Transcript: Greetings everyone. Today’s topic is cults. What is a cult? I’ll read you the introduction to the book I’m currently working on discussing. Cults
Introduction A Religion I Don’t Like
The first question is what is a cult and who decides? Webster’s 1828 Dictionary doesn’t even mention the word cult. Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology by CT. Onions traces the word back to the 17th century and declares it rare before the 19th. Dr. Onions wrote – cult worship 1700, devotion, homage, 1800, old French, Cult of Latin ,cultus noun of action, inhabit, cultivate, protect, honor with worship, be or move habitually, in or with hence also colonus, colon,y wheel, also Latin form cultus. What that definition means is that the word itself really didn’t have a negative connotation originally. Thus, the term was generally regarded as fairly benign and not necessarily used in a negative or derogatory sense. That, however, is not true today. Wikipedia, for example, provides many questionable definitions. Sociological classifications of religious movements may identify as a cult as a social group with socially deviant or novel beliefs and practices, although this is often unclear in modern English. A cult is a social group that is defined by its unusual religious, spiritual, or philosophical beliefs and rituals, or its common interest in a particular personality, object, or goal. The word cult is usually considered a pejorative in the English speaking world.
The term cult often carries derogatory connotations. In this sense, it has been considered a subjective term used as an ad-hominem attack against groups with differing doctrines or practices. As such, religious scholar Megan Goodwin defined the term cult when used by the layperson, as often being shorthand for a religion I don’t like. The Wikipedia article from which those quotes were taken lists many organizations that are labelled cults in all aspects of society from political to philosophical to religious. In each case a cult is regarded as any group that separates from mainstream organizations and religions. However, we will not spend too much time on non-religious cults, as our focus is on the cult in relationship to the institutional or so-called mainstream churches. Many highly respected churches today are not considered cults, especially by their adherents. Yet they demonstrate all the earmarks of being cultic. They are built up around influential leaders who teach things contrary to Scripture and the views of the true historic Christian church.
This is produced in Elitism, whereby those closest to the leader and most supportive are regarded as special within the congregation. Some of these churches have thousands of members who regard their leaders’ words as authoritative, even if they contradict Scripture. Furthermore, those who contribute the most financially get preferential treatment. One such church boasting membership of more than 30,000, sells front row seats to those who can afford to pay and another large church promotes golfing with a pastor for a donation of $2,000 or more. Then there are large churches with female leaders in direct conflict with Scripture and some churches are centered around doctrines of accumulation of wealth taught by leaders who insist one can speak prosperity into their life. Other churches are built on isms concocted by their founders perhaps Calvinism, Armenianism Presbyterianism, Congregationalism, Futurism, Dispensationalism, Denominationalism, legalism and the list goes on.
Within these types of religious organizations pastors are expected to toe the party line or denominational status quo and members who criticize error, especially that of the leader, soon find themselves shunned and on the outside as do all who step over the line. These same institutional churches regard all who separate from them as cultic especially those who attempt to return to more historic and scriptural values and beliefs. Members of such institutional churches are taught to regard their denominations as the most faithful among churches, the most biblically sound and spiritually superior to all others. The pastor is the final word on all doctrinal matters and often influences followers to not do their own research regarding his or her teachings. Do not look outside the institution for answers, but simply take the leader’s word for it. If he says something is cultic or heretical, the follower is expected to believe it without question.
Thus, the leader pastor in the case of institutional churches dictates the thoughts of his followers.
It is sufficient for an institutional church leader to label something a cult for it to be deemed true by his followers. The labelling of cult in many cases is entirely subjective, and the word is meant to stigmatize those that the institution disagrees with. That being said, there are some movements that are legitimately labelled harmful cults. These are fairly easy to recognize as they teach things contrary to Scripture. They isolate themselves. They practice shunning. They place their leader’s words and writings equal to or above Scripture. Their organization becomes centered around a charismatic or influential leader. Their leader may have special revelations from God not found in Scripture. They often practice odd rituals to attract new members, they practice love-bombing. And the most harmful of cults often brainwashed their followers to the point of mass suicide. Fortunately most mainstream institutional churches do not step over the line into becoming full-blown harmful cults. Rather, they would be, at best, in some respects labelled Cultic.
This may be more evident in certain denominations where there is acceptance of extra biblical revelations, things that cannot be supported in Scripture and require that one believes that the Revelator indeed has a legitimate channel to God that others do not. It appears that the main criteria for labelling something ult is an organization’s departure from a generally accepted institutional religious status quo. Thus, the first century Christian assemblies were regarded by the Jews and Romans as cultic because the teachings of Christ disagreed with the Roman and Jewish religious status quo. Laterc, perhaps around the fourth century and onward, groups like the Donatists, the Huguenots, and the Cathars, and the Piedmontese were considered Cultic, even though their beliefs were much closer to Scripture than those of the mainstream churches.
Then came the reformation. The Roman Catholic Church regarded anything outside its auspices and therefore, it is safe to say, cultic. This included all Reformation churches which the Roman Catholic Church sought to stigmatize and stamp out. Over time denominations that sprung forth from the Reformation were regarded in general as mainstream and not cultic, except where the opinion of the Roman Catholic Church held sway. Thus it appears that religious movements that survive and become rooted in society tend to lose the label cult. This seems to be related to financial success, popularity, and to some degree, political influence. Invariably leaders of such organizations tend to become very wealthy and sadly wealth in society earns respect. An organization or institution that springs forth from a mainstream religious institution, though at first regarded a cult or cultic, once having risen to a place of considerable influence has the power to label anything contrary to it a cult though perhaps rightly motivated at its inception an emergent religious organization with an ever-growing membership, accumulation of wealth and property and exercising power in certain spheres slowly becomes corrupt. Invariably money and power corrupt. That is a fact of history.
The once noble organization or movement at its inception labelled a cult by mainstream religion now with money and power labels religious organizations that doesn’t like cults and the members of such institutions merely repeat the party line if it’s not us, it’s probably a cult. As I previously quoted, Megan Goodwin, religious scholar said, cult is a term when used by the layperson shorthand for a religion I don’t like. Thus, there is really no objectivity in the term when used by the average person. In an attempt to establish objectivity in the term cult, Baptist scholar Walter Martin wrote a book titled Kingdom of the Cults. In many circles, this has become the institutional church’s handbook for labelling cults. Oddly many of his definitions apply equally to the religious organizations Martin seeks to protect from such labelling. Still his book is useful as it offers an essential understanding of the full blown cult as opposed to that which is cultic. However, our concern is to explore the more subtle cultic nature of many mainstream institutional churches.
This requires a higher level of discernment than recognizing full-blown cults. Few Christians are able to recognize the cultic nature of their churches nor will they acknowledge it even in the face of obvious signs. Martin wrote quote first and foremost, the belief systems of cults are characterized by closedmindedness. They are not interested in a rational, cognitive evaluation of the facts. Though this statement is true of full-blown cults, it is also true of many cultic mainstream institutional churches. Lack of objectivity is common among members. They are quick to repeat what they’ve heard without evaluating the facts, especially when the spotlight is shined on their institution. Even though their organization may be guilty of the same things they accuse others of they cannot see the similarities. Martin accuses cults of having a language of their own. They use the same terms as mainstream institutional churches but define them differently.
Therefore, when conversing with a cult member one may share the same terms but there is no real communication because both parties define keywords differently. For example, the mainstream institutional church member typically accuses cults of denying Scripture as their ultimate authority, while the mainstream institutional church members claim they believe the Word of God is the truth and the ultimate authority. Herein lies a problem of semantics. Both believe in the Word of God, yet both deny the Word of God exists. Typically, they say only the original manuscripts are the perfect Word of God, so we don’t actually have the Word of God. Properly defined as the perfect revelation of God without error they say that doesn’t exist. Thus, the mainstream institutional churchgoer takes the same position as those they deem cults but denies that they fundamentally hold the same position. Neither claim Scripture is their ultimate authority. The mainstream institutional churchgoer lives in denial regarding their belief in God’s preserved Word while the cultist though largely ignorant of the truth of Scripture insists they too believe it.
The outcome is the same, they say God did not preserve his perfect words. There are errors. The phrase Word of God to the mainstream institutional church person means something that is more or less correct. While the cultist says they believe it is the Word of God but allow their leaders to redefine terms to suit the organization’s doctrines. Similarly, mainstream churches steeped in futurism and dispensationalism redefined terms to make their presupposed doctrines work. For example, elect becomes Jews, only resurrection becomes rapture. And in some churches apostasy becomes catching up or rapture. Blessed hope becomes rapture, dispensations become time periods, and restrainer or withholder becomes Holy Spirit. Though Scripture supports none of these redefinitions, they are readily accepted in most denominations today. Walter Martin wrote quote let it never be forgotten that cultists are experts at lifting texts out of their respective contexts without proper concern for laws of language or the established principles of biblical interpretation.
This is generally true, though Martin seems to put man’s ever-changing grammatical rules ahead of Scripture and Scripture ultimately must define its own terms to be valid. And though the laws of language cannot be ignored despite their subjectivity they must be informed by the witnesses in Scripture and correct doctrine therein established. Established principles of biblical interpretation, though not defined by Martin, are generally correct but only if informed by the witnesses in Scripture. Thus we must regard exegesis, as Martin rightly does an established principle yet it must be subject to Scripture’s witnesses regarding the same matters. As Jesus said the truth is established in the mouth of two or three witnesses. Thus we must draw meaning from more than one witness and then interpret the witnesses in harmony with each other despite the possibility of apparent contradictions. Mainstream institutional churches often ignore Martin’s rule of interpretation and its more accurate understanding when evaluating Scripture for if we follow so called laws of language most Bibles in Acts 2:38 require baptism for the forgiveness of sins a comma after Jesus Christ is missing and therefore the parenthetical clause is gone.
Yet the correct interpretation according to the grammar in such Bibles is that baptism is required for remission or forgiveness of sins. Yet most institutional churches will deny baptism is required for remission of sins despite the fact that their Bibles teach it. If one respects what Martin calls laws of grammar. Though elsewhere in the same Bibles Scriptures declare that remission of sins is by faith and faith alone the same Bibles (Acts two, verse 38) teach the opposite.
Then Peter said vnto them, Repent, and be baptized euery one of you in the Name of Iesus Christ, for the remission of sinnes, and ye shal receiue the gift of the holy Ghost.
On page 25 of his book Martin wrote quote most cults consider that they have freed their adherents from religious exploitation, which they almost always accuse historic Christianity of practicing. This is a most interesting statement, as it was the claim of the Reformation. It delivered many from the clutches of the Roman Catholic Church and its exploitation of people the world over. Furthermore it is uncertain what Martin means by historic Christianity. Would this be the Roman Catholic Church or true Christian groups like the Piedmontese and the Huguenots?
If he means mainstream church, which was the Roman Catholic Church, then deliverance was in order. However, if he means true Christians outside the Roman Catholic Church then deliverance from them was unnecessary. Thus labelling a religious group a cult because it delivers people from religious exploitation can hardly be a criteria for identifying a cult. A cult would be more rightly defined as any religious organization that exploits people for the financial gain of the institution or its leader. This was one of the reasons for the Protestant Reformation and Luther’s 95 thesis. Thus the Roman Catholic Church would more rightly be deemed a cult than the religious movement called Protestantism that sought to free people. Martin’s third definition found at the bottom of page 25 reads as follows – thirdly, almost without exception cultic belief systems all manifest a type of institutional dogmatism and a pronounced intolerance for any position but their own.
What exactly he means by institutional dogmatism is uncertain yet all religions include dogmatism regarding certain things. Since dogmatism is not a word found in Scripture and therefore cannot be defined accordingly we are forced as is Martin to look at conventional academic definitions. For example, Miriam Webster defines dogmatism as follows the expression of an opinion or belief as if it were fact positiveness in assertion of opinion, especially when unwarranted or arrogant. And Oxford defines it as follows a belief or set of beliefs held by a group or organization that others are expected to accept without argument. A true Biblical Church is by definition bound to certain dogmas as they define the faith. There are points that are not open to argument or disbelief. For example the following six points
- God is the Creator of all things, and he precedes all things. He is all powerful, omniscient and omnipresent
- Stealing lying, in, adultery are contrary to God’s laws which are absolute not relative.
- Jesus was born of a virgin.
- Jesus lived a perfect life.
- Jesus died and rose again.
- Salvation is by faith in Messiah alone.
Within the pale of a true group of followers of Christ, these dogmas are non-negotiable and beyond debate. There is no tolerance for disbelief or different views for without these tenants there is no faith. Martin agrees with this statement saying quote we do not wish to imply that there is no such thing as an authoritative dogmatism which is valid and true (such as the teachings of Jesus Christ) but rather that cult systems tend to invest with the authority of the supernatural whatever pronouncements are deemed necessary to condition and control the minds of the faithful. Yet Martin’s dogmatism, defined for and against becomes a subjective matter based on who or what one deems authoritative. To lend weight to his argument he says cultic dogmatism leans on the supernatural for authority at times. This is true of both biblically sound dogmatism and cultic dogmatism. To say that Scripture is not a product of the supernatural is to miss the fact that it is inspired by God. Thus to accuse cults of leaning on supernaturally revealed dogmatism refutes the legitimate dogmatism of supernaturally revealed biblical dogmas.
For example, when Jesus asked the disciples who he was.
And Simon Peter answered, and said, Thou art Christ the sonne of the liuing God.
And Jesus replied in the next verse:
And Iesus answered, and said vnto him, Blessed art thou Simon Bar Iona: for flesh and blood hath not reueiled it vnto thee, but my Father which is in heauen.
Thus we conclude that the supernatural revelation can be from God. However in the case of a cult if the revelation does not agree with Scripture it cannot be regarded from God. Lastly, Martin adds the phrase to condition and control the minds of the faithful. In other words, whether or not cultic dogma is true or false it is used by cult leaders to manipulate their followers. This is the only part of Martin’s argument that stands up to scrutiny for a cult is most rightly defined as an organization, group, institution or individual that manipulates its followers for whatever purpose using any available materials and tactics, albeit truth or lies no matter. Although the Roman Catholic Church is not mentioned in Martin’s book Kingdom of the Cults by his definitions it is decidedly a cult and deserves a prominent place in any book about cults for it is guilty of everything Martin declares makes a cult and ruling over the entire enterprise is a man who, when he speaks supernaturally that is, ex cathedral. He claims to be the voice of God. So that’s a slightly condensed form of the introduction to the book I’m working on regarding cults. I’ll keep you posted when the book is done. God bless. Thanks for listening.
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