WHAT IS A CULT?
Question: "If a guy likes a really nice girl who says she believes in the Bible and in Jesus, but his dad says that she belongs to a cult, how can he tell if she is in a cult?"
Answer: In "Kingdom of the Cults," Walter R. Martin quotes Charles Braden, from his book "These Also Believe," as saying, "By the term 'cult' I mean nothing derogatory to any group so classified. A cult, as I define it, is any religious group which differs significantly in some one or more respects as to belief, or practice, from those religious groups which are regarded as the normative expressions of religion in our culture." Thus, the definition of cult may vary from person to person, from group to group, and even from age to age, depending on what is regarded as "normative." Martin continued, "I may add to this that a cult might also be defined as a group of people gathered about a specific person or person's interpretation of the Bible."
The word "cult" is not found in the Bible. But men have identified certain religious organizations which they refer to as cults. One of the things that distinguish a cult, as suggested by Walter Martin, is the reliance on a single individual, or perhaps a group of people, to which it looks as the highest authority. That person or group becomes the source who reveals the word of God to the members, so that rather than people reading and studying the Bible for themselves, they must interpret the Bible by what this source of authority says. Often the source may be dead, but its authority is still expressed in some book that was written, teaching that was left, or successor that was appointed, in addition to the Bible. However, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2.5, "That your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." Since we already have God's revealed will in the scriptures, we do not need some man or woman or any human work to tell us what to believe, teach, and practice.
Another aspect of cults is that they may use the teachings of Christ in an attempt to prove that they are all right, but when they are confronted with the question of who Jesus Christ is, they will often have a non-Biblical view, such as that He was a good teacher or a great person, or perhaps even an angel, but not the divine Son of God who was with the Father at creation, became flesh when born of a virgin, lived on earth as a human being, died on the cross for our sins, arose from the dead, ascended into heaven where He now sits at God's right hand to rule over His kingdom, and will come again, as the Bible teaches. This is what Jesus was talking about in John 8.24 when He said, "Therefore I said that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." If a group does not believe what the Bible plainly says about Christ, it may well be a cult.
However, we must be careful. Because this world is full of false religious organizations, it is very easy for those in error to identify any group with which they disagree as a cult, including the true church of Christ. In the first century the church of our Lord was looked at this way by both the Jews and the Romans. In Acts 25.4 someone said of Paul, "For we have found this man a plague, a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes." They thought that the Lord's church was just another sect! Thus, it is possible that some might even call the Lord's church today a cult because they do not like it and want to prejudice people against it. The real answer is just to take the Bible and follow it alone. Then we can know beyond doubt the difference between a cult and the truth. [In "Search for Truth," Jan. 10, 1999.] Brotherly, Wayne S. Walker
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