Volume. XXIV, No. 21
Sunday, 22 November 2009

Is Christianity a Cult?

Many non-Christians and skeptics have asked this question: “Isn’t Christianity just another Cult?” Sometimes, it seems that our answer does not really matter. Living in a post-modernistic world like ours today where people regard all religious belief as immature and unnecessary for sensible human beings, each person seems to have his own definition (or re-definition) of every religious term. Religion, including Christianity, is believed to be simply a man-made invention created to serve an individual\'s psychological needs or a society\'s sociological ends. Inevitably, therefore, Christianity has gradually been perceived to be a cult as defined by post-modern man. How should Christians defend against those who falsely categorise Christianity as just a cult? Perhaps, it is best that we approach this topic by recognising some of the marks of a cult in order to distinguish Christianity from a cult. There are three distinct marks of a cult—dependence on a single, unquestionable leader; dependence on a mystical experience or feeling; and a legalistic set of rules. A group is not necessarily a cult because it has one or more of these marks, but these are signs to watch for as Apostle John warns us in 1 John 4:1Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”  So, let us try the spirit of the modern day cults.

Dependence on One Person and Extra-Biblical Revelation
The primary mark of a cult is a leader who claims to have some direct spiritual or extra-biblical revelation. He or she may claim contact with God or angel(s), some sort of heavenly vision, or a special spiritual insight or series of dreams, but these things are private and totally unverifiable. Cult group leaders who have claimed direct spiritual revelation such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons), Christian Science and many other pseudo-Christian groups. These all claim that their founders have direct access of God’s extra-biblical revelation, therefore undermining the supreme and final authority of the infallible and inerrant Scripture. It is typical that the leader of a ‘cult’ may claim to be the channel to reveal this teaching to others with an ambition or a so-called divine call to revive or restore or reawaken God’s church.
How does Christianity differ from this? Jesus, the ‘leader’ and very heart of Christianity, did claim a unique revelation. He said He had come from Heaven (Jn 6:51), and that He spoke only what the Father had told Him (Jn 4:34). However, in John’s gospel Jesus also told the people that the Father and Spirit witnessed what He says was true (Jn 5:37-38; Jn 10:25; Jn 15:26). He also points to the testimony of John the Baptist (Jn 5:31-35), His miracles (Jn 5:36), and the accounts of the disciples, and the Old Testament prophets, the Scriptures (Jn 5:39-47). In other words, He encourages people to look at the testimonies of many witnesses besides Himself.
In view of the above biblical and internal evidences, we can conclude that Christianity is not based upon private, unverifiable events but open acts of God that can be clearly examined and inerrantly and infallibly recorded for us in the pages of the Holy Scriptures and testified by a myriad of witnesses throughout the ages. Examples include the accounts of the Exodus from Egypt into the Promised Land, the crossing of the Jordan, historical accounts in the Old Testament and the events in the Gospels themselves. These are all supported by many witnesses and historians, both Christian and secular. No one who challenged the Bible has ever successfully found any valid inconsistency or discrepancy in the Bible. The Scripture is not like the tablets allegedly found by Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, which were never seen by anyone but him, and was reported and verified to have hundreds of spelling and grammatical ‘mistakes’ (ie. Joseph Smith’s god must have had a poor command of language) in its first edition (For further reading on mistakes in the Book of Mormons, log on to: http://www.apologeticspress.org/rr/reprints/Book-of-Mormon.pdf). 
In a nutshell, most if not all cults are based on the writings of one person, claiming one revelation and perhaps embroidering that over time, but the Bible of Christianity was written by at least forty different authors over thousands of years, yet attests uniformly and consistently to the same inerrant and infallible Truth. Rather than depending upon one, so-called all-knowing leader, Christianity is based upon historical events recorded over thousands of years and corroborated by many of God’s witnesses and/or divinely inspired writers that point to the same Truth. That is the first thing which makes Christianity distinctive from a cult.
Dependence on Personal and Human Experience
The second mark of a cult is an emphasis on experience at the expense of rationality. This experience is usually bound up with the authority of the leader of the cult. Followers will often try to recreate or imitate the experience of which the cult leader testifies. There will be ceremonies, techniques, prayers, and meditations, and these will often be done in secret.
How does Christianity differ from this? Our Lord said, “…I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing.” (Jn 18:20; cf. Matt 10:26, Mark 4:22, Luke 8:17, 12:2) Also in Acts 26:26 when Paul is before Agrippa and Festus he says, “For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.” No cult leader who has ever existed could say that. Because much of the claims made by cult group leaders are all done in ‘secrecy’ so no one would ever be able to verify the authenticity of any of their claims. What is even more cynical is the fact that members of the cult groups are often required to take an oath not to reveal these secrets upon various penalties, even death such as the Mormons (ie. called the death oaths). 
The purpose of these ceremonies, or secret rites, is to confirm that the follower is walking in the footsteps of the leader. The leader will say, “Do this and you will know (experience) for yourself.” Unfortunately, many pseudo-Christian churches today are also going along the same trend trying to elevate personal and mystical human experience above the infallible and inerrant revelation of God, the Bible. Such dependence on personal experience will inevitably lead to a loss of rationality and dependence on God’s Word as our daily bread and source of spiritual light and guidance. Personal and human experience cannot be tested or verified, so for the true cult believer, there is nothing which will falsify the cult because reason and logic are bypassed – for he or she only thinks in terms of personal and human experience. Sad to say, many professing Christians of our day also seem to be caught up with this false and man-centred foundation of belief. This is demonstrated again and again in the way that cult group members were ready to be deceived beyond reason, rational and logic. For example, when factual inconsistencies in cult teachings do appear, cult leaders always have a ready explanation. For example, when Christ didn’t return in 1917 for the Jehovah’s Witnesses as predicted by their leader, they were told He had returned to the Heavens but couldn’t be seen. Of course, the Jehovah’s Witnesses made a few other predictions concerning Christ second coming after 1917, but none obviously came to pass. Nevertheless, the members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are still as gullible as ever to be readily deceived and accept the explanations of their leader without any question. 
God has created us as thoughtful persons with reason, rational and logic. Christianity is true because the Bible is truly God’s infallible and inerrant Word. The Bible can be tested and has been tested through the ages by aggressive attackers of God’s Word, but it remains unmovable as the solid foundation of Christian faith. The Christian faith is based upon more than personal and human experience. When a teacher or even a church leader does not encourage followers to test what he says, warning flags should arise. The goal of any cult is to have their followers believe exactly what they are told without question and to follow the one leader.
The third characteristic of a cult is legalism. That is, the cult leaders lay down rules for the lives of the followers, and that is it. These rules can be extreme, as we saw some years ago in ‘Heaven’s Gate’—some men emasculated themselves, and, in the end, followers killed themselves—or there can simply be a long list of what to eat, drink, say and do. The disciple of a cult has the assurance that they are in good standing when they do certain things or are eventually saved by keeping them.
How does Christianity differ from this? The Scripture has given Christians moral laws, but the Bible does not give us a great set of rules for every circumstance in which we may begin a right relationship with God or eventually be saved by keeping those dos and don’ts. This, however, is exactly the teaching of the Pharisees which Jesus condemned. The Bible teaches us to present ourselves to God as a living sacrifice, and then we will know His good and perfect will (Rom 12:1,2). Every born again Christian should obey God’s commandments, but the ultimate end of keeping the law is not so much that we would just be better Christians than others, but to be more and more like Jesus Christ by knowing and doing His will. In other words, the emphasis in Christianity is on the spiritual maturing of the individual so that everyman may be brought to God perfect in Jesus Christ (Col 1:28) by being conformed into the image of God’s only Son (Rom 8:29) our blessed Saviour!
It is true that many Christian churches today seem to emphasise on keeping God’s laws per se as the main objective for Christians—but this is legalism. As a result, people are attracted to rules and lists of dos and don’ts because they think these will make them safe or be better people, but this is not the teaching of the Bible. If we keep God’s commandments in the Bible just to make ourselves feel good or thinking that we can gain some personal spiritual benefits out from it(eg. such as peace and joy), what difference does it make when we compare Christianity to cults? Even the cult members keep the commandments with the same expectations in mind (such as New Age spiritual and holistic well-being). This is why Apostle Paul warns us in Colossians 2:20,23 and says, “Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinanceswhich things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh. If we keep God’s commandments, which we should, we must make sure that we keep them because we desire to have fellowship with God (1 Jn 1:6) and because we love the Lord and our brethren in Jesus Christ (1 Jn 2:4-6), not so that we may ‘satisfy our own flesh’ or feed our own pride as Apostle Paul says.
In Conclusion:
By no means is historic biblical Christianity a cult, but every man-made and man-centred religion is in some way a ‘cult’. Having said this, God’s people must constantly examine whether they are channeling their devotion to the right person or establishing their faith on the right foundation. If a professing Christian follows a human leader rather than Christ, or elevates human and personal experience above God’s revelation, or simply regards Bible as a set of legalistic moral codes, he is in danger of turning his faith into a cult belief. May God help us.
Ps. Weng

More Lively Hope



Kitchen Rosters: Team Leader: Bro Daniel Volvricht. Next Lord’s Day Kitchen Roster: Team Leader: Bro Raymond Ang.
Please proceed to the Dining Room for prayers when the bell rings.
Senior Citizens’ Fellowship meeting postponed to this Wednesday due to heat wave.
Please note: the last person who leaves this building must ensure all exits are secured.
Aunty Oei (Sik Tjoa) resides at All Hallows Court, Rm 60, 20 Norseman Ave, Westbourne Pk, until 21 Dec. Her direct phone number: 8229 6751.
Next QTR RPGs 2010 available on literature table.
Looking Ahead
Christmas Concert: Sat, 5 Dec 2009.
Bible-Presbyterian National Youth Camp 8 - 12 Dec, Perth.
Sunday School Christmas Party on Sat, 12 Dec, 2 - 4 pm.
Christmas Worship Service, Fri 25 Dec, at 10.00 am.
Watchnight Service, Thurs, 31 Dec, 7:30 pm.
Praise & Thanksgiving
Journey mercies: Elder Michael, Sisters Alice & Michelle Lee; Bro Ngie Joo & Sis Sooi Chin Gong; Bro Barry & Sis Juanita Palm; Bros Lincoln Law (Adl), Raphael Ng (Pt Aug/Adl), & Frank Wong (KL); Sisters Lydia Fan & Juanita’s parents (Adl); Wendy Liang (S’pore); and all others who have travelled.
Church activities: Reformed Hermeneutics & Apologetics Class; Ladies’ Fellowship Share & Prayer; BSAG Pot-Bless; Chinese Ministry; Joy & Maranatha; Choir Practices & Rehearsals; YAF; & Session Meeting.
Cool change after more than 1 week of heat wave.
Daily mercies, protection, and guidance.
Prayer Items
Health & God’s healing - Rev George & Sis Nan van Buuren; Rev John & Mrs Christine McKenzie; Rev Stephen Khoo, Dr & Mrs S H Tow; Rev & Mrs James White; Preacher Zhang, Dn Yaw Chiew Tan; Bros Tommy Brooks, Colin Creaser, Makoto Kobayashi (JPN), Elton Law, Alan Marion, Len & Richard Pearson, Winston Selvanayagam, Fred Volvricht & Hans Ziegelmann; Mr Swee Liang Ng, Mr Yeom; Grandpa Ki; Auntie Oei; Sisters Mabella Booth, Nita Chong’s mother, Annie D’Mello & her mother (Mumbai), Myung Ki (& her father - S Korea), Choon Fong Lee (KL); Fiona & Lehia Paauwe; Margaret, Dianne, & Sarah Pearson; Aranka Rejtoe, Susan Veradi, Irena Kurek-Braden; Mrs Win Hooper; Mrs Maggie Wong (post-op recovery); & others in affliction.
Missions - Bro Chanton & Sis Siang Lai (Siem Reap); Hopefuls in S’pore; Teo family (Kuching).
Bro Surish Dharmalingam - ministry in Vientiane (Laos) & Siem Pang (Cambodia).
Sketch n’ Tell Ministry - Pr H S Lim (Melb).
IBPFM (USA) - For missionaries & funds
Pastor Weng & family & ministry.
Journey mercies:  Dn David & Sis Giok Yeo & family (Jpn & China); Bro Raymond Chia & family (Tas); Bro Barry & Sis Junaita Palm (Perth); Bro Jonathan Liaw; Sisters Katrina Loh, Felicia & Vanessa Tan (S’pore); and all others who are travelling.
Ministry in New Life BPC (London) - Ps & Sis Ki.
Hopefuls organizing a get-together in S’pore (Dec)for next year’s newcomers to Adelaide & Hope BPC.
Uni Students Exams & Year 12 students - Bros Joshua Chung, Vabhav Sankey, & Jason Teng.
Job - Bro Cong Pham; Sisters Marion Chan, Hui Wei Chua, Tabitha Tan, Judy Li & Corinne Teng.
Good health in pregnancy - Sisters Mira Hornung, Bernadette Ng, & Susan Weng.
Sis Kim Tan (Melb) in last stage of pregnancy - preparation for delivery.
God’s comfort, strength, guidance & care: Sisters Kathleen Creaser & Margaret Hooper.
Wisdom & guidance for our nation’s leaders.
Laotian & Pakistani believers under persecution.



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