The word “cult” is an explosive term today. It brings to one’s mind dreadful images connected with certain religious movements. And it is hardly surprising that this should be so. The bizarre and horrible memories of Jonestown will linger long in the mind of those concerned with the welfare of humanity. In all sorts of public places the Moonies, Hare Krishnas, and such like can be seen intimidating passersby. Unfortunately, many have come to the point of equating virtually all religion to a sort of “cultism.” This certainly is a false conclusion. Remember, counterfeits are indications that somewhere the TRUTH exists.
One who is in search of true Christianity has a perfect right to be concerned about the genuineness of the various systems he encounters. Surely no one wants to be caught up in some cult. But how is one to know? Here are some basic differences between the true church of Jesus Christ and the faddish cultism of today’s world.
(1) Cultism generally exalts some human, charismatic-type leader. The People’s Temple could not have originated without Jim Jones (or someone like him); similarly, note the power of Sun Moon, etc. One writer notes: “Cults emerge when groups... commit themselves completely to the leadership of charismatic and highly authoritarian figures” (K.C. Woodward and others, “How They Bend Minds,” Newsweek, Dec. 4, 1978.
In the church of the Lord, only Jesus is exalted as the head of the church, Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18. Christ has the ultimate authority over his subjects, Matt. 28:18. The inspired Paul clearly forbade the undue exaltation of men, 1 Cor. 1:11-15, and declared: “For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2; cf. 2 Cor. 4:5).
(2) Cultism denies the Bible as the sole source of religious authority. Cultic leaders usually claim to have special revelations from God. They see visions or have mystic experiences to which others are not privy. This, of course, makes the group dependent upon THEM. While some, as in the case of Jim Jones, may openly repudiate the Bible, others will give it shallow lip-service, though making it secondary to supernatural insights. The church of Jesus Christ, however, acknowledges the claims of the New Testament as the authoritative guide in religious matters. The Scriptures furnish us COMPLETELY unto every good work, 2 Tim. 3:16-17. We are not to go beyond that which is written, 1 Cor. 4:6, for to transgress beyond the doctrine of Christ is sin, 2 John 9. Further, Scripture makes it plain that with the completion of the New Testament revelation, miraculous revelations, etc., are no longer available to mankind, 1 Cor. 13:8-10. Beware, therefore, of those who attempt to substitute mystical experiences for Bible truth!
(3) Cults practice isolationism. In cults, frequently “new converts” are led to believe that the whole world is against them; that sinister plots are being formed by forces that are out to destroy them. Accordingly, a common feature of the cult motif is to isolate its members and hence subject them to a “training” or “initiation” period. Actually, what occurs is “brain-washing” or a form of “mind-control.”
They are subjected to hours of repetitive lectures, loss of sleep, control of diet, etc. Such conduct is, of course, totally unknown in genuine New Testament Christianity. Jesus did not demand that his followers be monastic ascetics. He attended social functions (remember the wedding in John 2), and he taught his disciples that they were to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, Matt. 5:13-16. And such cannot be accomplished in a closet! Christ was bitterly attacked by his enemies because he habitually received sinners and ate with them, Luke 15:1ff, but then it was his mission to seek and save the lost, Luke 19:10.
The apostle Paul pointed out that association with non-Christians is not inherently sinful, for then one would need to leave the world, 1 Cor. 5:9-10. This is not to say, of course, that one should not be cautious; evil companionships CAN corrupt good morals, 1 Cor. 15:33.
Christ forbade the kind of empty and repetitious ceremonial incantations that are characteristic of some cults, Matt. 6:7. And further, the New Testament nowhere encourages the followers of Christ to blindly accept its teaching without a serious investigation of the same. Are the claims of Jesus of Nazareth genuine? Does the New Testament bear those marks of identification that one would expect of a divine document? The Lord encouraged the proper use of one’s mind; He said that it was only by KNOWING THE TRUTH that one could be made free from sin, John 8:32. The noble people of Beroea were commended in the New Testament because they daily examined the Scriptures to determine if their teachers were teaching the truth, Acts 17:11. Truth has nothing to fear from honest investigation.
(4) Cultism demands surrender of personal property. Cults frequently DEMAND their adherents to forfeit their personal property to the cult leader. Examples of this are too numerous to need documentation. The Lord’s church makes no such demands! While it is true that in the early church Christians sometimes -- due to emergency circumstances that arose -- sold their property or possessions for the benefit of others, IT WAS STRICTLY VOLUNTARY! And, though the New Testament makes the giving of one’s means a spiritual obligation, 1 Cor. 16:1-2, the amount is determined by each disciple consistent with his or her ability, Acts 11:28-30.
Conclusion. The church of Christ is not a cult! It is not a secret society that seeks to control human minds contrary to their wills and the will off God. It is an open and honest attempt to reach responsible people with the good news that Christ has died for their sins, and that salvation is available by means of the gospel system as revealed in the New Testament, Acts 2:37ff.
The church of Christ welcomes your investigation. Why not contact... [them] and ask to study the Scriptures with those who love you and are interested in your welfare?

By - Wayne Jackson

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