Cults: What to Say When the Tacks Are Brass
By: Eric Pement

Cornerstone, vol. 26, issue 113 (1997), p. 43-45
ISSN 0275-2743

During the second act of a Broadway play, a member of the audience near the back notices smoke rising from a rear balcony section. To his horror, he realizes that a fire has begun that will soon block the only exits. He has three choices. First, he could stand up and shout, “Fire!” an act that would result in mass terror and multiple deaths. Or, he could persuade himself that the fire wasn’t really dangerous, that perhaps it wasn’t there at all, an act of a madman.

He could also quickly stride to the back of theater, have an usher call the fire department, while he and the theater personnel informed first the people nearest the exits, then the others row by row. A few would become panicky, but due to his quiet and authoritative manner, they would be calmed, and the specter of tragedy could be avoided.

The analogy is limited, but functional when considering the recent furor over the cults. The urge to scream “fire” has replaced that earlier silence that had greeted the Eastern pseudoreligions of the sixties. Jim Jones made one contribution to American society: people have become aware of the cults as they never have been before. The call of “fire!” has resounded, and the crowd is running for the exits, trampling each other as they go.

The secular press was at first incredulous, then furious. Cults such as the Unification Church, Scientology, the Hare Krishna, and the Children of God, which had been ignored and thrived for years, suddenly came under intense scrutiny and attack. The attack has not basically been theological, but societal.

Herein lies a grave danger. While we too have a great concern for the subversive power of the cults (enough that we have carried a “Cult of the Month” column) we have as a primary goal love. We cannot ignore the cults; neither can we allow fear and anger to dictate our actions.

Just as many Christians have overreacted to homosexuals, and in their righteous indignation forgotten the gay’s personhood, so also the cult members have been treated. I once had a Christian friend who, commenting on North Viet Nam’s takeover of South Viet Nam, stated that it was “God’s will, because the Communists will kill all those Buddhists.” Many Christians may also feel that the Jonestown tragedy was God’s way of exposing the cults. Is it perhaps possible that Satan’s plan was to cut the cult members off from the only exit there is, namely Christ, by militating both Christians and non-Christians against them?

We do need to pray against and witness against false doctrine; we do not need to witness against people, other than to expose their false teachings. The Mormons were killed as heretical cultists one hundred years ago; now we watch them on national TV. Will the Moonies be that respected in fifty years? Quite possibly.

Let us expose false teachings and warn the cults, but in love. Otherwise, we are but a clanging cymbal. As we explore the various ways that we can witness to the cults, let us not forget what must come first: Jesus.


It is important that we realize that the cultist is as much in need of the gospel of Jesus Christ as anyone else. The only difference is that the down-and-outer usually knows that he is lost and separated from God, while the cultist believes that he has already “made it,” when in actuality he is going to hell with a Bible in his hand. The cultist has built up defenses that the irreligious person has not; and while few people would be attracted to a life of prostitution, drug addiction, or alcoholism, many people are attracted by the cult’s system of self-salvation, inner-circle knowledge, and the social camaraderie and acceptance he feels as a result of being part of the group. The cult represents a more serious threat to the church precisely because it counterfeits the church.

Therefore, in approaching the cults, it is best to set down some ground rules for witnessing. The following points are gratefully extracted from Edmund Gruss’s book, Apostles of Denial, page 251. We have made a few changes at appropriate places.

First and foremost, the one who approaches the cultist must have a strong individual sense of his or her salvation. They must be born again and know it, having already accepted Christ as Savior and Lord of their lives. They must possess a biblical worldview in terms of the Creator, the creation, the Fall, and the Atonement. Sharing with a cultist without personal knowledge of Jesus is like being a lawyer without having any evidence to present. It simply can’t be done.

The next step concerns one’s knowledge of the Bible.

Most persons are inadequate in this qualification, which is the reason why cults thrive and draw largely from Christian ranks. The average Christian does not know his Bible well enough to detect and refute the errors of half-truths. The cult cannot stand before the truth and light of the Word of God. A Christian should study the Bible every day.

When confronted by a Jehovah’s Witness [for example], the Christian should always use the Bible and read the passage which the Witness claims confirms his teaching.

Any worker for God must realize that without prayer and a deep spiritual life defeat is almost assured. It is God’s will that the Christian should radiate the spirit and zeal of the early church. The early church had such a testimony for Christ in the midst of opposition, and its message was so clear . . . that the ones outside the church named them ’Christians’ [literally, “Christ-ones”] (Acts 11:26).

In order to achieve success in refuting the doctrines of a cult, one must be thoroughly familiar with what they believe.

We would recommend that a Christian read material written from a Christian perspective when investigating any cult. When studying a particular cult, be aware of the different emphases or of the standard reactions toward believers. Be prepared to be sensitive to their thinking.

To the above point, I would add, be sure of any facts which you intend to use, especially any concerning the cult’s own doctrine or history.

I’ll never forget the occasion I became involved in a heated argument with a Baptist pastor. I was a Mormon [technically, RLDS] at the time and he vehemently insisted that Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, was hung as a horse thief. Smith was actually killed by a mob while in jail at Carthage, Illinois, as any standard encyclopedia will confirm, but the pastor insisted that we were all wrong.

Because of his gross error at the start of our conversation, I automatically discounted everything else he had to say. There is a lesson here: make sure you know as much as possible about the subject you’re discussing and that you can document any controversial issue, because you can hinder the witness by making one rash or untrue statement.


When you are given the opportunity to sit down and share with a cult member, begin your conversation with prayer. This will not only be an obvious testimony to them that you are serious about your life with Christ, but will give them cause to think. As you pray aloud, direct your prayer towards man’s own lostness and God’s infinite love as He shed His blood for our sin through Jesus. Ask the Lord that His Spirit would reveal truth to both parties in the discussion. The best skill in argumentation is no match for the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and your prayer will set the stage for the course of your discussion.

Conclude your visit with prayer, also, for the same reasons: Charles Finney once wrote, “If you converse with [sinners], and leave them without praying, you leave your work undone” (Revivals of Religion, Fleming H. Revell, p. 180)

In your discussion, point out two things:

a) Sincerity is no guarantee of salvation or truth. Many men are sincere, but they can also be sincerely wrong. Paul said, “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9 NIV).

b) Contradictions, false prophecies or dishonesty within the organization. Many times cultists who seem impervious to seeing doctrinal or theological errors will come out of a cult through being shown dishonesty, deception, or unethical behavior by the leader. The cultist is accustomed to thinking of his leader(s) as God’s spokesman, and first he must lose faith in the spokesman before he will lose faith in his pronouncements.

Keep your cool. If you sense that you’re getting in over your head, check to see what the cause could be—if the question is doctrinal or theological (especially his theology) and you get into deep water, agree to meet again with him so you can double-check your information. Then you can discuss it later and you will be on firmer ground after more study. On the other hand, if the man is under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, press on! As with any other sinner, the last thing he wants to do is submit to God and receive Christ as Savior. You must make the demands of the gospel clear, and zero in on that issue. But remember, it’s just as important to know when to shut your mouth as it is to know when to open it. Remember, the aim is not to win an argument but to win his soul to Christ.

Make use of literature as well. This will speak where you cannot, and the man cannot argue with a tract. Edmund Gruss says this in regard to Jehovah’s Witnesses, but it could apply to any cultist just as well: “The Jehovah’s Witness has been won to the cult by literature: by the same method use literature to win him to Christ.”


1. DO NOT attend any prepared Bible studies, seminars, or lesson series with cultists in order to “learn what they believe.” Such “Bible studies” are in reality nothing more than carefully designed sales techniques to lure you into their group; the false doctrines that would normally alert the Christian to beware are never openly mentioned.

DO offer them literature, get their phone number, or invite them to talk personally with your pastor, minister, or to an informed brother or sister in Christ. You may not be able to reach them, but perhaps someone else can. Know your limitations and also local resources.

2. DO NOT push your church or denomination.

DO present Christ. The typical cultist’s error is that he thinks salvation rests in an organization (church, denomination, etc.). It does not. Salvation comes from a Person—Jesus Christ.

3. DO NOT argue. Losing your temper will spoil your credibility and your chances of talking to him again. (More about that in no. 7). Remember what Paul told Timothy: “The servant of the Lord must not strive (quarrel—NIV) . . .”

DO “. . . be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient; in meekness instructing those that oppose” you, is the rest of the verse (2 Tim. 2:23-24). Another memory for us all is James 1:19: “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.”

4. DO NOT get sidetracked by irrelevant issues. He will try to bring up insignificant subjects to avoid dealing with the gospel (Ex: Where did Cain get his wife? What’s the difference between Gehenna and Hades?). Cultists are masters of changing the subject and avoiding the issue.

DO concentrate only on fundamental issues—Christ, sin, and salvation by the blood of the cross.

If he is wrong about the gospel or the Person of Christ, he is wrong enough to lose his soul. Next to the Cross, every other topic pales in significance.

5. DO NOT talk down to him or have a “holier than thou” attitude. Dr. Walter Martin, who has spent over twenty-five years witnessing to cultists, cautions, “The Christian cannot afford to have a superiority complex or reflect the idea that he is redeemed and the cultist is lost.” One of the worst examples of this came when we were witnessing at a Way International convention in coordination with a number of other Christian churches. There was a team there completely lacking in emotional maturity. They paced up and down the sidewalk, arms and Bibles flailing in the air, shaking their fists and pointing their fingers at the people walking down the sidewalk, screaming things like, “You cigarette-suckin’ sinners!! Woe unto you!! You’re goin’ to burn in hell!!”

We arrived at the Way convention desiring to present to Way members our corporate, spiritual unity with every other Christian believer there, but within three days we were telling confused and irate Way members that we had nothing to do with the shouting stompers. Many Way members confided in us that if we said we were “with them,” they would never have listened to us at all.

DO offer positive, personal testimony of the truth. Tell what faith in Christ has done for you; say it definitely, and yet humbly, speaking to him as an equal. Your obvious concern for the cultist may be the only way he sees a glimpse of Christ. Remember that for three years the Apostle Paul “ceased not to warn everyone night and day with tears” (Acts 20:31).

6. DO NOT enter long discussions without agreeing on a common ground, a mutual point of agreement. If you don’t start from somewhere you both agree on, your conversation will dissolve into endless discussion, charge and countercharge, as he takes you on a merry chase through history, scripture, philosophy, and theology. Unless you agree on something, he can deny belief in whatever you affirm.

DO face the question of authority. The issue is not that his opinion disagrees with your opinion (“so we’re both equal,” he says). The issue is that his source of authority is opposed to the teaching of Holy Scripture. One of the most productive discussions I can remember took place when we constantly brought the conversation back to the statement in Isaiah 8:20: “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them.”

7. DO NOT stop praying! Prayer can work in the sinner’s heart where no amount of reason or common sense seems to penetrate. Pray repeatedly for the one you talk to, for many of us have been saved as a result of the consistent prayers of others in our behalf. No limit can be set on the power of prayer.

DO follow up! Cultists are seldom won on the first conversation or even on the tenth. God’s Word “will not return to Him void,” He says, but with the cultist, the seed must be consistently watered and replanted. One couple shared with a JW in their home every week for six months, and three years later, as a result of the seed first sown by the Christian couple, the young man turned his life over to Christ. There are times we will be seed-planters and someone else will see the harvest. In my own experience, it took nine solid months of witnessing by a faithful friend for me to see the error of Mormonism.

Continue to follow up, even when it seems you’re not getting through; when you get to heaven, you will never regret having loved so deeply or having expended the extra effort . . . and you may meet the person you have witnessed to, redeemed at last, on the other side.


In these latter years of the twentieth century, the search for spiritual things will increase as the world grows progressively less stable. The fervor of the cults should be matched and surpassed by our fervor for Christ; our lives should shine forth God’s love. No longer should experts be able to say (as one has said) “the cults are the unpaid bills of the church.” (Dr. J. K. Van Baalen, author of The Chaos of the Cults).

We owe the cultists our love. We owe them our attention, and not our disdain. We owe them our own study of those responsible Christian scholars (not sensationalists) who can spiritually and intellectually lead them out of their arid wastelands. We owe them the integrated, balanced walk of the mature Christian, who doesn’t have a distaste for honest dialogue and prayerful preparation. And we owe them the truth in an outstretched hand, not in a clenched fist.


Distinguishing Characteristics of All Cults

A. Extra-biblical authority

Cults usually claim the Bible as authoritative. However, they always give equal or greater authority to another book or another person’s revelations.

The Bible teaches that it alone is the only verbally inspired and infallible revelation.

B. Denial of justification by grace alone

Cults make salvation to some degree dependent on the works of man.

Heart of the Christian gospel is that Christ paid for sin (called the blood atonement). Therefore, man cannot contribute anything to his salvation.

C. Devaluation of Christ

Cults do not make Jesus equal with the Father and Holy Spirit.

Every Christian group exalts Jesus Christ as the God-Man Savior.

D. Their group is the exclusive community of the saved

Only the cult’s members are in the “inner group.” Cults generally believe their group is the fulfillment of prophecy concerning end times.

Christian view is that the saved are the “body of Christ,” i.e., all who believe in Christ with a true faith.

original filename: CSM1136A.TXT
“Cults: What to Say When the Tacks Are Brass”
Release A, 11 Nov. 1997

This article is a reprint (with minor changes) of an article previously published in Cornerstone magazine in 1979.

Copyright 1979 by Eric Pement. This file may be reproduced on electronic media and communications services without charge or permission from the author(s), so long as the wording of the text remains unaltered. For additional information about our publications, please contact <> or write to: Cornerstone, 939 W. Wilson Ave., Chicago, IL 60640-5706, U.S.A.