False religions are belief systems and organizations that claim to worship the true God but in reality promote untruths and doctrines that are incompatible with Biblical scripture. As Christians, it is important for us to be able to discern false teachings and avoid being led astray. In this comprehensive post, we will examine characteristics of false religions, analyze some major examples, and summarize key takeaways for Christians today.
The Bible warns us that there will be many false prophets and teachers that rise up and draw people away from the one true faith (Matthew 24:11, 2 Peter 2:1). Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light in order to deceive (2 Corinthians 11:14). For this reason, Christians must be vigilant to test all teachings against the infallible word of God, lest we be led astray (1 John 4:1).
False religions have existed since Biblical times, from the worship of idols and pagan gods to the gnostic heresies that denied Jesus’ incarnation. In modern times, cults and world religions have twisted or added to orthodox Christian teachings, resulting in a different gospel that cannot save. It is crucial that we are able to discern truth from error.
- False religions exist to lead people astray from true faith in Christ.
- Satan disguises himself as an angel of light to deceive people.
- Christians must test all teachings against Scripture to avoid deception.
- False religions have existed since Biblical times.
- Cults and world religions today promote untruths about Jesus and the gospel.
Characteristics of False Religions
There are several common characteristics that help identify false teachings and religions that claim to be Christian but are not. While not an exhaustive list, these are some key things to look out for:
Departure from Orthodox Biblical Teachings
One of the clearest signs of a false religion is any teaching that contradicts or distorts essential doctrines found in the Bible. Core tenants like the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, the triune nature of God, the atonement and resurrection, and salvation by grace through faith are foundational Christian beliefs based firmly in Scripture (2 John 1:9). Beware any group that claims to be Christian yet denies or alters these doctrines.
Adding to the Word of God
Cults and false religions often add their own writings or traditions to the Bible and treat them with equal or greater authority. The Bible warns strongly against adding to God’s word (Revelation 22:18-19) and teaches Scripture as the ultimate spiritual authority inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16-17). A man-made book presented as special revelation or new truth that supersedes the Bible is a clear sign of deception.
Salvation by Works
Another hallmark of a false religion is the teaching that eternal salvation is earned through good works and obedience to laws and commandments. This contradicts the Bible’s clear teaching that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by our own works (Galatians 2:16). Beware any group that teaches you must work your way to heaven, follow rituals, or keep commandments to be saved.
Special Revelations and Teachings
False religions often rely on extrabiblical revelations, visions, or teachings from their founders or leaders. Mormons follow the Book of Mormon which they believe contains expanded revelation and truth beyond the Bible. Jehovah’s Witnesses base some of their teachings on the writings of the Watchtower Society. Any supposed new revelation that contradicts the singular truth of the Bible is deceitful.
False Prophecies and Predictions
Beware religious teachers and groups that have made false prophecies or set dates for the end times, return of Christ, or other future events that did not happen. The Bible warns repeatedly about false prophets (Matthew 24:11). True prophecies can be tested against Scripture and must come true (Deuteronomy 18:22). False prophecies indicate deceit and should not be trusted.
Followers are Controlled and Manipulated
Abusive and controlling tactics are common in false religions as a way to exert influence over members. Beware excessive focus on charismatic leaders, lack of financial transparency, restriction of outside information, shunning of former members, claims the group is elite or special, and other unhealthy dynamics. True Biblical faith affirms free will, accountability, and value for all people.
- False religions distort essential Biblical doctrines like Jesus’ deity, the Trinity, and salvation by grace.
- False religions add their own writings and treat them equally or above the Bible.
- False religions teach salvation must be earned through works and obedience.
- False religions rely on extrabiblical teachings and revelations.
- False religions make failed predictions about future events.
- False religions use manipulative tactics to control members.
Examples of False Religions
Here we will analyze some of the most well-known false religions, cults, and world religions that claim to be Christian or seek to distort the Bible’s teachings:
Mormonism (Latter-day Saints)
- Founded by Joseph Smith in 1830 in New York. Based on The Book of Mormon which they believe contains lost revelations beyond the Bible.
- Teach God was once a man who became divine, deny doctrine of the Trinity, teach Jesus is Satan’s brother born through physical relations between God and Mary.
- Believe they can become gods in the afterlife, that Jesus visited America after his resurrection, and Jesus’ redemptive work was as much about his teaching as the cross.
- Have additional Mormon scriptures (Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price) that they claim are equal to the Bible.
- Salvation by faith plus works including temple rituals like baptism for the dead. Emphasis on missionary work to spread faith.
- Founded in 1870’s by Charles Taze Russell. Based on own translation of the Bible and teachings in Watchtower publications.
- Reject the Trinity, teach Jesus was created by God as the archangel Michael, deny Jesus rose bodily, and deny the reality of hell.
- Believe only 144,000 chosen faithful will go to heaven while others live on paradise Earth, no immortality of the soul.
- Jesus’ sacrifice is insufficient to provide forgiveness, salvation requires avoiding blood transfusions, abstaining from holidays, and active preaching.
- Movement within Pentecostalism that emerged in the early 1900s. Deny doctrine of the Trinity.
- Claim baptism must be done only in the name of Jesus rather than in the Trinitarian formula. Speak in tongues as evidence of salvation.
- Teach modalism – God manifested himself in different roles or aspects as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit but is not three distinct persons.
- Some teach sinless perfectionism – a believer can become entirely without sin in this life. Unbiblical and very legalistic.
- Overall, an aberrant theology that departs from orthodox understanding of God’s triune nature, the necessity of baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and salvation by grace through faith alone.
The Unification Church (Moonies)
- Founded by Sun Myung Moon in 1954, follower of the Divine Principle which supplements the Bible.
- Teach that Jesus was intended to restore man’s relationship with God but failed, and Moon is the new messiah on earth.
- Mass wedding ceremonies and emphasis on perfect families play a major role. Criticized for excessive influence and harmful practices.
- Mix of Christianity, Confucianism, occultism and veneration of Moon. Overall an unbiblical syncretistic religion centered around a false prophet and messiah figure.
- Founded by Mary Baker Eddy, author of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, used as an authority equal to the Bible
- Teach everything is spiritual, matter and evil do not exist. Sickness is an illusion that can be corrected with proper beliefs. Deny the physicality of sin, hell, and the material world.
- Jesus was not God but showed the “Christ principle” of divine sonship with God that each person can demonstrate. Salvation is “awakening from the dream” of existence to spiritual reality.
- Deny the Trinity, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and the need for salvation from sin. Rely on faith healing, oppose medical care. Distinctly unbiblical Gnostic-influenced metaphysical religion.
The Way International
- Founded by Victor Paul Wierwille, author of Jesus Christ is Not God and other books central to the group.
- Teach that Jesus was not divine, just a man empowered by God when the Word entered him at baptism. Deny Jesus’ resurrection, miracles, and other core doctrines.
- Followers believe they become part of the Godhead by receiving power through Wierwille’s teachings. Very anti-Trinitarian and unorthodox theology.
- Gnostic ideas that believers attain special mystic knowledge. Teach speaking in tongues, faith healing, prophecies to legitimize leaders. Mainly a personality cult around Wierwille.
- Mormonism relies on extra-biblical revelation and teaches God was once a man and people can become gods.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the Trinity and teach only 144,000 go to heaven while most live on paradise Earth.
- Oneness Pentecostals deny the Trinity and teach baptism must only be done in Jesus’ name.
- The Unification Church sees Moon as the messiah who will restore human relationship with God.
- Christian Science denies the material world as illusion and sees sickness as an illusion.
- The Way International denies Jesus’ deity and relies on mystical Gnostic teachings.
Avoiding False Religion Today
In an age of postmodernism and rising biblical illiteracy, it is more important than ever for Christians to understand Scripture and watch out for deception. Here are some tips for testing teachings and avoiding false religion for you and your family today:
Study the Bible
The best defense is a strong offense. Regularly studying the Word of God builds your discernment and enables you to test all teachings against the authoritative standard of Scriptures inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Know the essential doctrines and truths found in God’s word.
Rely on the Holy Spirit
As Christ’s followers we have the Holy Spirit living within us to guide us into truth (John 16:13). Submit yourself to the Spirit’s conviction when confronted with potentially false teachings and check your emotions against the witness of Scripture.
Talk to Your Pastor
Discuss any concerns over suspect teachings with your pastor and other mature believers in your church. There is safety in wise counsel and accountability from a Biblically-grounded community rather than falling for deception alone.
If confronted by a suspicious religious group, research their official doctrines and practices online or by contacting headquarters directly. Look for critiques and assessments by Christian apologetics ministries. Test what you find against Scripture.
It’s best not to get sucked into lengthy doctrinal debates with representatives of false religions. Politely state your faith in orthodox Biblical Christianity and avoid tangential arguments or proof-text disputes.
Pray for Discernment
Ask God daily for wisdom and discernment to see through spiritual deception and recognize groups that contradicts His word. Pray for encounters with false religions to become opportunities to share Biblical truth.
- Study the Bible thoroughly to recognize and refute false teachings
- Rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit within you to discern truth
- Discuss concerns with your Pastor and mature Christian community
- Research suspect groups online and test their claims against Scripture
- Avoid long debates; stick to Biblical orthodoxy.
- Pray continually for God’s discernment and wisdom.
False religions and cults are sadly a reality we must contend with as Christians until Christ returns. By recognizing their common characteristics, understanding major examples like Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and applying scriptural safeguards like relying on the Holy Spirit and God’s word, we can avoid deception. While false religions persist, we can confidently rest on the assurance of Jesus Christ as the one and only way to salvation.
Ultimately, our task is to demonstrate God’s truth and love. The most powerful thing you can do when confronted with false religion is to live out the Gospel each day, and lead others to the freedom found in Christ.