A four-part documentary recently aired on Amazon Prime entitled “Shiny Happy People.” The documentary exposed the cult of Bill Gothard and his religious movement known as Institute in Basic Life Principles as a cult. However, the documentary also seemed intent on branding all who believe in Jesus as cultists. The term “fundamentalist religions” was used dozens of times per episode to create the impression that all who believe in and adhere closely to Christ are cultish.
A cult can be defined as any religion that is devoted to the teachings of a mere man. “The man” establishes his own religion and converts people to his own thinking, using his own creeds, and doctrines. Then, he controls the thoughts, actions, and lives of his adherents in all areas of their lives. It is always “the man” who is the center of the religion, not Christ. While most cult leaders use the Bible to control their people, they do it by twisting the scriptures (2 Peter 3:16). They victimize unstable souls with their errors, teaching them cancerous doctrines (2 Peter 2:14; 2 Timothy 2:17).
Some well-known cults include the Mormon Church (headed by Joseph Smith and established in 1830), the Branch Davidians (who were led to a fiery death in Waco by David Koresh), Jehovah’s Witnesses (founded by Charles Taze Russell), Christian Science (founded by Mary Baker Eddy; members believe the way of salvation involves medical science), and The People’s Temple (where 900 people, including children were killed when leader Jim Jones ordered them to drink cyanide in Kool-Aid in 1978. The bodies of cult members were found in the Jonestown compound in the jungle of Guyana).
All of these groups and many others follow the doctrines, creeds, and rules of mere men who want to control people for their own evil purposes.
The New Testament church follows Jesus Christ alone. Jesus is the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 2:18). Christians believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God (John 8:24). Faith comes only from the Bible (Romans 10:17). Christians recognize Jesus alone as their source of eternal salvation (Romans 1:16-17; John 3:16; 14:6). They preach nothing but the gospel (2 Timothy 4:2), and they speak only the words of God as truth (John 17:17) for their authority (Matthew 28:18; 1 Peter 4:11). They worship only in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), following only the commands of God and the example of the first Christians (Acts 2:42).
Moreover, Jesus proved Himself to be the Son of God with miracles, signs, and wonders which people witnessed (Acts 2:22-23). He proved His authority and power when he healed the sick and raised the dead (John 20:30-31). Every record of Jesus, both biblical and historical, confirms that He was above reproach. Cult leaders, on the other hand, generally must hide mountains of documentation proving them to be throughly unrighteous.
Cultism is very real and it is a threat to people’s souls, but Jesus Christ did not establish a cult; He built His church (Matthew 16:18). So be wary when someone claims the church of Christ is a cult. This is a slanderous charge that disrespects Christ, and it masks a real danger in the religious world.
Adapted from David Weaks