Today, our church faces the allegation of being a cult. There have been articles in the media, on TV networks in the US and some websites on the internet, published by media critics for making a fast buck or by fallen away Christians who've grown bitter and intend to persecute the church.
Let us first see the definition of a cult. The Chambers Dictionary defines a cult as thus :
"A system of religious belief; a sect; an unorthodox or false religion; a great, often excessive admiration for a person or idea; usually applied to objects associated with pagan worship;"
Clearly, the word cult is a prejudicial label in today's society. Listen to how three noted authorities describe the word:
1. "All the major religions started out as cults," said Dean Kelly of the National Council of Churches.
2. "Cult has become a buzz word," said David Bromley, a sociologist at Virginia Commonwealth University. "What disturbs me is any group that is unorthodox in any way starts to run into cultic or cult-like labels."
3. Robert Ellwood, professor of new religious movements at the University of Southern California said, "Cult always is a term people use when they want to stigmatize another in a pejorative way... It inclines you to see what you already expect to be there...But over the centuries numerous religious movements first viewed as cults survived and are no longer perceived as extremist. Cult has proven to be a very subjective word."
The deviation from the Truth of the Bible has resulted in today's thousands of groups in Christianity.
2 Timothy 4:3
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
(…time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine…. . gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear").
Some of these groups interpret the Bible in such irrational ways that they are branded as cults by various societies and cultures, mainly for the protection of unaware ordinary citizens. One such example is a cult which uses the verse in Luke 10:19 and psalm 91:13 and they believe that they should walk over snakes to prove their faith. As a result many have lost their lives and their souls too.
I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.
You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
Clearly though, one person's cult can be another person's religion, and history has proven that yesterday's small sect can mushroom into today's mainstream religion. Christianity, like the world sects, started as a fringe group and has punctuated World history.
Going by the definition of the word, though there could be cults which are just popular clubs sharing a common likings like the "Cult of Tintin" or "The Cult of Asterix", the word as used today is derogatory and is meant to be address a destructive cult, causing harm to the society. Let's see some of the qualities which characterize a destructive cult.
1. A destructive cult tends to be totalitarian in its control of its members' behavior.
Cults are likely to dictate in great detail not only what members believe, but also what members wear and eat, how members think, speak etc. (This should mean that each of us will be completely controlled by the church in every aspect of our life without free will ……)
2. A destructive cult tends to have an ethical double standard.
Members are urged to be obedient to the cult, to carefully follow cult rules. They are also encouraged to be revealing and open in the cult group, on the other hand, outside the group they are encouraged to act unethically, manipulating outsiders or nonmembers, and either deceiving them or simply revealing very little about themselves or the group. (We believe in a single standard. We stand up for Biblical standards in and outside the church. We share about our lives openly to others and encouraged very much to stand up for Biblical ethics.)
3. A destructive cult has only two basic purposes: recruiting new members and fund-raising.
Many groups also recruit and raise funds. However, these actions are incidental to the group's main purpose of improving the lives of its members and of humankind in general. Destructive cults may claim to make social contributions, but in actuality such claims are superficial and only serve as gestures or fronts for recruiting and fund-raising. A cult's real goal is to increase the prestige and often the wealth of the leader. (Contrast this to our basic purpose - to be righteous, go to heaven and help others go to heaven. We sincerely work towards making other peoples lives better, through our regular reach out programmes, through HOPE and our day to day Christianity)
4. A destructive cult appears to be innovative and exclusive.
The leader claims to be breaking with tradition, offering something novel, and instituting the ONLY viable system for change that will solve life's problems or the world's ills. But these claims are empty and only used to recruit members who are then surreptitiously subjected to mind control to inhibit their ability to examine the actual validity of the claims of the leader and the cult. (We employ no mind control techniques nor we teach anything that is our own.. Instead we emphasize on the fact only God and his Word have the solutions for life's problems and call people to the obedience of Bible and no man)
5. A destructive cult is authoritarian in its power structure.
The leader is regarded as the supreme authority. He or she may delegate certain power to a few subordinates for the purpose of seeing that members adhere to the leader's wishes. There is no appeal outside his or her system to a greater system of justice. For example, if a schoolteacher feels unjustly treated by a principal, an appeal can be made to the superintendent. In a destructive cult, the leader claims to have the only and final ruling on all matters. (Here again, no leader is beyond correction and no leader in the church is supreme in his authority. The authority rests with the Word of God and the leaders lead the church based on the Bible. There is so much of openness and approachability that you can talk to anybody about your feelings and in fact in the church every disciple is encouraged to talk freely)
6. A destructive cult's leader is a self-appointed messianic person claiming to have a special mission in life.
For example, some leaders claim to have received a special revelation from God personally and have been commissioned to lead people in the truth so that only the leader can save them from impending doom. (Jesus is our only messiah and no leader claims to have any special powers or revelation from God. Leaders just teach the church on the basis of insight into Biblical teaching)
7. A destructive cult's leader centers the veneration of members upon himself or herself.
Cult leaders keep the focus of love, devotion, and allegiance on themselves. This is seen when people say I go to so and so's church. And he is the church leader. (Clearly, we time and again lay our focus away from pleasing people and are reminded to fix our eyes on God. We respect leaders but don't worship them. God is the only one worthy of worship and no man or man-made objects become the center of our devotion)
Clearly by any of these standards, the church in no way a cult. It is no more a cult than was the church that Jesus started, as described in the Bible.
The Bible gives us these guidelines to steer clear of the destructive heresies, examine for ourselves the truth in the matter, understand our own faith and have a defense for our critics:
1. Christians are to test everything.
1 Thessalonians 5:21
Test everything. Hold on to the good.
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
2. We should not follow any other books (even if it is from a 'spiritual' type of person claiming to have prophecy and visions, or make any changes to the gospel.
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel--
7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.
8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!
9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!
10 Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:1-2
1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.
2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
"I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, 'I had a dream! I had a dream!'
3. God does not want us to teach and 'easier truth' but only the Bible truth. In other words 'don't water down the Bible'!
2 Corinthians 11:2-4
2 I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.
3 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.
4 For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.
4. God wants us to have true commitment and not compromise as it leads to sinful living and ultimately to eternal punishment.
The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity. The oracles they gave you were false and misleading.
5. It is shocking to see that even in our days people are following other self appointed 'people' instead of the Biblical Truth.
30 "A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land:
31 The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?
6. Be weary of a leader who always is a pleasing person but does not deal with sins.
13 "From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit.
14 They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. 'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace.
15 Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them," says the LORD.
So don't be surprised if someone calls the church a cult. Instead be aware of what it means to be a cult.
11 "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Even the disciples were called by a cult like name :followers of the "The way". Please be prepared so that you will not be taken aback.