Carla’s parents told me she was attending church with her boyfriend. When they couldn’t identify the church ("It has the word International in it," they said), I became concerned.

Carla was dating a young man from The Way International, an organization started by a pastor named Victor Paul Wierwille. Leaders of the group often deny it is a church; it is a Bible study society, they claim. Although The Way International uses Christian terms, its theology is far removed from mainstream Christianity. For example, one of Wierwille’s books is, Jesus Christ is Not God.

When I talked with Carla and her parents, she was visibly shaken.

"Jim is such a great guy," she said. "Are you sure his church is kooky?"

I answered, "I didn’t say it’s kooky, Carla; I said it’s wrong. The doctrines it teaches will eventually undermine your personal relationship

with Jesus Christ."

"But, Pastor, you have to meet Jim," she said. "He really impresses me as a Christian."

Carla is typical of Christian teenagers who get caught up with people who are members of groups frequently referred to as cults. The first thing a Christian has to do is to settle on a definition of the word cult. Two definitions are currently in vogue. The first is the psychological or sociological definition. Psychologists normally think of groups headed by strong leaders who exercise some form of mind control over the members of the group. They think of Jim Jones, who led 900 people to a suicidal death in Guyana; or David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidians or Marshall Applewhite, who led his followers to a suicidal rendezvous with a nonexistent spacecraft which was supposed to be following in the wake of the comet Hale-bop.

But evangelical Christians use the term cult to denote a group or denomination with teachings substantially different from the gospel of the New Testament. Usually cults go wrong in one of four ways: First, they teach an unbiblical definition of God; second, they do not understand Jesus to be fully God and fully man; third, they misunderstand the sinful nature of man; and fourth, their requirements for salvation are legalistic.

Cults communicate their ideas in Christian-sounding terms, but preach what Paul calls "another gospel" (Galatians 1:6). Cults are especially dangerous to teen-agers because they present their case with such confidence and enthusiasm that teenagers are often not mature enough to recognize the theological dangers in doctrine.

Cults feed on young people. Some groups Mormons, for example actively proselytize teen-agers. Mormons build "seminaries" adjacent to

high schools and colleges and boast that their sports program is one of their best missions tools. Moonies used to practice what they call "love bombing": showering the potential convert with attention and positive reinforcement.

Cult leaders know that young people, when trying their wings, go through periods of estrangement from their parents. The Unification Church (Moonies) capitalized on this unsettledness to establish its foothold in the United States. Moonie missionaries recruited discontented students from campuses and off the streets near universities.

Carla was able to see the danger and terminated her relationship.

Parents, you need to know what to look for and how to communicate properly with your children about cults. Your Christian bookstore has books on specific groups, as well as books that deal with cults in general. Movies and videotapes can be helpful in communicating with teen-agers. Encourage your church to have a seminar on cults with an emphasis on communicating the dangers of false religion.

The key is education. A young man wrote to me after he read my book, Beyond Mormonism. He had recently served as a Mormon missionary. He had gone to a Christian bookstore to see what the anti-Mormons were up to. "I wanted to prepare myself," he wrote, "so I could better argue for Mormonism against born-again Christians." The questions I raised in my book challenged him so he began an independent study on Mormonism. The research led him to conclude that Mormon theology is contrary to the Bible.

If you suspect that your son or daughter is becoming involved with a member of a cult, act immediately. With thought, prayer and dialogue, you can prevent your teen from getting hooked by a cult.