Contrary to popular belief, cults are not always easy to spot.
Cults may appear wonderful on the outside but on the inside are very manipulating. Cult leaders are desperate to trick you into joining. They are after your obedience, your time and your money. Cults use sophisticated mind control and recruitment techniques that have been refined over time. Many people think that they can’t be deceived by a cult, but that’s far from the case. Beware of thinking that you are immune from cult involvement. Cults have millions of members around the world who once thought they were immune and still don’t know they’re even in a cult because they’ve masqueraded so well. To spot a cult you need to know how they work and you need to understand the techniques they use. They will use these secrets and techniques to trick and control you and it’s imperative that you are able to spot them. Once you understand how cults work, you will be better able to identify them, avoid recruiter and protect family and friends. Here are five warning signs of a cult masked as a church.
The Pastor/Leader is Always Right
If the pastor or leader is always making himself or herself right, this may be a sign of cult involvement. There is no tolerance for questions or critical inquiry. If you disagree with church leadership, then you are told it is your issue because you have to learn to submit to imperfect authority. Whenever you bring up a legitimate, biblical issue to leadership, they find a way to turn it around on you and point out that you are not only wounded, but also have no right to question them. No one is always right, including pastors. A pastor’s responsibility isn’t to interpret the Bible; their job is to preach the Gospel. It’s not based upon what they think. It’s based on what God says. If your pastor or leader is unwilling to acknowledge or admit their mistakes or doesn’t accept an obvious mistake, that should be a major red flag. Also, if there’s a problem in the church, your pastor should be approachable. If a pastor is so unapproachable and not open to constructive concerns or criticisms, then his or her heart is not in the right place.
A cult needs to recruit and operate using deception. Why? Because if people knew their true practices and beliefs beforehand, then they would not join. A cult needs to hide the truth from you until they think you are ready to accept it. A cult will also have a slick well-rehearsed public relations front which hides what the group is really like. The mission of the cult may look similar to a church. You will hear how they help the poor, support each other in community, emphasize peace or save the environment. They will tell you how happy you will be in their group. Everyone in the cult always appears to be happy and enthusiastic, mainly because they have been told to act happy and will get in trouble if they don’t. But you will not be told what life is really like in the group, or what they really believe. These things will be introduced to you slowly, one at a time, so you will not notice the gradual change, until eventually you are practicing and believing things which at the start would have caused you to run a mile.
A normal religious organization would not have any trouble with you moving to another similar organization as long as you stayed in that same religion because it is the belief system that matters, not membership in an organization. For example, if you are Christian, then you could move from church to another and still be Christian. However, cult leaders will tell you, you can only be saved or can only be successful in their organization alone. No other organization has the truth, all others miss the mark. So it is not the belief system that decides your future, but it is the belief system and your membership with that particular group. The cult leaders will make you believe there is nowhere else you can go and still be saved, and if you ever leave the “one true church,” then you are going to hell. This is a fear-based control mechanism designed to keep you in the cult.
Fear and Intimidation
Cult leadership is feared. To disagree with leadership is the same as disagreeing with God. The cult leaders will claim to have direct authority from God to control almost all aspects of your life. If the cult is not a religious group, then questioning the leaders or program will still be seen as a sing of rebellion and stupidity. Guilt is a tactic they will use to control you. Maybe the reason you’re not making money is because you’re not “with the program.” Maybe the reason you’re not able to convert new recruits is because “your heart is prideful and full of sin.” It could never be that the program isn’t working, or those new recruits have valid reasons for not joining. It’s always your fault, you are always wrong and so you must try harder.
No Accountability For Leadership
This happens when leaders only allows those they know agree with them into leadership positions. It is biblical for a church to have elders in place. But they need to be mature elders – not puppets of the pastors. The elders are the buffer between the shepherd and the sheep. In fact, elders are the basis for the New Testament church and as Paul planted churches, he appointed elders in every church. The Bible tells us, “Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust” (Acts 14:23). It’s imperative that your church has checks and balances. If your church leaders refuse to allow a mature elder board or council to be put into place – your church might be a cult.
If your leaders tell you that you are not being good “sheep” unless you are serving in the church in the capacity they want you to, your church may be a cult. If you are not “free” to serve – rather “compelled” to serve by leadership, then they have become your slave masters and this is not of God. Our Heavenly Father gives free will and never requires us to be His slaves. He invites us to serve Him and if we fall short, He does not reject us or shun us – His love is unconditional. If your free will has been taken from you in these areas – your church might be a cult.