Good questions! First of all, “What is a cult?” Many have defined a cult as “An unorthodox sect whose members distort the original doctrines of the religion.” Mr. Walter Martin, in his excellent book “The Kingdoms of the Cults,” said a cult may be defined as “A group of people gathered about a specific person or person’s misinterpretation of the Bible.” Two well-known cults in our day are the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons. The Jehovah’s Witnesses follow the false teachings of Charles T. Russel and J. F. Rutherford and the Mormons follow the writings of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Both cults vehemently deny the fundamental truths of Christianity, especially those that relate to the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Are there any mentioned in scripture? Though not actually mentioned in Scripture, there was a cult known as the “Gnostics” in the First Century. The apostle John was inspired to write 1st and 2nd John to warn believers of their unorthodox teachings. The Gnostics claimed to have superior knowledge (the word Gnostic comes from the Greek word GNOSIS which means “knowledge”) that the apostles didn’t have. They denied that Jesus was the Christ, teaching rather that “The Christ” was a divine spirit which came upon Jesus at his baptism and left him before his death. In other words, they denied that Jesus was “God manifest in the flesh.” In 1st John 2:2 the apostle exposes their error, “Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son” (NKJV). He adds a further warning about their false teachings in 1st John 4:1-3, “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. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and EVERY SPIRIT THAT DOES NOT CONFESS THAT JESUS CHRIST HAS COME IN THE FLESH IS NOT OF GOD. And this is the spirit of Antichrist.” So, the Gnostics denied the most important truth of the Christian faith, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God Who came into this world to be our Savior. In 2nd John 9-10 the apostle commanded believers to have nothing to do with them if they were to come to their house with their evil doctrines: “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God, He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. IF ANYONE COMES TO YOU AND DOES NOT BRING THIS DOCTRINE, DO NOT RECEIVE HIM INTO YOUR HOUSE NOR GREET HIM; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.” This is strong language that is needed just as much today as it was in John’s day, for the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, like the Gnostics, deny that Jesus is God and they canvass neighborhoods peddling their false teachings. We must obey this command and refuse to let them into our house or give them a common greeting.

How important is a Bible study on the subject of cults? I firmly believe that we need to be occupied with THE TRUTH and NOT ERROR. The apostle Paul wrote about this in Romans 16:19, “I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil.” If our focus is on “what is good”; in other words “the truth,” we will be able to identify “evil” (i.e. error) and reject it immediately. In John 10 Jesus spoke of Himself as the “shepherd of the sheep” and here’s what He says in verses 4-5, “the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” The more we “hear His voice” (the TRUTH), the more we will discern the “voice of strangers” (the ERROR) and then we can instinctively “flee from him.”

Are there any cults that are claiming to be the church? Yes, for the largest cult in the world is guilty of this. I am speaking of the Roman Catholic Church. They claim to be the only true church and that there is no salvation unless one is a member of their sect. By teaching this, they deny that salvation is through simple faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ upon the cross and that any believer, no matter where he goes for fellowship, is saved. Ephesians 2:8-9 declares, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” By denying this truth, they are just as guilty as Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons of not “abiding in the doctrine of Christ.” They may not deny WHO HE IS, but they deny WHAT HE HAS DONE to save mankind by dying for our sins on Calvary’s cross. Yet millions of people blindly follow their teachings and sincerely believe salvation can only be obtained through membership in their sect. This is the greatest earmark of a cult.  (202.9)  (DO)