One of the most frustrating and confusing series of mission fields in America is the maze of unconventional religious movements, or new religious movements that are grouped under the rubric 'cults.' Just about any religious organization that is not included under the title of Christian or non-Christian religion could be considered a cult.
The term Cult engenders such names as: David Koreish - Branch Draviidians, Jim Jones - People's Temple, Marshall Applewhite, Heaven's Gate, Nation of Islam, Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientology -- among others.
The dictionary definition of ‘cult’ includes the following concepts: (1) a system of religious ritual; (2) a group of followers; and (3) devoted attachment or extravagant admiration for a person, idea, or thing. All of those ideas coalesce in the following definition. A cult is a religious organization that demands unquestioned commitment to its leaders and system of belief as portrayed in its scriptures as well as extravagant involvement in its projects.
It is easier to chronicle common characteristics of cults than it is to define a cult. Walter Martin, an authority on United States based cults, suggests the following characteristics of American cults.
1. Dynamic, self-selected and self-styled leader
2. Rigid membership standards including total dedication to the cause-- complete emotional control
3. Own scriptures or reinterpreted recognized scriptures, usually involving new and/or continuing
4. Special vocabulary
5. Activity fulfilling some special need in the life of the cult member
6. Devotees often isolated from friends and relatives
For our purposes, a definition of a cult is needed to help identify groups of people who are effectively isolated from the evangelical church. The cultist is isolated if the church has not targeted the cult for evangelism, or the church members have not recognized their responsibility to witness to cult members.
The NET lists lots of lists: Ten Most Dangerous Cults, etc. One book listed of many: Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults, [1983, 1992]. Wickipedia suggests: List New Religious Movements.
Many cults began as religious fallout from the frustration of the 1960s. An ABC-TV special in 1978 declared that 6,000,000 Americans were involved in two to four thousand cults. Dave Hunt, author of The Cult Explosion, reports "estimates of five thousand religious and pseudo-religious cults in the US". Walter Martin, after years of research, concludes that "cults are multiplying faster than we can imagine. Collectively, cult membership in the United States may reach close to 20,000,000." Bill Warner of Christian Apologetics Project suggests the figure should be 60,000,000 to 80,000,000. A Gallop poll in 1979 indicated that the "religious cult" population of the United States is 54 percent of the total population. That would mean that over 118,000,000 persons are cultists. In attempting to verify the above figures, I compiled a list of less than 25 cults and found a total of 27,000,000 persons involved.
It will be difficult to determine how widespread cultism is in the United States until an exhaustive list of cults is compiled. That compilation will vary depending on the definition used to decide which groups are cults. Christian Apologetics Research and Information Service (CARIS) defines a cult as "a group teaching a false gospel with a message contrary to Biblical Scripture." Using this definition they have compiled a list of 1,300 groups and indicate that it is only a fraction of what exists in America today.
It would appear that evangelical Americans have little idea how widespread or how dangerous the cult phenomenon really is. Numerous organizations are now doing research about the cults and publishing their findings so that the church can be forewarned. Spiritual Counterfeits Project  is one example. The mission has compiled a library of 2,500 volumes for research on more than 6,000 spiritual trends, groups, gurus, and leaders. The purposes of the organization are:
1. To research and biblically critique current religious groups and individuals
2. To equip Christians with the knowledge, analysis and discernment that will enable them to
understand the significance of today's spiritual explosion
3. To suggest a comprehensive Christian response that engages the church with all aspects of the
problem (The church needs to repent of its compromises with the world and issue a strong
prophetic warning to the secular culture.)
4. To bring the good news of Jesus Christ and extend a hand of rescue to those in psychological
and spiritual bondage
The cults are a particular problem on college and university campuses; therefore, student organizations frequently make packets of informational materials available. For instance, on the University of California campus, the University Religious Council makes available a list of organizations where students can get information about nontraditional religious groups and counseling services. They have found that the most vulnerable students are upper middle class youth, moderately depressed, with no major social affiliations, and with no solid grounding in their faith.
A more recent target group is the senior citizen and terminally ill, according to John Ferri in a newspaper article dated August 1994.
Research reveals that those who become involved in the cults were brought up in a denominational church but knew little about their "faith." They were very much involved in life but had not realized just how shallow that life was until a persuasive cultist invited them to an intensive seminar, where in a short period of time their whole lives were reorganized around the cult that smothered them with attention and kindness. Without the persons realizing it, the cult had seduced them. Churches and their leaders should take note of the extent to which their members are conversant with the doctrines of their faith. Further, the church should take advantage of the information now available about cults and their teachings by subscribing to newsletters, buying books for the church library, and renting videos. Then, the church should initiate classes with the junior high, senior high, and college age to inform their members about the dangers of cults.
Churches should also begin programs to teach their members how to witness to the cultists in their areas. Various organizations are available to assist the local church with seminars and materials. Some missions also offer internship programs for the serious Christian who is concerned to learn from those who are actively involved in evangelizing a particular cult. The church should learn about mission organizations that have targeted cults as their mission field and support them as it seeks to work in areas where cult movement is strong.
Finally, the church should survey its area and initiate programs to evangelize any cult group beyond its present programs. Missionary organizations have developed programs and are actively evangelizing members cults.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is one of the oldest (1830) and is the largest (6,500,000) cult in America. According to one author, the Mormon church wields more economic power than any other organized religion. Mormons attend 9,500 churches that are divided into organized communities. Perhaps the best-known program of the Mormon church is the ever-present (30,000), black-suited, clean-cut pair of Mormon youth who spend two years of their lives knocking on doors as missionaries of the church. The success of the eager, well-trained young missionaries need not be chronicled, for the 600 baptisms per day are an impressive fact.
It is that kind of enthusiastic ministry that needs to be generated within the evangelical church generally and toward Mormons in particular. John L. Smith, seasoned minister of twenty years of service in Utah, believes that Mormons can be won to Christ. From his experience he has written a book, Witnessing Effectively to Mormons. He has a cassette tape ministry that includes studies on Mormonism, how to witness to Mormons, and a tape specifically for Mormons. His experience has revealed that in witnessing to a Mormon it is good to begin with the Mormon's doctrine of God. The more he learns about Mormonism, the more he feels, "I cannot wait, I dare not rest. I know Mormonism's error and I must make it known to all who will hear.
The Mormons must be evangelized because they are lost. Although the church is highly organized and there is great emphasis on the home, the fact remains the people are adrift in a sea of humanism without the unadulterated Bible and the Christ who saves. The state of Utah has the highest divorce rate in the nation, which is 9.3 percent, while the national average is 4.4%
At least eleven mission organizations sustain various kinds of effective ministries among Mormons. Programs include campus ministries as well as church planting. Several Christian radio stations carry programming that targets Mormon populations. Research and writing that expose the errors of Mormonism are a major concern for several missions and service organizations. Cassette tape ministries are available and have proved very effective in Mormon evangelism. Tracts and books prepared for the Mormon reader are available from several sources.
Ministries to the Mormons are effective, and many are turning to Christ. Those who are saved out of Mormonism need special discipling to help them correct wrong understanding of doctrine. It is helpful if the ex-Mormon can find fellowship with others who have also come out of the cult. Edward Decker, an ex-Mormon, founded a mission organization called Ex-Mormons for Jesus (EMF). There are four national directors in regional offices located in Washington, D. C., California, Illinois, and Florida, who supervise local chapters of Ex-Mormons. A goal of Ex-Mormons for Jesus is to increase the current 20 chapters to 100 chapters across the country. The objectives of the mission are to enlarge the "ministry of Christ's love to ex-Mormons, by sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with the Mormon people, and training the Christian body to reach out in love to those who are 'led to err and destruction.'" The same organization is known in Utah as Saints Alive in Jesus.
The Jehovah's Witnesses began in 1874 under the ministry of Pastor Charles Russell, who was greatly concerned about Christ's second coming. Those who followed his teaching were known as Millennial Dawnists and International Bible Students or Russellites. In 1931 the group split and the name Jehovah's Witnesses was taken.
Each of the 914,000 members is considered a minister and gives 15 hours a month as "Publishers of the Kingdom." Pioneers give 100 hours a month, and missionaries give a minimum of 150 hours per month. Members congregate in 9,900 "Kingdom Halls," which are located in twenty-six districts of the United States. The Jehovah's Witnesses are a mission field because
they are the deadliest and most fierce enemies of the Christian religion extant today. Their zeal is in keeping with their hatred of all the evangelical doctrines, such as the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, and the true Biblical teaching concerning atonement, and they do not hesitate to denounce all others as enemies of Jehovah's kingdom on earth, grouping and labeling them the organization of "Satan the Devil."
The Jehovah's Witnesses are not generally targeted by the evangelical church for evangelism; however, several research organizations and missions are concerned about reaching them for Christ. Several years ago a worldwide tract ministry was begun in England called, Help Jesus Ministry. In the United States the national representative is Christian Apologetic Research and Information Service (CARIS). Forty-three consultants are scattered throughout the country providing tracts in quantity at near cost to those willing to aggressively seek to bring Jehovah's Witnesses to Christ. CARIS also ministers in the church by providing seminars, a newsletter, and producing literature to help equip church members to evangelize the cults.
At least nine missions are seeking to evangelize Jehovah's Witnesses. Some provide literature, tapes, and seminars to equip and encourage Christians to evangelize the Jehovah's Witnesses. Two organizations have extensive telephone ministries in several states. They provide counsel and witness to Jehovah's Witnesses and encouragement to ex-Jehovah's Witnesses.
In 1979 the first National Convention of Ex-Jehovah's Witnesses gathered together many who had been saved out of the cult. The convention was addressed by Pastor Joe Hewitt, author of the book, I Was Raised a Jehovah's Witness.
Worldwide there are 6.5 million. In Toronto, Peter Mosier, ex JW, has established a site on the internet, quoting their materials from the Watchtower publication, pointing out errors which embarrass them; therefore, they are suing him for defamation. Their communications are considered by the followers to be from god. His site, www.quotes.watchtower.ca is very interesting.
Occultism has been around a long time and is forever surfacing with a catchy name. New Age is the current vogue. The World Almanac lists the numbers of what they call the ‘New Religionists’. In the world there are 124 million, with the largest number in Asia [122 million], North America [1.4 million] and Latin America [550,000]. Those who are involved in New Age are divided into four categories: the curious, the seekers, the adepts and the devotees. Many get involved by consulting a fortune teller or the influence of a friend. After they become involved, they feel like they are getting some psychological or social kick from their crystals or whatever. Too late they discover that they are involved with Satanism.
The New Age thinking and materials are displayed regularly through fairs and gatherings. Raymond Taylor, an evangelist with Christian Direction in Montreal, Canada, indicates that these esoteric fairs can attract crowds of 10,000 who frequent the 100s of exhibitors. Pierre Lebel, assistant director of Youth With A Mission [YWAM] Quebec, has no doubt but that this movement is a mission field. Christian Direction, YWAM and Operation Mobilization [OM] are partnering to work the fairs. During the fair they asked people to fill out a survey. From 886 responses they calculate that women are far more involved, that the respondents were torn between two conflicting worlds and were willing to talk further for they held that Jesus Christ could help them.
The ‘Point of Reference: A Center for Christian Alternatives,’ is a ministry to New Agers in Montreal, Quebec, Canana. Tim Ernst is the contact person: Christian Direction, 455 St. Antoine W., Office 602, Montreal, QC., H2Z 1J1. Fax 514-878-8048. [Information from World Pulse April 5, 1996]
Millions of people in America are involved in thousands of cults. The cults are being evangelized, but church planting is taking place primarily among only one--the Mormons ".
Numerous organizations are researching and publishing information about many cults. They are also prepared to help churches equip their people to evangelize the cults.
Cultists can and are being won to Christ. Groups of ex-cultists are meeting across the nation. Not only are there former Mormons " and ex-Jehovah's Witnesses, but also ex-Christian Scientists.
Churches need to alert their young people to the dangers of the cults and train them in biblical truth. The church library should be equipped with materials about cults. Seminars should be held to equip the saints. Yet, "the average American is spiritually naive, and vulnerable," and churches are evincing an
"incredible degree of apathy. Christians should be concerned about cult growth because 70 percent of those who inquire about a cult actually join. Most of those who join cults (82 percent) are churched, and 35 percent are Protestant. William Schnell, author of Thirty Years a Watch Tower Slave, testifies, ‘They brainwash the personal religion of Jesus from all those who have become its slaves.’
This list supplies the membership of each cult, the number of known churches within the cult, and the date of its founding. 2002 Yearbook American and Canadian Churches
1. Armstrongism or Worldwide Church of God 250 40,000
2. Astrology (16,000 in the West) 2,000,000
3. Bahai (1912) 1,700 147,000 [8 million worldwide]
4. Christian Science (1866) 100,000
5. Hare Krishna (see chapter 8) 2,000,000
6. Jehovah's Witnesses (1874, name taken in 1931) 11,600 1,000,000
7. Maharaji Ji (Divine Light Mission) 480 35,000
8. Mormons " (The Church of the Latter Day Saints) 10,000 5,200,000
Reorganized 2,000 156,000
9. Satanism 100,000
10. Scientology 35,000,000
11. Spiritualists (1875) 150,000
12. Seventh Day Adventists (1830s) 450,000
13. Sun Myung Moon (Unification Church, 1959) 500,000
14. Transcendental Meditation (see chapter 8) 1,000,000
15. Witchcraft 10,000,000
1. The American Family Foundation, Inc., P.O. Box 343, Lexington, MA 02173. ‘The Advisor’, a
newspaper exposing cults, giving the latest in legislation.
2. Association of Former Christian Scientists, 1550 S. Anaheim Blvd., Anaheim, CA 92805.
3. B'Nai B'Rith International, Adult Education Department, 1640 Rhode Island Avenue, N.W.,
Washington, DC 20036. Cult information.
4. Center for Study of New Religions on the campus of Graduate Theological Union, 2465
LeConte Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709 New Religious Movements Newsletter.
5. Citizens Freedom Foundation, P.O. Box 7000-89, 1719 Va El Prado, Redondo, CA 90277.
Produces a newsletter; local chapters in each state give current information on cults.
6. Christian Apologetics Research and Information Service (CARIS) P.O. Box 1783, Santa Ana,
CA 92702. Home of the Help Jesus tract ministry to Jehovah's Witnesses. Maintains a catalog
of materials on cults.
7. Christian Information Network Referral Service, P.O. Box 421, Pine Lake, GA 30072. A
computer readout called CULTS gives lists of countercult agencies and material sources.
8. Christian Ministry to Cults, P.O. Box 507-M, Hoboken, NJ 07030. Seminars and literature.
9. Christian Research Institute, P.O. Box 500, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675. Offers a
newsletter and information.
10. Cult Explosion, a fifty-five-minute film distributed by New Liberty Enterprises, 1805 W.
Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, CA 91506.
11. Ex-Mormons " for Jesus. Offers literature.
12. "Gospel Truth" (Radio Free Utah), Johnny Yount, P.O. Box O, El Toro, CA 92630. Uses radio
station KBBX, Salt Lake City, Utah.
13. Home Mission Board, Southern Baptist Convention. Offers literature and list of Sun Myung
Moon organizations, Interfaith Witness Belief Bulletin. [4200 N Pt Pkwy, Alpharetta, GA
14. Institute of Contemporary Christianity, P.O. Box A, Oakland, NJ 07436.
15. Modern Microfilm Company, P.O. Box 1884, Salt Lake City, UT 84110. Mormon literature
16. Personal Freedom Outreach, P.O. Box 26062, St. Louis, MO 63136.
17. Philippian Fellowship, Inc., P.O.Box 164, North Syracuse, NY. Offers tracts.
18. Radio station KANN, 2222 Washington Street, Ogden, UT 84401
19. Saints Alive in Jesus, P.O. Box 1076, Issaquah, WA 98027. Tapes, literature.
20. Spiritual Counterfeits Projects, P.O. Box 4308, Berkeley, CA 94704. SCP newsletter; catalogs
of tapes and literature.
21. Utah Christian Mission, P.O. Box 511, Oren, UT 84057. Offers literature.
22. Utah Christian Tract Society, P.O. Box 725, LaMesa, CA 92041.
23. Utah Mission, Inc., P.O. Box 348, Marlow, OK 73055. Produces UTAH EVANGEL paper.
24. Directory of Cult Research Organizations, Keith Tolbert/Eric Rement, American Religious
Center, PO Box 168, Trenton, MI 48183 313.692.7772 available from Free Minds Journal, Inc,
P.O. Box 3818, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266. Ph. -545-7831 Lists some 700
25. Salt Lake City Messenger, from Utah Lighthouse Ministry, P O Box 1884, Salt Lake City, UT
84110, editors: Jerald and Sandra Tanner. Articles, tapes, books
26. Ron Enroth—Westmont College, Houghton grad. 681 Circle Dr., Santa Barbara, CA 93108 Ph
1. Baptist Mid-Missions
2. Conservative Baptist Home Mission Society
3. Ex-Mormons " for Jesus (EMFJ)
4. Inter-Varasity Christian Fellowship (IVCF)
5. Mission to Mormons "
6. New Life
7. Rural Home Missionary Association
8. Saints Alive in Jesus
10. Utah Bible Mission
11. Utah Missions, Inc.
1. Christian Apologetics Project (CAP)
2. Christian Apologetics Research and Information Service (CARIS)
3. Cult Exodus for Christ JWs/LDS)
4. Ex-Jehovah's Witness Outreach % Biblical Resource Network- 301.890.3848
5. Mission to Mormons "
6. Help Jesus (a ministry of CARIS to Jehovah's Witnesses); the parent organization: World
7. New Life (JWs/LDS)
8. Watchman Fellowship (JWs/LDS); maintains telephone ministry nine cities
9. Witness, Inc., maintains telephone ministry in twenty cities