(Evangelist Billy Graham speaks during a dedication service on the campus of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Charlotte, North Carolina May 31, 2007)
There are three important questions to consider when determining whether or not a church is actually a cult, according to the Rev. Billy Graham.
Recently a person asked the famed evangelist his opinion on the possibility that a given house of worship that they were invited to by a friend was, in fact, a cult.
"My neighbor keeps inviting me to her church (although they don't call it that), but someone told me it's a cult. How can I know?" inquired the person.
In response, Graham laid out three things to consider, first one being "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, what do they believe about Jesus? Is He alone the divine Son of God, sent from Heaven to save us from our sins? Or do they deny this, or claim we must work to save ourselves?" continued Graham.
"Third, what do they 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?"
Graham also commended the person for being careful about whether or not to attend the church and become involved in its congregation.
"I'm thankful you are cautious and don't want to become part of a group that will lead you away from what the Bible teaches," he said.
"While some cults openly deny the Christian faith, others mimic Christian practices and actually claim to believe the Bible — although they deny some of its most important teachings."
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."
The term is frequently used to describe various religious sects in a negative light and is almost always a pejorative descriptor for a group.
The debate over what constitutes a cult became a political one for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in 2012 when the organization removed an article from its website calling Mormonism a cult following a meeting Graham had with then Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
The article described The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly referred to as Mormonism, as a group that "teaches doctrines or beliefs that deviate from the biblical message of the Christian faith."
BGEA Chief of Staff Ken Barun said in an emailed statement to The Christian Post in October 2012 that the article was removed because of the politics surrounding Romney's faith.
"Our primary focus at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has always been promoting the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We removed the information from the website because we do not wish to participate in a theological debate about something that has become politicized during this campaign," said Barun.