“With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;” (Eph. 4:2)
My mentor in college, Mike Davis, used to emphasize the importance of defining terms. “Define your terms” he would say multiple times a week. There is a term used often among Christendom which I think is being improperly, or at the very least generically, defined. This is important because when a word is used improperly on a broad scale it can be very dangerous and is usually damaging to the body of Christ.
The word is “cult”.
That word seems to be applied to groups so quickly these days. Even ministries as solidly evangelical as “Answers in Genesis” have been refered to as cults. Why? It seems that we Christians throw that accusation out against any group or teaching with which we disagree if a) we can’t think of anything substantive to say, or b) we want to cause our listeners to know we are serious.
So I looked up the definition, just so I could understand what it really means. Here you go, with my commentary in red:
1. a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies. (Particular…like…..all Christianity?)
2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers: the physical fitness
cult. (Yeah, or Jesus. How many of you admire Jesus? Congratulations! You are now a cult member.)
3. the object
of such devotion.
4. a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.
5. Sociology . a group having a sacred ideology and a set
of rites centering around their sacred symbols. (So far, we are extremely generic. These things could describe anyone from Branch Davidians to Baptists.)
6. a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader. (Ok, this one seems a little more specific, but “considered to be false” by whom? Who is it that decides what is “false”, “unorthodox”, or “extremist”? This is again a very subjective statement. It strikes me that the Yankees would have considered the Confederates a cult by this definition, complete with charismatic leader in Robert E. Lee!)
7. the members of such a religion or sect.
8. any system for treating human sickness that originated by a person usually claiming to have sole insight
into the nature
of disease, and that employs methods regarded as unorthodox or unscientific. (Yeah, this would be weird. That is the best one so far. And see how much more specific this one is?)
These definitions are so general and unspecific that the accusation “cult” can be used in almost any imaginable disagreement. Those that admire Larry Bird dislike the “cult” of Michael Jordan. People who like wheat bread never let their children read the cultish propaganda on the white bread labels. “That is cult bread honey. Put it down.”
So then, should we be so free to use this accusation against fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? Should we throw it around so lightly? Doesn’t it bring damage to those we should be loving, even if we disagree with them, that is neither helpful nor correct? This behavior does not comply with the instruction of Eph. 4:2 (referenced above) and a miriad of other passages that exhort us to “forbear” and show love to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
If correction or revelation of error is required for the overall health of the body of Christ, it should be done more specifically. Mention the error or false doctrine precisely, but don’t throw out generalizations like “They are a cult.” Why? Why are they a cult? Because they disagree with you? Nope. Try again Skippy.
Finish this sentence: A group becomes a cult when…
Or this one: “Cult” is an accusation that should be used when…