The ministry of the Christian Research Institute is devoted to the principle of equipping the body of Christ as described in Ephesians 4:11-16. We also believe in the principle taught in the following illustration: If a person is hungry you can either catch a fish for him, which will satisfy the person’s immediate need after which he will need you to go and catch more fish for him, or you can teach the person to fish, which will give him the ability to meet his future physical needs. The Christian Research Institute is not able to catch fish for everyone! Instead, we can give you the tools to be able to do the fishing.
CRI makes available upon request information on groups that we have evaluated. Unfortunately, we have not been able to evaluate every group. What we have attempted to do in the meantime is to provide you with material from non-CRI publications which you can use for your personal study and research. The enclosed information, along with this evaluation form, will help you to determine the status of the group you have questions about.
Care and precision must be exercised when checking out the teachings of a group. Doctrinal discernment should not be done with a cavalier attitude. It is important to allow for legitimate differences of opinion with doctrines or practices with which you may not agree but are not in clear violation of the Bible. Before we begin we need to define our classifications. CRI classifies groups according to a conservative, evangelical, Protestant perspective and acknowledges the Bible to be the final authority for questions on doctrine and practice.
An orthodox Christian group affirms the foundational Christian truths as clearly taught in the Bible and reflected in the universal creeds of the Christian faith (i.e., the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed, and the Creed of Chalcedon.) Thus, the group must affirm:
- The historic understanding of the Triune nature of God.
- The True Deity and True Humanity of Jesus Christ.
- The physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
- Salvation of the believer by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ on the cross.
- The substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross for the believer (i.e., Christ died on the cross in the place of the sinner).
- The physical return of Christ to earth at the end of time to judge the wicked and reward the righteous.
An aberrant Christian group is one that would undermine or distort one or more of the essential orthodox teachings either by what they teach or by what they practice.
The term cult can be defined theologically and sociologically. Theologically a cult is a deviation from orthodoxy. The group outright denies one or more of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith as outlined above yet claims to be the true Christian Church. Often they state that they are the restoration of the Apostolic Church. Most of the time these groups use Christian terms but give a twist to the original meaning. Thus, they sound Christian to the average believer. Sociologically, a cult is a religious or semi-religious group whose members are controlled in almost every single respect by a single individual or by the organization.
The word “occult” is typically associated with esoteric (hidden) and mystical practices. It deals with hidden or secretive means to attain personal power, and is characterized by a reliance on the supernatural to achieve its ends. The occult includes such practices as fortune telling, witchcraft, or trance-channeling (practices described and forbidden in Deuteronomy 18). Additionally, tarot cards, crystal balls, ouija boards, and horoscopes number among the many tools which are used by occultists. Clearly, the occult deals directly with demonic forces.
Steps To Evaluate A Groups Teachings
The following steps will help you to evaluate the group from which you have requested information:
Step One – Evaluation:
Take any materials you have collected to find out where the group stands on specific issues. If you need further information, consult the sources listed on the materials. Most resources are available directly from the group or at a public, university, or seminary library.
1. Does this group claim to be Christian?
2. Does this group affirm, deny, or compromise the essential doctrines of the Christian Faith (as previously described)?
3. Does the group include practices which are affirmed by its leadership and which are clearly against a normal reading of the Bible? (i.e., including occultic practices to deviant sexual practices.)
4. Does the group claim to be the only true Christian church or the restoration of the New Testament church?
Sociological / Psychological Evaluation:
1. Does the church practice mind control, authoritarian control, and total accountability to leadership? To what extent?
2. Does the church allow for independent thinking on areas not considered to be the essentials as outlined above?
3. Does the leadership have complete control over the members?
4. Does the group encourage a ‘we-they” mentality which alienates members from their families, friends, or society at large?
5. How do members respond to former members? Are members alienated from any contact with dissenters?
Step Two – Confirmation:
Get confirmation of your conclusions from other Christians: (1) Your pastor; (2) a mature Christian teacher or friend; (3) a Christian from outside your denominational affiliation; (4) counter-cult ministries who specialize in this field.
Step Three – Additional Resources:
CRI encourages you to equip yourself with good resources. The following materials are highly recommended:
Witch Hunt by Bob and Gretchen Passintino (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990).
This book provides the guidelines on right and wrong thinking when evaluating a group’s teachings.
Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul (InterVarsity Press, 1977).
In order to understand how the Bible is to be understood you must know the principles of Biblical interpretation.
This is a layman’s guide to understanding how to rightly divide the Word of God.
Scripture Twisting by James Sire (InterVarsity Press, 1980).
This book shows how the cults misread and misinterpret the Bible. A must for understanding the cults.
Unholy Devotion – Why Cults Lure Christians by Harold L. Bussell (Zondervan, 1983).
This book deals with common misconceptions Christians have about cults and how to determine truth from error.