What makes a cult?

December 21, 2007 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

Right now, my house is full of family for Christmas.  Just a few minutes ago, my dad and I were having a great discussion about this site.  I was telling him that to my surprise, people have been posting comments in which they’ve said that Sovereign Grace Ministries is a “cult.” 

I shared with my dad that I have a very difficult time with the use of this harsh word, as first of all, (with the exception, perhaps, of the extreme reverence given to C.J. Mahaney) I personally never witnessed anything “cultic” at the church we used to attend.  Secondly, what attracted us to SGM in the first place was their careful attention to biblical doctrine.

So I asked Dad (who is one of the wisest, most Scripturally grounded people I know), “Can a church or a ministry be a ‘cult’ even if they teach completely orthodox doctrines?”

He said that it’s a fine line…that sometimes, even while preaching biblical truths, organizations can employ “cult-like methodologies.”

Literally just minutes after this conversation with my dad, I checked the website and saw that another comment was being held for moderation.  (Just FYI – if you’ve never had a comment approved here before, your comment will go into the “moderation queue.”  Unless it’s spam, it will get approved, but sometimes this can take awhile.  So if you don’t see your comment appear immediately, that’s probably why.)

I almost couldn’t believe my eyes when I clicked on the comment that was awaiting moderation.  Lydia had written:

Interesting discussion…I just found this definition of a cult and thought I’d add it…
A group is called a cult because of their behaviour – not their doctrines. Doctrine is an issue in the area of Apologetics and Heresy. Most religious cults do teach what the Christian church would declare to be heresy but some do not. Some cults teach the basics of the Christian faith but have behavioural patterns that are abusive, controlling and cultic.

This occurs in both Non-Charismatic and Charismatic churches. These groups teach the central doctrines of the Christian faith and then add the extra authority of leadership or someone’s particular writings. They centre around the interpretations of the leadership and submissive and unquestioning acceptance of these is essential to be a member of good standing. This acceptance includes what we consider non-essential doctrines e.i. not salvation issues (such as the Person and Work of Christ.) The key is that they will be using mind control or undue influence on their members.

This whole post [the previous post, about Mahaney’s sermon] started out discussing a message about submitting to leaders by CJ….well, Covenant Fellowship, of Philadelphia, did a similar series this past summer, called “What God Expects” a 3 part series on submitting to leaders…..I listened to all 3 after my husband and I already decided to leave the church…and I must say I was appalled and devastated …very manipulative!

I’ve been wanting to discuss people’s use of the word “cult” to describe SGM, as I am absolutely not comfortable with such strong language to describe OUR particular SG church…or even to describe ANY church where people still hold to the basic tenets of the Christian faith.

So today, I’m putting forth this question:  What makes a cult?

Do you agree with Lydia’s definition, that a “cult” is more determined by how people BEHAVE rather than what they BELIEVE?  Or is this term far too strong to use for a church that exhibits what I’d call some “cultural oddities” but espouses essentially orthodox teachings?

© 2007, Kris. All rights reserved.