Be sure you know the difference: Cult or Denomination?

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 judgment time.

Today there are many cults of Christianity masquerading as denominations. But against these three biblical criteria, it becomes clear they have no part with us.

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