How do you distinguish between a Christian church and a cult?

How do you distinguish between a Christian church and a cult?

Last update on 11/05/2018 by Admin.

Christianity, Other Religions and Cults


Legitimate groups within Christianity

  • We must differentiate between Christianity, cults and other religions. 
  • Within Christianity there are many groups that are considered truly Christian. In Germany there are three groups: Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and Free Church. Although there are differences between Free Churches and the other two groups, fundamentally they are all Christian. 
  • In Germany the Lutheran and Catholic churches receive financial support through the state and the Free Churches are supported through donations. Free Churches tend to emphasize the Bible more, practice baptism by immersion for believers, encourage small groups, and are more relaxed and contemporary in style. Baptists, Pentecostals, independent churches, and international churches would all fall into the category of free churches. 


Other religions

  • The major world religions propose contradictory ways of being saved. It is not possible to be Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Christian at the same time. Each religion – by virtue of its truth claims – is exclusive. Each person is forced to choose between them. They may all be wrong; or all but one wrong; but they cannot all be true. For example, Jesus either is or is not the Son of God. We are either saved by our own works or we are saved by grace. 
  • From a Christian perspective there is only one true religion – Christianity. Other religions propose different paths to salvation that contradict Jesus and the Bible. They claim that there is a way of being saved other than through the death and resurrection of Christ. These other religions do not honour Jesus as the Son of God and Saviour of the world. They do not accept the Bible as the inspired Word of God; and they all claim that salvation is attained by good works and not by grace.  
  • For example, Islam claims a person is saved by their good deeds and obedience to the five pillars of Islam. Muslims also claim Jesus never died on the Cross and reject salvation through Christ. Christianity on the other hand claims that salvation can only be found by accepting that Jesus died in our place on the Cross and that through repentance and faith we receive forgiveness and become a child of God. 
  • A person must choose between these religions. It would be illogical to claim one can be a believer in more than one religion because they are so different and contradictory. 
  • However, Christians should always treat adherents of other religions with respect and tolerance and work together for a better society for all.  



  • Apart from other religions and groups within Christianity there are those groups that claim to be Christian but are actually not. We call these cults. This would include groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism/Church of Latter-Day Saints, Scientology and the Unification Church. 
  • Many people who are paranoid about cults don’t know what a cult actually is so it is important to understand what makes a group a cult so we use the word appropriately. 
  • To be a legitimately Christian church a group must have orthodoxy (right believing) and orthopraxy (right practice). Essentially orthodoxy is holding to the historic Christian faith as taught in the Bible and the historic creeds, and orthopraxy is avoiding controlling and damaging practices. 
  • We could elaborate on this to say a cult is characterized by six features: 


  1. Heresy - It teaches doctrines which are regarded as gross error. These are especially aberrant teachings about Jesus and salvation. This would include teaching that Jesus was not really God, we are saved through our own good works, or the Bible is not the inspired Word of God, and there is another book apart from the Bible (or an altered Bible) that is our final authority. 
  2. Personality driven – Cults are led by leaders who have a Messiah complex. These so-called prophets claim exclusive revelation and build the organization around themselves. Occasionally the cult leader has many wives or receives sexual favours from women in the cult because of his special status. 
  3. Control – Cults are almost impossible to leave. They use manipulation, domination and intimidation to coerce people. There may be threats of reprisal, death, or losing salvation if someone tries to leave. 
  4. Religious pride – Cults are sectarian, divisive, and exclusive. They claim they are the only ones who really know and do what’s right.   
  5. Brain washing – Cults try and control the thinking of their people through systematic and twisted teaching, isolating people from other teachers, and through secrecy. 
  6. Abuse – Cults always abuse their people. They may have deviant sexual practices, fleece them of their money, take advantage of weak people, or use drugs. In the most extreme cases they may engage in criminal activities or make suicide pacts. 


  • Every Nation Kirche Berlin is part of the world-wide family of Every Nation churches that is in over 80 countries and includes over two thousand churches ( We base our beliefs on the Bible and the historic creeds; the only person we want to make famous is Jesus; people are free to leave whenever they want; we recognize and respect many other groups as being on the cutting edge; we do not isolate our people from other teachings and openly ask people to check what we say against the Bible; and we do not abuse people. We do not have a single pastor but a team of pastors for mutual accountability. Furthermore, our pastors are accountable for both orthodoxy and orthopraxy to trans-local leaders who provide a place of appeal if members feel they are being mistreated. 
  • Let us be vigilant against heresy and cults but let us also not be afraid that every new expression of Christianity is a cult. As society and culture changes it would only be expected that the ancient truth of Christianity would be expressed in different styles and methods. 


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