Many today are confused over whether groups that call themselves "churches" are
really Christian denominations or cults of Christianity. To adequately answer
this requires a look at the big picture.
Globally, religion breaks down into major divisions such as Islam, Shintoism,
Hinduism, and Christianity. Each of these have sub-divisions which have
sprung from the basic root. Islam has Sunnis and Shiites; Hinduism has spun
off Buddhism. The world views Christianity as basically Roman Catholic,
Protestant or Eastern Orthodox.
So, when cults are spoken of it usually means a departure from the core
teachings of a major religion. Therefore, besides "Christian" cults, there
can be Islamic cults, Hindu cults, or Buddhist cults.
In western nations where Christianity is dominant, a "cult" usually means a
group that has some kind of roots in Christianity. Some groups such as
Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses simply use Christianity as a jumping-off
point from which to build doctrines and teaching far removed from Biblical
truth. Others such as Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox take the Bible and
incorporate it with pagan based rituals and traditions, thus making the
scripture "of no effect."
So, how do we tell when a religious movement can no longer be considered truly
Christian? For Bible believers, the Scriptures become the final judge.
The Apostle Paul laid out the central issues for the church of Corinth in
II Cor. 11:4. Here Paul gives three tests: do they preach another Jesus?
are they motivated by another spirit? and do they present a different gospel?
Without exemption all false religions and cults fail one or all of these tests.
The key question is: What do they do with Jesus? None will teach a biblical
Jesus, the eternal Son of the triune Godhead. Most deny His divinity, reducing
Him to just a great teacher. Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism etc... all acknowledge
Him as an outstanding wise man, prophet or possibly one of many gods. Mormons
agree He is a god, but one who was once a man like us, and we can become gods,
too, if we work at it. Jehovah's Witnesses make Jesus a created being, the
brother of Lucifer. New Agers revere Him as an "Ascended Master" who evolved
to a higher spiritual plane. Moonies believe Jesus came to save the world but
got tangled up in Jewish politics and got Himself killed before He could
complete this mission. Now Sun Myung Moon has come along to complete the job.
Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox claim to worship the Biblical Jesus but in
practice turn Him into a wafer god worshipped and eaten by "the faithful."
Thus dispensed of, He is largely replaced in practice by a pagan goddess called
the Virgin Mary who becomes the advocate, mediator, and comforter.
Islam recognizes Jesus as one of a line of prophets whose message was incomplete
until Muhammad came along to furnish the last word from his god, Allah.
In the second test, false religions follow a different spirit. Some connect
God to some kind of force, denying that He is a person. Others worship a
host of demonic spirits represented by a vast array of idols and deities.
In one way or another a "different spirit" is involved in every false religion
whether it is Hinduism with thousands of gods or Islam who claims to worship
only one god but his personality and character proves that he is not at all
like the Biblical spirit, Jehovah.
The third test in II Cor. 11:4 is a different gospel. There are basically just
two ways to heaven taught in the world: through the blood of Christ or by
doing enough good works to earn it. Only biblical Christianity carries the
good news that we can be sure our sins are forgiven. All other religions and
cults preach that man can only hope his good deeds outweigh his sins at
Today there are many cults of Christianity masquerading as denominations. But
against these three biblical criteria, it becomes clear they have no part with