Why is church important?
If all churches are the same, why are there so many? What’s the right church?
How can I trust someone who says they hear from God?
Why not live my life how I want and “get saved” at the end?
Are churches encouraging people to blindly follow the leader and not think for themselves?
Why should churches not be seen as a cult? They are essentially a large group of smaller sample sets of religious organizations bonded for a signified goal that could be misrepresented, misled, or misguided. This is the same standpoint that religious cults get scrutinized for. They are all there for a purpose, organized, and the membership is expected to follow that path. The external world then looks down on these organizations for being unaccepting of outsiders. They keep their membership close to vest, and ensure that only the believers of the end goal are there. Is this not exactly what a church does?
I’ll start by saying this - I apologize on behalf of everyone who has led you to think that a church discourages those who attend from the ability to think, study, and challenge the “status quo” for the purpose of gaining wisdom… that a church denies those who attend from being more open about their faith and the place where they worship Jehovah God… that a church directs those who attend to be exclusive in their views of themselves and “outsiders” and secretive about the goings on on Sunday mornings or throughout the week. That’s a bunch of malarky.
So, let me clarify the difference between Christ’s Church and a cult (that is most likely led by an ignorant screwball seeking his own glory and benefit rather than the glory of God and the good of others).
Christianity vs. Cults
A definition - cults are typically thought of as a group of people who worship the devil and make obscene sacrifices (sometimes human) on the altar burning with some weird incense, or some other bizarre, evil, pagan rituals… Essentially, while in broadest terms, a cult is a system with particular rites and customs, it’s more accurately defined as an unorthodox sect whose members distort the original doctrines (beliefs) of that religious system. Specifically, a cult is “a religious group that denies one or more of the fundamentals of Biblical truth.” Those fundamentals can be found here. So, if you’re hearing about a new “church” or want to know what your current place of worship believes, compare it against the link previously shared, or agains the Apostle’s Creed, which is found below. If the “church” you’re attending strays from these fundamentals, you may have wondered into a cult, and not a church.
(not because it was produced by the apostle’s themselves, but because it contains an accurate summary of their teachings)
In researching the answer to this question, I’ve come across (from this site) a list of 12 characteristics of a cult. I will list them below and then will list the characteristics of Christianity immediately following so you’re able to clearly see the difference.
12 Characteristics of a Cult:
- One supreme leader or group of leaders who possess a monopoly on the voice of God.
- This leadership is generally charismatic (i.e., attractive, persuasive, endearing, etc.).
- The group functions in an exclusive manner (not inclusive), referring to its movement as the “one true _____ (group, church, gathering, etc.).”
- Relationship to the god of this religion is through the leader or leaders of that group (there can be no direct communion or communication with their god).
- Often times, detractors or those that question said leadership are branded as spiritual malfeasants or “enemies of the church.”
- The authenticity of the group hinges upon some private interpretation or secretly received information that’s not to be examined by anyone.
- Salvation/Heaven in afterlife is through this group alone and/or specific leaders and his/her/their “secretly discovered and protected” teaching.
- There is an emphasis on performance for the furtherance of influence of that group through selling literature, flowers, knocking on doors, taking 2 year mission trips, etc.
- There is usually an undue amount of pressure - socially and religiously - to “give” financially to that specific group only and no other.
- There is usually a great level of control exerted over its members through isolation from family and loved ones who do not ascribe to the cult’s teachings.
- There is usually a great level of control overtly or otherwise exerted over its members through the threat of expulsion and disassociation from the group.
- If expulsion does occur, complete “shunning” or “total avoidance” is commanded toward the “apostate” of the existing members.
10 Characteristics of Christianity:
- The Bible is the very words of God, and ANYONE has access to God’s word (or voice) - and is GREATLY ENCOURAGED to read the Bible.
- Pastors/Ministers are normal people with normal lives and normal problems. One pastor accurately describes many of us by saying, “just a nobody wanting to tell everybody about Somebody”
- The church doesn’t save anyone, but wants to lead everyone to the One who can and will save any who ask. Everyone’s welcome. Nobody’s perfect. Anything’s possible.
- Relationship with Jehovah God through Jesus Christ is not dependent on anyone but you. No one “holds the key” to a personal relationship with God other than Jesus Christ - He’s the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to God but through Him… and all are welcome.
- The Church should invite those with questions, detractors, or others who don’t believe in Jesus into conversation - that’s where understanding happens. Those who don’t follow Christ aren’t seen as an enemy, but they’re loved and served in a way that shows how much Jesus loves.
- There is no private interpretation of the Bible. Anyone can read it and learn it. While many churches may disagree on some secondary issues, the primaries are solidly confirmed and widely known. Churches generally follow the thought that there is “unity in essentials; liberty in non-essentials; love in all things.”
- Salvation/Heaven is found not through someone or something else, but through Christ alone. Salvation is by Grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone according to the Scriptures alone for the glory of God alone.
- Just as a human moves from milk to meat as they grow, spiritually, as we learn more about God through the preaching, teaching, and study of His Word, there is an encouragement for followers of Jesus to use their passions and gifts and talents for the glory of God and the good of others (including supporting family and friends).
- God loves a cheerful giver - not one who gives out of compulsion. You are free to give as much or as little as you’d like - how much you give is between you and God alone. God was generous with us, so we want to follow and be generous of our time, talents, and treasures for His glory and the good of others.
- Christianity isn’t perfect - some may want to try to control you, but that’s not in line with the Bible. Jesus never sought to control anyone, but to counsel them and allow for independence in decision making.
I hope this helps clarify the differences between Christianity and cults. Cults will seek to glorify themselves and bring good to themselves. Christianity seeks to glorify God and provide good to others as far as is able…
How do you know if you’re part of a church or a cult? Go back to the Bible. Study the Word and know what it says… then compare what God’s Word says to the situation you’re in. If they’re not in agreement, you may be in the wrong place.
If you find you are in the wrong place, you’re invited to come hang out with us and over time, become a part of CommUNITY. We’re not perfect… but we know One who is and we want to follow Him.