I sell the things you need to be
I’m the smiling face on your TV
I’m the cult of personality
I exploit you, still you love me
I tell you one and one makes three
You gave me fortune
You gave me fame
You gave me power in your God’s name
I’m every person you need to be
I’m the cult of personality
These lyrics from the 1988 song “Cult of Personality” (by the band Living Color) aptly describe the many preachers and teachers found in Christian media, megachurches, bookstores, and at conferences. Wikipedia states: “A cult of personality arises when an individual uses mass media, propaganda, or other methods to create an idealized, heroic, and at times, worshipful image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise.” These prominent ‘Christian’ leaders deliver these false gospels and teachings, which flatter the ego and praise the flesh. They exploit the sheep, lie, (2 Peter 2:1-3) and tickle the carnal Christian’s ears with what the Christian desires to hear (2 Timothy 4:3), while they themselves are revered and put up with easily enough (2 Corinthians 11:4).
When we think of a cult, usually Jehovah’s Witnesses, the religion of Scientology, or someone like David Koresh comes to mind, as we’ve become accustomed to determining which group is a cult, based on society’s definition. However, cults and their leaders can be determined from a theological basis as well. While we can examine prominent leaders in the visible church from the societal viewpoint (which include devotion toward a particular figure, having beliefs regarded by others as strange or sinister or having a misplaced admiration for a particular person), I’ll use a theological viewpoint to show how some evangelicals in the limelight exhibit the traits of cult leaders. I’ll show how they teach so-called truths that deviate from the Christian faith.
Marks of a Cult–From a Theological Viewpoint
While society is concerned with whether a cult is physically dangerous, the theological viewpoint determines if a cult is spiritually dangerous, based on whether the original doctrines of biblical truth have been distorted. This is important because spiritual deception and heresies may have devastating eternal consequences.
The following points demonstrate how some evangelicals (personalities) in the limelight distort the original doctrines of biblical truth.
1. These Personalities Introduce Extra-Biblical Revelations or Teachings
Teachings and practices not found in Scripture flourish due to some popular Christian leaders. These practices include: contemplative prayer, spiritual formation, lectio divina, prayer circles, deliverance ministries and false spiritual warfare teachings; mysticism, psychology, positive thinking and humanism, word of faith teachings, modern-day prophecies, heaven and hell ‘tourism‘, the slain in the spirit phenomenon, to name but a few. Additionally, there are many women pastors who disobey God’s command that women should not teach men; sadly, many popular leaders support these women. Many high-profile teachers also support gay marriage through the lens of distorted scripture. Rachel Held Evans is an example of one who teaches men and who supports gay marriage:
2. These Personalities Promote a Wrong View of God and/or Man
Many popular leaders have a wrong view of the members of the Trinity: T.D. Jakes is a Modalist, John Hagee denies Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, Brian Houston of Hillsong claims Muslims and Christians serve the same god (1:30 minute mark), while Benny Hinn, Paul Crouch and Kenneth Copeland proclaim we are gods.
The Word of Faith Movement is notorious for elevating man while mocking God’s sovereignty and providence, as recorded here:
3. These Personalities Minimize or Eliminate Sin
Absent from the limelight is the need for repentance and the wretchedness of sin. Joyce Meyer eliminates her sin altogether and says she is not a sinner.
Joel Osteen talks about his decision to not teach about sin.
4. These Personalities Teach a Different Gospel
Found amongst the teachings of these leaders are the false man-made gospels of Ecumenism, the Prosperity Gospel, NAR/Dominionism, Chrislam, and the Social Gospel. New Age and Eastern Mysticism are present in most of these false gospels.
Yet another lie promoted by Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland, Frederick K. Price, Kenneth Hagin, Charles Capps, and other Word of Faithers is that Jesus paid for our sins in hell.
Also tragic are the many teachers who wrongly state that speaking in tongues, healing, and/or sinless perfection are proof of salvation.
5. These Personalities Are ‘Guru Type’ Leaders
These prominent Christians promise what the Bible does not promise–the seeking and fulfillment of carnal desires such as wealth, health, prosperity, and a comfortable life. Since Jesus did not teach that we are promised these things this side of heaven, it is clear that followers of these teachers are following the teachings of men and not those of God: ‘For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive’ (Romans 16:18).
These teachers toss the name of Jesus around as lip service in order to deceive the sheep and often blaspheme His precious name with heresies, so that these stars and starlets can be catapulted into fame and wealth. These prominent leaders have managed to acquire a large following rather successfully. Unfortunately, many in the church are blind as to how captive they are.
Biblically ignorant Steven Furtick, pastor of Elevation Church, perfectly demonstrates the strong hold over his followers:
Steven Furtick is a visionary that his followers must unite under? Shockingly unbiblical.
Just as with traditional cults, followers of false teachers often passionately defend their leaders when these teachers are exposed as false teachers. Regrettably, the followers do not compare that what is being taught by their idols to Scripture, and they defend the teachings of these men and women, and not the Word of God. They demonstrate a willful ignorance and submission to these leaders.
Not surprisingly, most of these leaders are no better at receiving rebuke, and instead of prayerfully submitting to God’s wisdom and studiously studying God’s Word, they get angry and defensive. Again, Steven Furtick perfectly demonstrates this:
Furtick egotistically disagrees with God’s command to test all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21), to expose false teaching (Ephesians 5:11), and to show ourselves approved in rightly handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). This video surely demonstrates many of the personality traits of a typical cult leader. A typical cult leader:
- has a grandiose idea of who he is
- requires excessive admiration
- is arrogant and haughty
- is hypersensitive to how he is perceived by others
- publicly devalues others as being incapable, inferior or unworthy
- calls those who question him the ‘enemy’
- refers to non-members or non-followers of him as ‘the enemy’
- treats others with contempt and arrogance
Warnings and Judgements
As shown, the teachers mentioned above are teaching heresies; they are surely not part of the faith that was once delivered–they are teaching different doctrines and are therefore cults.
Scripture is clear regarding the seriousness of false teachings and the judgement that will follow. If you think there is nothing wrong with these teachers because they teach some ‘good stuff’ or their teachings have ‘blessed you’, please take your eyes off them and read these warnings from God:
- And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed (2 Peter 2.2).
- But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:8).
- As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned (Titus 3:11).
- 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 Peter 2:1).
- Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons (1 Timothy 4:1).
- Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep (2 Peter 2:1-3).
The warnings are clear, and yet many are ignoring them just as in Jeremiah’s day.
Don’t Believe the Lies!
If you are of the opinion that these teachers are Godly because they are successful, that is a lie. God’s definition of success is not popularity–think of the apostles and of others martyred for their faith, even to this day.
If you think examining doctrine is being divisive, that is a lie. Romans 16:17-18 is clear that it is those who teach unbiblical doctrines that are causing division.
If you think we are not supposed to judge, that is a misconception and lie. We are to judge righteously (John 7:24).
If you think questioning these people is unloving, that is a lie. Love is sharing the truth–the truth of the Gospel in the hope for God’s mercy and His granting of repentance.
If you think being doctrinally accurate is ‘stifling’ the Holy Spirit, that is a lie. The Holy Spirit teaches and convicts us through the Word of God. If we are ignorant to what Scripture says, that is ‘stifling’ the Holy Spirit.
Lastly, it is a lie and a deception to think that just because you love Jesus that you cannot be deceived. Matthew 24:24 teaches that false teachers will perform such signs and wonders that if possible they would deceive the elect. Therefore, these teachers are deceiving some in the visible church. If you think you might possibly be deceived by these teachers, you should examine yourself to see if you’re in the faith and if you’re truly saved (2 Corinthians 13:5).
Beloved, take nothing for granted. The time we have left is short; pray for wisdom and discernment and examine whom and what you believe. Stop following this cult of personalities and follow the Lord Jesus Christ, our rock and redeemer who deserves all the glory.
Soli Deo Gloria,
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