Defining a Cult

DictionaryChristians have adopted their own terminology throughout church history especially theological terms to define a multitude of doctrines and concepts found in scripture. One definition that has appeared in recent years  in regards to defining a false group of Christians who teach other than the orthodox doctrines of Scripture is the term cult. The expression is especially used today to warn others of groups who may be a danger to the Christian faith. The general consensus amongst Christians is that a cult is a group or a sect that possesses teachings that are outside the scope of orthodox biblical theology. In short, these are groups who deny one or more fundamental biblical teachings about God, His Christ or salvation. Such groups would include the Watchtower Society, Latter-Day Saints, Seventh-Day Adventists, Christian Scientists, Christadelphians, Oneness Pentecostals and many more.

The term “cult” defined in this manner is perfectly o.k. even though it isn’t its original means.  I wonder if the definition granted to cult today as a religion that is unorthodox or extremist is the most accurate. Could we be a little more particular in our usage of this term? Most people would not label the Roman Catholic Church as “a cult” because they are orthodox in their view of the Trinity and the Deity of Christ however many ignore their false teaching on the doctrine of salvation by their incorporation of a works based salvation through human effort including the mass, indulgences and a multitude of other religious activities. Are Roman Catholics a part of a cult? Well, it depends who you ask.

My preference in labeling various groups is a bit different than most. I would prefer to differentiate between a cult and a false teacher. I agree that I may be creating new categories in my definition here but bear with me. A false teacher is a group or individual who subscribe to one or more teaching that is outside the scope of orthodox biblical theology while a cult is a group that believes they have a monopoly on truth. They would argue that they are the only people who possess God’s true teaching and in return they are the only ones that God blesses. There are groups, such as the Watchtower, Mormons, SDAs, and others I named above that, in essence, fall into both categories. They are false teachers and also they are a cult. Roman Catholics fall into this category as well because of their insistence that they are the only true church who possess the “truth” and also have a false understanding of salvation. While they fall into these categories, they do not fall into these categories in the same way as these other groups. There is still some orthodoxy in their theology even though it is muddied by an enormous amount of unbiblical traditions.

There are groups who are not necessarily false teachers but do tend to be “cultic”. There are many Independent Fundamentalist Baptist and Plymouth Brethren Assemblies who are orthodox in their teaching by affirming those precious truths of the bible yet believe they have a monopoly on truth. Outside of their groups, there is no blessing from the Lord. This may be due to holding to a fundamentalist view of bible translations such as King James Onlyism or as the Brethren who claim that they are the only ones who possess the proper worship pattern and hence Christ is not present at any church except theirs. Please understand that I’m not trying to spread a negative look at these groups. I’m certainly not saying that these people are outside the scope of being “Christians” and I believe that they are true born again believers and teach biblical doctrines. I’m simply saying that they fall under my definition of a cult and that the mentality that they promulgate is cultic.

To be “non-cultic” and a truth teacher, one must subscribe to Orthodox Biblical Theology and allow some secondary differences to be laid aside for the sake of unity. I have much unity with my Presbyterian Brethren and also many non-Reformed Baptists even all the while having some disagreements within our respective theologies.

Just a few thoughts on this subject…

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One thought on “Defining a Cult

  1. Having been raised in the Brethren, I have often asked myself if they have a tendency to cultic views. I would add they teach their followers the Lord is not in the midst of other evangelical orthodox groups because they gather under a denominational name rather than the name of the Lord Jesus only. They fail to see themselves as not only a denomination but very sectarian.
    The one thing that is predominate in their teaching is the Lord’s Supper. This ordinance is the only place we can have true worship. They celebrate this ordinance every Sunday and many of their members feel that is the only service they need to attend to keep them in fellowship with God. Through the week sadly they spend little time in worship and meditation on the Word of God.
    After being in this group for many years it is difficult to leave because of the endoctrination that their gathering is the only one that God recognizes.
    They hold strongly to what the evangelical church would call orthodox doctrines. I am not sure if their strong sectarian views would be considered cultic or not.

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