<<off beat religious sects>>
Not every group who calls itself Christian is entitled to the label. A cult is a religious group that denies one or more fundamental Bible truths, and those who believe this distorted teaching will remain unsaved. (A sect can be termed a branch of a different school of thought). Cults often teach that Jesus was only human, not God, resulting in Jesus’ death not being sufficient payment for sin, and also that salvation is achieved by self-effort not ‘faith alone’.
Don't ignore the warning signs
adding to the Bible with other publications or revelations claiming secret knowledge; beliefs that have changed significantly over the years; compulsory tithing and giving exclusively only to that group; lack of love for individuals who instead are controlled by fear and guilt; no individual thoughts or beliefs are acceptable rather group conformity is promoted; leadership which fails to have systems of accountability for their teaching and lifestyle, often living immorally or inconsistent with the Bible; unquestioning obedience is required – often handing over all worldly possessions to the group; isolation of members from the real world and any other religious groups, through fear of contamination with the world believing they alone have the truth; group schedules so busy there is no life outside the group; often having communal living with minimal family time; adherents normally must disown their own non-believing families; they often resort to antisocial and militant actions; members being unable to easily leave the group. All these indicators are contrary to Bible principles and so such people are living in deception and error. If you are in a group that shows evidence of these characteristics you should seriously consider leaving it.
Cults flourish when society is in disarray. By just deviating in one area of accepted Christian principles, a cult then subtly adopts other areas of unbiblical belief which can lead into immorality and a denial of Jesus Christ (Jud 1:4). Without accountability or relationship with the wider Christian community, heresy takes over as they continue in deception. The adherents often experience brainwashing to some degree, where their minds are manipulated by thought reform or indoctrination to their own detriment.
Ignorance of the truth can result in being attracted to cults
because they don’t feel accepted, and so embrace the new teaching besides thriving on the excessive attention they are receiving.
A cult has a mixture of truth and error. However, there is a difference between not knowing the full truth and persistently teaching false doctrine (Act 18:24-28; 1 Tim 6:3,4). If the error is humbly corrected there is blessing yet if a person stubbornly continues after they have been made aware of the truth they will be judged harshly (Jas 3:1; Rev 22:18,19).
Some good questions to consider about any leader or group are: is their lifestyle consistent with the Bible, is their teaching Bible based, do they acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Son of God come to earth as a man to us from our sins, do they integrate with other Christian groups (Mt 12:33-37; Act 17:11; 1 Jn 4:1-3)?
To avoid being deceived by a cult: have a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ; rely on the Holy Spirit to be your continual companion and guide; have a growing understanding of what the Bible actually teaches; be in fellowship with other Christian believers and not isolated from Bible based input; don’t blindly accept all you read and hear but analyse it against the standard of the Bible; be continually growing in the truth of Christ so you will not be turned aside.
Pray for those trapped in such bondage and when opportunities avail, show them the truth from Scripture.