What is a Cult?
Who is upside down and who is right side up?
The term "cult" comes from the French word for worship and the Latin cultus, meaning care, cultivation or adoration. The word has had such a general application and its definition has been so surrounded with fear, unforgiveness and prejudice that some argue that it no longer has significant meaning.
While that is true to a large extent, we believe a religious cult can be defined as having three distinctions, when viewed through the eyes of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit who brings that Word to life.
The first is the quasi-adoration of and unquestioned devotion to a charismatic leader. The second, a shared belief that anyone outside the cult group is outside the circle of favor of God, even to the point of believing that those outsiders cannot be saved spiritually. And the third element of a cult is a refusal to be corrected by the Word of God.
One striking example was the trusting, suicidal demise of a large cult when their charismatic leader commanded them to drink a poisonous Kool-Aid. This group displayed all three of the signs of a cult.
A popular definition describes a cult as a group that flows contrary to the mainstream denominations. This view is flawed. Paul the apostle was called a "ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes" (Acts 24:5), a term referring to the early followers of Jesus. This group of early believers went against the mainstream: "…for concerning this sect it is spoken against everywhere" (Acts 28:22). Others referred to them as "these men who have upset the world ["turned the world upside down" — New King James Version]" (Acts 17:6).
The question is: who is upside down and who is right side up? Satan has deceived the whole world (Rev. 12:9) -- and that includes all the world's religions, including the Christian groups more aptly described as "churchianity." While many in these groups have indeed accepted Jesus and have the Holy Spirit working on them, many of the ideas they espouse cannot be found in the Bible. Tradition rules, not God's Word.
Being viewed as heretical by the majority is not, as some choose to define cultism, a definition that is faithful to God's Word. The majority saw Paul's Christianity as heretical: "…according to the Way which they call a sect ["heresy" - King James Version] I do serve the God of our fathers…" (Acts 24:14).
Jesus said that the gate to eternal life was a narrow one. The way of deception and death is the broad way. Size and popularity are not the criteria for deciding the definition of a cult.
In France the term secte is roughly equivalent to the term "cult" in English. France is called the eldest daughter of the (Catholic) Church and my experience in living there showed me that any group that is not Catholic is viewed with some suspicion. Recently the government has cracked down on les sectes, and officials view as cultish groups that would be relatively benign in the United States. Even charismatic churches and some evangelical groups are seen as cults and as threats to society. Prejudice prevails.
The vast majority of people once believed the earth was flat and the world took for granted that false assumption. Now the Flat Earth Society is a small group. We cannot discern a proper definition of "cult" by the prevailing prejudices. People use the term loosely to attack others they may fear or be suspicious of, and the word becomes a subject of personal or corporate interpretation. We believe this brief explanation clears the fog surrounding this subject and presents a concise definition based on the principles of the Word of God.
Since we teach controversial truth, Freedom Church of God receives a number of curses. Some uninformed people accuse us of being a cult because, unlike the majority of churches today, we keep the Sabbath. If that were the criterion, the entire first century church would have been defined as a cult. And they did indeed attract such curses. They were nevertheless the followers of Jesus. They kept the Sabbath and the holy days, as history and the Bible confirm.
Keeping the Sabbath does not make us a cult. Nor do we claim because of the Sabbath and other rare truths we embrace that we are the only true, faithful church.
Furthermore, we do not exalt men. We exalt Jesus. While many refer to him as a lowly lord far below a king in rank, we recognize and worship Him as God. He is the head of the body of Christ, which is composed presently of many groups that have not yet understood the importance of remembering the only commandment God commanded us to remember, the Sabbath commandment.
Our short history and our fruits demonstrate our willingness to be corrected by others who base their corrections on the Word of God. We stand in awe of God's Word, and we willingly accept its instruction and make changes accordingly. We changed from referring to Jesus as Lord when the Holy Spirit showed us that we were wrong on the matter. Even recently, because of the question of a radio listener that we recognized came from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that we wrong in celebrating the day we were born into sin, our birthdays. The list goes on.
We are not governed by a rigid board. Such church boards are often not willing to be corrected by God's Word but are more often than not entrenched in carnal politics and tradition. Jesus is our Leader. The Holy Spirit is our Teacher, and it is He who leads us into all truth (John 16:13). Our Father Love gently corrects us in His ways of truth and love.
We may stand out as different among the many churches today founded in traditions of men. We are not, however, a cult. We are a vibrant and correctable part of the body of Jesus Christ.