Evangelist Billy Graham has said that all cults have one important thing in common: they can never bring a person into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
The 98-year-old founder of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association shared his thoughts in response to a question posed by a reader in a recent "Answers" column.
"Why do people get involved in cults?" the reader asked. "I think my cousin has gotten involved in one, but she won't listen to any of us who try to talk to her about it. In her view, we're all wrong and her group is the only one that's right."
Graham first said that people get involved in cults for a number of reasons, but often it's "because they are spiritually hungry and are searching for God-and they hope this group will satisfy that hunger."
"And for a time they may think it has, and they turn their backs on anyone who tries to tell them otherwise," he said.
Every cult, however, has one thing in common - they can never bring a person into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Graham said: "He alone is the divine Son of God who came down from Heaven to save us from our sins, and He alone took upon Himself our sin and our guilt when He died on the cross for our salvation. We cannot save ourselves, no matter how hard we try; only Christ can save us."
The evangelist encouraged the reader to pray for their cousin, "that God will open her heart to Christ and help her turn away from everything false. And let her know that you still love her-and so does Christ."
The word "cult" is defined by Merriam-Webster as "a small religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion and that has beliefs regarded by many people as extreme or dangerous."
Earlier, Graham warned 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, he urged 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?"
He also 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."