I've been studying the Seventh Day Adventists and it lead me to some lists of what to look for in discerning whether a sect is a cult... This is a pretty good list and I would say that one need not be IN a cult to have cultic (heretical or erroneous) beliefs. . . .
"To be classified as a cult, not all of the following characteristics have to be
present, but in most cases, in one form or another, all of them will be:
1. Extrabiblical Authority: All cults deny what God says in His Word as
true. Cults have shifted their theological point of
authority away from God's full and final written Word, the Bible,
to their own unique, self-promoting opinions about the Bible; they generally will use parts of the
but will have their own unique scripture which is considered to be superior
to the Bible. While some cult groups give token respect for the Bible and go through the motions
of accepting the authority of Scripture, in reality, they honor the group's or leader's
novel interpretation of Scripture as normative.
2. Works Salvation/Legalism: Cults teach that eternal life depends upon
something other than the Atonement; i.e., faith in the atoning, finished work of Christ on
the cross is deemed not to be sufficient (usually replaced with human works and
human responsibility). Rather than relying on the grace of God alone for salvation, the
salvation message of the cults always boils down to required obedience to, or abstention
from, certain obligations and practices (some
even including obedience to the Old Testament law).
3. No Assurance of Salvation: The issue of a cult member's salvation is
never settled, but is constantly affected by the changing circumstances of life; in this
way, cult leaders are able to produce continued obligation and spiritual bondage, rather
than spiritual freedom.
4. Guru-Type Leader/Modern Prophet: The cult leader is looked to as the
infallible interpreter of Scripture, specially appointed by God to be a special saint,
guru, or contemporary messiah, and thereby, has divine authority that must not be
violated. Cultists almost always quote their leader rather than the Bible. The cult's
adherents often expound the virtues of the founders and seek to cover the founder's sins
5. Vacillating, Ambiguous Doctrines/Spiritual Deception: In order to gain
favor with the public, and thereby aid in the recruitment of new members, cult
"doctrine" tends to be characterized by many false or deceptive claims
concerning the cult's true spiritual beliefs (e.g., Mormons are not quick to
reveal their belief that God was a man, who has now become the God of planet
6. Exclusivity from/Denunciation of Other Groups: Each cult group, regardless of what other doctrines are
taught, will all have this one common idea -- "The Only True Church Syndrome."
The members of each specific organization have been taught that their church,
organization, or community, is the only true group and that all other groups are
false. The group's
leaders will explain that it is impossible to serve God without being a member
of the specific group. Moreover, when the cult leader announces
himself as the true "Messiah," all others are declared to be dishonest,
deceitful, and deluded, and must be put down; alternative views are denounced as being
satanic and corrupt. Persecution is welcomed, and even glorified in, as
"evidence" that they are being persecuted for righteousness sake.
Thus, if a member decides to leave the group, they have been told that
they are not simply leaving an organization, but rather they are leaving God and
His only true organization. Hence, for a member of a cult who has been in a
group for any length of time, the action of leaving the group is much more
difficult than what most Christians
understand. To leave the group is, in the minds of the cult member, tantamount
to leaving God.
7. Claims of Special Discoveries/Additional Revelation: Acceptance of
new, contemporary, continual revelations that either deny the Bible or are allowed to
explain it. The fundamental characteristic of Christianity is that it is historical, not
dependent upon private knowledge and secret, unconfirmable relationships, while the almost
universal basis of cult religion is the claimed exclusive revelation that one person has supposedly
received. Rather than conforming to Biblical rules of evidence (2 Cor. 13:1), cult leader
revelations almost always emanate from hallucinations, visions, dreams, private
discoveries, etc. These new revelations often become codified as official written
"scripture" of the cults (e.g., The Book of Mormon), and are considered as valid as that
of the apostles (and even more relevant because they are given in these end times).
8. Defective Christology: Cults always have a false view of the nature of
the Person of Jesus Christ; a cult will usually deny the true deity of Christ, His true
humanity, His true origin, or the true union of the two natures in one Person.
9. Defective "Nature of Man": Most cults do not see man as an
immortal being; instead they see him either as an animal without a soul or as a being
which is being perfected to the point of becoming a god. They usually do not see man as a
spirit clothed in a body of flesh awaiting the redemption of body and soul.
10. Out-Of-Context Scripture Use as Proof-Texts/Segmented Biblical Attention:
Cults tend to focus on one verse or passage of the Bible to the exclusion of others, and
without regard for the context in which Scripture is given (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:29 used by
Mormons to justify baptism for the dead). In addition, cults have made an art form out of
using Christian terminology, all the while pouring out their own meanings into the words.
11. Erroneous Doctrines Concerning Life After Death and Retribution:
Covering the gamut from soul sleep to annihilationism to purgatory to universalism to the
progression to godhood, cults invariably deny the existence of a final judgment of, and a
final "resting" place for, the unrighteous.
12. Entangling Organization Structure: The less truth a movement
represents, the more highly it seems to have to organize itself; the absence of truth
seems to make necessary the application of the bonds of fear. Cults often demand total
commitment by their converts to an organizational involvement that entangles them in a
complicated set of human restrictions, giving the impression of passionate and often
irrational devotion to a cause.
13. Financial Exploitation: The cultic practitioner strongly implies that
money contributed to the cause will earn the contributor numerous gifts, powers, and
abilities, and in many cases, outright salvation.
14. Pseudomystical/Spiritistic/Occultic Influence: Occult influence is
many times found in either the origin of the group and/or in its current practices."