Cults are everywhere. Some are mainstream and widely accepted. Others are isolationist and hide from examination at great expense. They are growing and flourishing. Some cause great suffering while others appear very helpful and beneficial. Whichever group it is, the ultimate end is their destruction when the Lord returns to claim His own.
What is a religious cult?
Generally, it is a group that is unorthodox, esoteric, and has a devotion to a person, object, or a set of new ideas.
New Teaching - has a new theology and doctrine.
Only True Teaching - often considers traditional religious systems to be apostate and it alone possesses the complete truth.
Strong Leadership - often an individual or small but powerful leadership group holds control of the group’s teachings and practices.
Asset Acquirement - often requires tithing and/or property transfer to the religious system.
Isolationist - to facilitate control over the members physically, intellectually, financially, and emotionally.
Controlling - exercises control over the members. Sometimes this is through fear, threatening loss of salvation if you leave the group. Sometimes through indoctrination.
Indoctrination - possesses methods to reinforce the cult’s beliefs and standards where opposing views are ridiculed and often misrepresented.
Apocalyptic - to give the members a future focus and philosophical purpose in avoiding the apocalypse or being delivered through it.
Experience - various practices including meditation, repetition of words and/or phrases, and "spiritual" enlightenment with God are used as confirmation of their truth.
Depravation - sleep and food deprivation which weakens the will of the subject. This is uncommon though practiced by more severe cults.
Persecution - predictions of being persecuted, often combined with claiming any opposing views demonstrated against them as a form of persecution.
Many have non-verifiable belief systems.
For example, they would teach something that cannot be verified.
A space ship behind Hale-Bop comet.
Or, that God, an alien, or angel appeared to the leader and gave him a revelation.
The members are seeded angels from another world, etc.
Often, the philosophy makes sense only if you adopt the full set of values and definitions that it teaches.
With this kind of belief, truth becomes unverifiable, internalized, and easily manipulated through the philosophical systems of its inventor.
The Leader of a Cult
Often charismatic and is considered very special for varying reasons:
The cult leader has received special revelation from God.
The cult leader claims to be the incarnation of a deity, angel, or special messenger.
The cult leader claims to be appointed by God for a mission.
The cult leader claims to have special abilities.
The leader is often above reproach and is not to be denied or contradicted.
Usually seeks to do good works, otherwise, no one would join them.
They are usually moral and possess a good standard of ethical teaching.
Many times the Bible is used or additional "scriptures" are penned.
The Bible, when used, is always distorted with private interpretations.
Leaders tend to mistranslate, misrepresent and/or have no sources for the their belief. This is particularly true when using a source from a different language.
Often times the leadership will attempt to disqualify other more qualified scholars with statements of they misunderstand the meaning; they don't know how to learn the subject matter, their sources are wrong, etc. Even when these more qualified scholars are in agreement with the majority of scholars in the world.
Leaders will have you believe they are one of the only if not the only person who understands this material making the follower dependent on them alone to learn from.
Cult groups vary greatly.
From the ascetic to the promiscuous.
From esoteric knowledge to very simple teachings.
From the rich and powerful to the poor and weak.