02 Cult Criteria


This is the CW Cult Criteria that should help you find out if you are involved in a cult. By cult we mean a counterfeit Christian movement.

Below we have a number of different criterias to help you identify key features of a cult. They are:

1. The +-X/ Criteria
2. The Age Criteria
3. The Biblical Criteria
4. The B.I.T.E Criteria
5. The Gospel Criteria
6.The Jeroboam Criteria
7. The Lie Detector Criteria
8. The T.D.M. Criteria

But  how do you know if you are in a cult?

Cults are getting smarter and disguising themselves better in our postmodern culture. They want to give you the impression they are legitimate, honest, genuine and sincere. So how do you know you are in a cult when they present something?

Cult leaders will often try to call their members to unity. This is a ploy to give a false sense of utopian community in which it makes the cult leader easier to control the ideology of the masses.
Many cult leaders will call on your loyalty to commit, serve or submit to their leadership and ministry. They will NOT call on your Christian integrity.
Cult leaders will have critics in their local areas. Talk to people who have left your “church”. Try to find online what is said on your leaders. Be critical on their assessment and test if what they say is true by examining their claims or sources and comparing what your pastor and other Christians say to scriptures.
Many cults deny they are cults and many false teachers deny they are false teachers. On top of that, many people who preach a false gospel also deny they preach a false gospel. Analyse their denials. Is what they say true?
Many cult leaders often result to playing word games. They are deliberately vague and are not fond of explaining or defining words, doctrines and their key beliefs. They may attempt to sound all mystical, all-knowing and may result in saying things that sound impressive but don’t end up explaining or answering your questions.
Cult leaders often attack “critics” (often they treat Christians like pagans, calling them “haters”, “bloggers”, “heresy hunters”, “Pharisees”, “Judas'”, “Jackass’,”etc.). Their constant attack on dissenters alerts members not to question or “touch God’s anointed”. Do your leaders do that?

Many cult leaders present their listeners with mantras that are nothing more than twisted scriptures in an attempt to stop Christian’s from biblically discerning the truth in their messages.

Do you or your pastor throw around non-biblical mantras like “Judge not lest ye be judged”? “He who hasn’t sinned cast the first stone?” “There is no perfect church?” “Chew on the meat, spit out the bones?” “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water?”

It’s ironic that these bad analogies (that acknowledge that they put up with the bad) oppose Jesus’s analogy in Matthew 7 on how to discern against false prophets when he uses the good/bad tree analogy.

(Eg. You wont eat up good teaching (figs) in a book that you know that is heretical (thornbush).)

Do they capitalise and stimulate your feelings and orchestrate experiences in church? Are they big on aesthetically pleasing you? Can you remember anything in the sermons a few weeks ago? Are you getting solid and more deeper in Christian theology? Can you explain and defend the gospel and the faith that has been passed down from the saints over the last 2000 years?CHALLENGING LISTENERS
Many cult leaders don’t like being challenged with people’s concerns. However, they think they are entitled to challenge you and tell you that they are there to expand your thinking, expand your vision, challenge your thinking, challenge your heart and so on. When they do this, test what they are saying. Is it logical? Is what they are saying biblical? Does this contradict the simple message of salvation? This is their attempt at making you feel good so you can embrace illogical teachings to further their cause.


A group or movement can be classified as a cult when they:

1. Add to the 66 books of the bible. (The group does this by relying on some new so-called revelation. Either new scriptures or by the discovery of an interpretive key to the bible that has somehow been hidden from the historical church.)

2. Subtract from the tri-unity of God by either denying the person-hood or the deity of one or more members of the Godhead. 

3. Multiply works necessary for salvation.

4. Divide the loyalties from God and the historic and universal church by focusing on salvation as the exclusive province of their particular group.


To see more information on this – please watch the video, “The Marks of a Cult”:


A group or movement can be classified as a cult when they:

perform youthanasia.

We have coined the term “Youthenasia” to highlight a technique used by cults.

Youthanasia – a technique employed by church leaders to get rid of the older, and smarter, generations in the church in order to focus on, exalt and condition the youth to believe the leader’s heretical ideas. [Source]


A group or movement can be classified as a cult when they:

Reject the authority of scripture by twisting God’s Word to elevate themselves, their movement, their prophecies or visions, or their worldly ideas.

Scripture tells us that the Bible is not about you. Nor is it about your leader or your movement. The Bible is actually about Jesus:

“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” John 5:39-40

Often cult leaders and or false Christian ministers will appeal to your ideals, imagination or feelings when presenting a so-called Biblical truth. They may also speak quickly in order to get you to believe that what they are saying is Biblical.  Fast, passionate preaching allows little time for you to think about what is being taught.  So here are some tips how to discern what is being said:

1. Write down the passage(s) of scripture the pastor/teacher is referencing

2. Ask yourself,

– “What was said about Jesus in this sermon?”

– “Was the sermon about Jesus, or was it about the pastor and his movement?”

– “Are they appealing to the Word of God as their highest authority or are they appealing to their experiences or personal testimonies?”

3. Always test what leaders say against the Word of God.

4. Know the difference between these biblical hermeneutics: exegesis and eisegesis (or narcigesis).

6. Know and read on the the biblical rules of interprertion: “Context, context, context” and “scripture interprets scripture”.

7. Finally, always read your bible. Never forget to have it open and ready when the sermon starts.

If you are not sure if what you are being taught is Godly, talk to another faithful friend, pastor or elder outside your church who can help.  There are also many good and reliable resources on the internet.



A group or movement could be classified as a cult when they:

Fulfill the B.I.T.E criteria.

One distinguishing feature of a cult is the way they control the people. A common technique used to determine if a church is a cult is the B.I.T.E method.  Does the church in question engage in:

1. B – Behavioural Control

2. I – Information Control

3. T – Thought Control

4. E – Emotional Control




A group or movement can be classified as a cult when they:

Twist, pervert or do not preach the Christian gospel OR preach a different gospel.

Make sure that you ALWAYS test what you are being taught against the true Gospel message by which we are saved.

What is this gospel message?

If you do not know the answer, find it out.  A good place to start is 1 Corinthians 15 and the Apostle/Nicene/and Athanasian creeds.  Once you’ve got the answer, ask yourself, “Am I hearing the true Gospel message regularly from my church?”

If the answer is no, you are not in a good church.  Not only do cults and heretical churches NOT preach the true Gospel, they often times preach a different Gospel which is just as dangerous. (See 2 Corinthians 11:4). In fact, heretical churches also preach a different Jesus, a different Spirit and a different Faith.  Thus readers will often see us critique the “Jesus,” the “Gospel,” the “Spirit” and the “Faith” presented by cult leaders and non-Christian pastors.

Knowing the true Gospel can spare you from a lot of pain. In knowing the true gospel, it can be easier to identify a false gospel. If the teachers refuse to be corrected then you should leave that heretical church/cult. Here is a great challenge by the Apostle Paul to the Galatian church who embraced a false gospel.  Paul writes in Galatians 3:1-5,
“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?”
Once you know the Gospel it is best to leave the movement you are involved in so that you can influence it’s members from the outside. Attempting to be effective inside might cause you to be swayed  by the false gospel that is being taught there, no matter how sincere your motive may be. It is best to be grounded in a Gospel centered church for the sake of your eternity.  Paul writes in Galatians 1:6-9,
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!”



A group or movement can be classified as a cult when they:

When they rewrite biblical or church history.

Just like the false teachers and prophets in Israel’s day, today’s false teachers often alter history and prophetic writings to bolster their credibility as a prophet and teacher. Thus, when you look at the Old Testament prophets, (and even the sermon of the prophet Stephen in the New Testament), you will notice that true prophets handle the historical accounts of Israel accurately to demonstrate their genuine prophetic office. False teachers and prophets don’t. (See Aaron (Exodus 32) and Jeroboam (2 Kings 12)).

What we see a lot of cults and or heretical churches doing today is either distorting  or neglecting church history as well as insisting that Christianity must change or die, (become irrelevant) to further the leader’s cause.  Some of these leaders will even insist that their congregants not look back at Christianity’s past but only seek progressive change.  They will dismiss the creeds and catechisms and call what happened before their time “dead” and “religious”. What these false teachers are essentially doing is discouraging people to investigate the authority upon which their teachings stand.

Below is a good resource that explains earlier church heresies. We hope this series on Church Heresy by Phil Johnson will bless you.

The ARIANS (Part 1)
The ARIANS (Part 2)

The Jeroboam Criteria is also important because it is not uncommon for the cult leader to rewrite their own church history.


It is possible to discern different levels of danger in cults and heretical churches. This criteria offers readers a diagram so they can understand how to assess a cult. Any cult (Theological – Dangerous – Murderous) can send you to Hell. So essentially it is not harmless. However, this diagram is here to help our readers understand the physical and psychological conditions one may face while in, or when leaving a cult.

T: A theological cult. These cults are generally harmless. They allow you to challenge and discuss theological ideas, but you are free to come and go as you please.
D: A dangerous cult. These are generally mentally/emotionally/psychologically/spiritually or even physically abusive. They can brainwash, coerce or use mob-like tactics on members.
M: A murderous cult. Thankfully, we have not yet monitored one that exactly fits into this catagory.  Nevertheless, the anti-Christian behavior in some cults we monitor is very disturbing to say the least. Hatred and revenge can be poured out on people who resist the cult or question the motives of the cult leader. The cults that we have monitored range from a 0-8.5.

Cult graph

If you are involved in some of the cults we monitor, please pray and seek God on these issues first and foremost. Our site exists to help people come to the truth of God’s Word. It is our cry to Christians involved in dangerous cults and movements to “Come out of her, my people,’ so that you will not share in her sins.” (Rev 18:4).



4 replies

  1. If this is the wrong forum for this kind of post, I apologize. Please direct me if there are more relevant places to post this 🙂
    Loved reading through the list, a lot of good points and a relevance that I find rare, as well as practics and examples for all the points listed.
    According to these criteria, however, I wouldn’t consider Bethel Church in Redding a cult. They promote the bible as the highest authority, most sermons are a “this chapter and this chapter speak on the same thing, and applying that to the here-and-now”-sermons. Half of our every school day (I’ve done first year at their ministry school) was committed to Bible-teaching. Teaching us to understand exegesis (“then and there”) and hermeneutics (“here and now”), pressing us to not “try to be profound”, but find out what the authorial intent of a passage was.
    All prophetic and supernatural experiences are required to be tested against the bible, as God will never contradict His Word. However, He is God, and to believe that the fulness of eternal, almighty God can be contained in a book of only a few thousand pages is absurd. He won’t contradict His Word, but is fully able to contradict our understanding of scripture, like He did the pharisees, as well as Saul (Paul) and Peter (during his trance in Acts).
    Bethel has instilled in me the awe of God’s greatness, Bill Johnson focuses on worship as our highest calling in life (it’s what we’ll be doing for all eternity), and is adamant about not putting God in a box the Bible doesn’t put Him in. The fruit of Bethel’s ministry is thousands of people activated and trained in the gifts of the spirit, the gospel advanced locally and globally, and I can’t find any essentials of the faith that are being compromised on in the slightest.
    Apart from experiences we can’t adequately explain, is there any scriptural basis for claiming Bethel a cult? I’d love to hear it and give my current leaders some feedback 🙂

  2. Can I read this article to other church members? This is valuable information that should be shared. Hopefully I can get your permission. Great job putting this together in a simple format!

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