“Dear friends, although I was
very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had
to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all
entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was
written about long ago have slipped in among you.
challenging words, written by Jude to a group of Christians
confronting false teachers in the first century, have real relevance
today. False teaching has crept in through the windows (the meaning
of the Greek text) that Christianity opens out to the world; its
entry has gone largely undetected, because the teachers appear
A true story
Julie (not her
real name) grew up in a middle class suburb in middle Australia. She
received a standard education and her parents and siblings fully
expected that, when she returned home from her trip overseas, she
would finally go on to university. Instead, she vanished. Months
passed without any contact and her family and friends began to
suspect that she had been the subject of foul play. She was barely
21 years old and her behaviour was completely out of character.
Enquiries with Australian consular authorities did not reveal
anything beyond her departure date. At last a letter arrived. It
was in her familiar hand-writing. It stated that she was well and
that she had made friends in Manhattan, discovered a new purpose in
life and did not plan to return.
parents claimed she was not religious, but when I read the letter I
suspected something of a spiritual nature had occurred in her life.
It sounded as if she had joined a cult. (Over the years I have
helped many people involved in one cult movement or another.) I
agreed to help the family find out what had happened to her.
I had only
recently been a spectator at an open-air rally conducted by the
Reverend Sun Myung Moon in Washington DC and my enquiries revealed
his organisation had an office and residential accommodation in New
York City. References in Julie’s letter suggested a link with
this popular movement.
“Moonies (a generic name for the group, based on their
founder’s name) was easy enough. Getting a hearing was
something else. Staff at the front door claimed they had never heard
of Julie and refused to let me in, even as a casual enquirer. During
a second visit I located a fellow-resident who told me Julie lived
with her husband in the premises. Husband? Her parents had told me
she was single. After passing on a message through this intermediary
I was finally admitted and met Julie. She had overcome her reticence
and secured approval from her spiritual superiors to speak to me, as
a friend of the family.
The story that
unfolded was predictable. Julie told me she had arrived in the USA
and friends of contacts there had invited her to visit a Unification
Church. Once inside, she met fellow-travellers and became convinced
the Reverend Moon was on a mission from God. She decided to remain
for a while and check out what people were telling her about how
their lives had changed. They seemed to be nice enough, caring,
genuine, and open about their problems and hopes. She was attracted
by their friendliness. Each morning she and the other residents
attended a kind of chapel, where they listed to and discussed
recordings of Moon’s sermons, followed by teaching and
training. Within a month she was introduced to a young man named
Paul and told she should marry him. Two months later she joined
several thousand other men and women connected with the movement and
exchanged marriage vows. She had never seen such a large wedding.
No one had until then. Julie told me she knew almost nothing about
Paul, but that she hoped they would get to know one another better.
They were not yet living together. “We will learn to love one
another.” They considered their marriage an essential part of
demonstrating obedience to the teaching and leadership of the
Reverend Moon. They had agreed to start a family as soon as they
were permitted to consummate the marriage.
I asked Julie
whether she thought about returning to Australia. She obviously
missed her family, but she replied with an emphatic “No”.
The Moonies were her new family. I tried to talk to her about what
she was being taught, but she refused to discuss it.
What made an
otherwise sensible young woman like Julie forsake all she knew and
abandon herself, her hopes, aspirations and life-long relationships
to join a religious cult she had never heard of before visiting
America? Her story has been repeated over and over again. Teenagers
and young adults regular disappear, drop out of sight, become
immersed in unlikely (and sometimes dangerous), delusive cult
teaching that extols and worships individuals and offers dimensions
of spiritual fulfilment they seek in vain in traditional religion.
And what was the Unification Church? Who was Moon?
Church (the Moonies) was founded in Korea in 1954 by Sun Myung Moon
and relocated to the USA in 1959. Moon claimed that when he was only
16 years of age Jesus Christ had appeared to him and told him he had
been chosen to establish the Kingdom of God on earth (with him as its
titular head, of course).
Moon, all religions will eventually be abolished, except for the
Unification Church. All languages except Korean will disappear. His
followers must comply with set teachings and accept his moral and
spiritual authority, status and belief system. Marriages must be
arranged by the Unification Church in order to be “eternally
Moonies do not
believe that Jesus Christ was God. Not do they believe in the Virgin
birth as taught by the Bible. The concept of the Trinity is
rejected. Moon teaches that the Holy Spirit is a female spirit. The
Unification Church rejects the death and resurrection of Christ for a
lost world. Instead, Moon claims Jesus lied to his disciples when he
told them that he was flesh and blood. Moonies believe Jesus failed
in his God-given mission and that the plan would now be brought to
fruition by none other than Moon himself, and his organisation.
Why do people join cults?
think all religions are the same, when personal faith in a living,
loving God is missing from a person’s life, there remains just
a short step to looking somewhere else for religious expression and
personal identity. Millions of people get fed up with effete
denominations that cannot provide meaningful responses to their life
needs and so they turn to other faiths.
The reality is
that cults such as the Moonies serve a range of purposes for
individuals (especially those who are lonely or single), including a
sense of belonging and community where personal and shared values are
focussed, affirmed and reinforced. I have met people claiming to be
God. I have dealt with individuals making claims that God had sent
them to re-establish His Kingdom, but none has ever had the drawing
power of the Moonies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons or a gaggle
of occult and New Age groups. What makes them different and how can
we reach out to those caught up in their webs?
spiritually hungry. Cult deception is ubiquitous and real. Members
range from door-knocking religious salesmen who focus on world
conditions, family break-up and social issues to people who are
troubled by modern living and are attracted to alternative
lifestyles, escapism and Messianic appearances.
Holy Spirit is able to break down deceptions and false imaginations;
God can use us to bring people to a personal knowledge of Jesus
Christ. Our “weapons” are not human arguments but
spiritual authorities (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
characteristics of the cults
scientists define cults as groups that deviate from cultural norms.
“Old” and “new” cults all share the same
basic characteristics (read Matthew 24:23- 24, 1 Timothy 4:1-2
and 2 Corinthians 11:13, 14).
cults have a different Jesus; a different Gospel and a
different Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 11:4). They deny the
Biblical God. They refuse to believe that that Jesus Christ came in
the flesh (1 John 4:3). They reject the atonement, or work of Christ
on the cross to bring us back to God (2 Peter 2:1). They refuse to
acknowledge the power of godly living (2 Timothy 3:1-5). They
abandon sound doctrine, which they replace with fables (2 Timothy
4:3-4). They spurn God-given authorities in the Body of Christ.
add to the Word of God - often with a book of their own (the Bible is
ignored, or adherents are taught they need a new revelation to
understand it). They concurrently subtract from the Word of God
(subtract from solid teaching and from the simple faith teaching that
underpins Christianity); add new requirements for salvation,
including essential belief regimes and works; subtract from the glory
of God by elevating man to godhood; and add new interpretations,
emphases and applications. To someone who is in pain (often for
genuine reasons) the cults are a magnet of acceptance, inclusion,
understanding and strength in time of trouble.
cults are identifiable by the characteristics of their leaders. They
claim an exclusive ministry, revelation or position of authority
given by God. Members look to them for guidance in all they do,
including personal decisions, such as marriage and career. Many
cults claim they have no clergy, no paid ministry, no priests, that
all are equal, however there is usually an unhealthy emphasis on
obedience and submission to the group’s authority structure and
criticism is seen as rebellion against that authority.
usually insist they are the sole true church (or the restored
church), with the only true revelation, such as the only dates for
the future (eg the return of Christ and Armageddon). Only those who
are prepared to be strong, committed members are admitted to the
group; sometimes only after a period of probation. Nevertheless,
most cults are actively evangelistic (some make proselytization, or
winning of converts, a condition of membership). Dissent or
questioning of the group’s teaching is discouraged. Personal
views and free will are subsumed for the sake of the “group”.
Unquestioning attitudes are seen as ideal. Loss of identify
follows. Relatives say they no longer recognise the person.
Relationships with friends, family, spouses, children and parents are
broken or curtailed. An “us-verses-them” mentality leads
to isolation from the community in general. Outsiders are seen as
belonging to the devil. Enemies can be: former family and friends,
the government, media, education systems, hospitals and churches.
Persecution (or a belief that persecution is imminent) is common –
some welcome opposition from outside as evidence of their martyr
status; others withdraw. Those who remain involved with these
institutions do so as a “means to an end”. Paranoia
leads to belief that “others” are trying to take over the
are also identifiable by their attitudes towards mainstream churches.
Members are critical towards other churches. Self-righteousness
characterises the cult member, who rejects all questioning but feels
free to judge the beliefs of others, as “true Christians”.
use manipulation to keep people in their ranks, including threats of
divine punishment, loss of reward, being shunned by family and
friends. Great emphasis is placed on loyalty to the group and its
teachings. Members’ lives become absorbed in the activities of
the group, with little time to think for themselves, often because of
physical and emotional exhaustion. Total control is exercised over
the private lives of members, eg through communal living and
reporting on one another (in the guise of ensuring group stability
and protecting against “the enemy”). Guilt comes from
infringing even minor rules. Regimentation is common. Attempts to
leave are met with threats. Some groups insist on pledges and oaths
of secrecy. Participants feel intimidated by oaths they have taken.
Those who leave are coerced back into the group.
members are expected to give substantial financial support (all they
can) to the group, eg signing over their property; buying magazines,
books and tapes, in addition to giving significant amounts of their
income and time to the “ministry”. At the same time,
they publicly deride churches that take up tithes and offerings,
inferring they do not do this. There is usually little
accountability for income received.
members lose their ability to function as members of a broad society,
make decisions for themselves and relate to those who do not live the
way they do. Their lives come to be revolved around the group.
Members are made to feel guilty about everything they did before
joining the group, and grateful for being accepted, forgiven and
allowed to participate in the elect few destined to enjoy eternal
life and revelation of the true meaning of existence. Cult members
are often required to give up medical treatment in the name of
“faith”. The groups have strong systems of rules
governing personal lifestyles.
cults place strong emphasis on teaching. People want to follow
leaders who know what they are doing and what they believe. The
major cult groups emphasise knowledge, training and personal
application of belief.
with such a grim picture, it is a wonder such groups thrive. In
fact, the factors that lead people to join cults are multi-faceted.
They include spiritual hunger; searching for people who care,
loneliness, the need to feel part of a group (including being
dependent on it) and a desire for support in difficult times.
Membership provides a sense of mission, purpose, security, uniqueness
elements include concern about the future, fear of what is happening
in the world, disaffection with traditional Christianity, rejection
of liberalism in the Christian church (which de-emphasises absolute
truth and leads to vacuums of belief), rejection of traditional
authority structures and spiritual abuse in churches. Leaders are
visible, charismatic, authoritative and able to be “touched”,
but aloof enough to retain an aura of holiness, in some cases
divinity. A high proportion of people who join cults have walked
away from God because Christianity as they interpret it is not
relevant to their circumstances and they are bored with what they see
in ecclesiastical traditions.
there is always a strong element of spiritual delusion (2
Thessalonians 2:10-12). Cult growth is not just an interest
psychcological phenomenon. The Bible teaches that it is attributable
to demonic powers at work in the world.
those who are caught up in delusion
who are eager to present the living Christ in a modern world and
reach out to friends and family members drawn into cult structures
should direct their allegiance to Christ alone (1 Corinthians 7:23).
They should be acutely aware of Biblical truth. They should seek to
minister to the needs that led their friends or family members into
the cult in the first place, pray for them, depend on the Holy Spirit
to give them a revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 11: ref ),
be prepared to reason with them (Acts 17:17) and not attack them
(thereby creating walls against communication). They should educate
themselves in the area of cult mind control techniques used by cult
groups, through books and seminars, and love them regardless of
negative aspects of the struggles they are facing.
Christ came to set people free. As we seek to be a relevant church
in a changing and mixed-up world we need to focus on the power of
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to transform the lives of all who come
to him. “He able to save them to the uttermost (Heb 7:25).