A Cult versus the true Church is an article on discerning the difference between a cult like religious group and the true church as God presents it in Scripture.
First, what is the true church?
Before we can define and understand “a cult”, which traditionally has been defined as a break-away group from mainstream Christianity with peculiar practices to themselves, and a doctrinal base that is built up upon being “different” from mainstream Christianity, we have to define what is “mainstream Christianity.”
What we need to understand here is that many cults are birthed in rejection to elements they see and understand as being “essential parts” of mainstream Christianity. The cult phenomena is not wholly “at fault” for its origin, because most of the time, cults cannot birth, grow, and thrive if it were not for the gross failure of the “mainstream” church.
Mormonism is a case in point. Joseph Smith grew up in a Presbyterian family, and when the teachings of election and eternal perdition were carried to an extreme, Smith rejected these teachings seeking something more agreeable to his temperment, and not finding anything, he created his own church. This resulted in a church that rejects hell, and despises Jesus Christ as the true God.
Another case in point is the Jehovah’s Witnesses which likewise rejected the unavoidable punishments of an eternal hell, and so Russell created a religion without this element. The Unitarians have the same origin, and their group is basically founded on the universal salvation of every soul, and the objection to eternal punishment.
In these cases, false doctrine was heaped upon more false doctrine, but the point is that people reacted against what they didn’t sense was morally correct. Their answer is just wrong, because they use their own judgment as their absolute authority instead of the Word of God correctly expounded and applied.
They abuse the people of God instead of serving them.
One of the very apparent marks of the cult is its manipulation of its people. Whereas the New Testament very clearly presents all Christians as brothers and sisters in a spiritual family, where nobody is the authority over the rest, but elder, stable, and mature brethren serve the rest, the cult creates an atmosphere and community where the common members serve the leadership. This is a very important outstanding mark of a cult.
In the true church of God, service is greatly esteemed. But this service is first and foremost a loyalty response to our love of God, and secondly, it is service of the brethren, because we love God (Mat 25:31-45). This element in the true church is not focused on “serving the leadership” nor on “serving the worldly organization of the group”, but it is serving our fellow Christians, primarily where we congregate. A Cult versus the true Church
This is very keenly discerned when in a cultic group or abusive church, the group comes with a higher priority than the individuals in that group. Here is very common in cults and abusive churches to see great financial and personal sacrifices forced on the members, and this is directly for the financial “needs” (better seen as dreams of the leadership, because they are rarely a true “need”), and the poverty of the members is simply ignored. While many members may have great financial needs, the raising of money is seldom directed towards these needs, but rather towards the dreams and aspirations of the leaders, and their welfare.
Acts 4:34 Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, 35 And laid [them] down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.
While the leaders of the early church did receive the sacrifices of God’s people, they were to distribute these collections among the brethren as each and every individual had need. This is true communism (having material possessions in common), and is greatly different from political communism. True church life had the distinctive focus and emphasis on meeting the material needs of the poorer brethren. The sacrifices were voluntary, and the leadership collected and distributed these sacrifices without taking a large part of them for themselves.
It should be very clearly understood that appearances (testimony) means a tremendous amount in true Christianity. A false prophet has no problem with demanding that his followers sell their worldly possessions and give the procedes directly to him. He will either (1) totally overtake and control all incoming donations, or (2) he will tell his followers to by-pass “the church” where he is, and give directly to him.
Mark 10:21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
In this passage, Jesus attacks the avarice and covetousness that had possession of this man. I have heard sermons that concluded preaching and exposition of this passage with “so don’t hold on to that dirty old money, bring it all to the church and put it into the offering plate!” But read carefully the passage!
Jesus told this man not to deposit the money with him or his apostles (and what safer place could it be than to give it directly to Jesus Christ), but to give it to the poor. The divesting of idolatrous riches shouldn’t be given to the church, the money is tainted, but should be given to the poor. A Cult versus the true Church
Cults are “for profit” organizations, and the true church is “non-profit”.
A cult has a monetary outlook which the church should not have. This is not to say that the church should have no money nor property, but its outlook is not singularly financial. Money seems to be the principal motive of most modern cults, and most abusive churches seem to focus on fund raising as their principal activity.
Churches have a heavenly focus, not an earthly.
When God called Abraham, Abraham set his vision and focus on his heavenly inheritance. This is completely typical and normal for every believer and for the group in general. There are spiritual teachings which take a very controlling and dominating position in the minds of true believers. A Cult versus the true Church
- This world is contaminated. Satan and sin have so contaminated this world, that nothing is of very much value any more.
- We will exit like we came in, with nothing. The believer understands that death is the great equalizer. At death, we will leave empty of all the worldly possessions and triumphs we may have done. His understanding is that only that which is done for Christ has eternal value for his own person, so spiritual work is highly esteemed by the believer, and he invests his life, his resources, his time and energy, in these spiritual endeavors, and he does not gather to himself earthly riches.
- A minimalist mindset is better than a worldly mindset. The Christian does work, save his money, and buy things in this world, including supporting himself and his family (his own). But the true believer understands that buildings, clothes, riches, etc. are simply not wise nor prudent for him, and he seeks the minimal necessary instead of seeking to live in great worldly pleasures.
- Possessions will always seek to dominate their owners’ lives to become idols instead of servants. The problem with worldly possessions is that they always force their spiritual nature on their owners. In other words, possessions beg to be attended to, protected, exalted and esteemed, and this always breaks down to you can only have 1 master, God or riches.
The true church “owns” and “has possessions” (Jesus had a treasurer, Judas), but their focus is never seen on using their possessions for luxury, but for service, and that service is specifically directed at the poor, needy, and suffering. This biblical focus is counterbalanced by every Christian seeking to occupy himself in honest work to support their own self. This makes true service of truly needy people possible. Widows, orphans, sick, and handicapped, are always targets of these donations of God’s people, and they are specially emphasized in the Old Testament as recipients of the gifts of God’s people. Also the church is a community, and when one in that community has special needs, then the church as a whole responds. A need is not a new car, but a hospital bill, lack of daily sustenance because of loss of work (when the person is seeking more work but cannot find anything).
A Cult versus the true Church
More Articles on Cults
- Mark of a Cult: Deception
- How to tell if you are in cult #7
- How to tell if you are in cult #6
- How to tell if you are in cult #5
- How to tell if you are in cult #4
- How to tell if you are in cult #3
- How to tell if you are in cult #2