Is Christianity a cult?

Paul Derengowski, ThM


In the world of cults, cultism, and cult discussions there is sometimes the claim that all religions are cults, including that of Christianity.  The persons making the claim often run to Webster’s dictionary and misquote its definition, leaving out the parts involving unorthodoxy and extravagance, usually with the hope that whoever is listening to their argument will agree that either the term “cult” has no real substantive meaning, or if it is used, it needs to applied to everything religious, thereby rendering it essentially meaningless all over again.  It is a fallacious strategic move on the part of many cultists, postmodernists, and relativists, to try and deflect a definitive label through equivocation.  But as with all fallacies, the move is unwarranted, and therefore so is the attempt to label Christianity at cult.

There are three basic reasons why Christianity cannot be a cult in the theological sense.  First, since Jesus is the standard by which Christianity is defined, and Jesus is unique in himself, then to label Christianity a cult would be to assert that it is an aberration of itself, which makes absolutely no sense.  Second, when Christianity was established by divine decree, it was not a rehash of something that preceded it, nor was it a sect of Judaism, as it often argued.  Instead, it was something “new.”  Third, only if words mean nothing, then can the word “cult” be applied to Christianity.  Since words, though, must mean exactly what they are designed to convey, then to label Christianity a cult would contradict the concept of meaningful communication.  Nevertheless, lets flesh these counter-arguments out a bit more so that it may be understood that when the word “cult” is used, it cannot be applied to Christianity.

Jesus is the Standard

So many of those in the cults like to think that they are following Jesus.  He is frequently mentioned throughout much of their literature, and those in most of the cults like to think of him as their savior.  But believing and being are two separate things.  One can believe that one is a professional basketball player playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, as one dribbles the ball and dunks on an eight-foot basket in the driveway on a fall afternoon, but just because one believes it, does make it so.  It is not a state of being, meaning that it is not a state of reality either.  Such is the case with those in the cults.  A belief about Jesus may be in their hearts, as well as on their lips, but the reality is, Jesus is far, far from them because of aberration.  They are following a faulty concept of Jesus and have been deceived into believing that fall basketball in one’s driveway is the same thing as Laker basketball at the Staple Center.

Since Jesus is the standard to discern whether one is in a cult or not, then it becomes incumbent upon those using cult terminology to know who Jesus is and what he taught.  That information can only be found in the Bible, which must be presupposed as absolutely true and authoritative, otherwise, regardless of what Jesus and his disciples did say about false prophets, teachers, and “wolves in sheep’s clothing”, is rendered meaningless.  Anyone can believe anything about Jesus, God, or professional basketball, and it would not matter one iota.  No one could concur with or refute anyone about anything because all would be relative to the person making up the definitions, since final authority would lie with the individual’s subjective opinion, not the transcendent objective facts.  Therefore, when one turns to the Bible, and what Jesus has said, those groups and individuals who presuppose something about it and Him, and then advocate doctrines born out of ignorance or denial of biblical teaching based on sound hermeneutical principles are, in fact, those false prophets, teachers, and “wolves in sheep’s clothing” which are referred to in the contemporary term known as “cults.”  Biblical Christianity, as defined by the person, works, and words of Jesus Christ, cannot be a cult.  Instead, it is the representation of a work commissioned by Jesus to carry on his work until the day he returns and the age of grace terminates.  To state that biblical Christianity is a cult would be a contradiction in terms.  Cults defy the person, works, and words of Jesus as outlined in the Bible, they do not affirm him or them.

Christianity is something “New”

King Solomon, one of the wisest persons to have ever lived once wrote, “That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done.  So, there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9).  While true as a general principle, particularly as it relates to the fallen state of man and his search for meaning apart from person of God which all men have been separated due to sin, it is not absolutely true overall.  There are “new” things that God has created, and will continue to create, “under the sun,” with the first of being the body of believers, or the Church, when God graciously and spiritually regenerates a lost sinner.  That person then becomes a “new” person in Christ.  Several biblical passages bear out this reality.

2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

Romans 6:4 “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” After admonishing the Ephesians believers to refrain from walking in the things that God had redeemed them from, the Paul tells them,

Ephesians 4:20 “But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”

Then Paul tells the Church at Colossae,

Colossians 3:9-11 “Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.”

The point is, there are “new” things under the sun, but only as they are manifested in the work of God, by the instrumentation of what Jesus did to atone for sin, and through implementation of the Holy Spirit and he seeks to convict men of sin, regenerates them spiritually, and then leads them to repent.

Those in the cults, though, only rehash the very things that led men to engage in sin and rebellion against God in the first place.  Seeking to be wise on their own, the rebellious reason that God has not spoken, and then set out on a course of self-refuting self-destruction as they strive to be “as God,” while failing to recognize that such a feat is not possible, nor practical.  Many times that reasoning has led those in the cults to distort what God has said in an effort to palliate his guilty conscience, but again, that is nothing new either, given that that has been going on since man first walked away from God in garden.

Christianity, though, is also “new” in the sense that while assume that the Church is simply a carry-over or continuation of the what God started in the people of Israel, God makes it clear that that is not so.  The “new” man was created through the shedding of Jesus’ blood on the cross, so that now both Jews and Gentiles may share the same access to God through Christ.  There is no longer a dividing wall between the two that was created through the Law, which tended only to make enemies between God and man due to man’s inability to keep the Law perfectly.  Again, the apostle Paul wrote,

Ephesians 2:11 Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision ” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands—12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.

Therefore, Christianity cannot be a cult in the same sense as it applies to the counterfeits, since God established it to reconcile man to God.  It is the standard of “newness” by which those who fail to measure up to the standard can then be labeled a cult, and subsequently abandoned or avoided.

Meaningful Meanings

The word “cult,” like all words, has a particular meaning when engaging in certain kinds of theological and apologetic discussions.  It means an aberration, an eccentricity, or a counterfeit.  As has been stressed numerous times elsewhere, depending on the context will depend on how the word is used, but never has the word meant absolutely nothing, otherwise it would be senseless to even call it a word at all.  It would fit right in with other non-words like Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, which although make for interesting filler when designing websites or producing brochures, have zero content for meaningful discussion.  Such is not the case when cult is used.  The word cult, when used to describe very specific groups and organizations that are theologically unorthodox, means to beware!  Something is definitely amiss.  Enter at your own risk.

Since the word “cult” has a definitive meaning, then when addressing the subject as it pertains to aberrant religious entities, it cannot apply to Christianity.  Christianity, as defined by the words and works of the person of Jesus, as outlined in both the Old and New Testaments, is the standard by which all those wishing to align themselves with Christian thought are to be measured.  Those claiming to be Christian and yet fail to meet the biblical standard through sound principles of interpretation (i.e. hermeneutics) are therefore cults.  They are aberrations, distortions, and ultimately the false prophets and teachers that Jesus and his disciples warned about when they walked the earth.  Therefore, since the term “cult” is meaningful, so long as one understands the context and criteria which differentiates the real deal versus the imitation, then it should be used those who advocate false doctrine and practice in the name of Christianity, or who have borrowed from Christianity to propagate their particular religious brands.


Those in the cults, or those simply ignorant of what a cult is from a theological point of view, vehemently dislike the label of cult itself as it applies to the religious organization that they belong.  Arguments are frequently raised to counter the charge, ranging from it is un-Christlike and unloving to label any organization a cult, to the word has no substantive meaning, since all religions are cults, to the “we’ll just have to agree to disagree” strategy, to name just a few.  Those arguments, though, are specious, since they intentionally ignore the reality that Christianity is distinct, is the standard, and that the word “cult” is definitive, when its use is understood according to the context of the discussion.  Furthermore, the arguments are contradictory in light of the fact that even the cults use the term “cult” to describe actually cultic activity, like Jonestown or Heaven’s Gate, if not recklessly and maliciously use it to defame those who are actual members of the Christian faith.

Cult, though, cannot apply to historic, biblical Christianity, at least in the theological and apologetic manner which describes those outside the pale of Christianity.  Christianity itself is the standard, as found in the words and words of Jesus who established Christianity (i.e. the Church) to carry on his mission in his absence, until his return.  Moreover, Christianity cannot be a cult because of its novelty.  It is not a carry-over from Judaism, but a fulfillment of it when God broke down the dividing wall between it and the Gentile world with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  Those in Christ become “new” creatures not “old” additions.  Finally, Christianity cannot be a cult if the word itself has any meaning at all.  Cult is a definitive word identifying an aberration.  For something to be an aberration of Christianity would mean that it resides outside Christianity as a distinct entity.  For the term cult to apply to Christianity would mean that it must reside outside itself, and that simply does not make any sense at all.

Cults and cultism will be with us until Christ’s Second Advent.  Therefore, it is important that those inside the Church be intensely watchful of the cults and its members, and be ready to call them out as cults without shame or embarrassment.  They need to remember the words of Jude who wrote, “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).  Why?  “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4).  By allowing the cults to mitigate, neutralize, or steal the word cult, just so that they may creep in unaware, will be the death knell of many churches.  It is something Christians and churches can avoid if they will simply resolve to “contend earnestly” rather than cower needlessly, starting with understanding what a cult is and to whom it applies.