9 Marks Of A 
Cult & Cult Leader

By Jim McCotter

Jesus said: “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.  You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?  A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit.  A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit.  So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire.  Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.  Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.  On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’  But I will reply, ‘I never knew you.  Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’" (Matt. 7:15-23).

You can always identify Christians that have correct theology by how godly their character is.  If their character is not godly their theology is not of God:

"If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain" (1Tim. 6:3-5).

Genuine Christians need to also realize that God only looks at our theology as being right if in our personal life we are “conforming to godliness”.  However, some genuine Christian churches and groups may not be theologically or technically heretical but borderline on ungodly attitudes, if not also behavior, and manifest to some degree some of the 9 cult-like tendencies.  Such churches or groups usually do not see such tendencies in themselves, but if they do by God's grace, they should pray to flee from such tendencies and grow in a spirit of grace and love of the Lord Jesus Christ and His New Testament church.

Below are the 9 marks of cults and cult leaders:

1.  Cult leaders promote honoring themselves more than honoring fathers and mothers.  Cult leaders try to separate sons and daughters from their fathers and mothers, telling them not to listen to their father or mother or be with them. 

♦ But the Bible says:  "Hear, my son, your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching… Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, that your days may be prolonged and that it may go well with you… This is the first commandment with a promise" (Prov. 1:8; Deut.5:16; Eph. 6:2).

2.  Cult leaders promote women learning from them more than learning from their own husbands. 

♦ But the Bible says:  "If wives desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home… Avoid such men as those who work their way into people’s homes and win the confidence of  gullible women who are burdened with the guilt of sin and controlled by various desires " (1Cor.14:35; 2Tim. 3:5-6).

3.  Cult leaders promote women being subject to them as spiritual leaders more than to their own husbands.  The Bible never tells wives to be subject to spiritual leaders but only to their own husbands.  Cult leaders exhort wives to be subject to them.

♦ But the Bible says:  "Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church… But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything" (Eph. 5:22-24).

4.  Cult groups make it hard in some ways for anyone to leave their group.  Permission to leave must be granted by the leaders or they will be condemned or ostracized in some fashion.               

♦ But the Bible says:  “But Jesus said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant'" (Matt. 20:25-26).

5.  Cult leaders promote their knowledge and group as superior to all others.

♦ But the Bible says:  "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves… There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge others?" (Phil. 2:3; James 4:12).

6.  Cult leaders give inordinate attention to money and finances.

♦ But the Bible says:  "What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge… I preached the gospel of God to you without charge... Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain" (1Cor. 9:18; 2Cor. 11:7: 1Peter 5:2).

7.  Cult leaders proclaim their spiritual authority and never encourage anything that they teach or say to be examined or questioned.

♦ But the Bible says:  "Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so… Examine everything carefully, and hold fast to that which is good " (Acts 17:11; 1Thess. 5:20-21). 

8.  Cult leaders add to or take away from Scripture.  They do not follow only Scripture and/or all Scripture.

♦ But the Bible says:  "You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it… Do not add to His words or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar… All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness" (Deut. 4:2; Prov.30:6; 2Tim. 3:16).

9.  Cult leaders are very divisive, critical, condemning and judgmental toward other Christians. 

♦ But the Bible says:  "You have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the very things you condemn others… There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; so who are you who judge others?" (Rom. 2:1; James 4:12).