3 Traits of Christian Cults

One of my favorite quotes in my latest work, The Revolutionary, is spoken by the ridiculed but heroic Omar. 

“The sign of a true ministry is the glorification of Christ, not the ministry's leader, or an act of service. Never forget that. I'm telling you, you better find a way to get away from The Allegiance. It’s not a ministry. It's a cult."

Like Amanda, many people don’t realize they’ve gotten involved with a cult until the damage has already been done. This is happening in the Christian community. People are going to worship services Sunday after Sunday, not realizing they’re actually in a cult until things go unbearably wrong.  

I don’t write this post to scare or offend you. I write these things to warn you. 

Here are three traits of Christian cults that you should be aware of:

1.) More emphasis is placed on the leader(s) than God. 

A tell-tell sign of a Christian cult is when its members place more emphasis on the leader than God. Meetings are all about the pastor and his family, their accomplishments, and their possessions, and they’re the ones members strive to please—not God. The members follow those in leadership positions. If you aren’t a leader, you and your needs come second, no matter how dire they may be. The members are not following God, they’re following man, and are encouraged to do so. Scripture may even come second to the pastor’s own so-called wisdom, personal revelation, or popular publication. 

Pay attention. If the leader’s teachings and beliefs are quoted more than scripture, you should be concerned. The foundation of your faith should always be the word of God. Everything else will wither away (Matthew 24:35), no matter how great it sounds. Remember, humility is part of being a true leader (Matthew 20:25-28).

2.) Harsh judgments and/or punishments are given to things that are not sins.

Forced conformity is a definite mark of a cult. Everyone has to dress a certain way, behave a certain way, and think a certain way. Anything outside of the strict box they create is considered sinful, whether it’s outlined in Scripture or not, and to commit any such frowned upon act will come with dire consequences. They may even require strict dedication to Old Testament teachings, despite the grace that has been given to us through Christ. Wearing a certain color or style of dress is a sin. Eating a certain foods group. Missing a service. Denying a leader’s request or disagreeing with them. None of these are sins. Beware of churches who behave as if they are. Being labeled a sinner, unbeliever, unsaved person, or even a witch for doing any of these things is very abusive and you should leave immediately. 

3.) They don’t mind separating you from your family, nor do they honor the family unit.

Cultic organizations place an unreasonable demand of commitment on its members. Dedication to the organization must come before everything, even a person’s responsibilities to their family.  

Any “ministry” that places themselves above your family is out of order and must be corrected. If they refuse to humble themselves, you need to leave—and fast. No ministry that is in line with God’s word would ever encourage you to get a divorce or disregard your parental responsibilities because they don’t like your spouse or believe you’d be a better servant without children. God is pro-marriage. Yes, He allows divorce in certain situations, but not in the case of religious obligation. In fact, if you’re already married when you become a believer, but your spouse refuses to covert, the bible tells you to stay married! (1 Corinthians 7:12-17)

Furthermore, no biblically sound church would disrespect the family unit. They honor it. Women especially, beware of any organization that tries to persuade you to go against your husband. This causes division. The bible teaches you to submit to your spouse, not your pastor. Children shouldn't be taught to chose their pastor over their father, either. 

I’m not saying that if any of these things occur that you should automatically label a church as a cult. No. The church is made up of a body of believers who are human, flawed individuals who are in constant need of repentance, prayer, and forgiveness. But, if these issues are met with arrogance, harshness, cruelty, and continued spiritual abuse, you should really seek God concerning your next move. He may be showing you that it’s time for you to find another place to fellowship.