By Elkanah Cheboi, PhD in Biblical & Theological Studies

The problem of cults (false or heretical teaching/ preaching and false prophecies) is an old problem. It confronted the community of faith in the Old Testament, the church in the New Testament and throughout history to date. How do we recognize cults or heretical movements, avoid them, and respond to them?

Below we address the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS) concerning cults/ heretical groups or movements.

  1. What is a cult?

A cult is a religious group that differs significantly from one or more fundamental biblical beliefs and practices of historical/traditional Christianity (considered normative). Yet, they still insist on being regarded as Christians.

2) Does the Bible address the issue of Cults/false teachings/false prophecies? (Yes, below are select references)


"If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder,  2 and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, 'Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,'  3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Deut 13:1-3 NAS


"For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will mislead many." (Matt. 24:5 NAS)

Jesus described the false teachers/preachers/prophets using strong terms, “ravenous wolves”: 

"Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. "You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? "Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit." A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. (Matt. 7:15-18 NAS)

Apostle Paul:

"I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;  30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.  (Acts 20:29-30 NAS)

Apostle Peter:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.  2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned;  3 and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Pet. 2:1-3 NAS)

Apostle John:

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

To be forewarned is to be forearmed-

3) What authority/ criteria/ basis determines which group is cultic?

  • First, the Bible is an authority in matters of faith/belief and practice/behaviour. Any deviation from the Scriptures is utter falsehood and deception.
  • Second, the ecumenical church councils (during the fourth and fifth century AD)  gave the universal church some creeds or statements of faith affirmation that summarize the fundamental Christian beliefs as taught in the Bible (i.e., the Nicene Creed on the nature of Jesus Christ). We also have the Apostles Creed that predates these councils. In these ecumenical councils, Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Protestants converge. (The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 determined how one is saved). Anyone who differs from these Christian affirmations is definitely a heretic/cultic.

4) What are some of the characteristics of a cultic leader?

  • False messianism- some claim to be “messiah’s” or prominent biblical figures.
  • What the leader says or writes is final. No one is supposed to question his life, behaviour, or words.
  • The leader (as opposed to the Bible) and his interpretation is final.
  • Because their goal is materialistic, they distort biblical messages on health and wealth.
  • The leader claims to give “NEW revelation/new light/new truth” (other than what is taught in the Bible). And since they have this “new revelation,” they are also authoritative in their interpretation. Realize that the canon of the Scripture was closed (Rev. 22:18-19 warns against adding or subtracting from the canon).
  • The leaders are mostly illiterate. Hence they reject education, healthcare, and employment (thus isolating them further from family and society). They dictate what the followers wear, think, spend money on, eat, sleep, date/marry, how they act, etc. These are often dictated by the leader’s standards or convictions instead of what the Bible teaches.
  • They have syncretistic practices of mixing Christian teachings with cultural beliefs, in some cases with some philosophical beliefs. Many of these false preachers are more traditional witch doctors than pastors. They claim to have answers for anything and everything.
  • They have extreme views of culture and how it relates to Christianity.
  • They give false prophecies.

Additional Characteristics of false teachers according to 1 Peter 2:  They introduce destructive teachings, deny the Sovereign Lord, lead many to shameful ways, bring the way of truth into disrepute, are experts in greed, exploit people with made-up stories, are arrogant, slanderous, they blaspheme, are like brute beasts, immoral, they never stop sinning, they leave the straight way of the truth, they are springs without water and mist driven by a storm, they mouth empty and boastful words, controlled by the sinful human nature, and “they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error.”

5) According to the Bible, what is the fate of cultic leaders? (2 Peter 2; Jude 4-16

  • They bring swift destruction upon themselves.
  • Their condemnation is definite, and their destruction is sure.
  • “They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done” 2 Peter2: 13

6) What are some characteristics of cultic groups/ heretical movements?

  • It is a group gathered around a specific person.
  • The source of authority is the leader/founder (and his writings).
  • Their focus is not on winning souls to Christ.
  • They are self-appointed leaders, often with no credible theological education.
  • Some believe Christ is not God.
  • Scriptures are interpreted irrespective of their historical and social context.
  • They denounce other Christians and teach their members they are the only true ones. According to them, the rest of the Christians are “defiled/ corrupted” and “lost.” Their movement is the only way to heaven as they are the only “remnants.” This antagonistic and intolerant attitude isolates them further from the outside world.
  • Since they have no reference point, some cults keep changing their theologies.
  • They manipulate their followers by brainwashing, radicalizing and feeding them with false ideologies.
  • They have a keen focus on the life to come, life in Paradise (hence they resign from anything involving this life).

7) What strategies do cultic or heretical movements use?

  • Deception (empty promises, fake miracles, or use powers of the dark world to perform miracles that mislead- Exodus 7:8-13 shows that powers of sorcery and magic can do extra-ordinary things). Deception is of the enemy.
  • Threats (with curses, death, unproductive life)
  • Emotional control-Instilling fear, guilt and secrecy codes among its adherents.
  • Brainwashing- In the indoctrination process, they discourage reason, and critical thinking.
  • Manipulation- they distort information and claim to have other knowledge, i.e. through visions and dreams.

8) Are the less educated, underprivileged and poor the only victims of cults? NO. Everyone can fall victim to cultic beliefs and practices. These groups seek to fill the void in every human heart for divine connection. But they do it in the wrong way. Even well-trained theologians, if not careful in their belief, can fall victim to cultic movements.

9) How come cults can attract/deceive many people?

  • They capitalize on people’s needs, fears, and hopelessness and cunningly promise hopes (deception)
  • They use psychological games to manipulate their followers.
  • Some use the powers of the dark world to win and maintain their following

10) What is the nature of salvation offered in cultic movements?

Sometimes, they may talk about salvation by grace, but the practical emphasis is salvation by works. It is based on what you do or what you do not do. This amounts to a distortion of the true gospel.

11) What nature of interpretations do cultic leaders or movements use?

  • They have a bend toward apocalyptic or eschatological literature. You will find that they mostly base their teachings on prophetic literature, allowing them to generate their own interpretations that suit their selfish ends.
  • They employ much of allegorical interpretation even where the text should be interpreted literally.

12) What are some of the dangers of false teachings?

  • Loss of lives (i.e., through mass suicides)
  • Endangers people’s health
  • Loss of property in the name of generous living
  • Loss of employment in the name of the world is ending. Some also are told to discontinue their educational pursuits.
  • It leads to radicalization and brainwashing.
  • It leads to a mental breakdown.
  • It leads to family and relationship breakdown.

13) Is Jehova’s Witnesses a cultic movement? Yes, (Let’s pick one critical component of the Christian faith, the nature and Identity of Christ, and see how JW teachings render it)

They have a defective belief in Christ (Christology):

“The true Scriptures speak of God’s Son, the Word, as ‘a god.’ He is a ‘mighty god,’ but not the Almighty God who is Jehovah” (The Truth Shall Make you Free, 47).

Jesus is the first and direct creation of God (The Kingdom Is at Hand, 46-47, 49).

The founder, Charles Taze, describes Jesus as having been Michael the archangel prior to his leaving his angelic nature to appear in the world as a perfect man (Studies in Scriptures, 5:84)

14) Is the Church of the Latter-day Saints (Mormonism) a cult? YES ,(Let’s pick one critical component of the Christian faith, the nature and Identity of Christ, and see how the Mormon religion renders it)

Their god is one among many gods: “Each of these gods, including Jesus Christ, and his Father, being in possession of not merely an organized spirit, but a glorious body of flesh and bones.” (Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology{1973, ed.}, 44); see also, Doctrine and Covenants, 130:22.

15) How can one avoid falling victim to cultic movements?

  • Seek to know the truth as taught in the Bible. This will enable one to discern truth from falsehood (John 10:10b, truth liberates)
  • Examine the Scriptures and be critical (Acts 17:11)
  • Persevere in the truth
  • “Test spirits” to see whether they are of or from God (1 John 4:1)
  • Recognize them by their fruit (Mathew 7:16). Their doctrinal, moral and ethical fruit… Are they like Christ? If not, they are not of God.
  • Be on your guard/ keep watch over yourself (Acts 20-31), build yourself in the holy faith, pray, and keep yourselves in God’s love (Jude 20-21). Watch your belief and conduct closely. Refuse to be led by people not adequately trained to lead the church or shepherd souls.

16)How can the church overcome cultic movements?

  • Teach the truth. Cults capitalize on the ignorance of the Bible’s teachings.
  • Show compassion and love to those who are enmeshed in the teachings of false prophets
  • Passionately oppose/refute their teachings. Point flaws in the cultic systems
  • Set Christ as Lord and be ready to give answer anyone to seekers for their hope in Christ.
  • Reach out (through evangelism and missions), and plant Bible-teaching churches. “…snatch others from the fire and save them” Jude 23.

17) How can I help someone out of a cultic movement?

  • Pray for them that God may change their hearts and open their eyes (2 Corinthians 4:4). Without God’s power, it is hard to convince a person imprisoned by cultic ideologies. In fact, those who are on suicide mission, would not even accept to be rescued.
  • Live the truth and be bold to share the gospel.