I have recently had a family member come to us with a problem with his involvement in a cult. He was at first lured to this organization because they came across as Christians but later revealed the underlying truth. They were calling themselves the free & accepted masons, but then telling him later they were free from God and accepted by Lucifer. I am writing to you to help me find my path to how I can help him come back to God (though in his conversation he believes God knows he didn't mean this to happen and thinks He will forgive him for what he may have said or done during the time he was misled). Do you know of any cults like this going on or where in the Bible I can turn to help him understand how he can rise from this. They have told him the devil brings you down so that you can rise and be stronger. How do I convince him that what he learned all his life before this was that God helps you go on. He is confused and I dont want him to question Jesus but to understand how He will show us the light. Thank you for your help.
Response: I understand your dilemma and your family member's confusion. Cults know very well how to make a person feel guilty, so that they may make use of that guilt to control the person. But your family member should know that God does indeed forgive us our sins (cf. 1Jn.1:9; see the link: Confession of Sin). Our God is a God of great mercy who does not wish any of His children to perish, but for all to come to repentance (2Pet.3:9; cf. 1Tim.2:4). There is more joy in heaven when one lost sheep is found and comes back to the fold than for the other 99 who never strayed. The prodigal son was received back by His father with open arms, and that is exactly the way our heavenly Father takes us all back when we truly do come back to Him, for Jesus died for all our sins.
I am not familiar with the particular cult in question here, but the few details you share, especially their involvement with the devil, leave no doubt about their fundamental alienation from God. In any case, all cults use the same essential methodology. I would encourage you to please have a look at the file: Read your Bible: Protection Against Cults; A Christian Right and Responsibility. Beyond encouraging people to look to the Bible for solutions, this study also has a number of things to say about the influence of cults and particularly about the tactics they use (I have pasted some of these into this e-mail below). I hope that by seeing the tricks of these evil people exposed, your family member will understand how he has been manipulated. I hope that he will also see that the answers to all his questions are indeed in God's Word. It does take patience and persistence, but God does give light to all those who wait on Him and His Son.
As to what you should do, you seem to me to be doing all that a concerned and loving person can do. We can tell people the truth. We can help them along to a source of truth. We can encourage them to learn the truth and to believe it. We can listen to them, sympathize with them, minister to them, and pray for them. All these things we can do and we should do. What we cannot do is make their life decisions for them, so that very often these experiences are tests of our own faith and our own persistence in the truth as well. And often these experiences are God's way of helping us to sharpen our own spiritual focus, deepen our own prayer life, and temper our own faith.
In all these things, our loving Father and our loving Savior are looking over us and guiding all things together for our good (Rom.8:28), even when, and maybe especially when, we feel our hearts breaking. But even though they should seem to break for those we love, we have to remember that He is the strength of our hearts (Ps.73:26), and that He will not burden us beyond what we can actually bear (1Cor.10:13), even if sometimes it may seem so to us.
Here are the major cult characteristics mentioned above:
"Cult Characteristics: From the cults' point of view, the Bible is a dangerous weapon in your hands, because if it is read with even the tiniest bit of openness of mind, it will eventually contradict their tenets. Cults inevitably share certain common characteristics that a firm grounding in scripture will condemn every time. But for those whose grasp of scripture is less than adequate, cult doctrine and cult methodology is frequently effective. While often proclaiming the Bible and Christianity at first, cults are in fact anti-Bible and anti-Christian.
Despite their disparate origin, cults have nearly identical essential characteristics, as might be expected when we take into account that they are all at their base dedicated to furthering Satan's plan. We are reminded of the similarity of the devil's original anti-Biblical ploy when we examine these four basic cult characteristics.
Cults almost always profess:
1. A Separate Society:
Did God really say, "You must not eat from any tree in the garden? Genesis 3:1
In Genesis chapter three we find Eve alone in the garden conversing, strange as it may seem, with a snake. Perhaps the novelty of a talking creature should have set off some warning bells for her, but we should not be too surprised at the lapse of judgment. Failing to pay attention to God and His Word makes us all vulnerable to lies. The oddity of the source of the lie (cult members with bizarre ways are the most common today) is easily overcome by the devil when there is no barrier of truth to block the way. Notice in the passage above that the serpent began his attack by twisting the truth (God had actually only forbidden eating from the tree of knowledge). The devil often starts his attack by misquoting God's truth. Perverting the truth is an important first step for cult evangelists, because getting people to accept distortions of the truth is a good way to start divorcing them from the reality they know. This, in turn, makes them increasingly dependent upon the new leader and the new society into which they are being initiated, a separate society that will ultimately alienate them from the normality of their past, until finally they become completely dependent upon their new masters. The new, "separate" society to which the cult victim now belongs thrives upon isolation from the real world, and not only because the light of truth and reality expose the lies upon which it is based: cults draw their main strength from separating and isolating their members from normal society.
Once the resistance of Biblical truth is overcome, it is a central part of cult strategy to isolate their victims and new recruits from their friends, family members, support systems and from the normal world in general. Isolation of the new recruit is achieved by:
Intolerant Dogmatism: Beware of groups who claim to have a monopoly on the truth, and who will not tolerate any deviation from their doctrines or any discussion of their tenets. People who are positively certain of the truth of what they say do have a definite appeal, but their certainty and dogmatism do not necessarily make what they say true. The cult will often put the matter to the potential recruit in this way: They are the "only ones" with the truth and it can't be found anywhere else - this is your "last chance" to be saved, and if you don't grab it, then you're off to hell (a version of pressure salesmanship that is all too often effective). Within the cult, there is no real seeking of truth, however, - they've already found it! But somehow you can't get to this truth of theirs immediately, you can't examine it or test it (all things will be revealed to you "later"). And if you dare to question or challenge the dogma, you become the enemy. These tactics are isolating, because they force the initiate to "go along in order to get along". And it won't be long until he's surrendered his will.
Odd Customs: Beware of groups that sport unusual dress, exhibit strange behavior, and affect an odd vocabulary or manner of speaking (including chants, for example). Besides appearing exotic and therefore strangely intriguing to some potential members, these patterns of behavior serve another important function in the strategy of the cult: they serve to isolate the individual from the rest of society which does not dress, act or speak in the same way. As the new recruit begins to adopt the manners of the cult, people start to shun him (or at least keep their distance). Now the other members (who dress, act and talk as he has begun too) are the only ones like him and the only ones who fully accept him, and the process of isolation moves forward.
Emotional Excess: Beware of any emphasis on feelings over facts. Cults are masters at using feelings of loneliness, guilt, inadequacy - even an honest desire for truth and self-improvement - as levers to pry the potential recruit out of his normal environment. Experiencing emotional turmoil does not mean that those who have managed to bring it to the surface are therefore honest, or righteous or in possession of the truth. It only means that they are skilled at emotional manipulation. In the same way, the expression of emotion in an effusive or excessive way does not necessarily mean that one has found the truth or the "right way". Displays of emotional ecstasy, besides being enjoyed by many people, and tending to reinforce the sense that they "have found the truth", have this additional effect: they tend to isolate the person from main-stream society, as friends, acquaintances and sometimes even family have a tendency to withdraw from these extremes of behavior which they understandably consider bizarre.
Physical Separation: Beware of any group that demands you sell your possessions and move to another state. This may seem laughably obvious, but it is amazing how many people have succumbed to cult tactics to the point of embarking upon just such tragic courses of action. Certainly, this is not usually the first step of cult-indoctrination, but many poor souls are brought to this point with much greater alacrity than we or they would have imagined. When one is not standing firm upon the rock of truth, when one does not put what the Bible says above what man says, then it is not a far stretch to see that the cult leader (or leadership) and his word can easily become "the truth" in the mind of the cult victim. The process often starts with the leader demanding that he approve the new follower's decisions (even the most minute ones), until the time comes when almost all independent decision-making has been done away with. Once a person has been spiritually isolated (from the truth of scripture), it is no great task to isolate him emotionally, and, eventually, effect a complete physical isolation from family, friends, and the world he once knew.
When we lose our anchor of truth - what God says to us in the Bible - it is inevitable that we will drift into other currents of influence, the end of which may possibly be the shipwreck of our souls in a separate society whose end and intent is evil (1Tim.1:19; Heb.2:1).
2. A Self-Righteousness:
"You will surely not die," the serpent said to the woman. Genesis 3:4
A central part of cult doctrine concerns the issue of God's judgment upon sin and sinners. The immutable righteousness of God and the inevitability of judgment is an indispensable part of the gospel (cf. Acts 10:42; 24:25), because it explains why Christ had to die in our place (to satisfy, or propitiate God's character: Rom.3:22-26). As Christians, we are saved from the judgment due our sins by relying on Christ and His work on our behalf. To deny that there is a final judgment (and no hell), is, in effect, to deny that God is a just God (He can overlook sin if He chooses, would be the implication). It is also to deny that mankind has any need for a savior (if sin can be dismissed so easily). God is a loving God and a forgiving God, but His forgiveness is based upon Christ's payment of the penalty for our sins. To reject this aspect of the gospel is to reject the gospel itself. Cults that promise righteousness and eternal life apart from belief in Christ are essentially denying the existence of a truly righteous God, just as the serpent did when he called God a liar in the passage above. To attain eternal life (or whatever their equivalent may be) anti-biblical groups universally substitute some system of self-righteousness. Their version of heaven or paradise can only be achieved through an onerous system of works (rituals, good deeds, self-sacrifice, etc.), works that are ultimately an insult to God who offered His Son that we might possess true righteousness by faith in Him (Rom.4).
3. A Secret Doctrine:
"For God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened;" Genesis 3:5a
It is a common quirk of our human nature that the prospect of knowing something few others do is a tempting one. I think we can all appreciate the effectiveness of Satan's temptation of Eve. He promised her what all cults promise their prospects: initiation into the mysteries of the universe, the "secret doctrines" available only to the select, enlightened few. This aspect of cult modus operandi was known in antiquity as Gnosticism, a movement that claimed possession of such secret knowledge was the means of attaining spirituality and spiritual advancement. Some of their specific doctrines have come down to us (see Irenaeus' Against Heresies) and seem like so much gibberish on the printed page. But we would do well to remember that cult doctrines are also manifestly ridiculous when viewed from a safe and sanitary academic perspective. For the potential cult victim, the hidden and forbidden nature of the secret doctrines enhances the temptation, as does the committed and dogmatic adherence of the society of "believers" who are doling them out to him cautiously and selectively. In such carefully constructed situations, the very dogmatism of the cult members can impress and command allegiance. The problem, of course, is that cults possess dogmatism, but without the authority of the truth, and always without documentation. The Bible doesn't change, and can be read and checked "to see if these things are so". Cult doctrine, on the other hand, so far from being open to scrutiny, is almost always changeable as well, since it is open to the interpretation of and often fresh "revelation" from the leader or leadership. The Bible, being the very Word of God, is the authority for Biblical Christianity, not any single person or group of people or their writings or "visions". If it really is the Bible that is being taught, this can be checked, this can be verified. Cult religions, on the other hand, can never be pinned down, and the evil systems which promise to "open the eyes" of their converts really only intend to blind them.
4. A Substitute for God:
"and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Genesis 3:5b
The Hebrew word for God in Genesis 3:5b here is Elohim, a plural of majesty of the word El, meaning "mighty one" or "god". Elohim is the most common word in the Hebrew Bible for God, and stresses the preeminence of our God as well as the plurality of persons (three: Father, Son and Holy Spirit) in His single, unique essence. Occasionally, however, Elohim is used as a true plural for "gods" (as in the gods of the heathen nations: Ex.20:3), and it is likely that Satan's implication here is even stronger than the translation suggests: you will be like gods. To be like God, or even to become a god or a god-like being seems a fairly unbelievable offer to make, yet the offer to Eve was just the first and not the only time that Satan has used this ploy. There are a number of groups operating in the United States today which really do make this promise in no uncertain terms - not, it is true, to non-members whose pliability has not yet been determined, but eventually, as the victim is sucked deeper and deeper into their vortex. Analogous to being promised divine status is the relatively new twist of becoming part of an extra-terrestrial civilization. And occasionally, the transcendence of humanity by evolving consciousness is promised. But whatever form "becoming like gods" takes, implicit in such an ambition is the effective replacement or supplanting of God.
For if man can become God's equal in every way, then, of course, God would no longer be God relative to the new "man-god". It would be hard to find a single page of the Bible that would not contradict (in tone or in text) such a blasphemous notion, and even the basic common sense the natural man is born with cries out against such an unbelievable claim (Rom.2:1-16). Yet Eve has not been alone in succumbing to the temptation. Nor was she the first in the realm of creatures to lust after such an impossible object, for the desire to be "like God" and ultimately to replace Him is the arrogant essence of the sin that corrupted the heart of Satan (Is.14:12-15; Ezek.28:12-19). Therefore in this final point, we see a principal that we have been building up to from the start: cults and anti-Biblical religions are always, in their starkest fundamentals, embodiments of Satan's essential philosophy, of his essential religion: at its base all false religion is idolatry and standing behind the idol, craving our worship, is the devil. After all, if you are not worshiping the one, true God, who are you worshiping? Christ said, "He who is not with Me is against Me (Matt.12:30)," and He said this while responding to those who were accusing Him of using the devil's help to cast out demons. Satan, Paul tells us, masquerades as an angel of light (2Cor.11:14), and what, after all, would the devil wish to be called by his worshipers if not God? If he must falsely promise a share of divinity to his potential prey, why not? Was he not so bold as to even offer our Lord all the kingdoms of this world, an offer he would not and could not honor in any case (Matt.4:9)? Examination of the idolatrous religions of antiquity yields similar results. At the top of the pantheon is almost always a bright, shining "sky-god" (e.g. Jupiter) who has replaced an older "crooked" god (e.g. Chronos). It is easy to promise goodness, light, knowledge, brotherhood, no judgment and no judgmental condemnation of wrong, but behind such cult systems past and present is a dark and sinister reality. Instead of sharing in divinity and becoming God, those who wed themselves to such evil only succeed in becoming the servants of a condemned creature of the true God, and ultimately sharing in his condemnation:
For by giving voice to unparalleled folly, they entrap by fleshly lusts and sensuality those who did not flee far enough from such habitual deceivers. For though they promise freedom to others, they themselves are slaves to corruption: by what one is mastered, to this he is enslaved.
2nd Peter 2:18-19
So why do people begin to follow cults? Often it is because they are given the sense that they are missing out on "the truth" (an impression which organized, apparently righteous and blissful cult members are practiced at creating). In fact, it takes a very, very strong and solid grasp of what the Bible actually says to resist cults on their own ground when operating according to their own tactics. "Wolves in sheep's clothing" are indeed plentiful in our day.
They may seem nice, and even spiritual at first, but the end result of believing their lies instead of the Bible leads only to spiritual disaster. Just as when David, wandering on the roof of his palace when he should have gone forth with the army, caught a glimpse of Bathsheba and was immediately headed for trouble (2Sam.11), so when we are not where we are supposed to be (i.e. in the scriptures), we too are apt to be vulnerable to the siren songs of the cults."
To return to your relative, what I would say is that we can all thank God that your family member had enough grounding in principles of Christian truth to recognize the deceit of these individuals in time, and to pull free of their influence before worse damage was done. It is the rare person who has never in his/her life been taken in by flim-flam, and this includes pseudo-spiritual flim-flam as well. Rather than beating himself up, I think he should be grateful for deliverance, and, as you say, use this experience to consider and reinforce what is true.
In my experience, God does sometimes use encounters of this sort both as "wake-up calls" and as "spiritual inoculations". From what you have shared, this may be a case of a little of both. For on the one hand, we tend to be most vulnerable to deceptive appeals when we are not being energetic or aggressive enough in our spiritual walk and spiritual growth. That is to say, a large part of what we are supposed to be doing here as Christians is to be learning the Word of God (then believing it, applying it to our lives, and helping others to do likewise). Generally speaking, when a person is sucked into a cult, it is because they are curious and interested in a deeper relationship with Him, but have not found or committed themselves to a legitimate program of Bible study to achieve this. Cults always make things seem easier and more exciting than the time-consuming discipline of daily Bible study. Ultimately, of course, cults take a person farther from God, while getting to know Jesus Christ through His words is really the foundation of all true spiritual growth.
Therefore what I would recommend for your family member is what I recommend for every recovering Christian, new Christian, newly serious Christian, or consistently advancing Christian, namely, a daily commitment to studying the Word of God. This requires both a personal element (e.g., daily Bible reading and study, prayer, and concentration on one's Christian walk) and a teaching element (i.e., reading, listening to, or attending substantive Bible teaching). I cannot stress too much the daily aspect of this. All Christians have some intense spiritual experiences, whether good or (as in the case of a near brush with a cult) bad ones. Immediately after such experiences, one's spirituality seems accentuated and energized, but that will fade if not reinforced with the substance of truth from scripture (just as the body will fade away if not nourished with food: cf. 1Pet.2:1-3).
Hope this is of some help. I am more than happy to help with more specifics. Please also see the links:
True Orthodoxy and False Creeds
Cults and Christianity
Read your Bible: Protection against Cults
Three False Doctrines that Threaten Faith
The Trinity and Christadelphians
Yours in Him who is the only way, the only truth, and the only life, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.