Guidelines for Evaluating
and Encountering Cults
Grady L. Davis, MDiv, PhD
Note: This document was originally prepared
as a handout for courses that were taught either in a Christian
seminary or in Christian churches. The vocabulary is therefore
primarily geared toward that specific audience. Since Messianic
Judaism as a group has no formal, detailed doctrinal position, it is
difficult to speak about cults from a purely “Messianic Jewish”
We need to bear a positive witness to
members of the cults.
Be convinced. Conversation with the cultist is not
for the uncertain. The Christian needs to be just as convinced about his
faith in Jesus Christ and his commitment to that relationship as the
cultist is about his dogmatics.
Consider your attitude toward cultists. Make sure
that it is one of love. The Spirit helps us see others as G-d
sees them and to treat them with respect and love. Remember the admonition
of 1 Peter 3:15-16.
Be courteous. Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses
expect rebuffs when they visit house to house. You will surprise them by
being kind. Rejection by Christians simply confirms their belief that they
represent the one true church.
Seek to gauge the cultist's commitment to his faith.
Seek to understand what the person’s faith means to him. Every religious
group has within it a range of persons from the devout to the nominal.
Stress personal experience. Center on their
personal experience, not on the doctrinal beliefs of their group. Ask
about their experience: sometimes it will be given readily, sometimes
hesitantly. Listen to see if their testimony is canned or memorized, or if
it comes from the deepest wells of their beings. Members of cults who
believe in salvation by works rarely have a sense of personal assurance,
because they never know when they have worked enough to attain salvation.
Emphasize your own experience in Christ, and your own assurance of
redemption as His gift.
Be clear. The same words are used by different
religious groups to mean different things, so be clear in your use of
language. You should know enough about other faiths to know their code
words. Also be clear in the language you use about your faith.
Check for changes. (These changes are listed on
other handouts in this series.)
When you talk with a member of a cult, check what he believes about
beliefs. One of the rules of good interfaith witness is that you do
not tell another person what he believes; you ask him. Check for:
(2) the view of
(3) the view of
(4) the concept
of redemption and how one enters that realm,
(5) how he views
you as a Christian,
(6) the church,
(7) the Bible.
Compliment where you can; challenge where you must.
You do not build your own faith by tearing down the other person’s. If
there are beliefs or activities you can commend, do so.
Be careful in the way the Bible is used, either by you
or by the cultist. “Consider the context” is a good rule. Every time a
Jehovah’s Witness quotes a passage of Scripture to you, read it with him
out of your Bible. Examine the paragraph, the page, the book, to
see if the meaning of the verse has been modified by the cultist.
Share your testimony. Express your own faith in
Christ. Tell of your personal spiritual experience. Interpret for the
cultist what it means for you to be a Christian and a member of your local
church. The more your testimony uses terms that have meaning to the
cultist, the more the Holy Spirit can use it for his purposes. Share your
faith in words that are designed to reach the cultist. Stress assurance of
salvation with the millennial groups, for they have little confidence in
this area. Stress the divinity of Christ to the mind group, and the call
for complete dedication of all that you are — mind, body, soul, action.
Start with your neighbor. Share your faith
first with your neighbor who is a member of a cult group. You will have
more opportunity for continuing contact.
Do not close off contact. Effective interfaith
witness leaves the door open for other opportunities to share and
converse. Be ready to minister, to listen, to go back.
Most of the
documents in this section of our site are compiled from a series of
lectures on the cults and world religions delivered by Professors
Levitt-Sawyer, ThM, ThD, DMin and
Grady L. Davis, BD, MCM, PhD in the Department of Comparative Religion
on the Alameda, California, campus of Golden Gate School of Theology from
1983 to 1985, and in numerous churches in California and Tennessee from
1980 to 1995. Some minor editorial changes have been made to present a
more Messianic Jewish viewpoint than that of the original Baptist-oriented