In order to use some of the links on this page it is necessary to enable Javascript.

skip to main content, skip to site links, or skip to search

Links to Bible Verses or third party sites will open in a new window.

Jude Ministries Logo Header

Site Search


Related Studies

The State of Faith
A Study on Holiness

The State of Faith
A Study on Holiness

The State of Faith
A Study on Holiness

The State of Faith
A Study on Holiness

The State of Faith
A Study on Holiness

The State of Faith
A Study on Holiness

Renewing Your Mind


Opens in a new window




Cults and World Religions

Religion and Other False Doctrines

Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than truth itself.
Against Heresies 1.2 8

John 14:6
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

1 Timothy 4:1
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons

America alone has more than 350 sects and cults, and most of them claim to base their doctrines on the Word of God. 9

350 sects and cults – all claiming to rely upon the Word of God –

This is a picture of religion today. It is a picture of deceiving spirits and devilish doctrines. Unfortunately, many of these doctrines are right next door. The trick is to distinguish between what is good and what is evil, to develop a discerning spirit.

Religion might be defined as “that aspect of one’s experience in which he attempts to live harmoniously with the power or powers he believes are controlling the world.” 10 In this sense, religion becomes definable as possessing a series of traits which we should all recognize:

Yet, in this modern age, this last characteristic is the true dividing line, for most desire to see that all roads do, indeed, lead to God.

Notice, first, that religion implies man’s need for a creator or higher power. Man either cannot or does not stand alone in the universe. Man needs God.

Secondly, the universality of religion shows the distinction of man from the animal world and the unity of the human race. Animals live on instincts. Animals do not form vast societies or social structures. Animals do not “seek God.” All men seek some God.

Third, religion does help to meet needs. Groups offer solutions to evil, groups help support us through troubles. Groups attempt to improve the quality of life. They offer the hope of a “better tomorrow,” they provide the outlines of an ideal society. They even attempt to set in place a working plan of salvation. Or so they claim.

Flavors of God

It is this last element which creates the stumbling block between religions. All religions do not eventually reach the same God. As we see, there is no uniform definition of God or the salvation He offers. To better keep all of this in perspective, here is a set of definitions, the “isms” of religion. In general, this list sets forth the umbrella of all religions.

THEOLOGY is the study of God. This, in turn, has led man to define beliefs in God in general “catch-all” terms. There is some benefit to understanding these terms, at least in broad concepts. It will help us place religions together as to their overall world views of God.

ATHEISM, outright denial of the existence of God, is a position that many claim to hold. If you are an atheist, you believe that man is alone and life is meaningless. This is the Soviet cosmonaut’s view of the universe (“I can’t see God, so He must not exist.”). It is contradicted by evidence in nature, the conscience, and the spiritual makeup of the individual, as well as by biblical teaching. At heart, it is a rejection of the self-revelation of the personal God of the Bible, who has on innumerable occasions communicated with human beings for their benefit. Many people are practical atheists because they have not bothered to inquire about the existence and character of God.

AGNOSTICISM, the belief that one cannot know if God exists or not, amounts to a suspension of knowledge. As with atheism, it rejects the many self-disclosures of God. It is an affront to the God Who has spoken, is based on pride, and offers no hope for life now or after death. Both positions are contrary to the basic makeup of human beings, who desperately need contact with their Creator and have the spiritual capacity to interact with Him.

PANTHEISM is an often sophisticated but actually illogical view of God. It denies the existence of a personal God who interacts intelligently with human beings. Instead, God is the same thing as the universe, and, in turn, the universe is God. Of course, in this view we are part of God and He is part of us. If you are a pantheist, then you have to conclude that at any given moment you are sitting or standing on God! It actually sacrifices God’s personhood for His infinity, and, in some forms of the view, makes God physical, although in some variations everything is supposedly nonmaterial and spiritual, including the universe. Pantheism is an attempt to reduce God to identity with His creation.

POLYTHEISM, the belief in a plurality of gods (equal or differing in rank) is prevalent throughout the world, as is pantheism. This view clearly contradicts the biblical teaching that there is only one deity and that He is unique in power and position. In polytheism in general, the adherent can never know if he has pleased the right god. We might call this the Alka-Seltzer view of God. Like a medicine that covers all the bases, polytheism, by encouraging placating all the gods to obtain favor, assuages the conscience—at least it attempts to!

DEISM is the view that God exists and can interact with human beings, but has withdrawn from contact with them. In some forms it involves denial of a Trinity, the incarnation, miracles, and other orthodox doctrines. 11

MONOTHEISM is the belief in only one God, a God who is active in the universe. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are the only monotheistic religions.

MONISM is the belief of all-in-one. It is the unity of all reality, not the belief in a single God. It is similar in results to pantheism.

As stated above, it is the ecumenical thrust of a universal type of salvation which is the clear stumbling block between Christianity and all other world religions. To most religions, “salvation” is equated to “sameness,” a set of identical (or almost identical) morals or “goodness structure.” This shows a clear lacking of definition of salvation. This salvation is an improvement toward the ideal moral position. This approach assumes that there is a general sense in which the human race defines morals or human goodness. It also assumes there is progress toward such definition.

In modern terms, this trend toward the same god is called “PLURALISM.” I quote at length from an article by John Hick which demonstrates the definitional problem salvation.

If we define salvation as being forgiven and accepted by God because of Jesus’ death on the cross, then it becomes a tautology that Christianity alone knows and is able to preach the source of salvation. But if we define salvation as an actual human change, a gradual transformation from natural self-centeredness (with all the human evils that flow from this) to a radically new orientation centered in God and manifested in the “fruit of the Spirit,” then it seems clear that salvation is taking place within all of the world religions – and taking place, so far as we can tell, to more or less the same extent. On this view, which is not based on theological theory but on the observable realities of human life, salvation is not a juridical transaction inscribed in heaven, or is it a future hope beyond this life (although it is this too), but it is a spiritual, moral, and political change that can begin now and whose present possibility is grounded in the structure of reality. 12

How does Hick maintain this position? It is not as difficult as it might first appear. And, it is characteristic of all the fights on Christianity. Notice, first, that this is an argument from reason and experience. Man needs a god, but that god does not have to be very powerful – or popular. He is just “there.” Second, that god may have imparted some information to us in the form of revelations, for Hick uses the language of Scripture, “fruit of the Spirit.” But, the real change is in the definition of salvation. Salvation is not the process of becoming right with God. Salvation is the process of becoming a better human being – a person better able to operate in the spiritual, moral, and political world. One might well ask what the political world has to do with one’s salvation? Do we all need to belong to the same political party?

Hick, and all those like him, dismiss the Bible as the only true word of God. They define worship in terms of paying homage not to “God,” but to one of any number of series of manifestations of God to humanity. So, Moses helps to bring about one such manifestation. Jesus is another. But so are Mohammed and Buddha, and several others. And since they all generally preach the same moral code, salvation must be tied to this code.

Scripture tells us to expect such diversity in religious practice. Look at what Paul foresaw when he wrote to Timothy.

1 Timothy 4:1-6
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons,2 speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron,3 forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.

Or, in the Apostle’s second letter to his spiritual son.

2 Timothy 3:1-10
But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good,4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!6 For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts,7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.8 Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith;9 but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.

This passage gives us the first of three definitions we need to keep clear in our minds as we look at various cults and world religions.

The first of these is APOSTASY – the continual falling away of people from God. It is a denial of God, not a perversion to His Word. In classical Greek, apostasia is a technical term for political revolt or defection. The Septuagint relates the term and definition to rebellion against God (Joshua 22:22; 2 Chron 29:19) as originally instigated by Satan, the apostate dragon of Job 26:13.

Most of the arguments of pluralism ultimately reflect the view point of apostasy, for they reject God totally as He is presented in Scripture. They reject the overall concepts of the God of the Bible. But notice that the modern trend of religion is to treat apostate religions and cultic religions as still reaching the same goal.


On the other hand, knowing that Jesus is God, Satan has provided some intermediate steps for those who are not yet ready to totally reject the God of the Bible. These are the cults. Paul foresees these as well.

2 Corinthians 11:13-15
13 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ.14 And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.

A CULT, then, is a perversion or distortion of biblical Christianity. It is a rejection of the historic teachings of the Christian church. A cult is a group of people based upon someone’s interpretation of the Bible and is characterized by major deviations from orthodox Christian beliefs. As we will see, this deviation is particularly concerned with the Trinity and the Person of Jesus Christ.

But, if cults are a perversion, why do they flourish? Some suggested answers include:

To understand the cults, and to fight them, it is necessary to understand two other terms – orthodoxy and heresy.

Canon – the Standard

ORTHODOXY is the method of referring to the standard of beliefs held by the Church of Christ. It is the list of “doctrines” believed to be truth.

DOCTRINE — a body of beliefs about God, humankind, Christ, the church, and other related concepts considered authoritative and thus worthy of acceptance by all members of the community of faith. 14

ORTHODOX comes from two Greek words which mean “right” and “honor.” Thus, the term orthodox in Christian usage means to rightly honor God. It may be viewed as meaning that one should rightly accept and obey all of the foundational teachings of the Bible.

Those who corrupt the foundations of orthodoxy are called heretics. The Greek words from which we get “HERESY” and “HERETIC” simply mean to “act of choice” or “an attachment.” Thus, in Christian terms, a heresy is a false doctrine – but not just a false doctrine. Rather, it is a false doctrine so important to those who believe it, that it must be considered an abandonment of the faith.

Harold O. J. Brown, in his work Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church 15 , argues that theologians have developed the statements of orthodoxy because of the attacks on the church, that is because of the heresies. He reviews the development of doctrine throughout church history and concludes that there is no method of defining heresy in today’s church since there is no existing standard of orthodoxy. Brown’s arguments miss the mark, for the look to the standards of the church rather than the standards of God and the Bible. Scripture clearly sets forth certain universal beliefs which must be followed in order to be saved and become a child of God. These are the Statements of Faith issued by the bodies involved.

For example, here is the Calvary Road Baptist Church Statement of Faith as it is displayed on the Church’s WEB site .

What We Believe...

The Statements of Faith of all churches and denominations will not read exactly like this one. Some will be more complex, others simpler. Some will contain terms that Baptists do not agree with (speaking in tongues or baptism by sprinkling). The key to orthodoxy is to identify those statements which are indispensable to the Christian faith. What we will find is that such statements generally address either the status of the Bible in one’s faith or the place, status, and person of Jesus Christ. It is these areas where most cults will “wander” from orthodoxy, becoming heretical.

What’s in the Language?

Why this emphasis on doctrine? One of the traits of most cults is to use the same terminology we use in Christianity. The terms – salvation, redemption, Jesus, even Bible – are all used. The difference is that the cults have redefined the terms giving them meanings to match their beliefs. We need to understand this and to learn what the terms should mean to us. In this fashion, we can learn to dissect the arguments of the cultists and, then, to present to them a clear gospel message.

1 Peter 3:15
15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear

This language issue is extremely important, for some cults will appear to quote and agree with Scripture! But, this is not the real case, for Scripture to the cultist has a completely different meaning than it does to YOU! To quote from the authoritative book on cults:

The average non-Christian cult owes its very existence to the fact that it has utilized the terminology of Christianity, has borrowed liberally from the Bible, almost always out of context, and sprinkled its format with evangelical cliches and terms wherever possible or advantageous. Up to now this has been a highly successful attempt to represent their respective systems of thought as “Christian.” On encountering a cultist then, always remember that you are dealing with a person who is familiar with Christian terminology, and who has carefully redefined it to fit the system of thought he or she now embraces. 16

An example of the semantics problem in a “non” cult situation is the use of the word “sect.” Frequently, this word is used as a way to distinguish between denominations or various parts of the “church.” This is especially true with the Roman Catholic Church which uses the term as an equivalent to denomination. Liberal Protestant writers will frequently use the term in the same fashion. However, it is more properly the equivalent of cult, since it is a term which distinguishes groups based upon the doctrinal beliefs of that group. Accordingly, we will use the term “sect” as being equivalent to “cult.” Contrary to this, the pluralist is likely to use the word sect as the equivalent to all religions. See the problems?


Lastly, aside from the “theological” differences, the cults possess certain general psychological characteristics that Christians must recognize and deal with.

1 Timothy 3:16
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:
God was manifested in the flesh,
Justified in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Preached among the Gentiles,
Believed on in the world,
Received up in glory.

So, what makes a cult? Cults all claim special revelation and privilege. Those who use the Bible invariably distort the interpretation of Scripture to fit their own beliefs and interpretations. This is always contrary to the orthodox view. In the end, cults take the three basic essential doctrines of the Bible and either add to them, subtract from them, or do both at the same time. The essential doctrines are shown in 1 Timothy 3:16 – the Deity of Christ, which involves the Trinity, the Resurrection, and Salvation by Grace. These are the doctrines which Christianity unique among the religions of the world. These are the doctrines of true faith. These are the truth of God.

Should we judge?

Is it fair to pronounce another religious group false? Do Christians have the right to call a cult wrong? Or does “tolerance” demand that Christians accept the slight changes to God’s Word that these various groups make?

Two passages might be suggested as biblical starting points. One was quoted earlier, 1 Peter 3:15. That passage is used to form the basis of all Christian apologetics, the arguments for Christianity. But beyond this, we are to earnestly contend for the faith, for the doctrines handed down from Christ to the Apostles.

Jude 3
Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

But, beyond contending, we are to examine what we are taught.

Acts 17:11
These [the Bereans] were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.
1 Thessalonians 5:21
Test all things; hold fast what is good.

The Bible is the watershed of religion. If it is true, the Word of God governs all things, and any judgment honestly based upon its teachings is valid. We must accept God’s Word and fight to protect it, at any and all costs. The cults are wrong. When the kingdom of Israel split into Northern and Southern kingdoms, Jeroboam established a “look-alike” religion in the North to help the people to stay focused on God (and not to stray into the Southern kingdom on high holidays and defect!). Some two hundred years later when the Northern kingdom is carried into captivity, Scripture records that one of the major reasons for this punishment was the continuing practice of the Northern Jews to follow the “golden calf cult.”

2 Kings 17:16-18
16 So they left all the commandments of the Lord their God, made for themselves a molded image and two calves, made a wooden image and worshiped all the host of heaven, and served Baal.17 And they caused their sons and daughters to pass through the fire, practiced witchcraft and soothsaying, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger.18 Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight; there was none left but the tribe of Judah alone.

8. c. 175-195), Bishop of Lyons in southern France; one of the most important Christian writers of the second century. Irenaeus grew up in Asia Minor under the preaching of the apostolic father Polycarp and moved to southern France, becoming "elder" (presbyter) in Lyons. When the aging bishop was martyred, Irenaeus succeeded him as bishop in the West. In his primary work, Against Heresies, Irenaeus gave his theology as statements of the Christian faith to refute the heresies of Valentinus (the Gnostic) and Marcion.
9. Tan, Paul Lee, Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations, (Garland, Texas: Bible Communications, Inc.) 1996, Logos Electronic Edition.
10. Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, Handbook of Today’s Religions, San Bernardino, California: Campus Crusade for Christ published by Here’s Life Publishers, Inc., 1983, 11.
11. Paul S. Karleen, The Handbook to Bible Study, (New York: Oxford University Press) 1987.
12. Dennis L. Okholm & Timothy R. Phillips, Gen. Eds., Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World, John Hick, A Pluralist View, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995, 1996, 43.
13. Ronald F. Youngblood, general editor; F.F. Bruce and R.K. Harrison, consulting editors, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary: An authoritative one-volume reference work on the Bible with full color illustrations [computer file], electronic edition of the revised edition of Nelson’s illustrated Bible dictionary, Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1995, 1997.
14. Ronald F. Youngblood, general editor; F.F. Bruce and R.K. Harrison, consulting editors, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary: An authoritative one-volume reference work on the Bible with full color illustrations [computer file], electronic edition of the revised edition of Nelson’s illustrated Bible dictionary, Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1995, 1997.
15. Harold O. J. Brown, Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church, Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1984, 1988.
16. Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, Revised, 1985, 20.




Bible Copyright Information

This page printed from

Copyright © 2001-2024 James G. Arthur and Jude Ministries
Jude Ministries Website Privacy Statement
Comments or Questions? Email Us
July 17, 2024

Powered by PHP

Powered by MySQL

Interested in web standards and compliance? You can validate this page at the links below,
but see comments in the Blog (Topic - Web Site) about why some (most) pages will not validate.
XHTML  508 UsableNet Approved (v.    CSS