Mankind was created to worship God. When mankind fell into sin, they did not become irreligious (atheists) but they became worshipers of false gods. Studies have shown that at any given time, perhaps no more than 4-6% of the world is irreligious, despite all the books and ranting of the vocal atheists. Men will worship something if they do not worship the One, True and Living God, who created and visited this planet to redeem a people to know Him and behold His glory forever.
Since the Fall of our first parents into sin, much of the violence and abuse heaped upon our fellow human beings has been over religion and worship. Cain killed Abel over worship (my fruits or a sacrificial substitute?). It was not the pagans so much who attacked and killed the prophets but fellow physical Jews who despised the worship of one One, True and Living God for man-made, syncretistic religions of their own making. C. S. Lewis ably depicted this in his last of the CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, "The Last Battle". Wicked leaders had blurred the distinction between Aslan and the false gods of the lands bordering Narnia.
(Aslan, Tash, "Taslan"). All were the same if you just looked at it in a certain way. That blurring of distinctions, that amalgamation of different, competing religions into one is as old as human history.
America has been a particularly fertile ground for false religions (with an altogether different god named as their god) and cults (spin-offs from biblical Christianity with self-appointed prophets or prophetesses to lead them down the primrose path.
Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah Witnesses, The Way International, The Children of God, etc, etc. etc. And there have been spin-offs from these cults into smaller groups (e.g. David Koresh (and his followers, the Branch Davidians who were killed in the massacre at Waco, Texas in the 90's) were a splinter group lead by a splinter prophet from Seventh Day Adventism.
Now when it comes to spotting false religions and cults, one must know the real thing well to spot the fake and the impostor. Bank tellers are not taught to spot phony money by studying counterfeits all the time. Rather they become so familiar with real money that counterfeits stand out quickly. So, the best way to spot a cult is to know biblical Christianity well. Cults make progress in areas where people are religious but not Christians. One must have some minimal exposure to the truth to be taken in by a counterfeit of the truth. So the best way not to be sucked into the false teaching of a cult is to be a true Christian, to know your Bible well, to be a faithful member of a local church and to apply what you learn.
FALSE RELIGIONS OF THE WORLD:
Fritz Ridenour, SO WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE;Gospel
Light/Regal--long useful book showing how biblical
Christianity differs from the major religions and
cults of the world.
Winfried Corduan, POCKET GUIDE TO WORLD
RELIGIONS; IVP--an authoritative guide, but small
Jonathan Skinner, THE RISE OF PAGANISM;
Evangelical Press--people are turning to old
religions such as wicca, ancestor worship, and
other things pagans once believed before
Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and other major
religions ever existed. This shows how murky the
water is out there in people's minds.
James Sire, THE UNIVERSE NEXT DOOR; IVP--a
standard work, now in its 5th edition, showing the
various "worldviews" or ways of looking at reality
that now exist in our culture.
Wayne House, CHARTS OF WORLD RELIGIONS;
Zondervan--standard work showing the differences
from one another and biblical Christianity.
John Blanchard, DOES GOD BELIEVE IN ATHEISTS?
Evangelical Press--a weighty tome, literally and
figuratively, showing the errors of atheism and
why people "believe" in it.
R. C. Sproul. IF THERE IS A GOD, WHY ARE THERE
ATHEISTS?; Reformation Trust--an insightful study
of Romans 1 and the psychology of atheism. As one
friend from the 1960's told a flaming young atheist
to his frustration: "You aren't an atheist; you are
just a dude who is suppressing the truth!?"
Stephen Prothero, GOD IS NOT ONE; Harper One--
definitively shows that each of the world majors
religions are not the same, are not "many roads
leading to the one, true God" but diametrically
opposed systems of belief. Shows the uniqueness
Timothy George, IS THE FATHER OF JESUS THE GOD
OF MOHAMMED?; Zondervan--excellent at showing
why true, saving religion is not the religion of Islam
and that Allah is a false god.
Ravi Zacharias, JESUS AMONG OTHER GOD (The
Absolute Claims of the Christian Message); Thomas
Nelson--shows why the world religions are different
and the unique and universal claims of Christ.
[The Reformers and many post-Reformation theologians believed the papacy to be the Anti-Christ.
Many Reformation and post-Reformation confessions and articles of faith teach their conviction that the papacy is Anti-Christ. Catholicism is the largest "cult" or aberration from biblical Christianity in the world today, followed by Eastern Orthodoxy.)
John Gerstner, PRIMER ON ROMAN CATHOLICISM;
Reformation Heritage Books--an excellent place to
start your investigation
Richard Belcher, A JOURNEY IN ROMAN
CATHOLICISM; Richbarry Press--a theological novel
teaching theology and showing how error creeps
into churches and men's hearts.
William Webster, SALVATION, THE BIBLE AND
ROMAN CATHOLICISM; Banner of Truth--the basics
are all right here.
Richard Bennett and Martin Buckingham, FAR FROM
ROME, NEAR TO GOD; Banner of Truth--two former
Catholics tell why Rome's interpretation and
application of the Bible is dead wrong.
Richard Bennett, CATHOLICISM: EAST OF EDEN
(Insights Into Catholicism For the 21st Century);
Banner of Truth--just what it says
R. C. Sproul, BY FAITH ALONE; Baker Books--one of
the core issues that divides Catholicism from
biblical Christianity is the role of Christ and His
saving work and how that saving work is
appropriated by sinners. Salvation is by Christ
alone, given by grace alone and received by faith
alone. This explains why nothing has changed.
Roland Bainton, HERE I STAND; Hendrickson--a
classic biography of Martin Luther for 50 years,
this tells the story clearly and movingly of why
Rome's errors drew Martin Luther's attention and
what he did about those errors that brought the
Reformation. (NOTE: Everything Rome was doing
and teaching wrong then, it still does today. Ten
years ago, one might have pointed out that Rome
no longer offered indulgences to gain years off of
purgatory for oneself or loved ones. But in the past
ten years, the Pope had reinstated indulgences, not
bought with money but worked for by the one
wanting the indulgence!)
Robert Letham, THROUGH WESTERN EYES; Christian
Focus/Mentor--the best place to start to understand
what Easter Orthodoxy, in its seven branches,
believes and practices.
Walter Martin, THE KINGDOM OF THE CULTS;
Baker Books--good historical background and in
some ways a standard. But Dr. Martin called
himself a "charismatic Baptist" and did not rule
something out of bounds because of the so-called
prophecy that the supposed founder of the cult
had. Thus, Seventh Day Adventists are not called
a cult by Martin just because Ellen White received
a vision of Christ secretly entering into His
MARKS OF A CULT (DVD)--leading theologians and
cult monitoring experts combined to produce an
excellent primer on various cults.
Eryl Davies, TRUTH UNDER ATTACK (2 volumes);
Evangelical Press--a standard work by a Reformed
theologian covering most the cults and false
religions opposed the truth of God's Word today.
Edmund Gross, CULTS AND THE OCCULTS: P & R
great resources for studying the errors of false
teachers and where to find out more about them.
Walter Martin, THE KINGDOM OF THE OCCULT;
Thomas Nelson--the murky waters waded into by
by those who dabble in and fall prey to doctrines
There is more than enough here to help you to help others. ONE SUGGESTION: Don't become a cult-obsessed individual who thinks and studies and counsels others about cults or a particular. Major in studying Jesus Christ and Him crucified. One can be an expert student of false religions and cults and not even be a real Christian, not be on your way to heaven, not know the Lord of glory for yourself. What a tragedy!
Your Book Servant,
Pastor Steve Martin