Daniel P. Barron

Marks of a Cult


This is a mirror of "Marks of a Cult" by Darwin Fish.

See also our report on David Breese's book, The Marks of a Cult.

These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.i

Because false Christians today worship God in vain and follow the doctrines of men, they foolishly set up standards that are not Biblical, and find fault where none is to be found.ii It is indeed true that any religious organization that consistently and unrepentantly teaches and/or practices against the word of God should be identified as spurious, a "cult" if you will. But, some of the ways in which the modern "Christian" world judges and marks a cult is actually "cultic" itself.iii

I. Defining A Cult

In their very definition of a cult, false Christians often set a standard that is unbiblical and man-made. Mike Oppenheimer of Let Us Reason Ministries exemplifies this common error. In his "Eight Marks Of Organized Heresy" he writes,


Note Oppenheimer's qualifier, "AS INTERPRETED BY ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY." This is his standard. He should leave it to "THE BIBLE'S TEACHING" period!v Instead he has placed his trust in "ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY." And how does he define "ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY?" He describes it as "HISTORIC CHRISTIANITY," which for the most part is Catholic.vi Catholicism has a great deal of false doctrine in it. Historical Protestantism is likewise not without serious error.vii

Paul warned against putting our faith in historical traditions in Colossians 2:8-9:

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.

Paul warns here of the "tradition of men." Oppenheimer's "SCRIPTURES AS INTERPRETED BY ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY" is exactly that, the tradition of men. The Scriptures are of no "private interpretation."viii The standard is not, "AS INTERPRETED BY." The standard is the Scriptures themselves as interpreted by no one. They say what they mean and they mean what they say.ix Every single man, woman, and child will be judged, not by "orthodox Christianity," or by any certain historical interpretation, but rather by the living word of God.x

In this same article, Oppenheimer describes what he considers to be true Christian churches with these words:



You can not find this concept/doctrine in the apostles writings,xii but you can find it in today's writings.

In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.xiii

This "core beliefs" doctrinexiv is the very sandy foundationxv of most, if not all, of false Christianity today.xvi

II. No Diversity

Common among false Christians is the white-washing of ecumenism. Some may not dare use the word, but they nonetheless propagate ecumenical thinking.xvii David Breese is one example of this. In his book, The Marks of a Cult, The Warning Signs of False Teachings, Breese compares cult-like behavior with supposedly "true Christianity."

The contrast of true Christianity is marked. The Bible teaches that there is one Savior, Jesus Christ, and one way of salvation, faith in His finished work on the cross. Within that wonderful circle of faith, however, the Scripture allows for a great diversity of views.xviii

Breese speaks in the context of doctrine, using Herbert Armstrong and Jehovah's Witnesses as examples.xix Thus, when Breese speaks of "a great diversity of views" he is speaking of doctrinal or "religious points of view"xx claiming cults do not have this diversity, but true Christianity does. In this, Breese lies against the truth.xxi

True Christianity does not allow for any diversity in doctrine.xxii True Christians live and speak thus:

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.xxiii

For all true Christians the war is over the truth of the word of God, all of it.xxiv They contendxxv for the faith, which includes Genesis 1:1 and continues all the way through Revelation 22:21. "Captivity to the obedience of Christ" means obedience to Scripture,xxvi for Christ is Scripture.xxvii The true Christian does not allow for a great diversity of views, but on the contrary he casts down every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.xxviii He casts down everything that is not in agreement with God's word, and hates it.xxix Truly, the sons of Abrahamxxx are intolerant of other beliefsxxxi

III. "The Only True Church Syndrome"

Another common error within the false Christian world is the blasphemy of "The Only True Church."xxxii Rick Miesel of Biblical Discernment Ministries follows this evil in his fourteen "Marks of a Cult." Miesel notes at the end of his article that he "adapted" his material from other sources. So, he admits he is not alone in this perspective. For number 6 he writes,

6. Exclusivity from/Denunciation of Other Groups: Each cult group, regardless of what other doctrines are taught, will all have this one common idea -- "The Only True Church Syndrome." The members of each specific organization have been taught that their church, organization, or community, is the only true group and that all other groups are false.xxxiii

Miesel makes this statement in the context of cults like Mormonism. Therefore, he writes not of a specific physically located group, since Mormons have churches worldwide. Miesel is speaking of a group or organization that is specific in its doctrinal beliefs,xxxiv and in their specific doctrinal beliefs, they see "all other groups"xxxv as false.

This being the case, Miesel's "mark" flies in the face of Jesus Christ and His church. Why? Because there is only one true church and "The Only True Church" does have specific doctrinal beliefs, and it is the entiretyxxxvi of the word of God.xxxvii Worldwide, anyone who is following Christ would have "The Only True Church Syndrome," because they would be a part of the only true church. For there is only one true church and it is Christ's church.xxxviii

Jesus said,

I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.xxxix

There is no other way, no other truth, no other life, no other bodyxl other than Jesus Christ. All who follow Christ follow "The Only Way"xli and are in "The Only True Church." There is one faithxlii and this faith is in the living word of God,xliii as Jesus said,

He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.xliv

If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words.xlv

Those who love Christ, believe and obey His word.xlvi Those who do not love Christ are cursedxlvii and do not obey His word. This is "The Only True Church Syndrome," and it is the truth, the only truth that leads to heaven.xlviii Any other way or group is false.xlix Yet, Miesel and others, like Al Dager, call this a mark or an "indicator" of a cult!

Al Dager, of Media Spotlight, in his article, "Are You In A Cult?", writes in his questionnaire for one of the "indicators of cultic activity" that they,

Teach that all other Christian churches or denominations are under Satan's control?l

If the church is not a part of "The Only True Church", they are under Satan's control!li To teach otherwise is ecumenical and not believing the Word of God.lii

In Miesel's faulty "mark" number 6 he also states,liii

The group's leaders will explain that it is impossible to serve God without being a member of the specific group.

This is exactly what the word of God explains,liv and any leader in the true church would explain this. Yet, according to Miesel, this would mark him as a cult leader!

Yet, the word of God clearly teaches that anyone who is not a part of the body of Christ, "The Only True Church," will certainly go to hell,lv as Revelation 21:8 says the unbelieving, their part will be "in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."

Miesel's mark #6 continues with these words:

Moreover, when the cult leader announces himself as the true "Messiah," all others are declared to be dishonest, deceitful, and deluded, and must be put down; alternative views are denounced as being satanic and corrupt.

The Lord Jesus Christ declared all others to be dishonest, deceitful, deluded, and put them down and denounced any alternative views as satanic and corrupt. Jesus said to the Jews, "You are of your father the devil,"lvi because they did not believe His teaching.lvii As stated above,lviii Jesus drew the line between the pure and the corrupt simply on whether someone follows His words, or instead, has alternative views. Moreover, Jesus put down and declared all others to be dishonest, deceitful, and deluded, saying,

All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers.lix

Miesel's mark #6 continues with,

Persecution is welcomed, and even glorified in, as "evidence" that they are being persecuted for righteousness sake.

This is exactly the perspective of those who are truly saved and know their Bible. Because Scripture tells all those who are in "The Only True Church" that the persecution they receive from their adversaries is "proof" of their enemies lost conditionlx and, at the same time, it proves that they themselves are saved.lxi It is evidence that they are being persecuted for righteousness sake. Jesus said,

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.lxii

It is a Biblical concept to welcome persecution,lxiii glorify in it,lxiv and see it as evidence that you are being persecuted for righteousness sake.lxv It is not a mark of a cult.lxvi But, for those who blaspheme the way of truth,lxvii it is.lxviii

Miesel's folly continues:

Thus, if a member decides to leave the group, they have been told that they are not simply leaving an organization, but rather they are leaving God and His only true organization. Hence, for a member of a cult who has been in a group for any length of time, the action of leaving the group is much more difficult than what most Christians understand. To leave the group is, in the minds of the cult member, tantamount to leaving God.

This "leaving," of course, is not speaking of simply moving to another city or state. As already noted, Miesel speaks in the context of Mormonism as an example of a cult. Thus, this "leaving" has to do with "leaving" or departing from the particular faith, that is, the particular theological belief of the group. If the grouplxix is in the truth,lxx then this is tantamount to leaving the Truth.lxxi This is tantamount to leaving God.

To leave "The Only True Church," the body of Christ, is to leave God. "For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones."lxxii You leave the members of His body, you leave His body and thus you leave Him.lxxiii Therefore, Miesel marks the way of truthlxxiv as the way of evil.lxxv

IV. "The Only Ones Right"

John Morehead, editor of The Watchman Expositor, in his article "What is a cult?" gives one characterization for a cult stating,

3. Exclusivistic: only the group has "the truth," . . .lxxvi

Morehead writes in the context of cults like Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Science and others. The "group" is a theological group not specific in locale. Thus, Morehead's "characteristic" blasphemes the way of truth,lxxvii because this is the way of truth. Those who follow Christ are the only group that has the truth, because they follow the Truth.lxxviii All who follow Christ, no matter where they are located, speak thus:

We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.lxxix

This very emphatically describes the only group of people who have the truth. If you do not "hear"lxxx true Christians as they speak the truth of the word of God, the spirit of error is upon you,lxxxi and you do not have the truth, as Jesus said to the Jews,

He who is of God hears God's words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.lxxxii

On the "Recovering Jehovah's Witness" web site entitled "Cult Awareness & Information Centre" there is an article entitled, "Identifying A Cult." One identifying mark of a cult is,

The group will have an ELITIST view of itself in relation to others, and a UNIQUE CAUSE. e.i. THEY ARE THE ONLY ONES RIGHT - everyone else is wrong. THEY ARE THE ONLY ONES DOING GOD'S WILL - everyone else is in apostasy.lxxxiii

People who believe the Bible do not believe such is an identifying mark of a cult. Instead, they believe exactly what this site marks as cultic. Followers of Christ have an "ELITIST" view of themselves in relation to others, as the Psalmist wrote,

You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies; for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep Your precepts.lxxxiv

Indeed, true Christians know that their goodness is nothing apart from Him,lxxxv but they also know they have a unique cause, because they follow the unique Onelxxxvi and are strangers on the earth.lxxxvii True Christians, as they speak the word of God, "ARE THE ONLY ONES RIGHT - everyone else is wrong."lxxxviii "Everyone else" is caught in the snare of the devil.lxxxix True Christians are "THE ONLY ONES DOING GOD'S WILL,"xc because the only ones who go to heaven are those who do God's will, as Jesus said:

Not everyone who says to Me "Lord, Lord," shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.xci

Moreover, true Christians believe everyone else is "in apostasy."xcii 2 Timothy 3:15 calls the church of God, "the pillar and ground of the truth." Being saved is coming to the knowledge of the truth,xciii and escaping the snare of the devil.xciv

V. "Us against the world" attitude

Followers of Jesus Christ are following the only way, the only truth, and the only lifexcv and say,

We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.xcvi

But those under the sway of the wicked one, like the Baptist minister Stephen Shoemaker, say,

Cult religion does not see the world as the good creation of God. The world is under the spell of the devil. It is unalterably corrupt. The world will always be against the true and righteous cult. Such a view aids and abets paranoid thinking. The cult sees itself as children of light living in the midst of children of darkness (everybody else).xcvii

Indeed, the physical world is certainly the good creation of God, but it is not cultic to believe the world is under the spell of the devil. Actually, this is exactly what Scripture teaches.xcviii Revelation 12:9 says that Satan "deceives the whole world," and 2 Corinthians 4:4 says "the god of this age" has blinded the minds of the unbelieving. The world is certainly under the "spell" of the devil, and those who believe God's word believe this.

They also believe it is "unalterably corrupt."xcix "The world will always be against the true and righteous" people of God.c Children of light do indeed live "in the midst of children of darkness (everybody else)."ci

That's why children of darkness, like Larry Ingram, who has an "Online Guide to the Major Cults," blasphemecii children of light by saying things like an,

"Us against the world" attitudeciii

is a cultic characteristic. Cults may very well have this perspective, but those who are in Christ rightly have this attitude.civ The world hates Christ and it hates those who follow Him, as Jesus said,

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.cv

John Morehead rebuffs such truth and writes for a "cultic characteristic,"

Oppositional: values, beliefs or practices at variance with the dominant culture or tradition.cvi

Morehead writes as cultic what God commands every believer to live.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.cvii

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.cviii

Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.cix

A true believer would not be at odds with allcx that is valued, believed, or practiced in the world.cxi But, he would certainly be described as Morehead depicts one caught in a cult, because much that is in the dominant culture is in opposition to the values, beliefs, and practices of godliness.cxii

VI. Zeal

Reachout Trust, a "Christian" cult outreach ministry in England, writes as their second mark of a cult,cxiii

The group will place a tremendous emphasis on "doing good works". Members of the group may appear obsessed with doing whatever the group tells them to do, for instance always being at meetings.cxiv

Submitting to one another in the fear of God,cxv fervently loving each other,cxvi not forsaking the assembly, but rather zealously stirring up love and good deeds more and more,cxvii may all appear to the false Christian as an obsession. Scripture calls it wisdom.cxviii

Reachout Trust blasphemes the way of truth,cxix because the way of truth does "place a tremendous emphasis on 'doing good works.'"cxx Jesus said,

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.cxxi

Believers have been created for good works.cxxii Jesus died,

gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.cxxiii

Zeal for the Lord places a tremendous emphasis on doing good works, and the awesome salvation of God and His saving grace are to be affirmed constantly,cxxiv that,

those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men.cxxv

Some think otherwise, those who walk in the wisdom of this age and according to the prince of the power of the air,cxxvi as they mark as cultic that which is good.cxxvii

VII. Leadership

The Lutheran site, thelutheran.org, gives "9 characteristics of cults or destructive religious groups." The ninth characteristic this Lutheran site gives for a characteristic of a cult is,

A cult's ultimate goal is to remake members in the image of its leader.cxxviii

That's one of God's ultimate goals:

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.cxxix

Christ is our leader and we "are being transformed into the same image."cxxx

Moreover, Hebrews 13:7 says,

Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow.

Why should we follow their faith? Because they are imitating Christ, as Paul wrote,

Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.cxxxi

It is not a cultic characteristic to have as an ultimate goal to remake members in the image of its leader. This is the goal and reality of those who follow Christ,cxxxii and any godly leader could say and should be able to say as Paul, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ."

VIII. Conclusion

If you walk in truth, you will be blasphemed, because you walk in the way that is blasphemed.cxxxiii You'll be seen as a deceiver, yet you'll be true.cxxxiv You will be a part of that sect that "is spoken against everywhere."cxxxv You will be following Jesus Christ who heads up THE ONLY WAY,cxxxvi and for some, this marks a cult; thus they unwittinglycxxxvii mark the Lord Jesus Christ as a cult leader. Truly, the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelieving,

lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.cxxxviii

a true church, P. O. Box 130, Moodys, OK 74444

1-800-HOW-TRUE; www.atruechurch.info

  1. Matthew 15:8-9

  2. see below

  3. i.e. against the word of God

  4. www.letusreason.org/Cults1.htm, hard copy on file, as it is for all references in this report

  5. Colossians 2:8-10; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 John 9

  6. see our report on the early church fathers

  7. e.g. Spurgeon

  8. 2 Peter 1:20

  9. John 10:34-36; 2 Peter 1:20

  10. John 12:48; Hebrews 4:12-13

  11. bold added

  12. Proverbs 30:5-6

  13. Hank Hanegraaff, Christianity In Crisis, copyright 1993, p. 47

  14. i.e. essentials

  15. Matthew 7:24-27

  16. e.g. see MacArthur's Damning Doctrine, under III. Fundamentals

  17. which, by the way, leads to hell, 2 Thessalonians 2:10

  18. p. 149, italics added

  19. p. 150-151

  20. p. 151

  21. John 14:6

  22. Matthew 4:4; 7:21, 24-27; John 8:47; Hebrews 4:12-13; 2 John 9; 1 John 4:6; Revelation 22:14-15

  23. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; see also 1 Timothy 1:3; 6:3-5

  24. Matthew 4:4; 2 Timothy 4:7

  25. Jude 3

  26. Hebrews 4:12-13

  27. John 1:1; Galatians 3:8; Revelation 19:13

  28. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

  29. Psalm 119:104, 120, 128, 163

  30. Galatians 3:7

  31. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; 1 Timothy 1:3; 6:3-5.

    For more detail see our articles Unity of the Saints and You Think You're Saved, But You're Not!

  32. 2 Peter 2:2

  33. www.rapidnet.com/~jbeard/bdm/Cults/marksof.htm

  34. as Mormons are

  35. i.e. all who do not believe like them

  36. Psalm 119:160

  37. Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21

  38. Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:4-6

  39. John 14:6

  40. i.e. church, 1 Corinthians 10:17; 12:12-13, 27; Ephesians 1:22-23; 2:16; 3:6; 4:4; 5:30; Colossians 3:15

  41. Acts 4:12

  42. Ephesians 4:5

  43. John 1:1, 14; 3:16, 36; Hebrews 4:12-13; Revelation 19:13

  44. John 14:21

  45. John 14:23-24

  46. i.e. the Bible

  47. Psalm 119:21; 1 Corinthians 16:22

  48. Matthew 7:13-14, 24-27; John 3:16

  49. Isaiah 8:20; Acts 4:12

  50. "Are You In A Cult?" Media Spotlight, P. O. Box 290, Redmond, WA 98073

  51. 1 John 4:5-6; 5:18-19

  52. Acts 4:12; Ephesians 4:4-5; 1 John 4:6; etc.

  53. immediately after the above quote

  54. John 15:5

  55. Acts 4:12

  56. John 8:44

  57. John 8:45-47

  58. John 14:21, 23-24

  59. John 10:8

  60. "perdition"

  61. Philippians 1:28

  62. Matthew 5:10-12; see also Luke 6:22-23

  63. Philippians 3:10

  64. Luke 6:23

  65. Philippians 1:27-28

  66. i.e. an organization that is against the word of God

  67. 2 Peter 2

  68. as evidenced here

  69. i.e. church

  70. John 14:6

  71. John 14:6

  72. Ephesians 5:30

  73. 1 John 2:18-19

  74. 2 Peter 2:2

  75. Isaiah 5:20

  76. www.doubters.net/cult.htm

  77. 2 Peter 2:2

  78. John 14:6

  79. 1 John 4:6

  80. i.e. agree with, e.g. 2 Timothy 2:24-26

  81. 1 John 4:6; Ephesians 2:2

  82. John 8:47

  83. www.caic.org.au/general/idencult.htm, emphasis in original

  84. Psalm 119:98-100; see also Proverbs 16:32; 19:1; 28:6; Ecclesiastes 4:13; 7:8

  85. Psalm 16:2

  86. Job 23:13

  87. Psalm 39:12; 119:19; Hebrews 11:13

  88. 1 John 4:6

  89. 2 Timothy 2:24-26; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 1 John 5:19; Revelation 12:9

  90. Matthew 7:21

  91. Matthew 7:21; see also John 6:29, 40

  92. 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 3:1-5; 4:3; 2 Peter 2:2; 1 John 4:6

  93. 1 Timothy 2:4

  94. Acts 26:18; 2 Timothy 2:26

  95. John 14:6

  96. 1 John 5:19

  97. www.namb.net/helplink/TH-CULT.asp

  98. 1 John 5:19

  99. Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Ecclesiastes 1:15; 7:13; Romans 8:20-21

  100. Psalm 112:10; Proverbs 29:27; John 15:18-19; 1 John 3:13

  101. Acts 26:18; Colossians 1:13

  102. 2 Peter 2:2

  103. www.serve.com/larryi/charact.htm, web site no longer available, hard copy on file

  104. Proverbs 29:27

  105. John 15:18-19; see also 1 John 3:13

  106. www.doubters.net/cult.htm

  107. Romans 12:2

  108. 1 John 2:15

  109. Colossians 3:2

  110. e.g. work, 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

  111. the dominant culture

  112. Romans 1:18-32; 2 Timothy 3:1-5; 1 John 2:15-17

  113. in the context of "any given religious organisation"

  114. www.reachouttrust.org/regulars/articles/cult/winbck.htm, web link no longer available, hard copy on file

  115. Ephesians 5:21

  116. 1 Peter 1:22

  117. Hebrews 10:24-25

  118. Job 28:28; Ephesians 5:15-17

  119. 2 Peter 2:2

  120. Acts 9:36; 1 Timothy 2:10; 5:10; 6:18; Titus 2:7; 3:14; 1 Peter 2:12

  121. Matthew 5:16

  122. Ephesians 2:10

  123. Titus 2:14

  124. Titus 3:4-7

  125. Titus 3:8

  126. 1 Corinthians 3:19; Ephesians 2:2

  127. For more on works, see "Salvation Is Not By Works."

  128. www.thelutheran.org/9608/page42a.html

  129. Romans 8:29

  130. 2 Corinthians 3:18

  131. 1 Corinthians 11:1; see also Galatians 2:20

  132. Colossians 3:9-10

  133. 2 Peter 2:2

  134. 2 Corinthians 6:8

  135. Acts 28:22

  136. John 14:6; Acts 4:12

  137. 2 Timothy 3:13

  138. 2 Corinthians 4:4; Revelation 12:9

9 Responses

  1. [...] We're not a cult. A group that believes the Bible will appear to be a "cult" in the eyes of the world. [...]

  2. [...] That is to say, we fit the definition proposed by false churches as being a cult. We do not actually consider our church to be a cult. [...]

  3. [...] What is cult behavior? "Someone telling you what to do, how to behave and think is the top of that list." Doesn't the Bible tell you what to do, how to behave, and how to think? [...]

  4. [...] "It's a real danger and tends to lead to cult like belief structures that all hinge on a thought that is derived from mixed statements pulled from context and applied as bold statements of fact." [...]

  5. [...] "This might be the most low energy cult that I have ever had the pleasure I was speaking to." We aren't a cult, but that accusation was made against believers in Scripture. [...]

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