by Richard Mansel, managing editor
Do the doctrines and practices of Churches of Christ make us a cult? People have made this charge for years. We need to give it some thoughtful consideration and provide an answer.
Cults have some very basic characteristics.
First, cults have a charismatic leader who stands as the most recognizable figure of the group. Their will carries the organization. We see this with Jim Jones, David Koresh and a host of others.
Churches of Christ do not have an earthly leader or a headquarters. Christ is the head of the church and he is at the right hand of God (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 1:22-23; Hebrews 8:1). We are individual, autonomous congregations spread throughout the world. Moreover, we believe that congregations should be run by a plurality of elders or a group of men (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5; 1 Timothy 2:12-15).
It is ironic that people in religious groups with a national headquarters, a national leader and congregations run by a single Pastor, call Churches of Christ a cult.
It is true that in some congregations of Churches of Christ, as well as every type organization on earth, there are those who seek to enforce their will. Yet, the rest of us are not responsible for their behavior since we and Scripture abhor such practices in the Lord’s church (3 John 9-11).
Second, cult leaders engage in brainwashing their members so they will be manageable.
In Churches of Christ, we strongly encourage everyone to be Bible students so they will know the truth on their own (Acts 17:11). In our sermons, classes and in our writing, we hope that people will compare our teachings with God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
The disagreement among members on certain subjects makes this claim of cult status ridiculous. We are not brainwashing anyone. Of course, with no individual leader, who would do it anyway?
It is once again curious that people in religious groups who have a National Conference that produces a Creed or list of beliefs, to stand in addition to Scripture, for all in their religious body to follow, call Churches of Christ a cult.
Third, a cult has a closed fellowship.
A misunderstanding exists today in the religious world. Denominationalism is everywhere today across the religious landscape and this influences all of us in one way or another. If we are not careful, this will blind us to what Scriptures actually says.
Denominationalism does not exist in Scripture. Jesus built his one church (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 4:4-6). We are either in the light or in darkness (John 8:12; 1 John 1:5-7; Ephesians 5:11; 2 Corinthians 6:14). We are in Christ or we are not (Galatians 5:27; Ephesians 1:7). Scripture condemns disunity in the Church (1 Corinthians 1:10).
If we are in Christ and walking in the light, we are in fellowship with Christ and other saints. To step outside of the fellowship of the light and Christians is to wander in darkness, the abode of Satan, and to walk with sinners, who stand against God. This is clearly what Scripture teaches.
If we understand what Scripture teaches about the Church, we will be able to understand fellowship. We are thrilled to fellowship with those in Christ as brethren and our fellowship should be full of love and rejoicing.
Once again, it should be noted that those who do not understand what Scripture teaches on Biblical fellowship condemn Churches of Christ for being a cult, while they themselves think that anyone who says that they are a Christian is one.
We must know what Churches of Christ actually teach if we wish to represent what they believe.
by Richard Mansel, managing editor