Most of us, when thinking of a cult, immediately think of the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Mormons, Armstrongism, etc. But according to Walter Martin, "an expert on cults," we are pretty much thinking that cults are small groups that are almost totally different from the rest Christianity. However, Martin, in The Kingdom of the Cults, defines a cult as "any religious group which differs significantly in one or more respects as to belief or practice from those religious groups which are regarded as the normative expressions of religion in our total culture." By this definition, every denomination is a cult. Baptists differ in one or more ways from most, if not all other denominations, in that they believe in the eternal security of a believer. The Church of Christ differ in focusing upon baptism as required for one to be saved. Catholics believe in infant baptism, the life-long virginity of Mary, and a host of other doctrines. Each denomination has its uniqueness and that is why they formed a separate group. Why then do we not think of main-line denominations as cults?
It cannot be determined by the number of adherents, for if that were the case, Nazarenes, Plymouth Brethren, and even independent congregations would be considered cults. Martin adds that cults are "group(s) of people gathered about a specific person or person's mis-interpretation of the Bible." This, too, is vague because all denominations believe that all other denominations mis-interpret the Bible. And, every one of them had a person who started it. Martin Luther was the source of the Lutheran Church, for example. The person may not be known to us today, but somewhere in the past, a church was founded on the unique teachings of an individual.
One might think that perhaps mainline Christianity has a "list of doctrines" that all accept as fundamental to be considered approved as an authentic church. But whose list would be acceptable? Which doctrines are essential for admission to the "club?" We certainly cannot use the government's definition because it recognizes non-Christian faiths as authentic, and Christianity does not consider other religions as cults; they are simply "lost." No, cults have got to be related to belief in Jesus Christ in some fashion in order to be considered such. So, where is the line drawn, and by whom is it drawn?
May I suggest that we simplify things by using the test provided in the Bible. In Romans 10:9-10 states, "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." Verse thirteen goes on to say, "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." Verse seventeen says. "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." To sum it all up, when one believes in his or her heart what the Bible (the Word of God) teaches concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, His death, and His resurrection, calls on Him by name, and confesses to others He is Lord, they are a Christian.
It sounds so simple, doesn't it. The problem comes when believers in Christ separate themselves over other "stuff." It was the Lord's will that believers be united, not separated. He says four times in His prayer recorded in John Seventeen that unity pleases God and witnesses to unbelievers (verses 11, 21, 22, and 23). No wonder it is difficult to win souls in America!
Finally, I would like to suggest that persons evaluate just what is their main focus of conversation with the lost. Do you concentrate your message to the world on the Lord Jesus Christ? Or, do you speak more on your particular denomination, founder, or unique doctrines? God forbid, do you waste the opportunity by putting down other beliefs? I believe each person needs to be honest and decide for themselves whether or not they are "cultic" in their faith. Spreading church doctrine is not sharing the Lord Jesus Christ. Let the Holy Spirit lead those who choose to follow Jesus to the place He wants them to serve. Quit trying to make Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, Lutherans, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc. and God will place them in His body where He chooses. I believe that there are born-again believers in each, and if they are obedient and submissive to God's Spirit, His will and work will be done to His glory.