Early Christianity - a cult?

by serendipity 16 Replies latest watchtower bible

  • serendipity

    I was wondering if anyone has applied the criteria that identifies a cult to first century Christianity, as described in the Bible, and historical records from the first three centuries.

    Have any of you run across a discussion like that while reading books on cults, hopefully by an author that is either supportive of, or tolerant of Christianity?

  • Oroborus21

    there are no "criteria" that is universally accepted or utilized to classify a group as a cult. Perhaps you could ennumerate what you mean and then we could try to make some sort of assessment?

    -Eduardo Leaton Jr., Esq.

  • peacefulpete

    Yes. The times were characterized by many very popular cults in competition with the more established state religions. Mystery Cults (of which Christianity is one) where the savior character had secret or esoteric truths to enlighten and save the faithful had a personal appeal lacking in the older more traditon based religion. It was very much like how the JWs and 7th Day Adventists find recruits among the Catholics today. The difference is that the Mystery Cults generally were not exclusivist. That is, you could be a member in a number of such at the same time. The Christians may have had such tolerance initially but soon changed. For this reason the Roman State felt them dangerous and unhealthy.

  • Narkissos

    I would suggest, not exactly a cult but a network of cults or a cultic nebula: too much diversity for them being a cult in the JW sense (unity of organisation, doctrine and practices). Opposite factions, ideologically antagonistic yet in dialogue with each other and with a sense of community at a local level -- at least until the proto-Catholic church emerged, rejecting the heretics out of it in the 2nd century. At that point it really became a cult, before reaching to the status of recognised religion.

  • M.J.

    Romans 14 to me suggests that in Paul's circle of Christians it was not a "cult" in the JW / modern sense. Also of course there is 1 John 2:27, and the fact that there was no central "governing body" or "cult leader".

  • stev

    The word "cult" is such a loaded term that it does not have much meaning. I attended once several years ago a convention of the American Family Foundation, a group that provides information about cults. The convention seemed to be mostly made up of psychologists. The speaker was giving a lecture on what is a cult. I still have my notes from it, but they aren't handy right now. He spoke about the development of a cult, and its relation to denomination, church, sect. Being a sociologist, he gave a long definition of "cult" which was more neutral than others I have seen. He considered early Christianity to be a cult.

    I was in the audience and asked the question, "Is there such a thing as a good cult?" One prominent cult expert, who was sitting in the row in front of me, answered, No, there is not. A cult is about control. However, the speaker answered, Yes, there can be a good cult. He said that it is like a baby with a handgrenade, the baby is dangerous, but not necessarily destructive. A group that has an authoritarian leader is dangerous, but not necessarily destructive. The speaker cited Jesus, whom he considered a good person, yet he said Jesus, using the speaker's definition of a cult, was a cult leader. If Jesus had asked Peter to go kill someone, Peter would likely have done it, but Jesus was a good person, and would not have asked Peter to do that. So I could see that there was disagreement among the cult experts.
    Then the head of the foundation answered. He said that some wanted to limit the word "cult" to groups that are destructive, or use the word the phrase "destructive cult", or instead of "cult", use the phrase "new religious movement". The head of the foundation also gave a lecture on the nature of cults. His explanation was quite complex. He saw the concept of "cult" as being not black or white, but on a spectrum. He illustrated his conception by using overlapping circles, such as in a Venn diagram. There are cults, new religious movements, abusive groups, and harmful practices. But these circles overlap. He said that there were people that had determined that the group they belonged to was a cult, but decided to stay in it anyway, and manage somehow within it, perhaps by lessening their involvement. Again, I made notes of this, but don't have it right now.

    Some use the word "cult" in a neutral sense. However, it has such a negative connotation now, that it has little usefulness, except to express one's disdain for a religious group. No doubt there are bad religious groups, that don't deserve to exist, and that every person should flee from or leave. But most religions have a mixture of good and bad, just like the individuals in them. The concept of "cult" oversimplifies religion.
    Religion by its nature is subject to this mixture because it attempts to mediate the divine through imperfect humanity, and one can confuse the divine with the human, and the human with the divine. The stained-glass window is a work of beauty, but it is nevertheless man-made, and its beauty can best be seen when the light shines through it. Its beauty can be so dazzling that one could mistakenly think that the window itself is producing the light, rather than the heavenly sun beyond it, and become disappointed when night falls and the window becomes dark.

    One should be wary of religions claiming to be "the one true church", and denouncing all others as "Babylon". But anti-cultists are just as capable of being manipulative, misleading, lying, and have a hidden agenda as the cults they condemn. Their claims need to be critically examined as well.


  • TopHat

    Start your own cult...Found this video over at Randy's place.


  • greendawn

    Not a cult but a far more humane society than the pagan one it had to live in, it gave them light when they lived in the dark world of their passions.

    Unlike the WTS and other cults the early church did offer a lot in return to its loyal members when they were in need. It wasn't just asking to receive from them. Rich Christians supported the poor, the masters treated their "slaves" very humanely.

  • peacefulpete

    A person does well to read some of the high ethics and moral codes of "pagan" peoples. Even the 2nd millenium BC codes of pagan kings demonstrate high social awareness and responsibilty for the community and it's underprivileged. The comparitively brief OT codes are based upon them. The ethics of the Greek thinkers and theologians equal anything Christianity offered. In fact it is nearly impossible to distinguish them.

  • Lady Lee
    Lady Lee

    Part of the problem in using the word "cult" is that different groups assign different meanings to the word.

    A Christian religion may say that a cult is any deviation from the accepted Christian beliefs of the Bible. Since the WTS is clearly a deviation from what most of the Chritian world consider Christian they would call it a cult. Their main focus is on the beliefs and teachings of the group.

    Now in the psychological, sociological worlds they would be much more concerned about the behaviors of people in various groups. In this case the way the religion enforces their beliefs are far more important than what they believe.

    In the first century the followers of Jesus would have probably been considered a cult - it went far from the Jewish traditions of the time. That is just a guess of mine because I haven't studied to any degree.

    But people were not forced to become followers of Christ. They didn't have to turn in time sheets to prove their faithfulness. They weren't manipulated or lied to. Or so many other things that the WTS now sets rules for. From a psycho/socio perspective I would not consider the first followers as a cult

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