Is it a Cult?

By Mark Swarbrick

How can you tell that a ministry is a cult? Of course the main way is to determine whether or not they deny the foundational doctrines of Christianity. This is not always a simple task since cults tend to obfuscate their true teachings. Below I delineate four other warning signs that can be used to discern the cultic nature of a group. They are:

  1. Do they have one central founder or leader that everyone looks up to as a prophet of God? Jesus opposed such emphasis upon man when he said, “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.” (M’t 23:8-10)
  2. Who do they exalt? Who do they lift up the most; themselves, or Jesus Christ? The Apostle Paul warned against this in 1 Corinthians Chapter 1, where he says, one of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I of Apollos,’ and ‘I of Cephas’…Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1Co 1:12-13)
  3. Do they advocate the scripture alone as the ultimate authority for faith and practice, or are they what I call, a Bible-Plus group. An outfit that says, “We believe the Bible, but you need this too.” In other words, to really have the full revelation of God, they insist that you must have their particular writings or teachings. You see this with Jehovah’s Witnesses, who say you must have their Watchtower publications to understand the Bible. Mormons say they believe the Bible, but you have to have the Book of Mormon also. The cult of Christian Science says you must have Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Seventh Day Adventists claim you need Ellen White’s inspired writings. Catholics say you must add their church traditions to Holy Scripture. The reformers had it right with Sola Scripta, a Latin phrase meaning Scripture Alone, which is the Protestant watchword declaring the Christian doctrine that the Bible is the supreme authority in all matters of doctrine and practice. Every doctrine of Christianity is in the Bible and that is all you need. Everything else must flow from that – all preaching, all teaching, all writings – indeed everything within Christianity – must subject itself to the authority of Scripture and draw its truth from there.
  4. Do they condemn all other ministries or churches as apostate? Every one of the groups above do that as well. (The Catholics have equivocated on that in modern times and whether or not the Catholic Church of today is or is not a cult must be saved for another article.)

Jimmy Swaggart Ministries aka Sonlife Broadcasting Network (SBN) fails every one of these four tests. Point 1: Jimmy Swaggart, the founder of the ministry, is revered as a most anointed holy prophet of God. Point 2: They constantly uplift themselves to the point of detracting from the Lord Jesus Christ. Point 3: they have added themselves to the list of Bible-Plus cults, teaching that you need their material plus the Bible and without their material you simply will not get the fullness of the Gospel. Point 4: They continually condemn all other churches except those affiliated with their ministry.

Want the proof? Here is a clip of Jimmy Swaggart speaking on May 11th, 2015. In this short 3-minute clip you will see clear evidence of points 2 & 3; They exalt their own ministry and claim that one of the most fundamental teachings of Christianity cannot be found anywhere, except in their ministry. You won’t get it from a Christian book, a preacher, or even from the Bible; you can only get it from them. That is what they say and here is the proof.

Now that you’ve seen the clip, let’s review. Whenever Jimmy is going to make an outrageously untrue or unscriptural claim, he invariably struggles to get it out, as though he is fighting his own conscience, kicking against the goads; he will stutter, admit he has trouble saying it or is hesitant to say it, and decry that it may make people mad, but then he goes on anyway and says it.

Once he takes the leap, he throws himself into it passionately, and about this I must make an important point: He who is himself deceived is the most dangerous and convincing of all deceivers. The self-deceived truly believes his own lies; thus he is enabled to eloquently and passionately present his material in such a self-assured manner that the subjects capacity for critical analysis is overwhelmed by the emotion and charisma of the deceiver. The thought, “If he believes it so strongly, surely it is so” short-circuits his thinking, not realizing that “vehemence equals truth,” is a faulty equation.

Swaggart’s statements in this clip are so outlandish I think it good to review in print what he said. Here is the transcript of his rambling statement:

“Other than the people that this ministry has touched, other than those who have tuned into this program or Frances’ program or Donnie’s or whatever the case, Gabe, whatever the case might be, other than that, not a single solitary believer around the world, to my knowledge, has heard a message on the sin nature.

And of course there is still a lot more of course there is to be said, but this is the single most important material for the believer to know and understand. And you consider that, and consider that there isn’t anyone out there, like I said to my knowledge, other than those who have tuned in this ministry, who even know what you’re talking about.

They’ve never heard a message on the sin nature, They’ve never had their pastor to teach on it and its, I know coming up in church, and the pastor that was the pastor of our church was a godly brother, he loved the Lord very much, but at every, I mentioned this the other day, whenever Frances and I went into evangelistic work, every city that we went into, we went into scores, over twenty years of time, I would go to the used book store and I would look for books by some of the great Bible scholars of the past and great preachers of the past and I bought hundreds and hundreds through the years, and read all of them, I never read one single message – by some of the greatest Baptist preachers who ever lived, Methodists who ever lived, Pentecostal, etcetera, etcetera – never read one message, not one single time, on this all important subject.”

Then the other minister chimes in…

“I’m sorry, can I make this statement? You said that earlier…you doubt that as a church, anywhere out there, outside of the influence of SBN, that this message of the sin nature has been preached. I too have never heard of any message regarding the sin nature until this revelation was given to you.”

To summarize, Jimmy says that his special revelation on the sin nature, what he also calls the Message of the Cross, is “ the single most important material for the believer to know and understand.” and that no other Christian knows it or has ever known it without it first coming through Jimmy Swaggart. No book, no theologian, no pastor, nobody anywhere knows this. Jimmy claims that he never ever heard teaching on the sin nature, not even from his own pastor. How incredible that he spent his life in church, yet never heard this basic Christian teaching!

It begs the question, if this is the most important doctrine of Christianity, how is it that none of the great theologians of Church history know about it? If it is the single most important doctrine of the faith, would not every Bible-reading Christian know it from the Word of God? Apparently not, according to Jimmy Swaggart. Why? Because Jimmy Swaggart Ministries herein clearly teaches that the Bible alone is not enough. You need Jimmy’s special revelation to go with it. And that is a clear mark of cultism.

As is typical, he leaves himself an out of “to my knowledge,” but that does not excuse the incredulity and audacity of his foolish claim. I think every Christian realizes, if he stops to think about it, that the teaching of the sin nature is everywhere taught in Christendom. Its in the Bible: Adam sinned, we inherited a sinful nature, but when we are saved and born again, we have a Christ nature that wars against the sin nature (also called the flesh in Scripture) and helps us win victories, as we “fight the good fight” and endeavor to persevere and “walk after the Spirit and not after the flesh.” Romans Chapters 7 & 8 are all about this.

Despite Swaggart’s claim that he found no teaching on the sin nature in “hundreds and hundreds” of Christian books, I did a quick search of the ubiquitous Matthew Henry commentary and found: “Because all had from him (Adam) the same sinful nature…”[1] A commentary that is on the shelf of probably every pastor in the country has teaching on the sin nature. How did he not see it?

And in my Bible, the heading for Roman 7:14 in the NASB is, “The Conflict of the Two Natures.”

The Encyclopedia Wikipedia under the subject Original Sin says:

Original Sin…is the Christian doctrine of humanity’s state of sin resulting from the fall of man, stemming from Adam’s rebellion in Eden. This condition has been…referred to as a ‘sin nature…'”

I have been taught about the sin nature constantly, having heard it in many sermons and Sunday School classes. Even the book that Swaggart loves to hate, The Purpose Driven Life, has teaching on the sin nature, saying “The Bible says that selfish thinking is the source of sinful behavior: ‘Those who live following their sinful selves think only about things that their sinful selves want.'” [2]

The evidence has been heard and the verdict is in: Jimmy Swaggart Ministries propagates the lie that they, and they alone, have the “single most important material for the believer to know and understand.” In so doing they exalt themselves and their ministry as the only way to know the fundamental truth of the Gospel. Such self-exaltation can only happen at the expense of demoting the position which belongs only to Christ. Knowing Jesus Christ is the single most important subject of Christendom, not Jimmy’s supposed revelation. Jimmy Swaggart Ministries is promoting itself far more than Jesus and exaltation of a ministry above Jesus is a form of idolatry.

Jimmy Swaggart Ministries fails all four tests for cultism: One, they lift up Jimmy Swaggart as their prophet and pope. Two, They lift up Jimmy more than Jesus. Everything revolves around him and his revelation. Three, they are a Bible-Plus group – you need the Bible PLUS Jimmy’s revelation – just like all other cults. and four, they condemn all other ministries or churches as apostate and of the devil.[3]

This is not to say that those who attend Jimmy Swaggart’s church or follow him in any way are necessarily not saved. It is to say that his ministry has strong cultic tendencies and is not recommended by many cult-watch groups. The teaching of JSM is dangerous. It can hinder a Christian’s maturity and growth and may lead them out of their local church and into the nefarious and deceptive maze of cultism.

[1] Matthew Henry Commentary on 1Co 15:20.

[2] Warren, Rick (2012-10-23). The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? (pp. 233-234). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

[3] See subheading Animosity Toward the Church in article The Swaggart Bible, found here: http://www.christiananswerman.com/the-dangers-of-the-swaggart-bible/

15 Comments

  1. Once again, an excellent analysis! In this same episode, Jimmy reviews the specific details of receiving his “revelation.” He makes some interesting claims concerning the Holy Spirit. According to Jimmy, he was given his “message of the cross” while in his office one morning reading Romans 8. He claims the Lord said “the answer for which you seek is found in the cross,” and again, “the answer for which you seek is found ONLY in the cross.” He then claims that while on the radio, he made the following statement that he states he “doesn’t know where it came from:” “The Holy Spirit only works within the parameters of the finished work of the cross.” Swaggart relates that the Holy Spirit then asked him if he remembered something that the Lord had told him back in 1988 (Supposedly, the Lord said that He would reveal some truths about the Holy Spirit at some time in the future). Swaggart claims the Lord said, “I just gave you that which I told you in 1988!”

    Now, it’s inexplicable why the Lord wouldn’t have given him these “truths” in 1988, when he was deeply entrenched in sexual immorality! Why would God withhold something from Jimmy that would have freed him from his sexual sin, and prevented the entire scandal and damage to the gospel?? Does that sound like something the Lord would do to a dearly loved child of God?

    He goes on in that episode of the video to make some unbelievable claims about the Holy Spirit. He says that the Holy Spirit “was around” in the Old Testament times, but He was very limited in what He could do! Until Jesus died on the cross, the Holy Spirit was limited in what He can do, because the Holy Spirit ONLY WORKS within the “parameters” of the finished work of Christ on the cross! Swaggart never explains exactly what he means by “the parameters of the cross!” However, he’s essentially claiming that the Holy Spirit is somehow NOT an equal member of the Holy Trinity! And, that statement appears to place more importance on an action, or an event, than in the Person of Jesus Christ! And I see nothing in scripture that supports these statements about the Holy Spirit! This appears to be random, meaningless speculation!

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

    Reply

    1. Thanks Thurza for the encouragement and thanks for your excellent comment! You make some very interesting points. Yes, it sounds like he thinks the Holy Spirit is not co-equal in the Trinity. Also your perception about God waiting to give him further revelatoin is interesting. Swaggart makes God sound like some sort of cruel trickster! You also said, “that statement appears to place more importance on an action, or an event, than in the person of Jesus Christ!” That is right-on! That is exactly what the Swaggarts do.

      Pastor Mark

      Reply

  2. Mark ,

    I listen to Swaggart talk about the sin nature message that Loren Larson preached. That was possibly this past Mother’s Day evening.
    What I heard Swaggart say is that he Did not KNOW OF anyone that preaches /teaches the sin nature message as they do. It was Carl Brown that made the statement of sbn teaching the MOTC specifically and soley.
    I have been a member of two large Southern Baptist Churches in 24 yrs of being saved and I will have to say for the MOST part I will have to agree with the statement of Swaggart . I may have heard the pastor say it’s like two dogs a black one and a white one …The one you feed the most is the one that will win the fight.
    Speaking of the saved child of God living a life of victory over sin.
    The pastors never did get real technical on the sin nature.
    I am not attempting to argue with you. However, I feel that you must be a Baptist seeing the way you “nit pick” Jimmy Swaggart. That was a little joke.
    Hope you have a sense of humor.

    Reply

    1. To Doris –
      I wold encourage you to watch the clip again! As Pastor Mark pointed out in his comments, Swaggart threw in “that I know of” as an out to his very definitive, and all-encompassing assertion! I have been a Christian for 50+years, and learned of the sin nature from Sunday School forward! Pastor Mark cited several examples where Swaggart himself should have been aware of! Do a simple Google search of “sin nature!” There are hundreds, possibly thousands of references!

      I have to disagree with you on your “nit-picking” comment. I encourage you to spend some time on this website and read these articles. I think you will begin to see how seemingly small twists of truth, shifts of emphasis, etc. can result in large departures from the truth of God’s Word!

      Reply

  3. Excellent observations. A cult also plasters pictures of their founder all over their periodicals? Their Evangelist magazine will have multiple photos scattered throughout every article with Js or Frances or DS. It’s idolatry and ridiculously cultic. Just count the photographs…its subliminal psychology. People are coming out from under his hellish doctrine every day. For those wondering why the Holy Spirit is grieved within you when you watch the telecast, pray for truth. Look to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is alone the object of our Faith!

    Reply

    1. Hi Berean and thank you for your feedback. Yes, the pictures are indicative of an unhealthy emphasis upon the Swaggart’s themselves, their ministry and their peculiar doctrines which they have invented. Ten of thousands of people have detected the doctrinal error and bad spirit surrounding the Swaggart ministries. Let us pray that those who have been deluded will see the light.

      Reply

  4. I guess when you are full of yourself, and focused on yourself, you are blind to anything else. Discussions on the sin nature, while not exactly widespread today, can be found in many of the writings of the 20th century. T. Austin Sparks, Oswald Chambers, and many others. Maybe Swaggart ought to expand his library.

    Reply

  5. I have been saved 58 years..I knew what the sin nature was and heard it preached many times. I can’t understand how JS would preach so powerful and pray for people to recieve the Holy Spirit and then go out and visit a postitute . He says that you can’t do anything to overcome the sin nature..While I agree faith in the finished work of Christ…but I think when he had the urge to watch porn or go looking for some “fun” he could turn the TV off and stay in his room! He needed someone to be accounted to…..but I know “he didn’t need anyone to tell him anything” …sorry about the rant…..no I’m not :(

    Reply

  6. I have always said that all the swaggarts is about. They do not preach and when they do or try its what they have done. when it’s all said and done money is the main factor.

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  7. i thought I was the only one who thought it was a cult, I have family members who believe everything they and their ministry says & those who are affiliated with them also ! its not that hard to discern who they are and what they “believe”. they think they are the only right ones and everyone else around them is wrong! if we are Christians why don’t we act and love one another and show love instead of all the hatred they “preach”

    Reply

    1. Hi Anom, Thanks for your comment. It certainly is amazing how those caught up in this cult will refuse to look at any of the evidence and believe all that the Swaggarts say. They eagerly accept as gospel all the harsh mean critical attacks they make upon other ministries, but if anyone dares to say anything about Swaggart, why then you are in sin and speaking against God’s holy apostle! Glad you see the truth brother. Once someone is taken in by the Swaggarts it is pretty hard to rescue them from that cult.

      Reply

  8. Hello I have a real problem my mom and stepdad are true swaggart believers I try to not let it divide us but they are trying to convert my family to there ways I keep telling them I don’t believe their way and we should agree to disagree but me and my mom haven’t talked in 8 months and today she sent my husband and me an expository bible by jimmy swaggart in the mail. I don’t know how to fix my relationship with my mom since she has started her jimmy swaggart movement I will call it please I need advice

    Reply

    1. Hi Melissa, My heart goes out to you. All across America people are abandoning their families and their churches in order to join Swaggart’s Internet Church on TV or to join a Swaggart satellite church and the damage to the body of Christ is astounding.

      The devastation that the Swaggart cult reaps upon families is widespread. I hear from people continually that Swaggartism has wrecked their family relationships. Its heartbreaking. It is further evidence that there is something deeply wrong and sinful with the Swaggart movement. It seems that what happens is that the prideful denigrating arrogance that is exhibited by the Swaggarts is picked up by their followers and then they display the same narrow-minded intolerance towards their family members. It’s really a sad thing. It’s the opposite of the loving patient kindhearted attitude that Jesus wants us to have.

      I really wish there was something I could say or some advice I could give that would help you to restore your family relationships. Unfortunately, once a person gets caught up in a cult it is very hard to get them to see the light. Swaggartism is especially difficult because it has so much of the gospel mixed up with the poisonous false teaching that it’s hard for people to sort it out.

      There are two things you can do: One, pray for them that the blinders will fall from their eyes. Secondly, since they are sending you Swaggart material, give them some material to read as well. I suggest you print out some of the articles from this website and give them to her. It will make her mad of course, but as long as they are in Swaggartism they are going to be mad and antagonistic anyway. You might also email them a link to my video on Swaggartism, The Swaggart Seduction. It is here: http://www.christiananswerman.com/christian-answer-man-videos/

      My prayers are with you Melissa.

      …Pastor Mark

      Reply

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