Church of Christ Cult?
I have an article from Gerald Johnson, former Director of Watchman Fellowship, in Dalton, Georgia, who taught publicly that churches of Christ are a cult. “The Churches of Christ, on the other hand, make the claim that they are the only Christians, and that if you do not belong to their church (denomination) you are headed for hell. This type of exclusiveness is one of the primary marks of a cult.” (‘Why Churches of Christ are a cult,” Daily Citizen News)
I imagine there is no other word in religious terminology that conjures up more fear than the term cult. The very sound of it resurrects images of Jim Jones, Charles Manson and other murderous leaders. Perhaps this is why the term is used—to create an emotional bias against the church of Christ without fully examining it. This is nothing new. God’s people have been accused of sect-like behavior in other places simply for following the truth. The apostle Paul had it said of him, “For we have found this man a plague, a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5). Even Jesus was accused of acting by the power of Satan (Luke 11:15), so it is no small wonder that His followers will receive similar treatment. “If they called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of the household” (Matt. 10:25). Thus, good brethren, the charge of belonging to a cult should not intimidate or weaken us in our effort to serve God. If Jesus, Paul and other teachers of truth were accused of being associated with evil, while practicing truth, we will certainly receive the same treatment in upholding the gospel. “Therefore, do not fear them” (v. 26).
On the other hand, I have no doubt that there are churches of Christ that behave like a cult in following the errors of charismatic men. I have seen churches of Christ engage in religious error (institutionalism, instrumental music, unscriptural divorce, etc.) simply because of the influence of human opinion. Perhaps it could be said they are behaving like a cult in blindly following the blind. Error is error regardless of why a person practices it. However, not all who bear the name Christ are doing so at the direction of a cult leader. There is such a thing as belonging to the church of Christ because of the teachings of the Bible.
Jesus claims one church
Jesus said He was only going to build one church (Matt. 16:18). If the definition of a cult is a church that believes people must be a member of it to go to heaven, what does that say about Jesus and His church? Would Mr. Johnson agree that a person must be in the body of Christ to be saved? If so, does that make him a cultist? Nevertheless, it was Jesus, and not churches of Christ, who taught men to view the path to heaven as narrow path that few will take (Luke 13:22-33). It was the apostles, and not churches of Christ, who taught people that there is only one church, which is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22; 4:4). Does that make Paul guilty of cultism? Would Mr. Johnson assign to Paul the teaching “that if you do not belong to their church...you are headed for hell”? Chances are he would not, though he is inadvertently condemning Paul, who said the only ones going to heaven are those in the Lord’s body (Eph. 5:23; 1 Cor. 15:24). The unlearned will classify this strict teaching as cultic doctrine, but he who has an ear to hear let him hear!
Apostles taught unity
In the New Testament, saved people grouped themselves into local churches with other saved people in their community (1 Cor. 1:2) and were known as “churches of Christ” (Rom. 16:16), “church of God” (1 Cor. 1:2), and similar terms. There is no mention of denominations. In fact, whenever New Testament Christians tried to classify themselves in the names of men, they were rebuked (1 Cori. 1:11-13). The Lord and His apostles taught religious unity among saints (v. 10), as Jesus and the Father are one (John 17:21). Does Jesus teach a different plan of salvation than His Father? Are they divided in how local churches are to be organized and what work they are to engage? God forbid! There one hope, one faith and one baptism (Eph. 4:4-5)? Paul taught the same truths “everywhere in every church” (1 Cor. 4:17). Thus, Christians are to do the same today by following the teachings of Jesus and His apostles (Acts 2:42). If that level of commitment makes the church of Christ a cult, then true Christianity is a cult! Nevertheless, let God be true and every man a liar.
New Testament Christianity is distinct
The first saints were saved when they obeyed a plan of salvation that included water baptism (Acts 2:36-40). They were not a Christian until they obeyed this baptism (Gal. 3:27), as defined by Jesus (Mark 16:15-16; Matt. 26:26-29). We do not see examples of people becoming a Christian without obeying the gospel or being baptized into Christ. From whence came this philosophy: heaven or men? Honestly, which teaching is more in line with a cult and which is a true reflection of trust in Jesus (Acts 8:12-13; vv. 35-38)?
In light of such facts, it should be obvious to any sincere person that those who most emulate a cult are those who blindly follow the teachings of men and not those who adhere to the Bible. The Scriptures give us everything we need to know about life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). Anyone who follows it will see a distinct pattern in religion that will not always be received by the majority of people. Those who want the truth will see which teaching is of the word of God and which is not (John 7:17). And when it is not received, it should be no great surprise that those who reject it will accuse believers of acting contrary to God (Acts 13:44-50). Such scare tactics have been around since the days of Christ and will continue until the end of time.