Joe R. Price


The horror stories of the Branch Davidians in Waco, TX, Heaven's Gate in southern California and The People's Temple (Jim Jones) in Guyana are enough to cause anyone to shudder at the thought of a cult masquerading in the form of a church. So, when I heard recently that some have said that we are a cult (this is not the first time I've heard such descriptions), it caused me to wonder how these folks define a cult.

I did some investigation (to find out if we are a cult and don't know it!). I discovered that those who make such accusations are selective and arbitrary in how they define and apply the term. The following quotation is representative of the what is meant by those who would describe churches of Christ as a "cult":

"Today we will take a look at the question, What is a cult?....Webster's Dictionary say's "A CULT is a quasi-religious group, often living in a colony, with a charismatic leader who indoctrinates members with unorthodox or extremist views, practices, or beliefs. But there are groups that are classified as cults that may seem to many, to be Christian denominations. The way to determine if a group is a cult is solely by their teachings, and if those doctrines conform to the teachings of the Bible and historic Christianity. There are many doctrines which differ among Christian denominations, but they all share teachings that are essential to the Christian faith. In those areas, all Christian churches are in agreement. Some of those doctrines are: that there is only one true and living God and that the one God is manifest in three persons, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; that the Bible is the infallible word of God; and that salvation is a gift of God, by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. When a group differs in these areas from historic, Biblical Christian doctrine, then it falls into the area of being classified as a cult. Non Christian cults will always deny that Jesus Christ is truly God. They will also claim to be the only true church and add their writings and place them above the Bible in authority. When examining any group, be sure that what they are teaching is in harmony with the Bible. Be sure also that the scriptures they are using to support their doctrines are being read within their context. As the late Dr. Walter Martin said, 'A text taken from it's context becomes a pretext, and most often a pretext for error.'" (Something To Consider, Proclaiming The Message Ministries, P.O. Box 500, Grand River, OH 44045-0500)

It is enlightening that according to the foregoing definition, the church we read about in the New Testament would have been considered a cult! It had:

(1) A charismatic leader. Jesus certainly was that (Matt. 21:6-11).

(2) Unorthodox and extremist views, practices, or beliefs. Some of the beliefs and practices of Jesus and His disciples were viewed in this way by the religious leaders of their day. These included:
  a. Eating with unwashed hands (Matt. 15:1-14; Mk. 7:1-5).
  b. Letting known sinners touch them (Lk. 7:36-50).
  c. Eating with sinners and Gentiles (Matt. 11:19; Acts 11:2-3).
  d. They claimed their leader came from heaven and went back to heaven (Jno. 8:23-24)
  e. They claimed their leader (Jesus) is the Son of God and one with God (Jno. 10:30-36; Rom. 1:4).
  f. They claimed their leader (Jesus) was raised from the dead and will one day raise all men from the dead (Jno. 11:25-26; 1 Cor. 15:20-22).

(3) They will also claim to be the only true church. Jesus claimed He would build one church (Matt. 16:18). His apostles taught that He is the head over His body, the church (Eph. 1:22-23). And, they taught that just as the church has one head (Christ), Christ has one body (one church) which He saves (Eph. 4:4; 5:23).

Indeed, many in the first century spoke against Christianity (Acts 28:22). Do you suppose some said it was cult?! The apostle Paul was accused of being "...a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes" (Acts 24:5). (I guess that made it so, right?!)

Could it be that people are throwing around the term "cult" without properly defining it? Truly, it is. By their own definition, Christianity is a cult and Jesus Christ a cult leader!!

It has always been easier and safer for folks (including some brethren) to attach prejudicial labels and biased epithets upon those with whom we disagree than it is to examine what one is saying, believing and practicing in the light of God's word. Why? Because men love the darkness of error and evil more than they love the light of truth (Jno. 3:19-20). Satan blinds their unbelieving minds (2 Cor. 4:3-4). Kill the messenger and one does not have to listen to the message!

Do not be surprised when you are labeled, attacked, discounted, made fun of and otherwise mistreated for your faith in Christ. You are not being treated any differently from how your Master was treated by unbelievers (cf. Jno. 15:18-20; 1 Pet. 3:13-18).

Is the church of Christ a cult? No. Regardless of what men say, we serve the King of kings! (1 Tim. 6:13-16; Matt. 7:21-23; Lk. 6:46; Heb. 5:8-9)