Wednesday, June 29, 2011

WHAT IS A CULT?

The author of the article I reviewed on my previous post (DOMINIONISM) used the word “cult” to describe the movement she was warning against.  Among many of my points of disagreement with her, was the use of this word to include what would appear to be the majority of Christians in America.  Apparently her definition of “cult” is different from mine.  A comment on that post made me realize I need to clarify my usage.

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!

3 comments:

Sherry said...

Your definition uses Christianity as the basis but was that when the word was really first used? Technically, I think early Jews would have considered Christianity a cult. After all, it had new revelation that didn't seem to jive with previous revelation.

And I always wondered, how big does a cult have to get before it's considered a religion?

Bill Ball said...

The word is an old word from Latin for formal religious worship. It also came to be synonymous with "sect". As far as I can tell it was evangelicals who popularized its use meaning "heritical religious sect". And Christianity would definitely have been considerd one of those in its early years (see the book of Acts). It still is in many countries.
As far as the "how big" question that's what's being asked about Mormonism.

gary said...

bill,amen on your comment! ryrie makes sense when he says that christians get all their information about their God from the bible because there is no other source that speaks of the one true God in three persons. it seems interesting that many cult leaders started from christian backgrounds and teaching against the trinity was not their original objection to the word of god but its teaching on eternal separation in hell. very attractive and if it were in my power to change it, i would too. something drastic seems to happen when we bow up against Gods word.