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the Church of Christ a Cult?
by: Dalton Gilreath
The term “cult” has become quite a relative term. Many would say that the Lord’s body is a cult while others would deny it vigorously. The dictionaries define a cult as a group of religious people who devote themselves to a leader. In fact, the word was derived from the Latin cultus which means “to worship deity”. However, the concern appears when we consider how much more the term actually implies in today’s society. As with any word, the history of its usage is of utmost importance when considering modern implications. An obvious example of this concept is the term “gay”. Years ago this word was simply used to describe one’s joyful disposition. Would you use this word flippantly today to describe your mood? Of course not, because of its modern connotation.
So, what exactly are the implications of this term “cult” today? One of the clear, defining characteristics is the organization’s unwavering commitment to a human leader. Typically, this leader is domineering and rules with very tight control. He might discipline any doubt or questioning from the members. He gains respect through fear and often uses manipulative persuasion on his disciples. In addition, it is not uncommon for the leader to dictate the individual lives of the cult members, such as how they should act, feel, or even who they should marry. Does this sound like our ruler in the church? Our leader is no mortal man; He is the God of all creation. He rules with love and compassion: We follow Him out of love, not fear (1 John 4:19) and out of our own choice (Josh 24:15). Sincere doubt or questioning of the Christian principles taught is not disciplined, but rather encouraged in order to find Truth (1 Thes 5:21, Acts 17:11). Our God allows us to be called His children and blesses us richly (1 John 3:1). These characteristics of our leader alone should deter us from attaching the Lord’s body with this term in any sense.
Not only are there issues when considering a cult’s leader, but also the implications of the group itself. Normally, those involved in a cult consistently have a self-exalted mindset. That is, the members of said organization believe they are superior to those around them. In fact, “true” members feel there should be no fellowship with those outside of the group. They change their mentality to superior and boast of their new life to “foreigners”. Again, does this sound like the Lord’s body? The church of Christ is to be comprised of a people rooted in humility (James 4:10). We are not only commanded to speak with those in the world (Matthew 28:18-20) but to love and serve them as well in order to show them the love of Christ and possibly save their souls (2 Tim 2:24-25). There can be no doubt the church which belongs to Christ isn’t even kin to a term like “cult”.
When people call the churches of Christ a cult, they certainly aren’t using the term the way it was used centuries ago: they are implying its negative connotations of today. I once heard an entire sermon delivered in the Lord’s church describing how we are in fact a cult and should embrace that term. While we certainly are a religious group devoted to worshiping our God, that meaning has been lost in time. Let us stand up for our true identity, the one true church and bride of Christ. Next time you hear someone ask if we are a cult or accuses us of such, use it as an opportunity to teach them the body’s true identity.