Help! I Think I Might Have Joined a Cult…!
This was the heading of an email I received last year. As I read through the message, and proceeded to do a little research, I found that this person had indeed become involved with a group that has extreme cultic tendencies.
Most people in cultic groups are not aware that they have joined a cult. The group they belong to will appear loving, caring, friendly, honest, and most importantly, truthful. Believing that they have, of their own free will, decided to join a group, they are completely oblivious to the fact that they were recruited.
As no rational person would ever knowingly sign up to be a member of a cultic group, recruitment must take place. This means that anyone is vulnerable to the techniques employed by cults, and there are times in people’s lives when they may be more predisposed to the tactics of cults.
Writing for the Independent Association of Questioned Document Examiners, Margaret Thaler Sanger, who was a clinical psychologist working extensively with former members of new religious movements said that:
‘While everyone is influenced and persuaded daily in various ways, vulnerability to influence (of the cults) fluctuates. The ability to fend off persuaders is reduced when one is exhausted, rushed, stressed, uncertain, lonely, indifferent, uninformed, aged, very young, unsophisticated, ill, brain- damaged, drugged, drunk, distracted, fatigued, frightened, or very dependent.’ (Undue Influence and Written Documents: Psychological Aspects”, Journal of Questioned Document Examination, Vol. 1, No. 1 -1992)
Sanger is saying that there are times in each of our lives where we will be more susceptible to cultic influence potentially leading us to join a new religious movement.
Through difficult times people may seek change, seek meaning, seek purpose, seek peace and/or answers. It may then follow that there is a knock at the door, a discussion in the street, an invite to an event or a searching of the internet. Many who began with a sincere search, now find themselves unduly influenced, within the grasp of a cultic group.
Back to The Email…
Having had a discussion with a Christian friend, the person who sent the email began to consider the claims of Christianity, and decided to look on the internet for a church to visit.
Completely unaware of what questions to ask or signs to look out for, this person found a church that appeared to be a legitimate group of Christian believers. The name of the church had the word Christian in it, so it must be legit – right?
They used the Bible, talked about Jesus, prayed, and sang fervently. They, mainly young adults, were zealous for and, excited about, the things of God. Seeing their passion and enthusiasm sparked a desire within this person to attend one of their meetings.
Upon arriving at the church, this person was greeted with great enthusiasm, and constantly praised, this made them feel welcome and good about their decision to go along that morning. In cult terminology this is called ‘love bombing.’
Before leaving, the person was offered a Bible study, which was eagerly accepted. Within a matter of months, this person had decided to become a Christian and was baptised. This person had now become a member of a church that claimed to be the only group representing true Christianity upon the earth today.
Sometime afterwards, this person saw online that some were calling this group a cult. When they mentioned this to a leader at the church, the response given was: ‘Any group who truly lives out the gospel would be considered a cult by the world’. This appeared a reasonable enough answer and so the person was temporarily appeased.
Though there is some truth in saying that zealous Christians will be labelled a cult by an unbelieving world, we can see how this can also be used to cover up legitimate concerns regarding the teachings and practices of such groups. This is especially true when you discover that it was not the ‘world’ that was calling this group a cult, but other Christians. So what was it that caused other believers to label this church cultic?
As I looked at their website, I saw that this church had a biblically orthodox statement of faith, at least on paper. I say this because it is possible for a church to appear orthodox on paper yet be completely unorthodox in teaching and practice.
I have since discovered that this group does step outside of orthodox belief on certain issues, the accusation of being a cult comes mainly from their practice.
Before considering their ‘practice’, it must be said that not everything experienced by this person whilst with this group was negative.
They told me that they had grown as a person, met some of the most loving, kind, friendly, and wise people they have ever known and felt like they had been accepted into a family. They enjoyed being mentored and supported with the everyday decisions of life, but along with this came a nagging doubt and a sense of unease. Thoughts arose like, am I being supported or manipulated? But then those thoughts were eased by being in the company of some of the most generous, encouraging, friendly people they had ever met.
Sometimes, when teaching about new religious movements, people have said to me: ‘but the people are so lovely’, and there is no doubt that people in these groups can be genuinely lovely. But, of course, truth is not determined by loveliness, and niceness does not determine whether a group is psychologically abusive.
Though able to speak of some positive outcomes from spending time with the group, the negative thoughts this person had started to greatly outweigh such feelings. Influenced by the group, this person had lost friends, had conflict with their family, began to have mental health issues with anxiety and depression leading to them feeling paralysed. What was going on?
Who Are These people?
This group is one of many pseudo-Christian groups here in the U.K. They look Christian, sound Christian, believe themselves to be Christian and are totally committed to what they believe. The kind of enthusiasm and commitment they engender can be very appealing, especially to young idealistic types, yet these groups can, and do, cause much harm to their members and their families.
So how do you know whether such a group are the real McCoy or a dangerous cult? This is really what the email to me was asking.
What are some of the things to look out for when considering joining a group claiming to be Christian? Following are things taught and believed by the cultic group this person joined, but they can be considered representative of the teachings and practices of many cultic groups which claim to be Christian.
Teaching that they are the only true church, and they alone have the truth is common amongst such groups. They will look down upon, and even speak out against, other Christians and churches. They teach that they alone are the true Christians.
They will say that so-called other Christians are not as holy as they are, not as committed as they are, and not as faithful as they are. They are the only ones truly following biblical teaching and loving God.
It naturally follows then, that those who join this group are fearful of leaving this one true Church. In their minds, to do so would be to leave God and be eternally lost.
The teaching that they are the only true church massively impacts the way their members see other Christians. They are told that they cannot associate with believers from other churches. They cannot attend, or be members of, other churches. They cannot travel, live, or work where this group does not have a church and they can only date/marry members of their churches. To marry a Christian from a different church is likened to marrying an unbeliever.
Also, because they are the only true church, you must be baptised by them as they are the only ones with the authority to baptise. This means if you join them as a Christian from another church, and you have already been baptised, you must be re-baptised. This is a very important ordinance within this group as they teach that baptism is more than an obedience, it is necessary for salvation.
The person who sent the email told me that when they were baptised, they were told to stay away from family and friends for forty days and forty nights and were given biblical justification for what appeared to be a quote severe demand.
Baptismal candidates were told to read Matthew chapters 3 and 4, which spoke of Jesus’ baptism and how afterwards He went into the wilderness and was tempted by the devil. They were told, just as the devil tempted Jesus with the things this world had to offer, so the devil would tempt them in the same way, and he would use their family and friends to do so.
They further taught that a person only receives the Holy Spirit at baptism (baptismal regeneration), the implication being that none can truly be a Christian until they are baptised into this church.
Once baptised, a person is buddied up with a discipler, someone who will act as their spiritual advisor. This ‘discipler’ will advise you where to live and who to live with, what career to have, and will make sure that you are attending all the compulsory meetings.
Many have received advice to drop out of university, leave their career or their families, as the most important thing is that you are ‘sold-out for Christ’ (which is the same as doing everything the church leadership tells you).
There is no aspect of your life that is kept from your discipler. Friendships and living arrangements are also closely monitored. They are told they should only live with other members of the church, only have ‘church’ friends and that dating can only take place within the confines of the church.
Your ‘buddy’ will go everywhere with you, to meet friends, to visit family and they will even check your online activity. They will advise on what you should remove from your social media, counselling you on what is not appropriate or helpful.
All the above can be seen as undue influence, as the group seeks to control the lives of its members. They justify all this by saying that they are just looking out for you and have your best interests at heart. They will then add on various Bible verses which will appear to support all that they are saying and doing.
Fear is often what keeps a person in these groups. Fear of the world, the devil, family, and friends all of whom, you are told, are seeking to draw you away from God.
Whilst all Christians are called to share their faith, cultic groups turn the joy of sharing the gospel into a stressful and laborious chore that governs a person’s standing in the church, and potentially determines their salvation.
This group is incredibly active on university campuses and members are under incredible pressure to invite people to church or to organise bible studies with them. Members are asked to share in the meetings under the heading of ‘good news’, how many people they have ‘signed up’ that week. They will often engage in something they call, ‘sharing blitzes’ where members take to the streets to recruit new members.
These groups are also not averse to stepping on the toes of other Christians and stealing sheep from other churches. Recruitment is seen as a badge of honour and a sign of your commitment to God. But as the person who emailed me said:
‘it feels like I’m doing factory work and I feel like it’s more about a numbers game then actually connecting with people’.
In Closing – Back to The Email…
I confirmed the suspicions of the person that sent the email, and this person has now, with great difficulty and heartache, left the group, but of course things do not simply get back to ‘normal’ after being involved in a cultic group.
This person feels they have left behind some good people, a family, and potentially God. It takes time to heal the wounds, to start to see clearly again and to realise that you were, through no fault of your own, recruited into a cult.
I have deliberately not mentioned the name of this group, though I have said enough for some of you to work it out, to somewhat protect the identity of a person who is still in recovery.
Though free from the cult, this person is not yet fully free from the cults influence, not yet in a place to consider Christianity afresh. Please pray with me that this person will be totally set free and find the newness of life that only Jesus can give.