What are characteristics of a cult movement?

This depends on one’s definition of a cult.  Some definitions of “cult” from The Free Dictionary:

1.a. A religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader.

b. The followers of such a religion or sect.

2. A system or community of religious worship and ritual.

3. The formal means of expressing religious reverence; religious ceremony and ritual.

4. A usually nonscientific method or regimen claimed by its originator to have exclusive or exceptional power in curing a particular disease.

5.a. Obsessive, especially faddish, devotion to or veneration for a person, principle, or thing.

b. The object of such devotion.

6. An exclusive group of persons sharing an esoteric, usually artistic or intellectual interest.

It seems to me that definition 1.a. above, is a commonly accepted definition of a cult in a religious context:

A religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader.

Based on this definition, the characteristics of a cult would be:

  • A religious sect with false teachings
  • The sect would have an authoritarian, charismatic leader
  • The sect followers would be under the guidance of this leader
  • The sect followers would live in a manner which would not be in accord with God’s instructions on how disciples should live

What are characteristics of a false prophet?

The following characteristics of a false prophet are identified in the scriptures below:

  • Speaks what God has not commanded him to speak
  • Speaks words which do not come to pass
  • Encourages people to go after other gods
  • Appears to be a sheep (disciple) but is actually a wolf (evil person)
  • Bears bad fruit – eg sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these  (Gal 5:19-21)
  • Does not bear good fruit – eg love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5:22-23)
  • 2 Peter 2:1-3 likens false teachers to false prophets – so I would think a false prophet would
    • bring in destructive heresies
    • cause many to follow their sensuality
    • cause the way of truth to be blasphemed
    • be greedy and exploit people with false words

Deut 18:20-22 

But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’  (21)  And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’–  (22)  when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.

Deut 13:1-3

“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder,  (2)  and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’  (3)  you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

Matt 7:15-27

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  (16)  You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  (17)  So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. (18)  A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.  (19)  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  (20)  Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.  (21)  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  (22)  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  (23)  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’  (24)  “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  (25)  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  (26)  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  (27)  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

2 Pet 2:1-3

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.  (2)  And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. (3)  And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

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