The other day, I watched part of a program on the History Channel concerning cults. The very beginning of the program openly proclaimed that Christianity started out as a cult. The program stated that Christianity worshipped a man (who was Jesus Christ, of course), who claimed to be able to walk on water, perform miracles such as healing the sick, and giving sight to the blind, and raising himself from the dead. The program stated that Christianity began as a revolution within Judaism, speaking of another "kingdom", which made the religious and political leaders nervous. Membership in the beginning Christian religion included ignorant fishermen, prostitutes, and other renegades from society, who were fanatically devoted to their leader, Jesus Christ.
The program continued by stating that Christianity had taken centuries to become a mainline religion, just as Muslims, and other far east religions are now mainline religions. The program followed up by comparing the fledgling beginning of Christianity with Jim Jones and the Jonestown massacre, and the Mormon leader, Warren Jeffs, leaders of FLDS (Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) who is accused of fathering more than 50 children by 40 different women, some of them young girls.
I was troubled by the bold exclamation that Christianity began as a cult, but developed into a mainline religion, therefore I decided to see if Jesus Christ fit the profile of a cult leader.
Some of the identifying marks of a cult are:
Christianity is not a cult.
Objection # 1 - Christ pointed his followers to the Father. Any casual observance of Christ will reveal he is not a cult leader. First, Jesus Christ did not point to himself, but desired his followers to follow God, his father. The following scriptures make this amply clear. John the Baptist never intended to begin a cult, as he always pointed his followers to Jesus Christ.
Critics of Christ will point to the following scriptures, in which they say Christ was making himself equal to his father. What the critics forget is that Jesus is God in the flesh, nevertheless, he continually pointed his followers to his father, not to himself.
Objection # 2 - Christ Instills Peace, not Fear.
Objection # 3 – Christ Pointed His Followers to the Father
A cult leader will always point his followers to himself. Christ never did that, but continually pointed his followers to another – his father. Christ pointed to the Bible as the final authority of God. There is perhaps a fine line between following the leader God has placed over you and following God. Some people follow their leader, and forsake the plain teachings of God. That is, of course, error. But it is good to follow the leader God gives you, as long as that leader is following the Lord. A plain warning sign is when the word of the leader becomes more important than the word of God. Many churches will follow their pastor, but they fail to think for themselves, failing to understand their leader needs their thoughts and sometimes their correction. In a cult, the leader or leaders are always correct, and the individuals in the cult do not need to think for themselves.
There are many good organizations that do many good things, but when the leaders of those organizations begin to think they are invincible, and their word is law, it is the beginning of a cult; whether that cult is religious, political, or social. All regulations, rules, and order of conduct must be held to the supreme standard of the word of God. No law, rule, or regulation should be made that contradicts or "bends" what God's word states.
Objection # 4 – Christ Taught His Disciples Therefore They Could Grow Spiritually, Mentally, and Emotionally.
The tenderness exhibited by Christ in constantly and continually teaching his disciples is obvious to even the casual reader of the four gospels. The Sermon on the Mount manifests that Christ taught completely different from the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. The religious leaders of Israel tried to force their listeners into a strict and unyielding obedience to their laws and traditions, which they openly proclaimed were the laws given by God to Moses. In fact, the religious leaders had so perverted the law of God it could not be recognized as anything holy.
Christ affectionately and lovingly called his disciples to return to the original intend of the law of God. Christ called Peter at least four times, after he was saved, to be fishers of men. In the same manner, Christ calls his disciples to a tender spiritual observance of the principles of holiness, not to bind them to that holiness, but to free them from the constraints and consequences of sin. Jesus desired his followers to be free, not bound, as related in John 8:31-32, Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; 32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. This is not was a cult leader would do.
It is true that Christ had a different agenda than his disciples. But the disciples were wrong. It was their intention to force the kingdom of God upon the entire world, but Christ would not force his kingdom on anybody. Instead, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, who has all power in heaven and earth, would coax and plead with unbelievers to come and accept the good of both temporal and eternal.