Cult vs. Cultic Movement
In 2009, I decided to to back to school because I wanted to make sure that I really believed what I believed! One of my professors, Ergun Caner, taught an Apologetics class. Apologetics is the “discipline of defending a position through the systematic use of information”. For the believer, apologetics is an important tool to help defend the faith. Besides learning about different religions, sects, and positions, Dr. Caner taught a class about cults and cultic movements. Recently, this lecture was brought back to my memory because of conversations I’ve had concerning believers adopting new positions. Most of this blog will be direct quotes from Dr. Caner’s lecture. This will be a long read but it’s worth it. Before we get into the blog, please remember these scriptures:
Matthew 7:15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”
Matthew 24:24 “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.”
1 John 4:1-6 “…but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world…”
1 Timothy 4:1 “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.”
2 Timothy 4:3 “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions…”
2 Peter 2:1-22 “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep…”
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A CULT AND A CULTIC MOVEMENT?
According to Dr. Caner, “A cult is any group that defines itself by Christian terms, but denies one or more of the essentials of the Gospel.” Essentials mean concepts like the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection of Christ, Salvation by grace through faith in Christ, Christ’s Divinity, etc. If a group, sect, or position does not hold true to essentials like these, they are simply a CULT. It goes a bit deeper than that, but you get the drift. However, sometimes groups can resemble a cult and have “cultic” tendencies. “A cultic movement is a group that looks like a cult but holds to orthodox doctrine. This could happen anywhere in any church, regardless of the denomination it is attached to.” Dr. Caner continues to teach that even the most solid ministries or denominations can fall prey to this, which let’s you know that this is more common. The following are 7 marks of a cultic movement, directly from Dr. Caner’s lecture. Please take heed to these indicators:
1. DIVISION: The group views other Christian groups as suspect, and themselves as the only truly committed followers of Christ.
2. SEPARATION: The group regularly separate from other ministries over minor doctrines.
3. ABERRATION: The group emphasizes one doctrine over against all others, to the point of exclusion. One area of teaching becomes the filter through which all others flow.
4. ISOLATION: The group only accepts members or leaders that adhere to the minute details of their doctrinal stance, to such a degree, that it becomes almost a genetic model.
5. INDOCTRINATION: The group demand the member to be trained only by their specific leaders or writings, intimating that all others are sub-Christian or non-Christian.
6. ALLEGIANCE: The group demand almost blind allegiance to the leadership, with automatic exclusion toward those who do not.
7. SEPARATION: The group demand those who have been cut off be considered off limits. It will utilize the shunning principle, and is punitive rather than restorative.
When I was in college, I was part of a powerful para-church ministry that was turning my college campus upside down for Jesus. I dedicated my life under this umbrella and a lot of what I learned I still incorporate in my life today. After a few years in this ministry, there were rumors beginning to surface stating that it was a cult. There was an uproar like you would not believe among those of us who were the most committed to our cause. We couldn’t believe that people would have the audacity to call US a cult?! I mean, people were being saved, lives were being changed, etc. It became such a major issue that it was brought before one of the pastors in our city. This pastor also cared for some of our members, including myself. After the pastor heard what was happening, she made a statement that stuck with me even until this day. She said, “It’s not a cult, but it does have cultic tendencies.” See, we didn’t realize that making people take cold showers for impure thoughts was, well, a little off. We didn’t realize that making people feel bad for oversleeping and not coming to a 5 or 6am prayer was inconsiderate. We thought that missing a fast that we instituted was sacrilege! There’s more but I’ll stop there. I think that we didn’t realize it because they were things that were helping us to stay pure, holy, and blameless. That’s what we thought. Still, it wasn’t necessarily right. We did have cultic tendencies.
There is a lot out there today you guys. You have to be careful!!! People are coming up with “new revelations” about God and His Son everyday. All I say to that is, 2 Timothy 2:15 “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Don’t let these people guide you down paths that lead to staunch legalism and in some cases death. The Church has always been under attack, but I have found that those having an intimate relationship with Jesus are hardly fooled. But if by chance you run into a quandary of thought and need clarity, ask God in prayer first, consult His Word next, and then bounce it off of some people that may challenge your position. Don’t be afraid because your future depends on it.