Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What is a Cult?

As a young Christian one of the first serious books I purchased was Kingdom of the Cults by Dr. Walter Morris.   The book provides a helpful analysis of groups as diverse as B'hai, Mormon, Unitarian, New Age and more.  Yet, a question lingered in my mind:  What is a cult?

The two most famous in recent times include Jim Jones who along with 700 + followers committed suicide in the jungle of French Guyana and David Koresh and the Branch Davidians who died in a fire at their compound in Waco, Texas.  Is Morris correct in his use of the term 'cult' or should we view these groups in a different light?

In its broadest sense the word "cult" describes a group of people who worship.  That term could be applied to Christian and non-Christian groups alike.  A narrower definition would apply the term to those who follow  a charismatic leader and who live an unorthodox life in devotion to such leader.  Enter Jim Jones and David Koresh.

For what it is worth I prefer to apply the term in a more narrow sense.  But what about Christian Science, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Mormons?  This is where a second term can be applied: sect.  A sect is a group of people that diverge from orthodoxy in belief or practice.  They may be understood to be schismatic and exclusive (we are the true believers).  They may also embrace heretical teachings.  This term can be applied to Christian Science, Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons as well as Seventh Day Adventists, Oneness Pentecostals, and others.

Why do I prefer the term 'sect' over 'cult'?  The answer is simple:  It is easier to dialog with adherents of such groups when the term 'cult' is not used.

Over at Ligonier Ministries a helpful article was posted that sheds some light on this question.  Though I disagree with the major premise of the article it still has some redeeming points.  One of the major points concerning orthodoxy is this:  Cults and sects add or subtract to received Christian teaching.  They either come up with a new book to complete what the Bible teaches (e.g. Book of Mormon) or they subtract from Christian teachings (usually focused on Jesus and defining him in non-Nicene and non-Chalcedonian terms).  
Such groups also divide and multiply.  Go to the link to read the rest of the article.

1 comment:

Danny Haszard said...

Destructive cult or benign religion?

The *Cult* word gets overused,but in some cases it is appropriate.
The definition of a destructive religious cult is like alcoholism-if booze controls you instead of the other way around you are an alcoholic.
I was in the Watchtower society Jehovah's Witnesses,they are not benevolent and won't let you leave their organization in peace.The Jehovahs are not without scandals-child abuse,deceptive mind control tactics, sex scandals, money scams, general bad behavior.
Is it a cult?
If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck....
Danny Haszard *tell the truth don't be afraid*