It has not been too long ago when I heard a report of someone accusing the church of Christ of being a cult. Now before I even address the question of the church of Christ being a cult, let me first state that the person who made the accusation does not understand the description, “church of Christ.” In fact, any time someone uses the phrase “church of Christ” in such a way demonstrates that he or she really thinks that the church of Christ is a denomination. Such of course is a misrepresentation because the church of Christ is not a denomination. That phrase is merely a description for the people of Christ worshiping at some location. I dare say that the person who made this accusation would call the church that belongs to Jesus, a cult. So I am sure that when the accusation was made, the individual in question assumed that in referring to the “church of Christ” he felt like he was speaking of some denomination. With such in mind, let’s consider the matter further.
When one thinks of a cult, of what does one think? The first thing that pops into my head is a single living charismatic person who controls everything his or her devotees practice. You identify the cult by the name of its leader: David Koresh, Jim Jones, etc. Of course, if having a single charismatic leader in and of itself meant that you are a cult, then almost every denomination that is out there would be a cult. The one man “pastor” system is one of the most common practices among Protestant denominations. Some of these denominational leaders even exercise cult-like power over their members. I heard a story of one who told his members that singles who were part of that congregation had to get the “pastor’s” permission before they could go out for the evening. In sharp contrast to this type of system, churches of Christ do not have a one-man “pastor” rule. In contrast we have a plurality of men referred to as elders (also called shepherds and overseers in the Bible, Acts 20:17, 28) which serve as the leadership for the individual congregation. The preacher within churches of Christ has no authority beyond teaching and preaching God’s word. If the church of Christ is a cult based upon this standard, then more so are the denominations.
The second thing that comes to mind is brainwashing. This is usually done by isolating the cult members from the rest of society, controlling their communications, and feeding them on an exclusive diet of whatever doctrine the cult is propagating. Through this technique an individual can be programmed to believe whatever the cult leadership wants the individual to believe. In contrast, I personally know of no preacher or leader within the churches of Christ who practice such a technique. In fact, the Bible teaches just the opposite and so we preach. The Bible says that Christians need to be in the world in order to be lights of the world (Matthew 5:14). In my preaching, I encourage our members to participate in community activities such as civic organizations, pancake breakfasts, volunteering at schools, enrolling children in baseball or soccer, or being members of the local community center. Involvement in any wholesome community activity is something which cults discourage their members from doing. We also encourage our membership to question the preacher. Our standard of right from wrong is the Bible and not some individual. If the preacher is not preaching what the Bible says, then he needs to be questioned and challenged. This is not how things work in many denominations. In many places, what the preacher says, goes and if you challenge the preacher then your allegiance is questioned. If the church of Christ is a cult based upon this standard, then more so are the denominations.
The third thing that comes to mind is a group of people who claim to be the sole proprietors of certain “mysteries,” which if you want to understand what they are, you must join their group. I would say that the Ku Klux Klan, the Masons, and other “secret” organizations fall into this category. These exercise cult like power among their members and encourage them to believe their “mysteries.” In contrast, the Bible teaches that anyone can come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). This is what I preach and teach and most other gospel preachers I know preach and teach the same thing. There are no “mysteries” that you can only understand only if you attend the church of Christ. In contrast, the Bible teaches that it is a book that can be understood just like any other book can be understood, that it is not hard to understand, and that if we sit down and read it, we can understand exactly the meaning that those who wrote it intended (Ephesians 3:3-5). In fact, the Bible says that the mystery that once existed in the word of God has now been revealed so that all can know God’s saving truth (Romans 16:25-26). The Bible requires you to believe nothing but the truth that is revealed within it and that is what I and most preachers I know, teach. On the other hand, I have heard many a denominational preacher say that the Bible cannot be understood and that in order to interpret it correctly you had to listen to him and him alone. I have heard many speak about the “mysteries” that are within the gospel and heard many say that they only have the key to understanding them. If the church of Christ is a cult based upon this standard, then more so are the denominations.
The bottom line is, there is no valid evidence to prove that the churches of Christ are cults. So what is the motivation for individuals saying that the “church of Christ” is a cult? Their motivation is simply this: they don’t like the church of Christ and they don’t want others to listen to the preaching of the gospel. So, they make up names and doctrines and ascribe them to the church of Christ as “straw-men” in an effort to dissuade as many as possible not to listen to faithful preachers, teachers, elders, and members. Their sole concern is to get you to believe something about churches of Christ that is simply not true. Now judge for yourself; is this the way a Christian behaves, or is this the way a cult member behaves? Christians, true Christians, have nothing to fear from those who are teaching the Bible. However, those who are not teaching the Bible have everything to fear from those who are. I challenge you, dear reader, to examine all the doctrines that all the different “churches” are teaching and compare them to the Bible. You will find that the Bible is always right, and those who are following the Bible are clearly recognizable. You will also find that there are many that have gone astray. If the church of Christ is following the Bible in your community, then become a member. If it is not, then find one of Christ’s churches that are faithfully doing so. In so doing, you will not go wrong, and will never be a member of a cult. You will be a member of the church that the Bible talks about, the church that belongs to Christ, the church of Christ.
Disclaimer: This article does not represent a defense of the International Churches of Christ (ICOC). The author has not been and is not affiliated with that religious group.