts 4, the disciples laid their money and property at the apostles’ feet as a one-time free will offering, not as a permanent economic arrangement.

#7 Separation from the Church versus a culture of honor towards the whole Church

Cults: Cults criticize and exclude the larger Body of Christ and claim to be the only ones truly saved. They separate from the wider Church with an elite spirit, believing that they alone have a special calling and status with God. They have a polarized mentality of “us-versus-them” that causes them to separate from others in the Church and society at large.

They mock and ridicule all beliefs that differ from their own. They dishonor the Body of Christ, viewing all denominations and ministries as being in error.

The Bible: We love God by loving the whole Church that is so dear to Him. We are to cultivate a culture of honor in our midst that emphasizes blessing other ministries without criticizing, and a spirit of inclusion without elitism.

We are to bless the budding virtues (that have not yet matured) of all ministries, regardless of their deficiencies and without needing to point out their differences in ministry focus, style, and standards of excellence. We all have deficiencies in ministry and need other ministries to show forth the fullness of Christ to our city and nation. The Holy Spirit forbids us to verbalize their deficiencies and differences.

The Scripture makes it clear that there are times to bring righteous judgment to ministries with destructive doctrines and behavior (Mt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5:1-11; 2 Cor. 11:12-15; 1 Thes. 5:14, 21; 2 Thes. 3:6-14; Rev. 2:2, 14-15, 20). We must do this in the right way and with a right spirit.


Christians are exhorted to test the spirits or to discern the spirit that is behind a teaching ministry.

1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 Jn. 4:1)

We are called to test all doctrines and ministries that we are open to receive from. We must challenge each teaching that we hear in the light of Scripture.

21 Test all things; hold fast what is good. (1 Thes. 5:21)

Jesus said that we can only test and know a ministry by their fruit. Jesus compared false teachers to wolves because they are dangerous in their effect on people and deceptive in their ways of leading people. A wolf is a natural enemy of sheep who cannot defend themselves. A wolf disguises himself as a sheep by claiming to uphold the Scripture.

15 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits…17 Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit…20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them. (Mt. 7:15-20)

Jesus changed his metaphor from wolves among sheep to fruit on trees. We may not immediately discern a wolf, but it is clear if edible fruit is on a tree. We must know or test fruit in a teacher’s life. There is a moral and a doctrinal test. Sound doctrine and holy living are the sure fruit of a good leader. It is not possible to examine fruit from a distance. Thus, Jesus is not exhorting us to become critical of others as a self-appointed “heresy-hunter.”

We must raise awareness of the dangers of cults with their deceptive practices and dangerous psychological pressure techniques such as brainwashing.


We can all avoid deception by loving the truth (2 Thes. 2:10), and by growing in our relationship to Jesus by holding fast to Him as the head.

10 All unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. (2 Thes. 2:10)

19 Holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God. (Col. 2:19)

Practical ways to hold fast to the head include regular, prayerful Bible reading, setting our hearts to obey the Lord, and staying in relationship with others with a teachable spirit—a spirit that receives the truth.


Once again, a growing crisis is emerging in many churches across America. A new wave of confusion is subtly yet systematically seducing many young adults into deception. Sincere young people whose hearts were once ablaze for Jesus are being allured into compromise on foundational biblical truths and practices. The true danger of this “new kind” of “Christianity” is obscured by the works of compassion and justice that its followers are engaged in. However, they fail to recognize that no amount of increased ministry activity can “balance out” the profound spiritual and scriptural compromises that they are embracing.

Yes, they are doing more and more in the name of justice and compassion, but less and less in the name of Jesus. In the name of tolerance, they are settling for a humanistic and “politically correct” theology that trivializes the glory of Jesus. Many young adult ministries are falling prey to this deception as they seek a form of relevance that dulls the razor’s edge of truth for the sake of man’s approval. It is not enough to mention Jesus’ name if they deny foundational truths about Him. Our theology and spirituality, as well as our works of compassion and justice, must flow from deep allegiance to Jesus and His Word.

Over the centuries the evil one has attempted to drive a wedge between doctrine and practice. Jesus was very careful in His answer to the lawyer testing Him concerning the greatest commandment in Mt. 22:34-40. He clarified the first and great commandment as loving God and then forever linked it to the second commandment of loving our neighbor.

Right belief, orthodoxy, must have the right expression, orthopraxis. Wrong emphasis on either leaves the Church in a powerless position to advance the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations. In our century we have witnessed the damage of both a dead orthodoxy from an escapist evangelical approach and a fatal heresy from a liberal social gospel approach.

In the past few years, a new movement known as the “Emergent Church” has surfaced in the West, cloaked as a new and improved version of Christianity. The ideas propagated by the Emergent Church have captured the imagination of a multitude of young adults and are leading them down a dangerous and risky path to deception and heresy.

This movement purposefully refuses to define most of its beliefs and leaders. This in no way obscures the reality that the primary voices that shape their “conversation” are having a destructive influence on many young believers who, though undoubtedly sincere, lack discernment in basic biblical truths.

Right beliefs matter! In John 6 Jesus did something that seems scandalous to the modern Christian. The day before, Jesus had fed the multitudes by multiplying the fish and the loaves. The crowds, satisfied by His feeding, desired to make Him their king and have Him feed them again. Jesus discerned that their interest lay more in receiving their daily needs than in discovering His true identity and what His life truly meant for their salvation.

Thus, Jesus refused their request, closed down the soup kitchen, and challenged them to seek the bread that comes from heaven, that they might never die. Life is to be found in a living encounter with the Lord of glory and His work of redemption.

He will not be our king on any terms other than us giving our hearts completely in living communion with Him around the subject matter of Himself, truth claims included. Jesus was to be all, or He was to be nothing.

We recognize that there are some leaders in the midst of the wider Emerging Church Movement who are seeking to hold to historic evangelical truths while embracing new forms of church expression and structure. We commend such organic house church movements and new monastic communities. However, the overall “sound” coming from this undefined movement significantly undermines essential biblical truth as it leads many into great error.

God is raising up clear voices from many different parts of the Body of Christ who are unmasking the dangerous seductions of the Emergent Church as they expose its unorthodox and heretical beliefs. Search out the Scripture for yourself and see what it says about salvation.

We also acknowledge that many times the Body of Christ has often erred in not embracing the apostolic charge to Paul to “remember the poor” in Gal. 2:10 and has yielded to the temptation of showing favoritism to the rich, which is warned against in the book of James (Jas. 2:1-6).

1 Do not hold the faith…with partiality. 2 For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, 3 and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,”…4 have you not shown partiality among yourselves…? 6 You have dishonored the poor man. (Jas. 2:1-6)

Neither the unbeliever nor the covetous will enter the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Rev. 21:8). We have also often refused the foundation of prayer and the full work and power of the Holy Spirit necessary to change a sinful culture once we have embraced it.

Satan has always worked to divorce right belief from right practice, while working to divorce both from the power of the Spirit. We must refuse both dead orthodoxy and dangerous heresy.

We must do as Jude commands and “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3-4). The time is short. With a deep allegiance to Jesus, we must engage the culture with the truth and works of the gospel demonstrated in the power of the Spirit.

3 I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. 4 For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ. (Jude 3-4)

Incoming search terms for this article:

Comments are closed.