Evangelist Billy Graham has shared three ways people can identify if a religious gathering they are attending is a "cult" rather than a "church" - even if it closely mimics Christian practices and claims to teach the Bible.
The Baptist minister shared his thoughts in response to a question posed by a reader in a recent "Answers" column for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
The reader asked: "My neighbor keeps inviting me to her church (although they don't call it that), but someone told me it's a cult. How can I know? I didn't come from a religious family."
Graham first acknowledged that while some cults are blatantly anti-Christian, others are far more dangerous, as they closely resemble a church and claim to promote the teachings of Jesus Christ while actually denying some of the Bible's' most important teachings.
"Let me suggest three questions or guidelines you might find helpful in evaluating this group," he wrote. "First, what do they believe about the Bible? Is it alone the Word of God (as Christians affirm)-or do they add to it, or claim they alone have translated it correctly?"
Second, the 97-year-old evangelist encourages people to ask, "What does this religious group believe about Jesus?"
"Is He alone the divine Son of God, sent from Heaven to save us from our sins?" Graham asked. "Or do they deny this, or claim we must work to save ourselves?"
Third, it's important to ask, "What do such groups believe about other Christians? Do they claim that they, and they alone, have the truth-or do they rejoice that God is also at work elsewhere?"
The evangelist encouraged readers to remember that God loves them and wants them to discover His great truth found in the Bible: "Ask him to lead you to a church where the Bible is preached and taught, and you can grow closer to Christ. Let the Psalmist's prayer become yours: 'Strengthen me according to your word' (Psalm 119:28)."
Graham has shared his thoughts on cults in the past, and in a previous "Answers" column offered advice to an individual attempting to leave such an organization.
"Realize that this cult leader (and the whole group) has no authority over your eternal destiny," he wrote. "Only Christ has that authority, and once you come to Him, you don't need to be gripped by fear any longer. The Bible says, 'There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.... Whoever has the Son has life' (1 John 4:18; 5:12)."
He added, "Don't argue with the cult members, and don't leave this group little-by-little. Instead, make a clean break, and refuse to have anything further to do with them. Then ask God to lead you to a church where you'll not only feel welcome, but will also grow strong in your faith."
Billy Graham is one of North Carolina's most famous sons and has made the annual "Most Admired" list a record 58 times.The evangelist grew up in Charlotte and currently resides in Montreat, North Carolina. In addition to advising numerous political leaders, Graham is known for his crusades that brought the gospel to 215 million people, according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.