HOW TO RECOGNIZE A CULT
In former times, the derogatory designation of “heresy” was applied to a Christian deviant sect. Nowadays, the popular name for an unorthodox religious group is “cult.” And like the persons it represents, this odious word has itself degenerated from a former place of esteem. In fact, it now means almost the direct opposite of what it did in times past.
Taken from the Latin verb colere, the participle cultus originally carried the related meanings of “tilling,” “caring, “refining,” “worshiping,” and “dwelling.” Derivatives of cultus in our language are “culture” and “cultivation.” Also, the word “cult” still carries a higher sense in which it is used to designate any set of distinct religious rites or ceremonies.* A cult may be centered around the veneration of a person, a sacred object, a symbol, or an ideal. Obviously, by this definition every religion, including Christianity, is a cultic group. And by popular expression it is sometimes said of admirers of eminent figures that they constitute a cult - as with a “cult of Napoleon” or a “cult of Marilyn Monroe.”
Without doubt, it is because of the current popularity of strange and aberrant religious bodies that the word “cult” (in its worst sense) has come into general use.** But while most people are aware of the term, few can define the specific characteristics of a group that fit them into this category. Not infrequently in a discussion on religion one hears the question, “Do you believe that such-and-such a sect is a cult?”
And the answer to this question is that it is indeed possible to distinguish a real cult group from other questionable, but still orthodox, Christian sects or societies. This can be done by following the acrostic given below and matching beliefs to this mnemonic device.
*Speaking in a sociological sense, all religions are said to have common elements including cult, ethic, custom, and order. Here, the word “cult” refers to the particular aspect of rituals and mysteries that are employed in every public observance of religion.
**The older term “heresy” now seems to be restricted to medieval times, along with such other titles as “infidel,” “unbeliever,” and “blasphemer.”
THE ATTRIBUTES OF SO-CALLED “CHRISTIAN” CULTS
“C” Claim to Being “the True Church”
“U” Unorthodox Belief
“L” Legendary Origin (or Founder)
“T” Trinitarian Error
“S” Substitute Scripture
Now, it may be noted that there is duplication between two of these items, since Trinitarian Error is an Unorthodox Belief. But the purpose of setting this attribute apart is to denote the special gravity of wrong doctrine concerning the Trinity. (In fact, this doctrine is so important that one should always confront a member of a cult group with the proper relationship of Jesus Christ to the Godhead - and don’t get sidetracked into discussing lesser issues. If the cultist can be won over to accepting the Lordship of Christ, all of the other peculiar beliefs and practices will eventually fall in line, or at least, not be worth worrying about.) Christology is the most important belief, since it determines whether a person is really a Christian or not.
Now it is true that some of the cults are worse than others, and the marginal groups may be hard to fit into the above acrostic. But for the more radical sects, their features may be easily shown to fit the acrostic like a glove. The following tabulation is provided in evidence of those groups who fall completely outside the pale of orthodox Christendom.
“C” Call themselves “Saints” and everybody else “Gentiles.”
“U” Polygamy, proxy-baptism, dark skin denoting sin, America is “Zion”
“L” Joseph Smith talked to angels; miraculously read golden tablets.
“T” Jehovah and Jesus have physical bodies; “Adam” is Jehovah.
“S” “Book of Mormon” and “Pearl of Great Price” by Joseph Smith.
SEVENTH DAY ADVENTISTS
“C” Claim to be Remnant Flock; Sunday worship is “unpardonable sin” and “the mark of the Beast.”
“U” Jewish laws maintained; Atonement delayed until 1844, soul-sleep.
“L” Ellen White’s miracles and prophecies.
“T” Christ is the angel Michael; Satan was once equal to Christ.
“S” “The Great Controversy” and “Testimonies” by Mrs. White.
“C” Calling others “false churches.”
“U” Adventist date-setting, soul-sleep, Old Testament legalism.
“L” “Pastor” Russell’s prophecies and arrogant claims of knowledge.
“T” Christ is the angel Michael; an impersonal Holy Spirit.
“S” “Studies in the Scriptures” and “New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.”
“C” Condemnatory dogmatism; separate medical practitioners.
“U” Evil, sin, disease, and death are said to be “illusions.”
“L” Mary Baker Eddy’s miracles and prophecies; her veneration.
“T” Christ did not come to earth; Jesus was a human being.
“S” “Key To The Scriptures” by Mrs. Eddy.
Richard L. Atkins