Various church leaders argue that any church that differs from their own is a cult. Why? Some find other churches as competitive and influential upon their own congregations. They perceive a threat as long as another church’s teaching continues to affect their members. Often the most influential churches are slandered as “cults” to strike fear and to cause doubt in associating with those churches and their members. Labeling churches as “cults” for such reasons is slander and defamation.
Some churches are spiritually harmful and may even cut off people from salvation. However, such churches are not necessarily abusive as a “cult.”Some church leaders defame almost every differing church from them as a cult. For matters of salvation, anyone who does not believe is the same as an unbeliever. The truth is that someone labels almost every denomination a “cult.”
Distinct Beliefs of Churches of Christ
According to some, every church that does not accept Reformed theology is a a cult, which would include various churches. The churches of Christ are slandered as a cult simply for teaching that Jesus died to save everyone (1 Tim 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9). Some defame the churches of Christ for believing the Scriptures that one can fall from grace (Gal 5:4; Heb 6:4–6). The churches of Christ believe the Bible that sin is an action and not inherited (Rom 5:12; cf. Ezek 18). Many perceive the churches of Christ as dangerous for obeying Jesus’s commands especially for teaching baptism for the forgiveness of sins and salvation (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet 3:21).
What is a Cult?
What is a cult? Most people understand that a cult is a group of a specific and often peculiar belief being led by influential leaders who either trap, abuse, or allow abuse upon their members. Cults abuse socially, emotionally, physically and, or sexually. Cults often threaten and, or delude the thinking of their members into isolation from society and family.
Abuses of Cults
The abuses of cults are in opposition to Christ’s teaching. Most cults hide secret teachings outside the Bible and the teachings of Jesus Christ. Cults commonly record confessions of sins and even details of one’s intimacy within marriage for accountability by threat of exposing personal secrets. When a member rebels, the cult leaders believe it to be their responsibility to publicly tell of such “sins.” They justify such actions as necessary to defend the body of believers and to show some corruption for someone leaving them. This is not taught in the Bible. Opposing open sin within congregations is necessary and is the action is only withdrawing association (Matt 18:15–17; 1 Cor 5). For this matter, a small body of believers, a huge hierarchy, and even a society of agnostics can take on the abuses of a cult. In extreme situations, a leader will use such secrets to extort people for money, sex, or influence. Such abuses can consist of the extreme such as forced marriages, pedophilia, orgies, beatings, starving others, forced labor, and so on.
Following Jesus Christ
Did Jesus do this? Jesus walked and taught in the open. Jesus permitted people to come and go in following Him. Jesus lived in all purity of thought and without any abuse of His disciples. While Jesus established a new covenant, that new and different set of beliefs did not make His group of followers into a cult. Christ instructed punishment by withdrawing from those who openly lived sinful lives (Matt 18:15–17; cf. 1 Cor 5). Furthermore, Jesus said that families would be divided over Him and that parents would be against children. Christ instructed His disciples to take up their cross and follow Him and lose their lives to find them (Matt 10:34–39). This does not make Jesus’s followers a cult.
By the definition of a cult, most mainstream churches do not qualify as a cult. They are not abusive socially, emotionally, or physically. They do not isolate members. They have no hierarchy or central leader(s). They have no dictating leader(s).
Someone may disagree with the teachings of the churches of Christ, but God will judge those who misrepresent the positions of others. The churches of Christ have no creed other than the Bible. They rely on the words of Jesus given to the apostles and prophets (Eph 3:1–5). The practices of the church of Christ are open and apparent.