The Strategy of the Cults

by Robert D. McLaughlin, Christian Counselor

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Cults are a fact of life in our society. Chances are many of us have been approached by a member of a cult, either asking for a donation or to witness. Sadder still are those who have family members who have joined a cult group. How do people join cults, and more importantly, why do they choose a cult?

There are two major methods that cults use to recruit someone to join their ranks. The first is door-to-door witnessing. In this scenario, the people doing the witnessing will go in groups of two or three, copying a technique that Jesus taught His disciples. If no one is home, literature is left. If they are rejected by the people, they will usually leave, but can be very persistent in their witnessing. If there seems to be a willingness to listen to their message, material is left, a seed will be planted, and an offer is made to come back to lead a Bible study. This establishes a tie with the group, after which a subversive message is slowly given. After this, prospects are invited to come to the church that approached them for fellowship and services, and further indoctrination. The differences between the cult's beliefs and the beliefs of the recruit are presented in such a subtle way, the recruit never realizes the change.

A second recruitment tool is used more by cults focusing on college students. A student, often away for the first time, will become friends with someone in the cult, who invites them to a retreat. At the retreat, they are often kept up much more than they are used to, and given indoctrination. The lack of sleep, food, and communication with friends or family, breaks down the defenses and training that the prospect may have had, until the prospect becomes a member of the cult. This part is often referred to as "brainwashing." If the retreat is only for a weekend, the retreat is often more about getting the recruit acquainted with others in the cult. This gives the prospect a circle of friends to associate with at the college, so that a nominal relationship is maintained until the prospect can be taken to a retreat that lasts longer. This kind of retreat can often last several weeks, and is the major way that the recruits are converted.

Those are ways that people often come into intimate contact with a cult. Why would someone want to join, though? There are four major reasons: intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual.

We all have, from time to time, wanted to know why we are here, how we got here, and what our purpose for living is. These are intellectual questions looking for religious answers. They cannot be answered fully by science or from sources of knowledge other than the Bible. Cults attempt to answer these questions for people, often trying to impress with teachings about ancient languages that may not be accurate. In some of the cults, they will use pseudo-science to "prove" the points that they are trying to make. Some of the cults make an issue of supposedly using scientific methods to know God or to attain special knowledge of the true God. All this is an attempt to satisfy the intellectual yearnings that we bring to religion.

Emotions play a part in everyone's life. This varies from person to person, but emotions are important to all of us. Christ can heal the emotional hurts and needs that we have. Cults take advantage of hurt feelings and emotions that we bring from our past. They try to give a false love in the place of the agape love that Christ has for us.

In the beginning, God created us to be social, to desire fellowship with others. All of us have been in positions where we felt lonely and needed contact with others. We were also designed to have fellowship with God. Those who are not well-grounded in the Bible and attend a Bible believing church will find themselves prime candidates for being taken in by a cultist. Often, those who are lonely and are approached by a friendly face are more likely to be gullible. At first, the person is welcomed by the cult, then becomes a part of the overall cult. Their personality is slowly subverted to the will of the leader of the cult. In psychology, this is referred to as de-individuation. When people come out of cults, they will often seek reassurance for even the smallest decisions they try to make. The de-programming process involves trying to revive the lost individual personality that was, in a sense, stripped away from the person by the cult.

Each of us, as a Christian, wants to be used of God in the way that we can best be used. Many times, the cults will use the things that they do in the community, in the name of God, to prove the blessing of God upon their beliefs. This satisfies a need within each of the members, the need to feel needed and fulfilled. Many of the cults will incorporate within their belief system that Heaven is a goal to be obtained by works that the members must perform, distorting the fact that salvation is a gift of God through Jesus Christ. This sets up a need in the cult member to constantly seek reassurance from those in authority and to live in fear that he or she will not make it to Heaven, driving the cult member to an even deeper devotion to the teachings of the cult.

How do we, as Christians, keep this from happening? Unfortunately, we can't keep all from being led astray. We can guard our own hearts by studying God's Word and by fellowshipping with Godly people. We can help others by being friendly to all, by helping disciple new converts in our church and by being supportive of older Christians, and not leave this totally in the hands of the pastor. We all share a responsibility to love our Christian brothers and sisters (I John 4:7-12, 4:19-5:2) and to encourage other people in their walk with God (Hebrews 10:25). The pastor is the shepherd, we are the sheep, and we should help our pastor take care of the sheep within his flock.

First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume IV, Part 4, April 1996.

Copyright 1999 Robert D. McLaughlin. All Rights Reserved.

The American Night Watch is a trademark of the Christian ministry of Sterling M. Durgy.

Permission is granted to reprint this article as long as the copyright is included, this statement is included, and the article is not sold to the recipients.

Click here for Robert McLaughlin's e-mail address.

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This page was last updated October 22, 1999.