The following list of symptoms have been compiled after many years of ministering to those who have had associations with exclusive and “cultic” Christian groups. Each symptom by itself is not necessarily indicative of such a group, but all taken together they strongly suggest imbalance and danger.

1. The group will present itself as serious about personal holiness, so will appeal to earnest Christians who intensely want to be holy

ê Their standards for personal holiness will be very conservative and challenging

ê Their sobering sounding tape titles, article headlines, and exposés attract serious-minded believers

ê Their emphasis on how they are more “on fire” than the “lukewarm” church will attract those who agree that the modern church is weak

2. The group communicates that only they are enlightened and have the Truth, or at the least, are one of a few who are on the cutting edge of what God is doing in the world today

ê Leaders as well as group members dwell on those things which make them unique and set apart from the rest of the body of Christ

ê They seem to look for things in which to take pride, ie: their knowledge of the true biblical standard, their use of the only acceptable Bible translation, their proper recognition of biblical customs, etc.

ê Group members frequently discuss the shortcomings of those they consider unenlightened. Some may mock, but others will couch their criticism in compassionate sounding expressions of concern

ê Their elevated view of themselves may cause them to doubt that few, if any, outsiders are truly saved

3. Their dominant theme is often criticism and exposure of “false teachers”

(Excluding organizations which are purposed in ministering to cults.)

ê They have a judgmental, fault-finding style of teaching, which may be characterized by uncompassionate mocking, scorning, and belittling of those they regard as “spiritually blind”

Prov 21:24  The proud and arrogant man--" Mocker" is his name; he behaves with overweening pride.
Prov 11:12 "He who belittles his neighbor lacks sense."

ê Leaders’ constant criticism of others will eliminate all outside leaders as respectable, effectively pointing followers back to them as the only leaders worth following

ê They may label as “false teachers” all who do not agree with their interpretations of the Bible, which often, will be everyone outside the group. Not uncommonly, they will publicly post the names of highly prominent evangelical leaders whom they regard as false teachers.

4. The tone of their writings and teaching will reflect a judgmental, condescending arrogance

ê Their general attitude may be hostile and angry, which they will justify, labeling it as righteous anger

ê The arrogant, judgmental spirit of their ministry will often quickly infect those who drink from their well

ê Newcomers, once infected, will discover that they are suspicious and hyper-critical of the spiritual leaders they have trusted and respected in the past

5. They claim to offer new "light," presenting their ideas as more insightful than all others

ê Their ideas are non-traditional, and they may claim to be restoring lost elements of the gospel

ê Leaders frequently emphasize their enlightenment, authority, or whatever else gives them credibility, to attract and keep followers. (They trust in their fleshly efforts, and do not trust that biblical revelation stands on its own authority, nor that the Holy Spirit will be faithful to bear witness to the Truth)

ê Their emphasis on new “insights” will leave newcomers feeling a sense of excitement at having their eyes opened

ê Doctrines or practices considered by most to be minor, they will deem absolutely critical, and they will then condemn or belittle all those who do not elevate or hold to the same doctrines or practices

6. They are preoccupied with what they believe are the only acceptable ways to show honor and respect for God 
    (Mat 23:23-28)

ê Great emphasis is placed on issues related to the outward expressions of respect for God, ie: they are absorbed with proper or improper days of worship, avoiding christianized pagan holidays and customs, appropriate attitudes of sobriety and reverence in worship, correct expressions of the fear of God, etc.

ê They reverence the things of God more than the character of God.  That is, they are more likely to judge others according to the group’s standards of symbolic respect, than on the basis of whether or not they manifest the love and humility of Christ.

ê They claim to be honoring God better than others, and seem unaware that their pride and judgmental attitude negate all their outward righteousness.

7. They will tend toward Phariseeism  (John 7:24)

ê They are preoccupied with outward "appearance" of holiness, so great emphasis is placed upon cleaning up the outside, ie: grooming, makeup, hair styles, clothes, jewelry, etc.

ê They tend to define holiness more as the avoidance of carnal influences, rather than the presence of the love and character of Christ.

ê They are not content with the general standards God created in Scripture, but create extra-biblical rules, which in their opinion, are proper applications of Scripture for everyone.

ê They hold others accountable to their personal, extra-biblical standards of holiness, ie: they have well-defined rules related to TV watching, music, entertainment, education, parenting, possessions, etc. (God anticipates that we will extrapolate from Scripture personal rules for ourselves and our families, but when we judge others by those personal standards we enter into the sin of the Pharisees)

8. Leaders will exercise strong control over group members

ê Membership in the group requires adherence to many extra-biblical rules and standards.

ê Once members, people are intimidated into submission by group leaders. Fear of consequences keeps members in line.

ê If asked about those who have left the group, rarely will leaders speak of an ex-member with respect. Leaders will typically portray all or most ex-members as blind, deceived, or rebellious. Ex-members, in fact, are often castigated as infectious, and are subjected to shunning by the group.

 As you consider the things you have read here, please remember that a group is not dangerous because its members are on fire for Jesus and take seriously their calling to live holy lives. That is actually the calling of  the Church. No, it not intensity that makes a group dangerous. It is the presence of pride. This elevated self-view will not be obvious to group members. They will know too well that only God is to receive glory for whatever good is in their lives, so they will not overtly give credit to themselves. However, they will glory in feelings of specialness, their pride expressing itself in condescension and arrogant judgment. They will not realize it is an exalted view of their own insights which makes them quick to discredit all others. May the Lord protect His sheep from those wolves which creep in to devour them. Amen!

 Adapted from “BREAKING FREE: Escaping an exclusivist Christian group.”
For more help in this area, order “Breaking Free” or the CD set “Motives of the Heart.”