Legalism and Cults

There are two forms of cults and they are defined as Non-Christian and Christian. What is a Christian Cult? Generally, a cult that is based on Christianity is a group of people or a denomination that claims to believe the bible or they claim to be Christian, but these groups deny or twist the fundamental Christian doctrines that are common to all denominations

Typically Legalism can be found in every cult. However, Legalism has also at times penetrated the true church of Christ. It is not enough to look at legalism to determine if a certain group of believers are actually a cult. So the following is a list of red flags or warning signs that will help you identify a cult. The more of these warning signs you see in any Christian group the greater the chance that group is a cult.

As quirky as some of these Red Flags are identifying one does not mean you are in a cult. However, the more you spot the greater the chances that the group you are involved with can likely be a cult. Here are the warning signs in no particular order.

1. They think they are the only ones that are going to be saved

Usually, if your denomination or group thinks that every other Christian group is lost and deceived then that is not a good sign. If your group honestly believes that they are the only ones that are going to be saved then they also believe that the gospel has failed over the centuries and that most people are lost. This is in spite of the fact that the bible says that there will be a massive number of people in heaven so great that no one can number them.

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. Revelation 7:9 –NIV

2. They have some secret information or special truth that no one else knows or teaches

If your group feels that they have some secret knowledge that no one else teaches or they claim that they present a restored truth of some sort be careful. Usually, bible scripture is twisted and taken out of context to support this so-called new truth. This group may also have printed literature to help spread their propaganda.

3. The leader has more authority than the Bible itself

I told you my testimony of the pastor that read from Romans 13 which said “Obey them that have the rule over you”. Even though this was talking about supporting your government laws, this scripture was twisted and taken out of context to give this pastor more power than he should have had over people’s lives. Be very careful when any church leader exalts their authority above the bible scriptures. Be careful when groups add to what the Word of God actually declares. There are clear biblical warnings in regards to adding to the Word of God.

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.” Revelation 22:18-19 –NIV

4. Trinity is denied and the God Head is changed

This one is a big deal. If any group goes against the Trinity be sure and mark them. The Trinity is a doctrine that was hammered out by the early church. When you read the writings of the early church that date all the way back to the first 200 years of its history, it is obvious that the doctrine was already debated and the conclusions were reached in the first century.

While it is true that the word Trinity can’t be found anywhere in the bible, the word Rapture can’t be found anywhere in the bible as well. Yet the Rapture is the title of a concept that is very well documented in scripture. The same holds true for the word Trinity. Just because the name of the doctrinal belief is not in the bible does not mean the doctrine is in error.

I say this because many cults will declare that the word Trinity is not found in the bible as though that were some sort of proof to verify their claims. Even though the word Trinity is not found the very concept of the meaning of that word is all through the Holy Scriptures.

5. Denial of the divinity of Jesus

This one usually goes hand and hand with the denial of the Trinity. Typically when the Trinity is denied in any theology Jesus gets demoted through some irrational belief system. The Deity of Christ is stripped away in this belief system even though this is very contrary to what scripture actually says.

1 John 2:22 “Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist–denying the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.”–NIV

Philippians 2:7 “But made himself of no reputation, and took on him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:” –KJV

6. Denial of the virgin birth

Chances are if the Christian group in question denies the Trinity and they deny the divinity of Jesus then they probably also deny the Virgin Birth. This is another big RED FLAG. If these last three red flags are grouped together it is not good. If it were me, I would leave any church that taught against these basic Christian principles.

7. Salvation and the gospel is changed

Usually, salvation is changed to something that is works-oriented. It could also be that a ritualistic form of salvation can be achieved combined with works. Either way, salvation becomes something that you achieve yourself. It is no longer what Christ did on Calvary that counts. Even though the work of Calvary may play a role, it is your works that combine with your rituals that saves you. This is indeed another gospel and it is very dangerous!

Galatians 1:8 “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. 9 As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” –KJV

8. Legalism

Legalism is best understood as a set of rules that a member must keep that has absolutely nothing to do with Christianity. In most cases, bible verses are taken out of context to support any set of rules that are made. These rules can dictate anything from what you eat to what you wear. They can even place restrictions on where you go and what activities you can participate in. Some cults even have rules against celebrating holidays and birthdays.

9. Tithing is implemented

Claims that you are robbing God or that you are out of God’s will if you don’t give 10 percent of your income are pretty common among cults. Claims that you don’t have favor with God unless you tithe is also pretty common. Unfortunately, they are pretty common among mainstream denominations as well. It is hard to determine if a Christian group is a cult based on tithing alone. Tithing has been taught in mainstream denominations since the late eighteen hundreds

Since there are many mainstream denominations that teach tithing you need a better understanding of the doctrine of tithing. For clarity read the sections of this site on the subject of Tithing.

10. Leader or founder proclaims themselves to be a prophet or they claim to be Jesus

This is a major issue. If any leader claims to be Jesus or the equivalent to Jesus on earth then get out of that church! This one red flag is enough to determine that you are probably in a cult!

Mathew 24:5 “For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.” –KJV

11. They have other literature that is elevated above the bible

A good example of this would be the Jehovah’s Witness’s Watchtower magazine or the book of the Mormon. Both of these publications are elevated above the Bible! The claim is their authority is greater than the bible.

12. You are told to not question what is being taught, as the leadership are godly, honest, have divine authority and you must trust them

This is more of a behavior concern then a doctrinal belief. If your leadership is doing things contrary to the bible then by all means question it. If they are teaching things contrary to sound doctrine press them for more details. Question everything. The bible can take scrutiny and so can mainstream denominations. Cults don’t like being under the microscope.

Acts 17:10 “That very night the believers sent Paul and Silas to Berea. When they arrived there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. 12As a result, many Jews believed, as did many of the prominent Greek women and men.” –NIV

13. They don’t allow you to associate with people that are no longer members of their organization

It is cultic behavior if your church group chooses who you are allowed to associate with. Question any religious organization that does not allow you to associate with former members. In a lot of cases, families have been ruined due to this cultic practice

14. You are discouraged from asking questions as to why members have left, and expected to accept the reasons the group leadership gives you

If a lot of people leave over time and you are not allowed to know why or hear an account then this is most likely a good warning flag. This is based more on cultic behavioral control of the congregation rather than doctrinal warning signs.

15. They call those who fall away enemies, dogs, or cancer, even using examples from the Bible or other such materials

If your church is a revolving door and just as many people leave as come into the church, and if the ones who leave are referred to as enemies or tools of the Devil be careful.

16. They put down other churches, groups, etc, while pointing out their faults and doctrinal errors to build themselves up

Anyone that cannot see that God works in and through many different denominations has a big problem with their theology. Even non-denominations present and preach the gospel. If your church organization is overly critical of everyone else then be careful.

“Mat 7:1  Judge not, that ye be not judged.

Mat 7:2  For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

Mat 7:3  And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

Mat 7:4  Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?” –KJV

These next red flags are based more on behavior rather than doctrinal beliefs

  • 17. They recommend that you be around their people. They expect you to attend all their group activities. If you do not, you are questioned about your spirituality or dedication.
  • 18. They stop you from reading anything negative about themselves.
  • 19. They place an emphasis on evil and the devil, declaring that the world outside is a threat to the group.
  • 20. Either they operate in humility, or seem arrogant, and make demands on you to obey, using such statements such as “real believers obey without question or if you really were a devoted follower you would do such and such”.
  • 21. Isolation from other people or the outside world is often implemented and used when they teach you their doctrinal beliefs.


If you find 1 to 5 warning flags then that is not absolute proof that this group is a cult. If you find 6 or more Warning signs then the chances are highly likely that this group has cult-like beliefs. If there are over 10 warning flags then more than likely the group in question is a Christian cult. Of course, this depends on the warning signs. Some red flags are more severe than others. If the leader of your organization claims to be Jesus Christ then that is the only warning flag you need! Leave that group.

This is why a statement of faith with the most common Christian beliefs is so important. Look at statements of faith and see what your church believes.