Troubles in Defining a Cult From a Christian Point of View

you-have-two-choicesIn my experience, I have seen 2 different approaches when attempting to define a cult. These 2 approaches are from the perspective of a Christian theology and that from a psychological perspective.

The purpose of this post is to express my opinion and thought as to why one perspective is better than the other.

So lets  take a look at the 2 perspectives.

The Christian Approach

In my research I have seen how Christians attempt to define a cult and in a nutshell, it basically comes down to “A group that claims to be Christian, but deviates from the defining doctrines of Christianity”.  Here are a few of the criteria that Christians use to define a cult:

Here are a few bullet points in defining cults/cult leaders taken from the documentary: “The Marks of a Cult”  which does a very good job of presenting the Christian perspective on cults.

  • A group that claims to be Christian, but deviates from or denies the defining doctrines of Christianity
  • The cult leader/group essentially becomes “the savior”
  • They suffer great humiliation at the hands of leaders who aren’t leading like Jesus.
    (in my group this was the language used “we need to be more like Jesus” who was beaten, tortured, killed, hated, etc… )
  • Taking Christian terminology and applying totally different definitions to them.
  • It is “evil to pervert the Word of God”
  • No person or organization can call itself Christian if they don’t embrace the central tenants that gave rise and definition to the term “Christian”. And if they actively deny those tenants or refer to anyone that does believe them as being wrong or deceived, they can be fairly termed: Anti-Christ.
  • Dr Walter Martin defines a cult (from an explicit Biblical world view) as: “A group of people polarized around someone’s interpretation of the Bible and characterized by major deviations from orthodox Christianity relative to the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith, particularly the fact that God became man in Jesus Christ.” (Rise of the Cults, page 12)
  • Dr. Gordon Lewis: “A cult is any religious movement which claims the backing of Christ or the Bible, but distorts the central message of Christianity by: 1.) An additional revelation 2.) By displacing a fundamental tent of the faith with a secondary matter” (Confronting the Cuts, page 4)

Overall: the definition of a cult when they:

  1. Add to the 66 books of the Bible – relying on a new “so called” revelation either through scriptures or by the discovery of an interpretive key to the Bible that has somehow been hidden from the historic Church.
  2. Subtract from the “tri-unity” of God by either denying the person-hood or the deity of one or members of the God-head.  Essentially, denying the doctrine of the trinity in some form.
  3. Multiply works necessary for salvation.  i.e. salvation is not by “faith” alone.
  4. Divide the loyalties of their followers from God and the historical and universal Church by focusing salvation as the exclusive province of their particular group.

While from a Christian perspective, this point of view is really trying to label a group as being “non-Christian”, not a cult.  Essentially they are labeling groups that call themselves Christians, and defrocking them of their Christian status because they don’t meet their doctrinal guidelines.

For me, as a Christian, Apostle Paul stated very plainly in 1 Corinthians 2:1-2:
1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.
2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

To me salvation to a Christian, is Christ and Him crucified.  I believe that Jesus paid the price for my sin on the cross (crucifixion) and I am therefore redeemed by the blood of Christ into the bosom of God by grace.  Its that simple.  That to me is the basics of Christian doctrine.

What seems to happen is that Christians are very quick to label “this” group or “that” group as a cult because they don’t fit their “mold” of Christian doctrine.  Just because someone doesn’t agree with your doctrine and explicit interpretation of the Bible does not make them a cult.

In the documentary, there was a large focus on Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  While I would agree that much of the core of the Mormon doctrines are grossly different in nature to what is in the Bible, I would like to take a look at the Jehovah’s Witnesses for a moment.  The Jehovah’s witnesses for the most part, doctrinally, aknowledge the “Christ and Him Crucified” statement.  Where they differ on much of the “mainstream” church is in this:

  1. They do not call Jesus GOD, but rather Jesus is the only begotten Son of God.
  2. Jesus was crucified on an upright pole rather than a Cross
  3. They do not honor holiday’s nor birthdays (including Christmas and Easter).
  4. They do not allow blood transfusions.

Item: 1  – this nitpicking… sure there are doctrinal disagreements with Jesus being God or not being God… but there are differences in Baptism points of view and it gets petty.  I say: let God figure that one out… the identity of God is a complete mystery and for that matter, the word “Trinity” is nowhere to be found in the Bible.

Item: 2 – Well… at least they agree he was Crucified, right?  big deal!

Item 3: If you actually study them out most holidays, including Christmas and Easter have pagan roots and if researched enough, you will see that they do not even have any roots or validity to any Christianity at all.

Item 4: I totally do not see any Biblical justification for this stance at all… but I’m sure we could agree to disagree.

So, what I am saying here is that there are some VERY clear Biblical disagreements I have against the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but these Biblical disagreements are not what make them a cult.

Here is what makes them a cult:

  1. Their isolationism and control of who members can be with and not be with.  Many times, Jehovah’s Witnesses completely detach from all other friends and family simply because they are instructed to only associate with fellow group members.
  2. There strict association and required “evangelism” techniques.  While many Christian groups could learn a thing or two about patience in evangelism from these folks, the methodology of REQUIRED street evangelism as a requirement for salvation brings into play cult recruitment tactics.
  3. The fact that so many people have died because of lack of viable medical attention in the form of blood transfusions being denied.  And the group peer pressure associated with acting against this doctrine.
  4. The use of shunning and excommunication when one disagrees or challenges church leadership or doctrines.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses meet several of the psychological criteria for cultic behaviors, which uses tools of deception to recruit and keep new members.

Remember, no one sets out to join a cult.  They are recruited and slowly deceived into obedience and subjection to the group conscience.

In my observations, I have seen that many “Christian Cult” experts have a “chip on their shoulder” when it comes to calling out Cults and are very quick to label in such languages as “false prophets” or other Biblical based terms.  They seem to be on a “witch hunt” to find every false prophet out there and expose them as “heretics”.  It seems historically reminiscent of the inquisitions during the Catholic reign of Europe; and this mentality really removes credibility from this perspective.

To me, there is a defining difference between cults and religion.  In fact not all cults use religion.  There are some new age, self help groups, pyramid ponzi schemes that are defined as cults.

When I started to understand more about cults, it became more and more apparent that Cults have very little to do with religion (although they use religion as a tool of mind control, persuasion, and deception), but it is more about power, control and manipulation.

Consider what kind of god complex a narcissistic cult leader develops when they are able to trick people into giving up their money, possessions, body (sex), etc to you – not because THEY told you, but because they believe that God is commanding them to do it and if they don’t they will loose their salvation or get punished.

That, folks, is where power over the human mind comes in and sick people have learned to take advantage of kind hearted people that only want to do “what is right”.


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