This article by Dave Breese comes from Wellspring's resource packet. Dave Breese was instrumental in developing Youth for Christ, the AWANA Youth Association, and Christian Destiny Ministry.
We can note with interest that a number of the cult leaders of our time have had a background in some form of the Christian religion. Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church had a Presbyterian and charismatic background. Paul Wierwille of "The Way" has his roots in liberal Presbyterianism. Mary Baker Eddy was a Congregationalist, and Joseph Smith of the Mormon Church had his protestant backgrounds as well. The lives of these people illustrate the possibility of moving from Christian to cultic .
Certainly many of the tendencies of our time evidence the same direction as well. The scripture says, "In the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils" (I Tim. 4:1). We may therefore suggest certain tendencies that show a direction of movement from Christian to cultic.
Salvation comes to us as a free gift (Rom 6:23, Eph 2:8). The leader or group that demands money, works, service, membership, loyalty, allegiance as a basis of salvation is moving in a cultic direction.
Nothing is plainer in scripture than the Gospel, "Christ died for our sins." The clear teaching of the Bible is that when we believe this, we have everlasting life. New doctrines are now however being introduced that speak of baptism, church membership, the kingdom, community, discipleship -- much with the implication that these are a part of salvation. This is moving in a cultic direction.
The body of Christ is an invisible body and its visibility takes the form of individual Christians living for Christ. We have a tendency to call the local assembly of believers "the body", even justified by such doctrines as "Body Life". This is moving in a cultic direction.
It is clearly taught in scripture that when one believes in Christ, he is free from the bondage of sin. He is even told to "stand fast" in this liberty (Gal 5:1). Many new religious tendencies, even in protestant denominations, work to tie people hand and glove to a set of religious obligations. This is moving in a cultic direction.
The Christian leader is a servant of God and is also a servant of people. He must never attempt to become dominant over the faith of others. John the Baptist beautifully illustrates this in saying of Christ, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). The present leader who insinuates himself into the faith of people, making him a necessary part of their relationship to God, is moving from Christian to cultic.
The Gospel is an invitation to be freely responded to on the part of the sinner. When the invitation moves to high pressure which is today practiced in many circles all the way through kidnapping...we have moved from Christian to cultic.
The Gospel is a theological doctrine and no one can become a Christian who has not a least "thought through" his present nature, his sin, his need of a Savior....His spiritual growth also depends upon an understanding of the Word of God. Christianity is a doctrinal faith at its base. Some now say, "We don't preach doctrine, we just preach Christ." A popular expression is, "Christianity is not a doctrine, it's a life." Foolish statements like this move us from Christian to cultic.
Heaven will be characterized by perfect fulfillment, deliverance from pain, problems and every difficulty. The tragic development today is that many religions are offering the same thing in the name of the Christian message. A Christian is never supposed to be sick, depressed, in financial difficulties or the like. Heaven takes place on earth in the message of some of these leaders. By so doing, we move from Christian to cultic.
Further reading on how to evaluate a church: