Every false Cult is a distinct group with a personality of its own. There is a wide diversity among these groups. Yet it is possible to discern many points of similarity among them. A knowledge of these basic characteristics can help one to recognize a Cult quickly.
It must be noted that not all Cults have all these characteristics, and that also not in the same proportion. For example the morally degenerate Cult known as the Children of God taught salvation by grace through faith aggressively. This is contrary to the practice of most Cults, yet the Children of God happens to be not more than a Cult because of other characteristics.
Thus no group should hastily be labeled as a Cult because of a single cultistic characteristic. Similarly, no Cult should hastily be pronounced as harmless because it has a few similarities with evangelical Christianity. Many small evangelical groups exhibit Cultistic characteristics, and many shrewd Cults exhibit characteristics of evangelical groups. Thus only careful evaluation of these groups would reveal their true identity.
Believers should definitely be weary of evangelical groups that manifest one or more cultistic characteristic. At the same time, they should be very cautious about Cults that camouflage their true identity by adapting some characteristics of evangelical churches. The totality of the symptoms should be taken into consideration before a group is identified as a Cult or as cultistic. The following are some of the major characteristics of False Cults.
1-Mixture of Truth And Error: Since most Cults multiply by catching people from outside, they need to hide their false teachings somehow lest people be alarmed before falling into their clutches. They do so by teaching a mixture of error with known truth.
2-Extra-Biblical Source of Authority: For a Bible-believing Christian there is only one final source of authority, and that is the Bible. This attitude is expressed through the statement: Sola Scriptura, the Bible alone. However, every false Cult rejects this principle and embrace other sources that are either equal to or greater than the Bible in ultimate authority.
3-Rejection Of Justification By Grace: Justification by grace is that great doctrine that sets aside Biblical Christianity from all other world religions, Cults, and philosophies. It was the rediscovery and renewed teaching of this most fundamental doctrine that freed millions of Christian believers from Roman Catholic slavery. This is the Doctrine that resulted in the glorious and God-honouring Protestant Reformation. Yet all Cults reject this doctrine, or at least deny and suppress it.
4-Devaluation of Christ: Jesus Christ is not only the central focus of the Christian faith, but also the ultimate authority in all matters of faith and conduct. Further, He being God-man, is the only one person of this kind in universe. He demands total submission and obedience by virtue of His position and work. Cultists cannot run their heretical movements as long as Lord Jesus is acknowledge for what He is. They need to dethrone Him or devalue Him in some way or the other before Cult leaders can elevate themselves and their teachings above that of Christ.
5-Exclusive Claim To Truth: In spite of the claim that salvation can be obtained only through Christ, true Christians recognize that this salvation is available to anyone and anywhere who is willing to accept Christ. Though a born-again person is expected to join a group of believers, this is only a post-salvation activity. Joining a group is not essential for salvation. The Cults deny this great truth.
6-A Central Role in Eschatology: Eschatology is an inseparable part of theology, and no Bible-believing group can neglect it. Biblically speaking, Christ is the center of eschatology. He is the author and finisher of history, and He does not need the help of humans to fulfill His plans. Nor can any human interfere with His escatological chronology or time-table. Most Cults deny this central truth of Bible.
7-A God-Like Human Leader: Every Christian knows that only God is God, and no human can, or should, ever attain that position. Even the Cultists know this. In spite of this, all cults glorify certain individuals to such levels, and give them such absolute allegiance and control over members, that eventually these individuals rise even above God in the esteem of the followers.
8-Missionary Zeal: Since the time that Jesus gave his Great commission, the children of God have been characterized by their missionary activity. Thus there is a possibility of misunderstanding when missionary zeal is mentioned as a characteristics of cults too.
9-Suppression of Freedom: Freedom to know and think is the greatest enemy of all dictators. Consequently all such people deprive others of knowledge and their right to independent thinking. The Roman Catholics forbade reading the Bible and killed tens of thousands for the crime of possessing Bibles. The Children of God do not allow their recruits to ever have free and unsupervised time. The CPM uses peer-pressure to force people to speak in “tongues” and also not to use medicine.