Cults: We Gonna Expose Yo Ass!

“These people are grumblers and fault finders who go wherever their desires lead them, and they give bombastic speeches, enchanting folks for their own gain.” [Jude 1:16, Net Bible]

Its Tuesday and the cult members are heading home to Germany. They tried really hard to hijack the church services this weekend to deliver their BOMBASTIC speeches and bring disunity but it backfired – the churches all pulled together, warned each other, turned up to protect each other, did some serious Kung Fu in the spirit realm, and kicked some CULT-ASS! I dont think we will be seeing the followers of Horst Shaffranek again for a long time. Off they go . . uh uh . .

Yeah . . .. YOU BETTER RUN!!!!!

And as for other cult members and wackos out there who might be thinking of coming to Orkney to prey on the lambs of God, please know that we will EXPOSE YO ASS WIT LOTSA BRITE JESUS LIGHT and we will put your sorry faces on youtube like we did this weekend and we will not be intimidated. What is whispered in secret rooms will be shouted from virtual rooftops and aggregated by Google.

Images“Always two there are, a master and an apprectice.Yoda

But what about you? Is your new emerging church a cult? Or a sect?

Is there something suspicious happening in your religious group? Is there a spiritual residue of divisiveness or confusion? Do conversations with these people leave you feeling bewildered? Bewitched? Hynotized? Cloudy? Bullied? Unempowered?

Deception can be a spiritual battle more than an intellectual one. And maybe that whole spiritual realm is unfamiliar to you. Read on.

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A “sect’ is a group with some whacky beliefs that are a little off-base and usually in protest to the norm. Some churches become sects when they take on some beliefs that are not shared by the wider Christian community.

Wikipedia has a good post on “sects”

” In the church-sect typology they are described as newly formed religious groups that form to protest elements of their parent religion (generally a denomination). Their motivation tends to be situated in accusations of apostasy or heresy in the parent denomination; they are often decrying liberal trends in denominational development and advocating a return to true religion. The American sociologists Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge assert that “sects claim to be authentic purged, refurbished version of the faith from which they split”. They further assert that sects have, in contrast to churches, a high degree of tension with the surrounding society.” “Sect” on Wikipedia, Dec 12, 2006

Not all “sects” are bad [The Clapham Sect rocked!] but it might be a worry. Pretty much every Christian group will say the Bible is the source of authority in their movement. But interpretations can vary. I encourage all churches to participate OUTSIDE their little theological circles and stay in fellowship with the wider church – national and international. Many countries have an Evangelical Alliance or similar group. The Lausanne Covenant, btw, is a great document to which I recommend new churches and networks subscribe. Your group may not subscribe completely to these documents – and that does not necessarily mean they are a sect. The Westminster Confession is also a common document to which many western churches will refer.


Cult or Sect?

There is some good scholarly work on these two categories [see here] but this is how I differentiate: “Cults” are not only off-base in their beliefs, but they intentionally target weak people to turn them away from their existing church relationships and towards their own organization. Its this violent proselytisation that marks them out as a cult and makes them divisive and dangerous.

“…if you believe in it, it is a religion or perhaps ‘the’ religion;

and if you do not care one way or another about it, it is a sect;

but if you fear and hate it, it is a cult.”

Leo Pfeffer, Religious Tolerance.


Is Your Group a Cult?

But what about the group you are hooking up with? Here are some things to look for. Rick Ross has 10 warning signs of a potentially unsafe group/leader:

1. Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability.

2. No tolerance for questions or critical inquiry.

3. No meaningful financial disclosure regarding budget, expenses such as an independently audited financial statement.

4. Unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions.

5. There is no legitimate reason to leave, former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative or even evil.

6. Former members often relate the same stories of abuse and reflect a similar pattern of grievances.

7. There are records, books, news articles, or television programs that document the abuses of the group/leader.

8. Followers feel they can never be “good enough”.

9. The group/leader is always right.

10. The group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing “truth” or receiving validation, no other process of discovery is really acceptable or credible.

If that sounds like the group you just joined or the leader you are beginning to trust, then its time to think about leaving. Why don’t you TALK TO SOMEONE OUTSIDE THE GROUP AND ASK FOR THEIR OPINION? Or has this group encouraged you to distrust and forsake your friends and family [BAD BAD BAD BAD VERY BAD SIGN!!!!] Come on . . there must be someone outside the group you can talk to. Dangitt . . . go next door and talk to your neighbour if you have to.

For the record, most emerging churches I have come across are less likely to be cult-like than many traditional churches, especially those with a strongly heirachical leadership structure and a tight service where no one can speak back and challenge the message. But you should be the judge of that . .. not me. Here are some resources that might help you in figuring it all out: Cult Information Centre (UK), Ex-Cult, All About Cults, Cult News, Cult News Weblog, Walter Martin on dealing with cults. If you know of some helpful resources, leave a link in the comments below.

The Bible has been the most helpful source for me. The letter of Jude and 2 John inform churches on how to deal with false teachers who have destructive beliefs. And while you are at it, read the letter to the Galatians, a newly emerging church that was getting hassled big time from false teachers.

Sometimes you gotta judge with righteous judgment.(John 7:24) Sometimes you gotta kick ass!

And remember, perfect love drives out all fear. Love rules. God is love. God’s word is truth. Truth loves light, not darkness or secrecy. Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life”

Peace out!!!

Related: The Emergent Heresy Test

Viking Horns and Emergent Heresy

and regarding heresy and the emerging church -I think EC is a bigger target for heresy and cults but it is also better equipped to deal with it. I once said on the post “Josh McDowell on Small Groups”:

“- Research has shown that heresy usually comes through higher education [seminaries] and foreign elements. It normally does not come up from the grassroots but down from the top. Good book to read here is “Church Planting Movements” by David Garrison [who came up with those two observations].

– Heresy can flourish when false teaching goes unchallenged, or when people are confined to a learning environment where they feel scared or unempowered to speak up when they detect something wrong. A small group setting where interaction is encouraged, even disagreement, is a safer place to find truth than a monologue from a preacher lifted high and not available for correction.”


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • Joe Kennedy says:

    Well done. We had a really, really messed up group just north of New Orleans (on the North Shore) back in 2005 where they were abusing children and such. They busted most of the bad guys, including one deputy sheriff. Luckily our interim pastor was the apologetics professor at my seminary. So we got a good sermon on that one day. Thanks for the post, Andrew.

  • Phil Wyman says:

    I have spent many years dealing with people involved in cults. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Neo-Pagans, individuals involved in small groups like Shaffranek’s. At times the leaders of these groups required a good rebuking, but often the zealous followers needed a good loving first. Only by listening and loving can we learn where a person’s heart really is, and like scriptural discipline we follow a pattern from very personal to public. Of course when someone starts publically, the rules change, but we must still find a way to return to a personal interaction in which our Savior speaks through us in personal, caring tones.
    So in this story about Horst’s girls, I wonder, did anyone ask them out for coffee after they had to be silenced during the church service? That’s the part of the story I am most interested in: Who spent any time talking with them at length? Their story would be fascinating to hear – as convoluted as it must be.

  • andrew says:

    phil – thanks – they actually stayed for coffee and tea with us after the service and talked to many of the people, but they were not trusted and people accompanied them as they moved around. the younger one seemed more receptive to an alternative history. i am hoping to hear from her from my blog one day.
    but regarding false teachers, 2 John tells us “if anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house and do not give him any greeting because the person who gives a greeting shares in his evil deeds.”
    what about you Phil? I wonder how willing you would be to give space at your table in your home for traveling missionaries with questionable motives and messages?

  • djchuang says:

    I could be misinformed and don’t really know what I’m talking about, but the anecdotal stories I hear from those who are a little more knowledgeable about what is happening in China, is that in China, there is rampant heresy and heretical teaching, because of the lack of seminaries and formal education. So, supposedly, any person who is highly-motivated can espouse a peculiar heretical teaching and misuse the Scriptures and propagate heresy from the grassroots. Perhaps this is to say: heresy can very well thrive from either an institutional source or a grassroots source.

  • andrew says:

    i agree it can come from anywhere . . . except my blog, of course . . and i will NOT hear anything to the contrary because anyone who disagrees with me is wrong and evil. . . d;-]

  • Whitey says:

    Good stuff, Kiwi. I’ll try to remember to come back to your blog if I ever need some of these resources. Thanks!

  • josh says:

    that may be quote of the year.

  • maryellen says:

    The response in andrews blog here really gave me a good laugh today.which lord knows we can all use a little of in dealing with the heavy stuff. love

  • Jeff says:

    Andrew, I have enjoyed following your wrestling with this issue and appreciated that you were able to be prepared to meet the challenge.
    I loved the video someone shot of these two women. “Sit down!” had to be my favorite line.
    In cases like this we need to do everything we can to protect God’s precious lambs from wolves. Even if the wolves look like sweet little ladies.

  • robbymac says:

    You are hitting on a great wrestle for many house/simply church people. Where is the line drawn, and who draws the line, when it comes to allowing “just anyone” to speak/share/”prophesy” at a gathering?
    And I also concur that false teaching or errant understandings (less deliberate but potentially equally damaging) is not exclusive to either house churches or seminaries. That would be a false dichotomy, imo.

  • Phil Wyman says:

    Travelling missionaries have sat at my table. Witches, and Shaman have sat at my table. Jehovah’s Witnesses who always come with an agenda have sat at my table. There are more besides. It is at the table where I can discover if they may have an openness which allows them to consider a further dialogue, and a potential to give and take, or if I need to gently yet firmly move them along.
    Of course, at a church service they are not to be trusted if they have proved they have an agenda of converting people to their cause.
    We have had self-proclaimed Messiahs, Pagan leaders, Catholics attempting to persuade us toward the worship of Mary and the veneration of the saints, and more besides at our fellowship. No one has been swayed by their influences yet – but some of them are us now. And that is the glory of proclaming Christ in our spiritually diverse, postmodern world.
    Of course, there are a few who attempt to convert us on our territory, but they do not survive us long. 😉

  • Jason says:

    Love it! When I teach my high school students about cults I let them read this and take the cult quiz.

  • Philip says:

    Just commenting about what robbymac said above. For our simple churches we have a simple rule of thumb about prophecy and ‘people sharing from God’. Once the message is given everyone sits around opens there Bibles and discusses whether they feel confidant that the word is for the church or not. Then they agree whether it is a word to be acted on straight away or put on the back burner untill more clarity comes.
    I myself have given a couple of words over time where the group has come to a place where they disagree with what I said. Looking back they were right each time. Some where in the NT it tells us to test the word, but I cannot remember where.

  • brad says:

    I’ve found the book “Toxic Faith” by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton to be an excellent resource for overviewing the problems of cults, legalistic groups, etc. Their lists of “10 rules of toxic churches” and “10 rules of toxic leaders” are great summaries.
    This book spends about 90% of its pages on detailing how toxic religious leaders and groups work, and 10% on what constitutes healthy churches/leadership. Their follow-up book is “More Jesus, Less Religion,” and it does the reverse: spends 10% summarizing what toxic/unhealthy churches/leaders are, and 90% detailing dimensions of healthy discipleship and churches. These are valuable resources, regardless of we are on the established-emerging spectrum.

  • Cheryl says:

    Love this posting. I have been a christian for 27 years and a survivor of the latter day rain movement and shepherding movement. I attend a PCA reformed congregation now. I attended an emerging house church meeting and training session and ran for the hills because it reminded me of the former. Unfortunately I suspect there is alot of heresy in EC. Its just that most havn’t figured it out yet.

  • David says:

    Also try the following books ” Churches that Abuse” and ” Lambs on the Ledge.”

  • robbymac says:

    Slice of Laodicea has a document they’re encouraging everyone to edit for the local churches in everyone’s area, and then nail it to the doors of local churches as a modern-day Wittenberg Door action.
    Would this be another example of ecclesial terrorism?
    (removes tongue from cheek)
    P.S. I would also suggest — for those wanting good resources — The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by Johnson & Vanvonderan

  • Cheryl says:

    Thanks RobbyMac. Actually I’d like to ‘up the ante’. Anyone gets weird enough I have no qualms about reading psycholgical profiles. FBI.They’re the best! ‘Answers in Action’ is also good. Why is it alot of wierdness comes out of the pacific northwest? Is it a territorial spirit thing?

  • Webloggin says:

    Cults: Sometimes You Gotta Kick Ass

    The Iraq Study Group seriously proposes that we have a nice little coffee klatch with Iran as one of the ways to resolve the situation in the Middle East, putting the group in comfortably with many Democrats and all Europeans. Put aside the fact that …

  • Philip gave the input I was trying to get at in the post over on my blog. I wonder what the outcome would be if people were allowed to speak, and then what they spoke was immediately weighed and judged as a community of believers?
    I’m all for protecting the flock! But I’m also for helping to produce mature disciples of Jesus Christ who can then turn around and protect others because they’ve learned how to discern between right teaching and wrong teaching.
    If someone comes to me and says, “These people are from a cult”, of course I’ll be more on the alert. But I still need to judge the speaker on their own merits, and not just on who they may be associated with.
    I dunno. Like I said on my blog, I’m definitely not trying to judge you, Andrew, or anyone in that situation. Far be it from me to tell you how you MUST handle these situations. I’m just still not quite seeing it your way.
    Oh, well! 😉
    steve 🙂

  • Bryan Riley says:

    I’ve heard of Rick Ross. Who is he and what’s his ministry and background?

  • andrew says:

    steve. i understand what you are saying b ut the group we encountered were unusual in that their tactic is to walk into the end of a service, overtake the sermon, preach without stopping until they are forcibly removed. they do not stop to have dialog, nor do they stop to answer questions. they believe unity will happen only after disturbance. their message for every church is that the pastor is sinful and the church is a bad idea because God only wants one locality for every church.
    no place for dialogue here.
    its not a matter of 1 Cor 12 but rather 2 John and Jude.
    We talked with them on saturday in a number of house meetings and had enough to go on.

  • andrew says:

    bryan – rick a. ross institute. i like his list but am open to a better suggestion.
    slice of l. statement? this is not terrorism. it seems a respectful way to challenge a church that might preaching half a gospel. better to send it ahead of time to leaders so they have time to think and pray and respond well.
    if they are not preaching half a gospel, they have nothing to fear.
    and lets look at teh logs in our own eyes. are we preaching a gospel of POWER and words or just a half gospel of words?

  • dave says:

    As i said b4, i just do not see jesus in this at all, i see fear and pride, and i saw physical abuse on the youtube video, what if they had not sat down when forced? Beat their ass up with mission praise…
    they will be back, and more will come, but maybe we can kick the crap out of the JW’s on the doorstep
    sorry people but it looks to me like church has gone all pete tong

  • Cheryl says:

    Also try They have good resources on cults and christian parachurch mission agencies.

  • Cheryl says:

    Whoops, correction:

  • strada says:

    My family recently (6-8 months ago) that we were in a cult/church. The head pastor had all the signs and symptoms…after six years of spiritual abuse, my music pastor helped us leave. We still have scars and still suffer from what was done to us. Anyone living in Phoenix, AZ shouls stay far away from Paradise Springs Community Church.

  • Cheryl says:

    At the http://www.house2house website is an article by Kevin Sutter “God is bringing his new wine”. How is this different from the article ” A new wine for new wineskins” at Thi is reguritated later day rain teaching. Your a YWAM’er right? Then try the northwest revival network ( something fishy in Portland) and
    Are you guys in partnership or something? Multnomah..? The root os this is heresy.I learned my lesson back in 1994 and got out!!

  • andrew says:

    dang Cheryl. Its Christmas eve! I will take a look when i get a mo.
    no – not YWAM but I was OM in the 80’s. thanks for this.

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