Cult or Orthodox?

Last Sunday, during the second hour training in the Church History class, someone asked a question about what made a movement or idea a cult rather than orthodox… Here’s a brief review by Tim Challies of a new DVD, Marks of a Cult, that came out that provides a good, short summary about the differences between cults and orthodoxy.

Marks of a Cult is the latest in a series of DVDs produced by The Apologetics Group and hosted by Eric Holmberg. Previous titles have included Amazing Grace: The History & Theology of Calvinism and Hells Bells 2: The Power and Spirit of Popular Music, both of which I have reviewed in the past (and both of which are well worth viewing). This latest presentation seeks to answer some of the following questions: Why are Baptists properly considered Christians, but Mormons are not? Why is the Jehovah’s Witness religion classified as an anti-Christian cult while Presbyterians, Wesleyans and Pentecostals are simply seen as denominations within the Christian faith? How does one differentiate between true Biblical Christianity and an aberrant religious movement? And just what are the marks of a cult?

The presentation describes cults through the four marks developed originally, I believe, by Watchman Fellowship. These marks are easy to remember and are helpful in forming a framework around which we can differentiate a cult from a church. The marks are as simple as add, subtract, multiply and divide.

Add: Cults add to Scripture. The revelation of God provided in the Bible is never sufficient for a cult. Thus they must add to the written revelation of Scripture, usually with additional scriptures or with their own translation of the Bible. In this way we have books such as The Pearl of Great Price of the Mormons and the New World Translation of the Bible produced by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Since the Bible claims exclusivity as the written revelation of God, we must see that other books, even if the followers of cults claim that they are equal to the Bible, must actually be over and above the Word of God.

Subtract: Cults subtract from the person of Christ. Cults cannot tolerate the divinity and exclusivity of Jesus and thus usually reduce Him to being a created being. In some cases they make Jesus only a manifestation or mode of God. In either case, the role of Jesus as revealed in Scripture is diminished.

Multiply: Cults multiply the requirements of salvation. Salvation, as it is presented in the Scriptures, is by God’s grace through faith alone. Cults continually add to the requirements of salvation, always adding human works as a necessary prerequisite to salvation. No cult teaches or endorses justification by faith alone. Thus all cults reject the very heart of the gospel.

Divide: Cults divide the loyalty of believers. Each cult believes that it has exclusive revelation and understanding of God that ensures its followers are either exclusively God’s people or are somehow more blessed than others. Cults always seek to divide believers against each other based on the previous three marks. Thus cults are, by their very nature, divisive…”

Hope this provides a good starting point for people who are still confused over the difference.

In His Grace,