What is a cult?

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This article is one in a series looking at the issue of whether the message of William Branham is a cult. You are currently in the article that is in bold:

William Branham holds meetings with Jim Jones
  1. What is a cult?
  2. How do cult members act?
  3. Are the followers of William Branham in a cult?

The definition of a cult

The word "cult" became an English word only in the 1600's. The word cult comes from the Latin word cultus, which means “worship” or “adoration.” It is not used in Scripture. However, the Bible does refer to those who are “turning to a different gospel,” whose leaders “pervert the gospel of Christ.”

One definition of a "cult" is a sect or group of people that holds to deviant doctrines. A cult is a system of religious beliefs that distorts orthodox Biblical doctrine. “Orthodox” refers to basic beliefs that conform to established doctrine. “Doctrine” refers to a general teaching or a system of principles. Biblical doctrine is teaching based on the self-evident truths of Scripture.[1]

A “cult” has been defined as a religious group founded by and built upon the teachings of a religious leader whose authority is viewed as being equal to or greater than the Bible and whose teachings are in opposition to the doctrines of biblical and historic Christianity.

The crucial part of the second definition of the word cult is, “whose authority is viewed as being equal to or greater than the Bible.” The founder of the cult is viewed as being a “prophet” or “prophetess” of God. Since he or she is the “voice of God,” the person’s teachings are authoritative. Thus the cult is based solely upon the religious authority of the founder. Everything depends on the validity of that authority.

The issue of religious authority is the most basic problem one encounters when witnessing to a cult member. While the child of God looks to the Scriptures as the ultimate standard by which to decide religious truth, the cultist looks to his leader to decide the truth for him. As long as the Christian and the cultist are looking to different religious authorities, there is no common ground between them where they can begin.[2]

Cults either ignore the Bible altogether, or they say, ‘Ah yes, the Bible gives us the truth, but if you really want to understand the Bible, you must interpret it in the light of this revelation which has come to us’. In speaking thus, of course, they resemble Roman Catholicism which also claims this extra authority, this extra understanding, this further revelation. And in practice, whatever lip-service they may pay to the Scriptures, the real authority is this other... this extra... this new... this direct revelation that has been given.[3]

What is a Christian sect?

A heretical sect is a religious group that separates from an established Christian group and is usually founded by someone who has left that organization.

The Greek word translated “sect” is the word "hairesis", from which comes the English word heresy. Hairesis means “a choosing,” usually referring to a division. While all religions have their various sects, which differ among themselves in minor areas of doctrine or policy, each religion has also spawned heretical sects.

A heretical Christian sect creates division in a church over teaching that perverts Biblical truth. The result is the formation of a group that chooses to separate from God’s people and God’s truth. Although a heretical sect has questionable doctrines, its deviation from a mainline group is usually a question of what or who will be the source of authority.

In practical terms, there is no real difference between a cult and a heretical sect.

Didn't Paul create a new sect or cult?

The Jewish leaders charged the apostle Paul with being the ringleader of a sect:

We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect 6 and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him.[4]

But this was not the case. Paul did not start a new sect. Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah, who fulfilled all the Old Testament prophesies about the “anointed one” who was to come. Christianity is not a perversion of truth, but the perfection of truth. Christ did not come to create new teaching, but rather to fulfill the old.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.[5]

Are all cults basically the same?

Cults exhibit similar psychological patterns:

  1. closed-mindedness - not interested in a rational evaluation of the facts
  2. blind obedience to authority … the dogma of leader or founder is supreme
  3. controlled living … details of daily life are dictated by the leader
  4. contempt for outsiders … intolerance for any belief system other than their own

“There will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.” (2 Peter 2:1)

How to determine wheter something is a cult?

Does it ADD or SUBTRACT to God's Word OR the person of Jesus Christ?

Mormons add three other books of Scripture, including the Book of Mormon, “the most correct book on earth.” Rosicrucians include, along with the Bible, the Egyptian Book of the Dead and The Lost Books of Jesus as their holy books. Message followers hold the message of William Branham as equal to or greater than the Bible.

Jehovah’s Witnesses and message followers teach that Jesus was actually Michael the Archangel, not God in the flesh.

“Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words,or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.” (Proverbs 30:5–6)

“He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God.… For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” (Colossians 1:15–16)

Does it MULTIPLY Salvation requirements OR DIVIDE the follower's loyalty?

The New Age Movement denies Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for salvation and substitutes reincarnation as the means of perfecting the soul. William Branham taught that if you didn't believe him to be a prophet and follow his message, a person does not have the Holy Spirit.

Branch Davidians taught that one cannot be loyal to God without being loyal to David Koresh. Message followers believe that one cannot go in the rapture if they don't follow William Branham.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9)

“You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)

How cult leaders manipulate their followers

All cult leaders believe that they alone have the one true message from God. This is true for message ministers.

  1. They present themselves as infallible authorities, requiring absolute loyalty. William Branham is seen as the source of all true doctrine.
  2. They persuade through their strong, charismatic personalities.
  3. They prohibit individual freedom, expecting unquestioned obedience.
  4. They promote themselves as divine or as God’s sole agent on earth.
  5. They possess “new truth” from God, while perverting Biblical truth.
  6. They provide simplistic answers for complex problems.

“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.” (2 Corinthians 11:13–15)


Footnotes

  1. June Hunt, Biblical Counseling Keys on Cults: The Truth Twisters (Dallas, TX: Hope For The Heart, 2008), 2–4.
  2. Robert A. Morey, How to Answer a Mormon: Practical Guidelines for What to Expect and What to Reply When the Mormons Come to Your Door (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1983), 12–13.
  3. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Christian Warfare: An Exposition of Ephesians 6:10–13 (Edinburgh; Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1976), 128.
  4. The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Ac 24:5–6.
  5. The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Mt 5:17.


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