Famed evangelist Billy Graham has identified the two kinds of people that are "especially vulnerable to a cult's appeal" and shared tips on helping friends or family members leave such an organization.
In an advice column published on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association website, a person asked the Baptist pastor: "I'm concerned because my sister has become deeply involved in a religious group that sounds to me like a cult. She's always been kind of a weak person, and I've heard that cults often target people who are easily influenced. Is this true?"
The 98-year-old Graham first explains that often, religious cults "deliberately seek out people who are easily influenced-either because they have no real convictions of their own, or because they aren't emotionally strong enough to resist pressure from others."
While that doesn't necessarily mean everyone who becomes involved in a cult is this way, some people are "especially vulnerable" to a cult's appeal.
"In fact, one characteristic of many cults is that they are led by a strong leader who dominates its members and demands their total loyalty," he says. "Leaders who seek to serve Christ, however, aren't this way, but are 'eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you' (1 Peter 5:2-3)."
How, then, can Christians help a friend or family member who has fallen into a cult?
Graham says to first examine your own spiritual life -- and then pray for one your loved one.
"Have you ever decisively committed your life to Jesus Christ, and are you seeking to follow Him and live for Him every day? Make sure of your commitment to Christ, and then ask God to make you an example to your sister of His love and peace and joy. She may not be open to what you tell her-but she can't argue with the reality of a life that's been changed by Christ's power," he advises.
"Then pray for your sister," he continues. "Pray that God will show her that she's on the wrong path, and will give her the courage to turn to Jesus. Pray too that God will give you a deeper love for her, and will give you opportunities to talk with her about Christ."
The word "cult" is defined by Merriam-Webster as "a small religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion and that has beliefs regarded by many people as extreme or dangerous."
Earlier, Graham warned that while some cults are blatantly anti-Christian, others are far more dangerous, as they closely resemble a church and claim to promote the teachings of Jesus Christ while actually denying some of the Bible's' most important teachings.
"Let me suggest three questions or guidelines you might find helpful in evaluating this group," he wrote. "First, what do they believe about the Bible? Is it alone the Word of God (as Christians affirm)-or do they add to it, or claim they alone have translated it correctly?"
Second, he urged people to ask, "What does this religious group believe about Jesus?"
"Is He alone the divine Son of God, sent from Heaven to save us from our sins?" Graham asked. "Or do they deny this, or claim we must work to save ourselves?"
Third, it's important to ask, "What do such groups believe about other Christians? Do they claim that they, and they alone, have the truth-or do they rejoice that God is also at work elsewhere?"