Interacting with “Christian” Cult Members: Tips & Strategies Anyone Can Do

How do you respond to friends, family, and neighbors who are involved in a church teaching a corruption of the good news of Christ? 

Last article, we defined what deems a “Christian” cult, ways to identify them, and the difference between a denomination and a cult.  (To read it, click here.)

In this article, we’ll look at some general strategies for interacting with cult members, whether they’re strangers or friends or whether they’re standing on your doorstep or sitting across from you in the lounge at work.

Below, you’ll find a checklist of general strategies for interacting with cult members.  Cut-and-paste it into a document, print it out, and hang it on your fridge as a reminder.

Underneath the checklist, we’ll look at the list more in depth (with the exception of the “Using Scripture” section.  Since that is a big subject, it’ll be the topic of the next post.)  In future articles, we’ll look at and respond to beliefs of specific cults.

Rorchack_cultsbooks

Checklist:

Interacting with Cult Members

KNOW YOUR FAITH

  • Know your Scripture!
  • Know why we can trust the Bible!
  • Know your Christian theology!
  • Study apologetics!

CHECK YOUR ATTITUDE

  •  Speak to them out of love.
  • Remember: This is a person pursuing God, & made in God’s image.
  • Be aware of your body language.
  • Don’t call their faith a “cult”!

CLARIFICATION

  • Don’t stereotype, generalize, or assume.
  • Ask them questions: Why do you believe that?  Where is that in Scripture?
  • Ask them to define their terms.

USING SCRIPTURE

  •  Look at verses they quote in context.
  • Scripture interprets Scripture: Clear passages clarify ambiguous passages.
  • Don’t fuse over minor doctrine; stick to major doctrines.
  • Always bring it back to Scripture: especially the Gospel & salvation.

STRATEGIES EVERYONE CAN DO

  •  Don’t worry about “winning the argument” — just speak truth in love.
  • “I’ll look into that for you…”
  • 10 minutes/10 minutes
  • Share your testimony & the Gospel.
  • Pray for them.
  • Invite them to church.

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A Closer Look: Interacting with Cult Members

KNOW YOUR FAITH

  • Know your Scripture!
  • Know why we can trust the Bible!
  • Know your Christian theology!
  • Study apologetics!

The tips above may seem so obvious they’re not worth stating, but sadly many Christians can’t explain – and certainly can’t defend – their faith well.  Listening to a sermon once a week isn’t going to cut it.  Resist all you want, but Christians must be readers – not just of the Bible, but of works that help us understand the Bible.

Furthermore, all Christians should be familiar with Christian theology and apologetics – the defense of the Christian faith – since often cults have their own apologetics that argue that Christianity has been corrupted and their cult holds the one true, correct version of Christianity.  Some cults train their members well in their own erroneous theology and apologetics.

Luckily, there are also plenty of websites and blogs with easy, free access, and for those of you who want to read as little as possible, there are some great Christian podcasts out there. (*See recommendations below and my article recommending Christian podcasts here.)

At the very least, I highly recommend buying a good study Bible (I recommend the ESV Study Bible) and reading up on textual criticism (the study of how the Bible has been handed down to us from the original manuscripts).  For this I recommend How We Got the Bible by Neil Lightfoot, a quick, easy but thorough read.  I also recommend picking up a copy of Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem and a book on biblical theology, the study of the Bible’s story as a whole (*See recommendations below.  Also, see my 2-minute lesson on biblical theology article here.).

At first glance, Grudem’s book is intimidating because it’s thick, but it’s extremely readable and thorough.  Even if you never tackle reading the whole thing, keep it as a reference tool.  Why do we believe Jesus is God?  It’s in there.  How did Jesus’ death atone for our sins?  It’s in there.  Wondering about the End Days or the inerrancy of Scripture?  It’s in there.

 *See a list of recommended books & resources below*

 

CHECK YOUR ATTITUDE

  •  Speak to them out of love.
  • Remember: This is a person pursuing God, & made in God’s image.
  • Be aware of your body language.
  • Don’t call their faith a “cult”!

It’s easy to get heated, defensive, and even sarcastic with cult members.  Don’t.

First, remember that you, as a follower of the true Christ and led by God’s true Scripture, have no reason to feel defensive or threatened.  Knowing what you’re talking about (as we discussed above) will give you much more confidence, but even if you feel as if you don’t have a strong grasp of the Bible or theology, you should still feel secure in your salvation and the truth of Jesus Christ.  Feeling confident and secure will keep you calm.

Always remember most of these cult members are honest, everyday people just like you, who are looking for meaning and truth in life and a relationship with God.  Sadly, false teachers and prophets have led these cult members astray.  Cult members, like all of us, are made in God’s image and have infinite worth to God, so treat them accordingly.  Also remember that you received salvation by God’s grace alone.  You didn’t earn it or deserve it.  It was only through the Holy Spirit that you were called out of darkness, so stay humble.

Be aware of your body language.  Though you may be listening silently, your body language and facial expressions speak volumes, clearly revealing what you’re thinking to the cult member.  Rolling your eyes, bursts of breath from your nostrils, raised eyebrows, smirks, and furrowed eyebrows aren’t going to open anyone up to a loving conversation.  If nothing else, remember the golden rule: treat others as you want to be treated.  Your job isn’t to berate, judge, or demean cult members; your job is to speak truth in love, praying the Holy Spirit will use this to lead them out of darkness and into God’s presence.

Finally, if you’re having a conversation with a cult member, don’t use the word “cult”!  Calling them cult members or referring to their church as a cult will accomplish nothing positive.  It’s an offensive term and, after that, any chance of an open, loving dialogue will be lost.  Remember, Christians are to speak not just truth, but truth with love (Eph. 4:15-16; 1 Cor. 13:1).

 

CLARIFICATION

  • Don’t stereotype, generalize, or assume.
  • Ask them questions: Why do you believe that?  Where is that in Scripture?
  • Ask them to define their terms.

Just like Christians don’t like it when people stereotype them or non-Christians portray their faith inaccurately, other people, of course, don’t like it either – including cult members.  Remember, the goal is to have an open, loving dialogue, not demean the other person.  Even if you know some information about their beliefs (even if you read it on this very blog!) do not assume you know anything.  Remember, the person in front of you is an individual and an image-bearer of God, just like you.

Before (lovingly) challenging them on anything, first make sure you have a clear understanding of what they believe.  Ask a lot of questions, truly listening, and echo back to them their words to check for understanding.  Saying “Correct me if I’m misunderstanding you, but you’re saying…” is a great way to show you care about what they have to say and to make sure you’re not misrepresenting their beliefs.

“Why do you believe that?” is an essential question for you to ask.  So, if the cult member says their founder is the Second Coming of Christ, simply ask this question.  Their answer will lead to other obvious questions to ask.  If the cult member makes any strange claims about what’s written in the Bible, simply ask, “Where is that in the Bible?  Can you show me?”

If you’re slick, you can also ask strategic questions that lead the person to thinking out things they may have never considered before, such as inconsistencies in their doctrine.  Greg Koukl has written a great book about how to remain friendly and non-aggressive in a discussion while still challenging the others’ beliefs called Tactics: A Game Plan For Discussing Your Christian Convictions, which I highly recommend.

Finally, this is very important: Ask them to define their terms because what they mean by a certain word or phrase may not be what you mean when you use the same words.  Just ask, “What exactly do you mean by…?”  A cult member might say he believes Jesus is divine.  Great.  Case closed, right?  Wrong.  Once you ask, “What exactly do you mean by ‘divine’?” you may find out he means Jesus is a demigod, not fully God, and then you have work to do.  A cult member might say he believes in “the Trinity” only for you to find out “the Trinity” to him means God the Father, Uncle Pete the Son, and the Holy Spirit Horse of Chief Seattle.

When interacting with cult members, your first goal is listening and collecting information.

 

USING SCRIPTURE 

  •  Look at verses they quote in context.
  • Scripture interprets Scripture: Clear passages clarify ambiguous passages.
  • Don’t fuse over minor doctrine; stick to major doctrines.
  • Always bring it back to Scripture: especially the Gospel & salvation.

*See the next blog article for “Using Scripture” *

 

STRATEGIES EVERYONE CAN DO

  •  Don’t worry about “winning the argument” — just speak truth in love.
  • “I’ll look into that for you…”
  • 10 minutes/10 minutes
  • Share your testimony & the Gospel.
  • Pray for them.
  • Invite them to church.

Finally, maybe you’re nervous about facing-off with a cult member even in a friendly manner; maybe you don’t feel confident with your way around the Bible enough to recall all the verses to dispute their claims; or maybe you’re simply an introvert who avoids disagreements at all costs.  First, let me just say that I can absolutely understand all of these reservations.  Trust me.

Studying the Bible is a lifelong endeavor, so there are always gaps in our knowledge.  (But all the more reason to work for a better grasp of biblical, theological, and apologetic knowledge.)  Further, I’ve never been one for confrontations.  I grew up doing my best to avoid any conflicts that may arise with others.  But these last tips should assist anyone, no matter how introverted and non-confrontational or inexperienced and unschooled.

DSC04193

Let’s look at each one-by-one:

Don’t worry about “winning the argument” — just speak truth in love

You may not be a trained debater or apologist, but every Christian knows truth, can speak truth, and can speak that truth with love.  And remember: speaking truth is important, but actions speak loudly as well.  Don’t worry about winning an argument.  Show that you’re concerned for them and their eternal soul.  Tell them the truth lovingly and leave it at that.

 

“I’ll look into that for you…”

Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to have an open, honest discussion with a cult member, and you’re even doing a pretty good job of challenging their beliefs, but then they throw something at you that you don’t know what to make of.  More than likely, it’ll be a Bible verse you’ve never thought much about before.  There’s nothing wrong with humbly saying, “I can’t answer that for you right now, but let me get back to you.  I’ll look into it.”  Then, take a look at a good study Bible, ask your pastor about it, and do some other research.

 

10 minutes/10 minutes

This is a great strategy that shows mutual respect.  Simply tell the cult member (who may be standing on your doorstep), “I’ll gladly listen to you for ten minutes – allowing you to speak without interruption – if you then do for me the same courtesy and listen to me for ten minutes, allowing me to explain my beliefs uninterrupted.”

 

Share your testimony & the Gospel

Maybe you don’t feel deft at spitting out Bible verses verbatim from the top of your head (few do, even experienced pastors), but all Christians can (or at least should) be able to share the reason why they’re Christian and explain the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Pray for them & invite them to church

These may seem obvious, but don’t forget to do these two essential things.

Remember, we’re called to share the Gospel, but we don’t convert people; that’s the job of the Holy Spirit.  So, do your best to share the truth and love of Jesus Christ and don’t forget to pray, pray, pray for the cult members.

 

NEXT: About (Poor) Biblical Interpretation: Interacting with “Christian” Cult Members.

After that: Responding to specific beliefs of specific cults.

 How-we-got-the-bible

Recommended Resources:

A Good Place to Start:

  • How We Got the Bible by Neil Lightfoot
  • ESV Study Bible
  • Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem
  • Tactics by Greg Koukl
  • What is Biblical Theology? James M. Hamilton Jr.

OR

  •        According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy

Cults:

  • The Kingdom of the Cults by Walter Martin (Ed. Ravi Zacharias)
  • The Four Major Cults by Anthony A. Hoekema

General Apologetics:

  • I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek (Read my review here)
  • Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig
  • What Your Wolrdview? James N. Anderson
  • Covenantal Apologetics by K. Scott Oliphint
  • Apologetics 315 (website)

More Theology:

  • What is Reformed Theology?  R.C. Sproul
  • The Forgotten Trinity James R. White
  • Jesus, the Son of God by D.A. Carson

Podcasts:

  • Check out my article on recommended podcasts here.  Most podcast hosts have great websites and blogs that are also useful tools (so see the podcast article for that too).  If I were to write an updated podcast article, I’d add:
  • The Dividing Line (James White)
  • Apologia Radio

Articles:

Of course, I hope this blog, God From the Machine, will be a resource for you as well… The following articles may be helpful introductions into some of the topics covered here:

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7 thoughts on “Interacting with “Christian” Cult Members: Tips & Strategies Anyone Can Do

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