Characteristics of Major Cults in America

By: Dr. John Weldon; ©1991
This information is intended to accomplish four basic things. First, define a cult and show why the subject really is important. Second, to examine how cults deceive people spiritually and to examine their major characteristics.


The information in this program was taped live at the Ankerberg Theological Research Institute’s Apologetics Conference in Orlando, Florida. Our instructor for this session is Dr. John Weldon.

Dr. Weldon received his MA in Apologetics from Simon Greenleaf School of Law and both a Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degree from Luther Rice Seminary. He holds a PhD from Pacific College of Graduate Studies and is currently Research Director for The Ankerberg Theological Research Institute. Dr. Weldon has been our guest on our television program, the John Ankerberg Show, many times and he has also co-authored over 20 different books with me. Dr. Weldon’s topic for this session is: “Characteristics of the Major Cults in America.”

As you listen to this information, it will be my prayer that God will increase your faith and draw you closer to our Lord Jesus Christ.

Characteristics of the Major Cults in America – Recognizing a Cult

Dr. John Weldon: In our lecture today I would like to accomplish four basic things. First, to define a cult and show why the subject really is important. Second, to examine how cults deceive people spiritually, and to examine their major characteristics. Third, to briefly critique eight different cult groups for purposes of illustration. And fourth, to discuss how you can protect yourself and your family from cultic influence.

Now, the issue of defining a cult is really quite important, because today a lot of people think that someone is a member of a cult if he or she just happens to disagree with that particular religious organization. For example, many orthodox Jews have called the Christian group Jews for Jesus a cult. Some sociologists of religion have actually called evangelical Christians or fundamentalists cultic or members of a cult. And so, defining a cult is really something that is important to start at the beginning.

If you’ll notice on the overhead, we can see that the word cult comes from the French and Latin and that it means “to cultivate worship.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines the words cult and cultic in the following manner. It gives six specific definitions. First, religious practice; that is, worship. Second, a system of beliefs and ritual connected with worship of a deity or a spirit or a group of deities or spirits. Third, the rites, ceremonies and practices of a religion as the cultists of Roman Catholicism involving ceremonial veneration paid to God, Virgin Mary or the Saints. Fourth, a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious or false. And that is the sense in which we will really concentrate on in today’s lecture. Fifth, a system for curing disease based on dogma or principles set forth to the exclusion of scientific evidence. And last, excessive devotion to a person, idea or thing. So we can see that the term cult has a number of different definitions, and it is important to define exactly what we mean by the word cult before we begin.

Now, why is the subject of cults and new religions important? It’s important for a number of reasons. What we’re going to look at today are cults or new religions that claim to be Christian or biblical and yet whose teachings actually deny and distort what orthodox Christianity historically believes and teaches. So, we’re looking at groups, at least for the most part, that claim to be Christian but really are not Christian. Now, cults can no longer be ignored in America because of their influence and their number. In the last 200 years, members of new religious groups have increased in membership by 1,800 percent. It’s estimated that there are anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 different cults and new religions in America today. Dr. J. Gordon Melton, the director of the Institute for the Study of American Religions, recently commented that non-conventional religion in the United States has flourished for a generation, continues to grow, and is transforming America into a radically pluralistic culture. In other words, cults and new religions are basically changing the religious and spiritual face of this nation.

The second reason why the new religions can’t be ignored is because of widespread ignorance concerning their true teachings. Again, many of them claim to be Christian or at least not to be against Christ or the teachings of the Bible. And yet as we will see, this is not true. They claim to be Christian, making Christians vulnerable to their claims and organizations, and yet at the same time they deny true Christianity.

The third reason a discussion of cults is important is because members of other faiths also need salvation in Christ. We’re commanded to share the gospel with all men, and that includes men and women in other religious groups.

The fourth reason a knowledge of cults is important is because God warns us to guard against false teachers and false teaching. Jesus himself, in Matthew 24:5, 11 and 24, said there would be false prophets and false christs that would seek to lead astray even the elect of God. The apostle Peter, in 2 Peter 2:1, warns against false teachers who will introduce destructive heresies even denying the Lord that bought them. Notice that he labels the false teachings as destructive. In Acts 20:29-30, the apostle Paul warned that “savage wolves”—there’s a very strong imagery there that Paul uses for a purpose—that “savage wolves” would enter even the church, not sparing the flock, and that we should be on guard because even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth. Why will they distort the truth? In order to draw away disciples after them.

And there are a number of cults today that will deliberately enter Christian churches, raise some controversial issue and draw out members of Christian churches who really don’t know any better into their own organization. They actually have plans to do this; they have done it; and they have specific techniques by which they accomplish that.

The imagery of a “savage wolf” is appropriate. Have you ever watched a hungry wolf pack hunt down its prey? It’s really quite amazing. And when cults enter Christian churches or become involved in the church, we have the same kind of effect. A great deal of controversy is generated, a lot of problems arise, divisiveness is caused, a lot of the sheep get bloodied a bit, and it becomes a real problem. And the imagery of a savage wolf is very appropriate.

Finally, Jude 3 commands us to contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. What happens when we contend earnestly for something; when we struggle for it; when we fight for it? What is the faith once for all delivered to the saints? That’s basically Christian doctrine. We’re commanded as Christians to contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

In conclusion, new religions are important because of their number and their influence, widespread ignorance concerning their true teachings, because members of these religions also need salvation in Christ, and because God warns us to guard against spiritual deception and that even Christians, if they don’t know their Bibles well, if they don’t know doctrine and theology can be innocently deceived by these groups and their teachings.

Now, how do cults and new religions deceive people spiritually? How do they do this? Well, basically by being a good counterfeit. They look Christian; they sound Christian. Listen to the names of some of the groups we’ll be talking about:

  • Jehovah’s Witnesses. Who are the Jehovah’s Witnesses? They are witnesses of Jehovah God of the Bible. They call themselves Jehovah’s Christian Witnesses.
  • What about the Mormons? Their official name is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  • Unity School of Christianity.
  • Christian Science claims to be the true science of Christian belief.
  • The Way International, founded by Victor Paul Wierwille, models its name after Jesus Christ who is the way and the truth and the life.
  • The religion of Armstrongism calls itself The World Wide Church of God.

And we can go on down the line with many other groups. They claim to be Christian by the very name they give themselves.

Now, the problem in our culture today is that most people really have no idea what it means to be a Christian either doctrinally or personally. So when a group comes along and claims to be Christian, claims to be a true Christian group, it’s not surprising that they end up believing that this is really what Christianity is. They naïvely accept the truth claims or the spiritual claims of a group without examining those claims critically and that’s one thing that we want to do this afternoon.

Now another way that cults deceive people is by using the Bible. Once a person trusts a group’s claim to be Christian, notices that they are sincere people, it’s easy for them to also accept what they claim about the Bible and how they interpret the Bible, even though that interpretation is wrong. They wouldn’t know that that interpretation is wrong unless it were pointed out to them. Because they have trusted this particular group, they trust it to also accurately teach the Bible to them. And, of course, if the group is not Christian, it’s not going to teach the Bible accurately.

In conclusion, cults deceive by their appearance. They look good. They sound good. Groups like Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witness use all the same words that Christians use, but they give them different meanings, entirely different meanings, so you end up with an entirely different theology. And then they also deceive by taking advantage of other’s ignorance or gullibility. When people don’t really know what it means to be a Christian and someone comes along and says, “This is what it means to be a Christian,” and they sound good and they look good and they use the Bible and they speak of God and Jesus and claim to believe in them, it’s not surprising they end up deceived.

Now what are the major characteristics of cults? Well, there are many but we’re going to center in on three major characteristics of cults. First, spiritual deception. Cults make false claims concerning their true beliefs. And in the next several minutes I’ll be giving you a number of illustrations of this.

A second characteristic is the acceptance of new revelations that deny the Bible. In the Mormon religion, we have The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, The Pearl of Great Price. In the Jehovah’s Witness religion, we have their new translation of the Bible, The New World Translation, which they claims was divinely inspired. In the Unification Church, founded by Sun Myung Moon, also known as the Moonies, we have Divine Principle. Unity School of Christianity has the teachings of Charles Fillmore, which he claims were divinely inspired.

Now, the problem is that these new revelations, without exception, always deny what the Bible teaches. Obviously, if they deny what God has already revealed, they cannot be from God, in spite of the claim that that is the case. God specifically tells us in 1 Corinthians 14:33 that he is not a God of confusion, and in Titus 1:2 that he cannot lie.

Now, a third characteristic of the cults is spiritistic or occultic influence. That is, either in the origin of the group or the practices of the group, spirit beings are contacted or their influence is somehow evident within their history or their practices. It’s interesting that, in addition to being unbiblical in their teachings, perhaps the most frequent characteristic of cults is spiritism. Dr. Robert S. Ellwood, who is a professor at the University of Southern California, has written a book called Religious and Spiritual Groups in Modern America, discussing about 40 of the new religions. And he says that these could almost be called a revival of shamanism. Shamanism is a very primitive form of spiritism. And it’s interesting that this scholar notes a connection between the revival of cultism and a very ancient form of spirit practice.

Let me give you some illustrations. Mormonism began with the spiritistic revelations given to Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith himself was an occultist, and it’s not surprising that he would be subject to occultic and spiritistic revelations. Now these revelations also continue in the Mormon church today.

Jehovah’s Witness leaders claim the guidance of the spirits that they think are angels, not only in parts of their doctrinal beliefs, but also in their translation of the Bible.

The founder of Christian Science was Mary Baker Eddy who was, for a period of time, a spiritistic medium, who would go into a trance state, be possessed by a spirit entity that would speak through her. She claims that her new Bible, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, was supernaturally received from God.

Charles Fillmore, who founded the Unity School of Christianity, was also interested in spiritism and the occult.

Jose Silva, the founder of Silva Mind Control, which has over seven million graduates, was a spiritist. And he, as part of his seminar, claims that people can actually go inwardly and make contact with their inner advisors, inner guides, many times which turn out to be actual spirit entities, spirit guides which are really demons that impersonate good spirits in order to deceive people spiritually.

The Unification Church was began by Sun Myung Moon, who was a Korean occultist who was involved in occult practices as well as spiritism and séances.

Now the problem with spiritism is that the Bible warns against this practice. In Deuteronomy 18, God specifically says “there shall be found no one among you who practices” spiritism, contacting the dead and a number of other occult practices are also listed. Because God has warned against this, and yet all or a large number of these new religions and cults actively were promote spiritism or began by spiritistic methods, we can see that this is not something of God, and this is not something divine.

These then are the major characteristics of the cults: Spiritual deception or false claims regarding their true beliefs; second, new revelations that deny what the Bible teaches; and third, spiritistic and occultic influence or practices.

Okay. Now we’re going to briefly examine eight of the leading cults in America. We’ll look at the founder of the cult, their beliefs concerning God or salvation, and make a few comments about why their truth claims really cannot be trusted.

Let’s look first at Mormonism. The founder of Mormonism was Joseph Smith. What does Mormonism believe about God? Well, Mormons will claim that they believe in the Trinity. They will claim that they believe in salvation by grace. But they mean entirely different things by that than Christians do.

When they say they believe in the Trinity, what they really mean is they believe that God is three separate Gods, the godhead is three separate Gods—the Father, the Son and the Spirit are three distinct Gods. The late leading doctrinal theologian Bruce McConkey said in his text Mormon Doctrine: “There are three Gods, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” So Mormonism confuses what it teaches about the Trinity with the historic orthodox view of the Trinity where there are three persons in the godhead but one God. Mormonism teaches three separate Gods.

It also teaches that Mormons who earn the right by their good works will one day become Gods themselves. And this is a process that has been going on for a long time in the past and will apparently continue into the future. So really there are a nearly infinite number of gods that Mormonism believes in, because a good Mormon is told that he will become God in the fullest sense of that term. So when Mormonism claims to believe in the Trinity, they mean something differently than orthodox Christianity.

They also claim to believe in salvation by grace. But by this all they mean is the universal resurrection of all men. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the true concept of salvation that is achieved by good works. And if a person does enough good works then, according to Mormon theology, he will enter exaltation or become a god.

The 10th president of the Mormon Church, Joseph Fielding Smith said, “Mankind is damned by the faith alone doctrine.” In other words, those who believe that you’re saved by faith alone, which is the biblical teaching, Mormonism says that will actually damn them.

Now, according to Ephesians 2:8-9, the Bible teaches that we are saved by grace through faith. We’re not saved by good works because our good works are filthy rags. There’s no way that our good works can possibly justify us before God. We’re saved by grace through faith and that not of ourselves, salvation is the gift of God, not of works that no one should boast.

Now some basic problems in Mormonism. First of all, Joseph Smith claimed to be a prophet of God. In Doctrine and Covenants, which he wrote, we find the promise in chapter 1, verse 37, “‘that all of the prophecies in this book will come true. Search these commandments for they are true and faithful and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled.” And the next verse goes on to emphasize that. And yet you can look in Doctrine and Covenants Section 84, the prophecy concerning the rebuilding of the temple in Missouri, and see that that never has happened historically. And yet it was promised by Joseph Smith, and allegedly by God, that it would happen within the generation of those then living. Well, that generation has long ago passed away, so that was a false prophecy.

In Doctrine and Covenants Section 87, we find the so-called Civil War prophecy. That also is claimed to be a genuine prophecy, and yet has many clear errors that prove that Joseph Smith was a false prophet. When he claimed to be a true prophet of God, he was wrong. In addition, the new scriptures of Mormonism, Doctrine and Covenants, The Pearl of Great Price, The Book of Mormon, contradict what the Bible teaches is true.

And finally, Mormonism practices a form of spiritism through proxy baptism for the dead and engages in other occult practices that are biblically forbidden.

Finally the church’s scriptures, when compared historically, and the teachings of their authoritative prophets and presidents, those who have been the presidents of the church, contradict one another. You can examine early Mormon theology and later Mormon theology and you find a great deal of contradiction. And that is a problem with all spiritistic revelations. Sooner or later you end up with a lot of contradiction and a lot of error.

What about Armstrongism? Armstrongism was founded by Herbert W. Armstrong, and later by Garner Ted Armstrong, who continued the teachings. What does Armstrong believe about God? Well, similar to Mormonism, it teaches that God is reproducing himself. What does Armstrongism believe about salvation? Well, again similar to Mormonism, ultimately that through good works, through obeying the law that man will become a god himself. Armstrongism currently believes there are two persons in the godhead, the Father and the Son. It denies that the Holy Spirit is a person, but that good members of the church of Armstrongism will one day be God themselves. The basic problem with Armstrongism is that they consistently misinterpret the Bible. They correctly define how you interpret the Bible, but they don’t follow their own rules of interpreting it. Their leaders and writers distort what the Bible teaches, forcing it to conform to Armstrong theology.

Let me read you from the Worldwide Church of God publication Is God a Trinity?, page 44, “Why has Satan pawned off the doctrine of the Trinity on the world? Because he doesn’t want you to rule in his place. Satan and his demonic cohorts have tried to hide from all the world the breathtaking truth of God. If they can make you believe in the Trinity, you will be deceived into thinking that the godhead consists of only three persons.” In other words, a godhead, according to Armstrongism, is ultimately expanding eventually into a near infinite number of persons.

In the Worldwide Church of God publication What Do You Mean, Salvation?, it states, “Christ’s death did not give you eternal life…. Did not save you.” The death of Christ on the cross did not yet ultimately save anyone. But that wasn’t what Jesus taught. In John 6:37 he said, “Truly, truly I say unto you, he who believes has eternal life.” And in 1 John 5:13: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God in order that you may know that you have eternal life.” God says that we can know we have eternal life simply by believing in his Son. Armstrong says that no, that’s not true. The death of Christ did not ultimately save anyone. Ultimately good works are required.

What about Jehovah’s Witnesses? The founder was Charles Taze Russell. What do Jehovah’s Witnesses believe about God? They are Unitarian. They believe that God is ultimately only one person and, therefore, they deny the biblical teaching on the Trinity. Charles Taze Russell called the Christian God the devil himself, and they see the Trinity as a pagan teaching, a false doctrine that is ultimately promoted by Satan to deceive people, much like Armstrongism.

What do Jehovah’s Witnesses believe about salvation? Well, they believe there’s only 144,000 people that will actually go to heaven. These are the elect of God, and they will rule with God and Christ. These are the ones that are born again. The average Jehovah’s Witness, who is a member of the other sheep, has no expectation of being born again, because Jehovah’s Witness theology tells them they’re not to concern themselves with that. They can only expect to live forever on a Paradise Earth. The rest of mankind will eventually have the opportunity for salvation after death; but if they do not perform the needed good works along with any other wicked, they will be eternally annihilated if they do not achieve their own salvation.

Now, the basic problem with Jehovah’s Witness is that their theology, again, denies historic Christian doctrines and that their new translation of the Greek New Testament is a very flawed translation. For example, Dr. Julius Mantey was perhaps the,… he was one of the world’s leading Greek scholars, and this is what he says about The New World Translation: “I have never read any New Testament so badly translated as the Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures. It is a distortion of the New Testament.”

Dr. Robert Countess wrote his dissertation for his PhD in Greek on The New World Translation, and this is what he said: “It must be viewed as a radically biased piece of work. It is actually dishonest.”

Now, the problem with The New World Translation is that any time you get to a distinctive Christian doctrine, such as the deity of Christ, their translation gets around it somehow. John 1:1 is translated “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was a god” in order to deny Christ’s deity. Matthew 25:46, “These will go away into everlasting punishment” is translated “These will go away into everlasting cutting off.” Now the Greek word kolasin, you can check in any Greek dictionary, means punishment, not cutting off. The Jehovah’s Witnesses translate it that way to deny the doctrine of eternal punishment, which they do not believe in. So, basically, they have a new translation of the Bible that is intended to document their own theology. It is not a fair, accurate or scholarly translation.

What about The Way International? This was founded by Victor Paul Wierwille, and there are approximately 150 to 200,000 members. What do they believe about God? Again, they’re like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, they’re Unitarian. They deny the Trinity. They deny the deity of Jesus Christ. What do they believe about salvation? They’re very strong on claiming to believe in salvation by grace, but that at best is a half-truth. The basic problem of The Way International is Victor Paul Wierwille’s—who was the founder—his interpretation of the Bible and Christian history. For example, in his book Jesus Christ Is Not God, he says this on page 5, “Jesus Christ was not literally with God in the beginning. Neither does he have all the assets of God.”

Now that’s interesting, because in John 1:1, what does it say? “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” And in verse 14, “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld his glory.” Very clearly a reference to Jesus Christ.

On page 7 of Jesus Christ Is Not God, Wierwille states, “Our very redemption, the crucial point on which all Christianity rests, is dependent on Jesus Christ’s being a man and not God.” In other words, he tells people that if they’re really going to be saved, they must not believe that Jesus Christ is God.

He also teaches a distortion of church history. On page 12 he says that “to the first three centuries of the church, to 330 AD, church leaders spoke of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but they never refer to them as co-equal. In fact the opposite was the case. They spoke of the Father as supreme, as the true and only God, and of the Son as inferior, having a beginning.”

Well, all you need to do is go and read the early church theologians and apologists, the early church fathers, and you can see that that is not true. Ignatius, who lived in 30-107 AD, in his To the Ephesians, the greeting, he referred to “Jesus Christ our God.” In his Letter to the Magnesians, he said, “Christ who was from eternity with the Father.” In his book to the Romans in the greeting it says, “Jesus Christ our God.” In his letter to Polycarp he referred to “Our God Jesus Christ.”

Polycarp himself, who lived from 69-155 AD, spoke of “our Lord and God Jesus Christ.”

The apologist Tatian wrote in his address to the Greeks, that God was born in the form of a man.

Irenaeus, 120-202 AD, wrote that “the Father is God and the Son is God.”

Tertullian in his Against Praxeus wrote, “him,” that referring to Jesus, “we believe to have been sent by the Father into the virgin and to have been born of her being both man and God.”

Novatian,… on and on and on.

The early Christian church did believe that Jesus Christ was God, and there were a number of books written with titles like On the Trinity. So when Victor Paul Wierwille says that the early church never believed in the Trinity, never believed in the doctrine of Christ’s deity, he’s simply wrong.

What about the Unity School of Christianity? The founder was Charles and Myrtle Fillmore. What do they believe about God? They believe that God is an impersonal spiritual principle that somehow they give attributes of personality to. The problem with that is that, in his ultimate nature, God cannot be both personal and impersonal at the same time. He is one or the other. Biblically, God is an infinite person. He loves; he has emotions and feelings. He is not an impersonal principle. In the end, Unity becomes pantheistic. It teaches that everything in some sense is part of God. Pantheism teaches God is all and all is God.

Now, what does Unity believe about salvation. Well, again salvation is by personal merit as you allegedly become more and more aware of your own inner divinity. Progressively as you learn to think proper spiritual thoughts and to manifest your divinity in the world about you, as you evolve spiritually over many lifetimes, eventually you will be saved. You will merge with God.

Now, the basic problem with Unity is that their teachings distort the plain meaning of the Bible. They claim to be true and original, primitive Christianity. Charles Fillmore taught that his teachings were the true teachings of Jesus Christ. But Jesus never taught Hinduism. He never taught reincarnation. As a matter of fact, if you look at the doctrine of the atonement, Christ’s death on the cross, right there that proves that the Bible does not teach reincarnation. If Christ’s death on the cross forgave all of our sins, past, present and future—as Hebrews says by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified—on what logical basis could we possibly work out or work off our own karma, forgiving our own sins over many lifetimes? If our sins have been forgiven by the death of Christ on the cross, there’s no need for reincarnation. And yet Fillmore attempted to integrate biblical teaching and reincarnation because he would not accept what the Bible plainly taught.

It’s interesting that, ultimately, the metaphysical or allegorical interpretation of the Bible that you find in Unity, Religious Science, many New Thought groups leads ultimately to subjectivism. One person’s belief is just as valid as anyone else’s, because there is no ultimate authority by which to say anything is right or wrong. And so anyone can believe whatever they want. If you compare The Metaphysical Bible Dictionary, which is Unity’s Bible Dictionary, some of the definitions they give, with the glossary in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures in Christian Science, you can see that the definitions are not uniform. So why should Unity’s definition be accepted over Christian Science? The problem is that you can end up with words having an infinite number of meanings.

But, of course, words do have primary and secondary meanings. They can’t be stretched to an infinite degree. And if we don’t let words mean what they say, we run into problems. And that’s exactly the problem with Unity. It doesn’t let the words in the Bible mean what they say. If I were a physician and I was scheduled to do a routine appendectomy the next morning, and I scrub myself up and I took the patient’s heart out, there’s not a law court in the world that would not fail to convict me of malpractice; because a heart is not an appendix. For Unity, words don’t mean what they say. They take biblical words and they can give them any meaning that they want.

Now another problem with the Unity is their theology, like many Mind Science religions, distorts reality. The basic assumption that man is divine and can manipulate reality by positive affirmation is potentially dangerous. Now, let me illustrate some of Unity’s theological teachings and then some of the problems that you get into by thinking that your mind is divine and by positive affirmation you can actually change reality.

The Metaphysical Bible Dictionary of Unity says this about salvation: “Many persons today think that by faith in Jesus they will be saved and taken to heaven. They are mistaken, however. Those who teach such a doctrine are false prophets.” Now what Unity has just said is that Jesus Christ is a false prophet. Charles Fillmore declared, ”We have been taught by the church that Jesus died for us as an atonement for our sins.” And he goes on to say that this idea has led the church astray. He says that, through positive thinking, Jesus of Nazareth played an important part in opening the way for everyone of us into the Father’s kingdom. In other words, you ultimately enter heaven by thinking positively. He goes on to say that, however that way—that is, entrance to heaven—was not through Jesus’ death on the cross. So Unity denies what Jesus taught and what the Bible teaches because it does not let words mean what they say.

When Jesus said that he came to give his life a ransom for many, and he told the disciples after his resurrection “was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer and enter into His glory,” he clearly believed that the reason he came was to die for our sins.

Now, Unity also distorts reality. I think the best illustration of the problem this poses comes from Charles Fillmore, the founder of Unity himself. Fillmore believed that his mind was potentially divine and that, by appropriating the divine power of his mind, he could actually transform his own body and make it young again. Listen to what he said at age 92: “I expect to associate with those in the flesh and be known as the same person that I have been for 92 years. But my body will be changed in appearance from that of an old man to a young man with a perfectly healthy body.” Wham! Just like that. Of course, he really was God, why not? He said, “Some of my friends think that it is unwise for me to make this public statement of my conviction that I shall overcome death; that if I fail, it will cost. If I fail, it will be detrimental to the Unity cause. I am not going to admit any such possibility.”

Charles Fillmore died three months later. He said he could live forever. He said he could conquer death. The Bible said the soul that sins will die and the wages of sin is death. The problem with distorting reality is that it can become very problematic. I’ve talked to people in Unity and Religious Science that have actually had a near brush with death with a rattlesnake and they talk about, you know, the divinity and the godhood in the snake and what a wonderful experience. People that have been beat up and robbed and mugged and all they can think about is the divine reality of the thief. It’s a distortion of reality.

Now what about Christian Science? The founder was Mary Baker Eddy. What does Christian Science believe about God? It believes that God is an impersonal principle animating all creation. It’s basically a form of pantheism. In Science and Health, page 228, she said, “Life is God.” What does Christian Science believe about salvation? That ultimately, by mental enlightenment—it’s similar to Unity, although not the same—by mental enlightenment, thinking the right kind of spiritual thoughts, we can recreate our own reality. Now, it’s interesting that in many of these New Thought groups, we find the same teachings that they give in modern channeling and in mediumism. The spirits, who are really demons, give the very same teachings concerning the divine mind of man, the divinity of man, the fact we don’t need to believe in Christ for salvation, etc., that you find in many of these Mind Science groups.

The basic problem with Christian Science is that Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures denies the Bible and it rejects reality. Christian Science teaches there is no such thing as evil, there is no sin, there is no sickness, pain, disease, poverty, death or judgment after death.

Let me quote Science and Health. On page 23 we find a denial of the atonement of Christ. She says, “One sacrifice, however great, is insufficient to pay the debt of sin. That God’s wrath should be vented upon his beloved son is false. Such a theory is man-made.” She denies reality to disease. On page 229, “Disease is unreal.” On page 176, “One disease is no more real than another.” On page 79, “Warning people against death is an error.” On page 584, death is defined as an illusion:…Any material evidence of death is false.” And on page 291, “No final judgment awaits mortals.” And then finally on pages 150-151, “The human mind and body are myths.” It’s very similar to Hinduism. Ultimately you don’t exist; the only thing that is real is spirit which is God.

Now, in Christian Science we encounter the same problem that we encounter in many Mind Science groups, and that is ultimately a denial of reality. I remember when I first moved into a house in San Diego when I was working on an encyclopedia on the cults and new religions. I happened to move in next door to a Christian Science practitioner. And I’ll never forget one morning hearing these terrible screams of someone in absolute pain and agony. And I thought “My goodness what’s happened?” So I ran outside and I followed the sounds. I knew there was a nurse across the street, so I went and got her, banged on the door, and this elderly lady answered the door. And, you know, we said, “What on earth is wrong? What can we do? Should we call an ambulance?” She said, “Nothing’s wrong. I feel fine.” That was after 15 minutes of screaming in pain and agony.

For four years I listened to that woman every day for 15 minutes, half an hour, an hour, scream in agony, and yet she would not admit she was in pain. She would not admit she had a physical problem, because to do so would only reflect her spiritual ignorance. If she has been taught there is no such thing as disease or pain or illness or sickness or death, then she must deny it in order to be spiritual. If she accepts those things within her, then she’s not being truly spiritual. She’s denying spiritual truth.

And the problem we see is that many Christian Scientists refuse to go to doctors, they refuse to go to hospitals, and they die. It’s like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, based on a distortion of biblical teaching in Scripture, who say that if you have a blood transfusion, you will lose your salvation, and so many of them die. Now that is not God’s way; that is not biblical teaching.

What about the Unification Church? It was founded by Sun Myung Moon, a Korean occultist. What do they teach about God? God is a spirit energy essence that manifests dual qualities. They are ultimately teaching a form of pantheism called panentheism that the universe is God’s body and that God Himself in some sense is evolving or growing.

What do they teach about salvation? That salvation is by good works. The basic problem is that their new revelation, Divine Principle, contradicts the Bible. Let me give you one illustration. In Divine Principle, page 142, Moon says this about Jesus’ death on the cross: “Jesus knew he could not fulfill the purpose of his advent as the Messiah through redemption by the cross. We therefore must realize that Jesus did not come to die on the cross.” But again, in Luke 24:26 Jesus said, “Oh, foolish men and slow of heart to believe, was it not necessary for the Messiah to suffer these things and enter into his glory.”

Moon says on page 15, “A vast number of Christians throughout 2,000 years of Christian history have been confident that they have been completely saved by the blood of Jesus’ crucifixion.” And yet he goes on to say, yet in reality, this is false. This is not true. On pages 210-211 he says “that Jesus can by no means be God himself.” So Moon denies what all cults deny, the true nature of God and the true nature of salvation.

What about Silva Mind Control? Silva Mind Control was begun by a psychic and spiritist Jose Silva. What does it believe about God? That God is a kind of universal intelligence that men and women can tap into, and become part of, and can develop their divine abilities. What is salvation ultimately in Silva Mind Control? That through the development of our allegedly innate divinity, we develop psychic powers. We can develop psychic healing and clairvoyance and telepathy, etc. We can contact our inner advisors and get great wisdom from them. The basic problem is that, with seven million graduates, Silva Mind Control has played a significant part in the occult revival in America. You’d be surprised how many times I have encountered, you know, somebody that has been converted to the occult on the basis of attending a Silva Mind Control seminar.

Let me read you what Jose Silva says concerning his theology. In his book Keys to the Kingdom, he says, “Many preachers have recommend we should have faith and believe in Jesus and that we will be saved or forgiven. But Jesus never said ‘being cleansed with my blood will save you’. He never said ‘if you let me enter into your heart you will be saved’. You wonder how they can promise that the blood of a person killed 19 centuries ago could cleanse you. Or, how you can be born again without having died first? Another thing the Sunday preachers have kept on saying for centuries is that Jesus is coming back again. I venture to say no.”

How does he define salvation? He defines salvation as ultimately entering an altered state of consciousness. He says on page 165, “When we enter the kingdom of heaven, which is entering an altered state of consciousness, there we become centered and have access to the use of the right brain hemisphere. This would truly be the concept of being born again.”

Now what about psychic powers? Where do they ultimately come from? Well, there’s an interesting incident in Acts 16. The slave girl, who had psychic powers, what happened to those psychic powers after the spirit was cast out of her? She lost her psychic abilities. Now, that’s a pretty good indication that people that have psychic abilities, however they are mediated, ultimately get them from the spirit world, from demons. In our book Cult Watch, John Ankerberg and I have shown that, from the testimony of many spiritists and occultists themselves, as well as from biblical scriptures, the idea promoted so often in the New Age movement and in parapsychology that all men have latent psychic powers simply is not true. There is no evidence, from the research of J. B. Rhine, modern parapsychologists, or anyone else, that men have latent psychic ability.

Now, that is a brief survey of some modern cults in America. The thing that they all have in common is that they deny what God has said is true in His Word and that insulate people against salvation in Christ. This is part of spiritual warfare. In Ephesians 6, the apostle Paul said what? “We wage war against spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Why do so many of the founders of cults and new religions, why are so many of them involved in the occult? Why do so many of them have spiritistic contacts? Well, there’s a connection between being involved in the occult and denying what the Bible teaches. Satan doesn’t have any love for God’s Word or for Jesus Christ. And the more people he can get involved in the cults, the more he confuse issues, the more he can lead people away and astray from salvation in Christ.

Now how do you protect yourself and your children from the cults? First of all, if cults are a counterfeit, then the solution is know the real thing. Know your Bible. In 2 Timothy 2:15 it says, “Be diligent.” Another translation reads, “Study to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.” Now, what are the implications of this verse? Well, first of all if you’re not diligent, if you don’t study, then guess what? You won’t know the truth. And for a Christian, of all people, not to know the truth, that’s something to be ashamed about. Christians have the truth. Jesus said, “Thy word is truth. Sanctify them in the truth” in John 17. It’s God will that we be set apart, that we be sanctified to the truth in his Word. The only reason why Christians sometime get lured by the cults is because they don’t know the Bible.

Dr. Harold L. Bussell wrote a book called Unholy Devotion: Why Cults Lure Christians. And the basic argument was that, besides the fact that Christians don’t know their Bibles as well as they should, was that sometimes there are churches who are so similar to some of the cults in the way they do things that Christians can’t tell the difference. If we don’t know what we should believe, if we don’t know why it’s true, is it surprising that sometimes Christians end up joining a group like Mormonism that claims to be the true Christian church, that claims to believe in Jesus Christ and in God and in the Trinity and salvation by grace even though it denies all those things?

I remember my pastor down in San Diego came to me one day and said, “You know, one of the members of the church has joined the Mormon church and now she’s having some doubts about it. Would you mind talking to her?” And I said, “No. I’d be happy to.” And so we talked, and I found out that how she got into the Mormon church was through a boyfriend who happened to be a Mormon. And she ended up getting baptized in the Mormon church, fully joining the Mormon church, and was a member of the Mormon church for, I think it was eight or nine months. Eight or nine months involved in a group that denies everything biblical, everything Christian and insulates people from salvation. She simply didn’t know what Mormonism really taught, and she didn’t know her Bible that well. So God tells us to be diligent and to show ourselves approved unto him, handling accurately the Word of truth.

Now another thing that is very important is to know basic Bible doctrine. There is nothing more important today, in our culture, in the age in which we live, than for Christians to know doctrine, to know theology and to know apologetics. Nothing is more important. What is theology? What is doctrine? It’s just God’s words. J. I. Packer, one of our leading theologians, has actually written a book on doctrine called God’s Words, which I would highly recommend to you. If you know the truth, then a counterfeit isn’t going to be able to get to you. And you’re going to be able to maybe keep some other people from being deceived by a counterfeit. In the Bible we’re repeatedly encouraged to know doctrine. A lot of people think, “Well, I want to stay away from doctrine. Doctrine is divisive.” Is that true? Not really. Sound doctrine is not divisive to a Christian who knows it. It may be divisive for someone that doesn’t want to believe it; if it’s not interpreted properly it can be divisive. But there’s nothing divisive about knowing the basics of Christian teaching.

Let me read to you just a few sub-doctrines within the doctrine of salvation. And ask yourself if you can define these properly. Now the doctrine of salvation is called the doctrine of soteriology. It’s one of a number of doctrines that Christians need to be informed about. There’s the doctrine about God himself, theology proper. There is the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. There is the doctrine of death and the afterlife. And if Christians know these doctrines then they’re not going to be led astray.

But let’s single out the doctrine of salvation. I’ll give you a list of some doctrines that are related to that and see if you can give me a definition. Atonement. What is the atonement? Propitiation. What is propitiation? The atonement is the death of Christ for our sins. Propitiation is an aspect of the atonement where God’s wrath was turned away because God’s wrath was put on Jesus Christ. It was turned from us because Jesus took it in our place.

Regeneration. That’s the doctrine of being born again. Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say to you unless a man is born again,” he what, “he can’t see the kingdom of heaven, he can’t enter the kingdom of heaven.” What is regeneration? It has two aspects. First, it imparts a new nature. It changes your nature. When you first accepted Christ that’s why your nature changed, because God made you alive spiritually. You were dead to Him. You were dead to the things of God. When you received Christ, he gave you a new spirit. He made it alive unto himself. Secondly, it gives eternal life. It imparts a new nature, it gives eternal life. The moment you accepted Christ, you became an heir of eternal life. You got it at that moment. “Truly, truly I say to you he who believes in the name of the Son of God… that he may know that he has eternal life.” That’s why John wrote the first epistle, to tell you that if you believe in Christ you may know that you have eternal life. Jesus emphasized again and again: “Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.” That’s regeneration.

What about conversion? Conversion has two aspects, repentance and faith. Both repentance and faith require three separate elements. There’s an intellectual element.; there’s a volitional; there’s an emotional element. Unless all three are there, you may not have genuine repentance and faith. How many people go forward at a meeting to receive Christ and, you know, get all excited, and then later on they fall away? Well, there was not a true volitional conversion, a true volitional belief in Christ. There may have been great emotion, but that’s not enough to save someone.

What about the doctrine of our union with Christ? Do you know what that means? We’ve been raised up and seated with him in the heavenlies. Do you know how that affects your life individually?

What about the doctrine of imputation: that Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to us? Because we are in Christ in a mysterious sense, even though we live here, we are united to Christ. We are part of his body. Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us. It is reckoned to our account. As a result of that, we are justified.

What is justification? It means to be declared righteous. It’s not just that your sins have been forgiven. It’s that the very positive righteousness of God himself has been given to you, has been credited to your account. God has declared you righteous. Now we still sin. God knows we sin. But before him we are as righteous as if we have never sinned.

What about the doctrine of adoption? We are his sons and daughters.

What about the doctrine of sanctification?

Now these are some of the doctrines relating to the doctrine of salvation. How many of you have studied those? If you haven’t studied those and you’re a Christian, isn’t it time that you did? Believe me. There isn’t a cult in the world, there isn’t a world religion in the world, there isn’t anything in the world that has anything like this—where God himself loved us enough to send his own Son to die for our sins; and simply by faith, by receiving that truth, by making Christ our Lord and Savior, declaring us righteous, giving us eternal life as a gift.

That’s why all of the cults, because they reject that, they’re all involved in works salvation. You have to earn it: You have to do this; you have to do that. You know, my heart goes out to these people who do all kinds of things thinking that ultimately they’re going to be right with God. And in the end, what’s going to happen? Jesus is going to say, “Depart from me. I never knew you.” They trusted in themselves for salvation rather than in Jesus Christ.

In conclusion, let me quote to you 2 Timothy 2:24-25 and I think this should really be a prominent verse when we consider sharing with those in other religions and groups and remember these people also will be saved. Many Christian Scientists, many Mormons, many Jehovah’s Witnesses, many members of Unity, on and on and on and on, have been saved because someone that cared enough about them shared the gospel with them. Look, if they don’t hear it from a Christian, who are they going to hear it from? An atheist isn’t going to tell them about the gospel. If they don’t hear it from us, they’re not going to hear it from anyone. They think they have true Christianity but they really don’t. And that’s why God will bring members of these groups to us. The nice thing is a lot of them come to our doorsteps: Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Some of the others we got to seek out, but God will also bring them into our lives, and we need to have the conviction of the truth of what we believe and the boldness and love to share the truth with them.

Second Timothy 2:24-25 says that “God’s servant must not be quarrelsome but gentle to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, in humility instructing those who are in opposition. If perhaps God will grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.”

And that’s our hope and that’s their hope. God may grant them repentance.


  1. Daniel Smith on November 11, 2015 at 7:58 am

    I have a friend that handed me a booklet written by Fred Coulter of the Christian Biblical Church of God.
    Do you have any information about him?

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