I have been a member of the church of Christ for 30 years now. I have never heard the Lord's church been referred to as a "cult" until last year, nor have I ever witnessed the hostility of denominational churches toward the church until recently. I know we are not a cult, but how do I respond to the charge that the church of Christ is a "cult"?
You might begin by asking the reasons based upon which the charge is made. There are certain defining characteristics of a cult, and the Lord’s church does not meet the definition. Webster’s online dictionary defines “cult” as: 1: formal religious veneration2: a system of religious beliefs and ritual ; also : its body of adherents3: a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious ; also : its body of adherents4: a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator 5 a: great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book) ; especially : such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad b: the object of such devotion c: a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion. It is likely that the person applying “cult” to the Lord’s church is using definition 3, i.e., he is charging the church with teaching unorthodox or spurious doctrine. Such accusations are generally directed toward such issues as baptism, the ability of a saved person to fall from grace, and the nature of the church itself. Unless the person making the charge is a student of scripture, it is likely that he is parroting a charge made by his preacher or some other religious leader. The accusation is made without foundation, without reason, and for the purpose of creating bias against the church of the Lord.
Webster’s aside, there are generally certain characteristics of organizations that most would consider a cult. Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions and the Occult, Mather and Nichols, defines “cult” as:
“A relatively small, often transitory religious group that commonly follows a radical leader. A cult, unlike a SECT, espouses radically new religious beliefs and practices that are frequently seen as threatening the basic values and cultural norms of society at large. Therefore, people who are involved in cults frequently exhibit antisocial and neurotic behavior. In recent times, orthodox Christians have used the term to describe those religious groups that deny the TRINITY and specifically the deity of Jesus Christ. Their teachings are contrary to historic Christian ORTHODOXY. The three dynamics of a cult are sociological, psychological (behavioral), and theological.”
It is amazing that anyone who knows the Lord’s church could include it within that or any similar definition.
The church of Christ existed in the days of the New Testament. The Lord added those who were saved to his church. Acts 2:47. The Lord’s church today teaches and practices today that which the Lord’s church in the New Testament taught and practiced. It the New Testament church was not a cult, then neither is the same church today. The same thing is true of denominationalism. If the Lord’s church in the New Testament was not a denomination (and it was not for none then existed), then the same church today is not and cannot be a denomination. The person who makes such a charge against the church today places himself in a precarious situation – he is condemning the body for which the Lord died and purchased with his blood. Acts 20:28.
You Must Hear the Gospel
You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)
You Must Believe
You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)
You Must Repent
You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)
You Must Confess
You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)
You Must Be Baptized
Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!
You Must Be Faithful Unto Death
Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)