Luke 21:8 And he said, Take heed that ye be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them.

How can marginal, destructive religious movements be distinguished from traditional or nurturing religious groups? What characteristics can identified in destructive religious groups? The following are common characteristics and should be viewed as "red flags" when they appear:

1) A living leader. This person often lives in luxury and usually claims to be a prophet or special messenger of God with a unique revelation. Members are devoted to this leader and are led to believe he or she is truly divine. (Sometimes the cult continues after the leader dies.)

2) Deceptive recruiting techniques. Recruiters are carefully trained to appeal to prospects' needs, interests or idealism. Fraudulent tactics are used -- often even deliberately veiling the name or practices of the group at first. They often masquerade as a self-improvement course or "nondenominational" Bible study.

3) Deceptive fund raising techniques. Members and the public assume contributions go to social causes. In fact, most of the money goes to the leader and cult expansion.

4) Militaristic, political, or economic goals. Religion is sometimes used as a shield to protect cult members and the public from realizing these hidden agendas of the leader.

5) Functions as a closed system. Members are not permitted to move freely within the system or to interact with society in meaningful ways. Guilt and fear are used to keep members in line with the group. They are led to believe something terrible will happen to them if they leave the group, that God is with their group (and often only with their group) and the rest of the world is hostile and/or satanic.

6) Unique system of values and language. Destructive cults often distort the meaning of words or create their own vocabulary and value system. This alienates members from the outside world and increases dependence on the group.

7) No Gray areas. The group has all the answers to the questions of life (actually the leader has all the answers and gives them through the group. Everything is either right or wrong black or white.

8) Distinct hierarchy within the group. Everyone has his or her place within the group. A small elite group (the inner circle) controls the welfare often including all facets of life - and the funds of the majority of the group.

9) A system of merits. Groups have their own "ladder theology" to climb in order to come closer to God. It is a "works- righteousness" orientation, a-dependency upon the law - and when they use or cite the Bible, very few passages come from the Gospels. Instead, there is heavy use and much distortion of passages from the Old Testament, the epistles, and Revelation. Little of the words of Jesus.

10) Alienation of individuals from family, friends and society. Members are encouraged (strongly) to break ties with family and friends who question the motives and practices of the group. The group becomes a replacement family and society.

11). Misuse of Scripture and Christian symbols. The Bible and Christian symbols are manipulated to support the teachings of the leader.

12).Increasing loss of freedom for a member. The cult member becomes more and more entangled, "guided" and controlled in all phases of life by the leader and group. It becomes almost like a chemical dependency, with the demands of the group/leader destroying any other relationships or personal growth, and destroying freedom in every significant sense. Author Unknown