A friend recently released a book that had me nervous at first. The bad guy…er…the villain(s) in the story are part of a cult. Every warning bell in my head went off. I’m sensitive about that kind of thing because so often, people who use cults as villains have the leaders spout off a few Bible verses designed to make them look like a Christian organization and leave it at that. The impression that’s left in many cases is that the author thinks that all Christians are like that and should be avoided. I’ve had one friend call my denomination a cult because a church she went to at one time that was affiliated with my denomination appeared to engage in cultish practices. So, when people start pulling out the “cult card,” I get defensive. The friend who wrote the book, however, didn’t just leave it at the Christian sounding group being bad, she dealt with nuances in the cult that showed it to be outside the Christian faith.
I appreciated her sensitivity on the issue because I do cringe whenever people seem to believe that Christianity is some weird, unforgiving, judgmental cult. The problem is that too many of those people who seem to believe that are those who would claim the name of Christ and support those cultish ideas. The greatest enemies of Christianity when it comes to cults distorting our faith are others who claim to be Christians. As much as it grieves me when my faith is distorted, I need to realize that it’s predicted by God’s word. “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.” (1 Timothy 4:1-2)
In the example Paul wrote used, cults forbade marrying and eating certain foods. Some in the early Church believed that since Jesus was coming soon, there was no reason to get married. The Jewish influence brought an emphasis on the dietary laws. When people decided to follow the dietary laws or not marry because of a personal choice, it wasn’t a problem. The problem became cultish, and deceptive, when people sought to impose that choice on others as the norm of Christian faith. Cults today include the idea of ensuring marriage and baby bearing. Cults are defined by the attempt to impose power over people and restrict their choices. They are born not of faith, but in a lack of faith that other people can make godly decisions or be influenced by the Holy Spirit. That control often leads to hellish behavior as everyone must follow the leader and do what he says and does. Paul describes the source of such beliefs as deceiving spirits and demons taught by those who have no conscience.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ allows for a lot of freedom. Sometimes, it offers a bit too much freedom. After all, if everyone did things my way, the Church would be so much stronger, wouldn’t it? I can think that, but when I try to enforce that or compel people to follow my way, it becomes cultish. The Gospel is born of grace and continues by grace. Grace doesn’t control others so they do no wrong, Grace forgives and leads to lives being changed because we love the God who gives us grace. The Jerusalem Council allowed for a wide variance in beliefs and practices. They focused on the need to avoid idolatry and maintain sexual purity. If you want to maintain that sexual purity by not marrying, that’s fine; if you want to do it by getting married, that’s fine too. Just don’t demand that others follow your lead. Point others to God’s grace as the guiding factor in life. Lead others by your example, and let your life in Christ be so joyous that they will want to follow you. Christianity is a relationship, not a list of does and don’ts.
Oh Lord, help me to remember Your grace. The grace that brought me into and keeps me in relationship with You. Help me to show that grace to others.