Is the Church a Cult?

Is the Church a Cult?Text: Acts 24:14

When Paul stood before Felix, he was accused of being “a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5). He acknowledged that he served God “according to the Way which they call a sect” (Acts 24:14). Calling the church a “sect” was meant to disparage/discredit Paul and His message. The term “cult” is used similarly – the church is sometimes called a “cult” to discredit us and the gospel. What is a cult and why is the church sometimes called a cult?

Why the Church Is Mislabeled as a Cult

  • Different/peculiar beliefs and practices – yet the church is to be different from the world (Romans 12:2)
  • Often few in number – Jesus warned that His followers would be few (Matthew 7:13-14)
  • Strongly-held convictions – we are to hold fast the pattern, even when it is unpopular (2 Timothy 1:13; 4:2-5)
  • Avoiding ecumenical efforts – the NT teaches congregational autonomy and independence (1 Peter 5:2; 1 Timothy 3:15); not to join in fellowship with those who go beyond the doctrine of Christ (2 John 9-11)
  • However, even if all these things are true, they do not make the church a cult

The Characteristics of a Cult

  • A leader who exercises authoritarian control – cannot be questioned; followers must be fiercely loyal; must possess some degree of charisma because people are following him
  • Use manipulation to keep members in the group – fear, sexual exploitation, forced to break from family, etc.; one cannot leave the group without being “wrong”
  • Employs a level of secrecy – fear that the outside world might learn too much about them; will not disclose certain beliefs/practices to someone until they are first part of the group
  • Exclusive knowledge uniquely known by the group – this would come from the leader; they believe the Bible is insufficient or they reject the Bible altogether; one cannot gain a complete knowledge of the truth without first being part of the group

The New Testament Pattern Prevents the Church from Becoming a Cult

  • No authoritarian control – preachers are not “pastors” (Ephesians 4:11); we are told not to follow men (1 Corinthians 1:12-13; 3:4); elders are servants and examples (1 Peter 5:2-3), not authoritarian rulers; bother preachers and elders are fallible so both can be questioned/corrected (Galatians 2:11; 1 Timothy 5:19-20)
  • No manipulation of members – we are to encourage one another (Hebrews 3:12-13; 10:24-25; Ephesians 4:16); at times a brother may need to be disciplined (1 Corinthians 5:1-2, 11; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14); even then, he is still to be treated as a brother (2 Thessalonians 3:15)
  • No secrecy of beliefs/practices – sometimes persecution forces Christians to meet in secret, but this is different; cults are secret, not to avoid persecution, but to avoid being thought of as crazy; we are to give a defense for what we believe (1 Peter 3:15) and be evangelistic (Acts 8:4); our assemblies are to be open (1 Corinthians 14:23-25) and visitors are welcome
  • No exclusive knowledge – the Scriptures have been inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16); we are to follow the word of God in all we say and do (1 Peter 4:11; James 1:22; Colossians 3:17); the Scriptures are for all (Mark 16:15; Ephesians 3:4); it is the seed that produces faith (Luke 8:11; Romans 10:17)


  • If a church is truly of Christ, it cannot be a cult
  • If a church/group is a cult, it cannot be of Christ
  • We may be falsely accused of being a cult – but we should not allow that to deter us from faithfully serving the Lord according to His word

Part of this lesson adapted from a podcast by Dewayne Bryant.

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