Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary gives a number of definitions of cult, but I believe the one Ms. Burton had in mind was number 3: “a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious”; also: “its body of adherents.”
This is a broad enough definition to include just about any group the user of the term would disagree with. After all, the definition didn’t specify who the “regarder” should be. My apologies to Ms. Burton.
The definition I had in mind is a bit more specific and is, I believe, the usual definition used by evangelicals, who popularized the word in the ‘40’s and ‘50’s to describe quasi-Christian groups. (I confess I could not find the source for my definition.)
A cult, by this definition, is a group that has at least the following three characteristics:
· It has as its authority, the Bible plus some other authority which is often claimed to be divinely inspired (such as The Book of Mormon, Science and Health and Key to the Scriptures, etc.).
· Its doctrine holds to a low view of who Jesus Christ is (A god rather than God, a glorified man, etc.).
· It is exclusive and holds that there is no salvation outside the group.
Also a cult usually has, or at least was started by, a charismatic leader and often it is numerically small, but growing and thus perceived as a threat to orthodox Christianity. There is also often some suggestion of “mind control.”
Though some groups are easy to identify by the above points, others are not always that clearly distinguished, and it seems that the word is losing its popularity among evangelicals. Perhaps it is best to simply critique a movement for its individual teachings and not simply slap a label on it.
But though evangelicals may not use the term as often anymore, it has been picked up by secular and theological liberals, as seen in the article reviewed in the previous post. And evangelical Christians have now, in their eyes, become cult members!
After all, if biblical doctrine is ignored, we do look rather cultish! Our movement was started and is led by a charismatic Leader. There is “mind control” (the Holy Spirit). And Christianity is exclusive. There is no salvation outside of Jesus!