Is it a cult?

I had a conversation this week with a friend about a mega-ministry here in KC and the question "Is it a cult?" came up. My take on cults is that there are three different aspects to religious cults:
  1. Personality Cults: These groups are generally centered around a usually very charismatic person.. these folks are often very good speakers and sometimes associated with some sort of gift.. often their leader takes on the title of prophet or apostle.. or some other important designation.

  2. Theological Cults: Sects that gather around a specific doctrinal system.. usually a very narrow one.. their definition of orthodoxy may not be exclusive to their doctrine but it is pretty close. Often these folks embrace an orthodoxy that is very black and white.. sometimes their beliefs embrace certain religious rites and behaviors.

  3. Community Cults: Often appearing in denominational form these groups can sometimes take the form of a church.. sometimes a mega-church.. but sometimes a smaller incarnation. People have an ultra-identity with the organization and cannot see spiritual life outside of the community. Many times folks in these groups believe that their group is the only way.. to heaven.. to spirituality.. to perfection.. or to something else.
Given these three aspects I think that it would be safe to say that almost every religious group has some cultic element.. even the best ones. I think that unhealthy environments are created when more than one of these aspects is present.. and when the unhealthiness is publicly manifested the group is labeled as a "cult".

On a personal note I was involved in a group for many years that I think had all three cultic aspects. I followed a charismatically gifted man.. I embraced a very narrow and legalistic theology.. and I stayed in the church because I really believed that we were more spiritual than other churches. To be sure not everyone who attended thought the way that I did.. but many did. So was I part of a cult? Hard to say.. but what I can say is that the environment was toxic for me.. it fed a dark part of me.. I was an unhealthy person back then.

So tell me what you think a cult is? Have you had any experiences with any or all of these cultic aspects? Leave me a comment. I would love to hear your story.


  1. Interesting timing...I was just getting ready to do a little research on this topic. Not sure I have my own definition of "cult," but I am trying to figure out how to deal with my own feelings on this. I've been thinking of some friends involved with something like what you describe. Though we have had really limited contact since they have been involved (probably due not so much to their invovlement as our schedules, I hope), I still need to process my feeings. I want to be supportive of them, but I kniow it will probably not be reciprocated (since I do not share their views). It's hard, I miss our friendship...

  2. I was part of a church many years ago that had some cult like qualities...more the personality control. It fed my dark side too and when we left it was the most freeing thing for me. Sometimes it takes a situation to reassess what one really believes.
    I now feel free to be me.

  3. I'm going to read your post now, but I had to say, the Kool-Aid man made my day. For some reason it makes me smile. Oh yeah! ;-)

    Ok, now I'll read your post.

  4. Some call Christianity as a whole a cult, but I don't think that at all, at least not about most Christians or even most of the churches I've attended.

    To me it's all about what happens when you want to walk away, either to another group or away from "the faith" entirely. Do they wish you well and say they will miss you or do they play guilt trips and tell you how you were never a true believer to begin with or other similar tactics?

  5. I hear what you are saying Mike. Your experience is not unlike others who have left a church.. and I do think that it is indicative of a cultic mindset.

    And sorry about all the "you were never" lingo. I think that it reveals an insecurity that is so often present in church people.

  6. Fortunately I only got that from folks on the internet. Everyone locally were very nice.

  7. I have never been part of a cultic type church, that I am aware of. I could be wrong though. =)

    I believe that we are all human and are bound to make mistakes. I know that I have made my fair share of them in my walk with the Lord over the years. I hope that I have never lead anyone to walk away from God because of my stupidity.

    I think that there are those who have genuine hearts and want to serve the Lord and do their best to lead, but they themselves get mislead along the way. They never saw it coming until it is too late.

    There are also those who lead others away from God and do so with their eyes wide open. I have seen that happen as well. This is a cult.

    It all comes down the matters of the heart and/or if they have control issues. LOL

    To me, a church body should be one that loves beyond their comfort zones. They reach out to those in need. They let others grow in their faith and at their own pace. They don't judge others because of what they wear, don't wear, how a person should speak or not speak. It is all about showing the love of Jesus and teaching others to do the same. To love as Jesus loved and still loves.

    Love the Kool-aide man! It goes so well with the topic.

  8. Wow. 3rd comment on the Koolaid guy. Yeah, I love him too.

    Of course, I don't know about any specific group, but there certainly are groups who believe they're entitled to the lion's share of our lives. Christianity is thankful for everything the Lord gives, and doesn't need to furrow men's hearts to try to grab more than the Lord gives.


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