Below are nine teachings I experienced while attending a church that I now call a cult. If you think you or a loved one is in a cult, check into my book, The Church Next Door, and also feel free to contact me.
Please consider the following while reading:
- My experiences may not be exactly like yours, but each point below can root back to the teachings of any denomination, religion, or other troubled organizations that people fall victim to every day.
- If you or a loved one experience one or two of the signs listed, while it is a good sign, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is a cult. Just think about the fundamentals of it. “Is the group manipulating my or a loved one’s behavior in a way that leads to stress, anxiety and depression?”
1. Your group is the ONLY group.
I was taught that my church was the “one and only church” living up to God’s expectations. All Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, etc. were sinners and not saved. The only way I could be saved and go to heaven was to become a member and be baptized in that church.
2. “DO WHATEVER IS NECESSARY” in order to stay loyal to the group.
I had a long list of rules to follow. I couldn’t drink, I couldn’t swim without a shirt on, I couldn’t dance, I couldn’t even listen to certain songs on the radio! While it may sound silly, people in that mindset are willing to do what they need to do in order to be faithful to the “one and only church.”
3. You have a constant sense of GUILT, STRESS and ANXIETY.
The leaders use guilt as a way of teaching to control its members. Nearly every sermon focused around sin and how we needed to do better in order to please God. If you constantly feel guilty, you’re going to stay in the “one and only church” that will save you. I couldn’t talk to anyone outside of my church without thinking I was letting down God. I was wasting time with “non-Christians” instead of being with my brothers and sisters. It pushed me away from the rest of the world.
4. You spend A LOT of time with them.
I was going to church three days a week, twice on Sundays and Wednesday nights. I also played basketball, attended dinners, and donated some of my time to help them randomly throughout the week. While that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s why I was doing it that made it bad. I went because I felt like I had to in order to not disappoint God (or the cult leader), not because I wanted to. Almost all of my time revolved around the church.
5. You’re ISOLATED and outcasts are REBUKED.
I was never directly told to isolate myself from people outside of the church, but the guilt put on me (number 3) made me isolate myself. I was days away from leaving my family and friends, my entire life, all behind, and other than my family, I wasn’t going to tell anyone. One day I would’ve just been… gone. The cult wasn’t directly telling me to leave, I wanted to leave because of the beliefs that came from their teachings.
My church also has a history of “kicking out” some of its members for being disloyal to their beliefs. Kicking people out of a church? Especially considering number 1, kicking someone out means sending them to Hell! That doesn’t sound like the Christian thing to do…
6. The leaders are ALWAYS right.
When I was fully committed to the church, I believed everything the leaders were saying without needing proof to back it up. In fact, I’m sure I would’ve done whatever they told me (even if it wasn’t biblical), because I thought they were “true Christians.” If anyone tried to question their teachings, they were either told to “trust in God that the leaders are spreading the Word,” were given scripture out of context to prove a false point, kicked out of the group, or simply ignored.
7. Your group DOESN’T LIKE other groups.
Stating that they are the “one and only church” and that everyone else is wrong. Everyone else is going to Hell. In my church, Catholics specifically were a regular conversation piece saying how they weren’t following God, falsely leading its members to sin.
8. They CAN’T AGREE amongst themselves.
The members of my specific church all agreed and worked together, however, there were multiple churches of the same denomination within a small area of each other. In fact, there were two in the city limits of a town with a population of 200 people. My church split off of the other. If they can’t agree amongst themselves then who’s to say either one is right?
9. They have a set of rules for salvation.
My church took the Bible very literally and made everything into a set of rules. In fact, there were so many rules, it was impossible to follow them every second of your life. They actually have an “easy recipe” that must be done in this order to become a Christian.
- Hear the Gospel– listen to sermons (by the cult leaders) and study scripture.
- Believe– believe that Jesus is Son of God.
- Repent– confess your sins.
- Confess that Jesus is the Son of God– this is usually done out loud during step five.
- Be Baptized (at your will, as an adult, fully immersed, by a member of that specific church)
As I grow as a Christian, I realize more and more that our relationship with God is just that, a relationship. It’s not a set of rules you have to follow. He is a God of love, and a set of rules is not love. None of these points I list above are about love. These organizations tear families a part, lead individuals into deep stages of depression, stress, anxiety, and can even suicide.
Please share this with anyone you think could benefit from this. The more people who know my story the more people I can help.