Thursday, July 17, 2008

Cult Talk

There has been a bit of talk lately about emergent churches. Some refer to them as the 'new church'. Some refer to them as 'new testament churches'. Some refer to them as 'biblical-based churches'. Many traditional churches refer to them as 'cults'. I decided to look up the meaning of 'cult'. According to Merriam-Webster, the word cult comes from the French culte and Latin cultus which means care and adoration, and from colere which means to cultivate.

1: formal religious veneration : worship 2: a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also : its body of adherents 3: 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

As I began to read these definitions I began to say 'oh my goodness, I belong to a cult"! I am devoted to Jesus Christ. I participate in a system of beliefs and rituals, alongside a body of adherents to Jesus Christ. The questions begin to arise when we look at the wording of definition number 3 "a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious". Unorthodox means breaking with convention or tradition. Something that is spurious is something that is not genuine, basically false.

Christianity in it's early stages was highly unorthodox. It was referred to by many as a cult. Here were all these people deviating from the norm of erecting idols and worshiping multiple Gods. People thought they were crazy. They thought they were following a spurious leader. But they were wrong. Time proved that Jesus was and is the Christ. I heard a pastor once say that Jesus was either mad, he was bad, or he was and is the son of God. Those are the only possibilities. It has been proven historically that Jesus the man existed. So, was he mad? Was he just a delusional crazy man? No records exist of anyone claiming such a thing. No historical record exists of anyone questioning the authenticity of Jesus. In fact, it appears that everyone he came in contact with became completely enamored with him, made a positive life change, and became a devout follower. And there is no record of him doing anything negative. Not exactly the fingerprint of a madman. So...was he bad? Was he just a liar? Did he merely claim to be the son of God to deceive people? What would his motive have been? Once again, there is no record of him doing anything negative. He didn't take money. He didn't live lavishly off the pennies of his devout followers. He didn't kill his enemies. And there is no record of anyone who knew him claiming he was a liar. There is only record of him showing love for everyone, including the unlovable. There is only record of him selflessly serving others. There is only record of him enduring beatings, torture and death. If he was merely a madman or a liar, couldn't he have avoided arrest and crucifixion? It leads me to the third option - that he is the Son of God. Who else could live such a selfless life, but a son of God? Compare Jesus to the 'gods' of other religions, the 'gods' of traditional religions of the time, who lived in selfish luxury, while their followers starved. What did they do for the people? And these were the orthodox religions, while the Jesus followers were considered members of a cult.

So, there is an example of what society has viewed a cult. Following the definition of 'cult' it qualifies...that is, until you get to the part of the definition that includes the word spurious (or false). Many of us believe that Jesus Christ was and is the Son of God. For us it is a question of faith. And, according to the Bible, which we believe to be the inspired Word of God, 'faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.' Hebrews 11:1

In our society, people are quick to throw names around when they become uncomfortable. And they become uncomfortable when they are treading unfamiliar ground. These New Testament churches have more in common with the early churches than with the churches with which we are familiar. Most of their followers are more interested in following the guidelines for living outlined in the Bible than the traditional denominational guidelines outlined by men. Shane Claiborne is known to say that he gave up Christianity to follow Jesus. Many like him are breaking out of the mold. They are receiving criticism for worshipping Jesus Christ in a way so many people are uncomfortable. They are reading their Bibles and doing what it says. Many people claim that these emergent church are to be the downfall of the 'Church'. But are they a trigger for destruction or the catalyst of Revival?

1 Peter 4:6 (New King James Version)
For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.

1 comment:

Kay Martin said...

Cult ... new church...anti religion...these terms have been batted around for centuries. You're right when we veer from anything familiar fear raises its head.

Church as laid out by the Bible is the body of Christ...the group of Christian believers acting in one accord of love and purpose to bring the Kingdom on God in Heaven here on earth...right? Christians as defined by the dictionary are followers of Christ.

So for me it always boils down to the smallest denominator of Jeus Christ God and Lord.

Whenever I notice He is not the center my antennae rise. I must admit I have prayed in many churches for Jesus Christ to raised above all else. I have even prayed for the pastor to use His name often in sermons.

Christology: serious focus of all churc and all Christians...I think.