Exploring the cult phenomenon

The simple English dictionary defines the cult term, as: “1—a group of people with a religious, philosophical or cultural identity. Sometimes viewed as a secret, often existing on the margins of society or exploitative towards its members. 2. Devotion to a saint.” On exploring the phenomenon of cultish conditions, I was shocked to realize that Christianity features dominantly in the description of a cult.

Those regarded as cults carry no single factor, definitively determining whether they would be cultish or not, according to the above definition. Of the highlighted features, which denominational group could be exonerated from being a cult? In its formative years, Christianity was probably most suited for a cult label, leading to the execution of the early apostles. Common features of cult-labelling portray the following, as indicators:

The group has a charismatic leader who claims to have special or exclusive teachings, knowledge, or abilities. The group’s members are isolated from family, friends, and society at large. The group’s members are encouraged or required to give up their personal possessions and/or finances. The group’s members are punished for questioning the group’s beliefs or practices. The group’s members are pressured to recruit new members. The conclusion that Jesus was primarily a cult leader can be drawn from what He pronounced to his disciples:

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them” (Matthew 13:10-12 NIV).

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

How would any person daring to repeat the above words, standing up for Jesus, avoid inviting being labelled a cult? Is it any wonder why Jesus was eventually executed? The world system is governed under conditions that do not recognize spiritual provisions. Some people remained committed to Jesus, under grim conditions. They submitted to follow Jesus, in conformity with the above Scripture, out of their volition.

After Jesus’ ascension, those who remained faithful were numbered to a hundred and twenty (Acts 1:15). That number is minuscule when considering the multitudes that purported to love Jesus, before His crucifixion.  The 120 could be classified as dedicated, but still others among that group deserved sifting, for whatever reason.

Physical humans can’t be fully trusted on matters of Christianity, without God’s Spirit. The term cult appears as originally intended for those with weird activities, considered asymmetrical to normal behaviour. However, doing what is not traditionally practised, does not necessarily confirm abnormality.

The sticky situation arises from the condition of ignorance, engulfing humanity. How can ignorant people be entrusted with choosing between normal and abnormal? Under those circumstances, what is normal would be mistaken for abnormal and vice versa. The conditions of normality and abnormality can be aligned to the dichotomies of life and death, respectively.

Anything supporting the greatest number of human lives should be deemed normal. However, anything that supports the least number ought to be regarded as abnormal. This portrays the only workable factor, driven by forces of life and death. This leads to the conclusion that conflicts are supported by warmongers, who are allergic to peaceful conditions that subscribe to life.

This world replaces foolishness with wisdom, where wisdom would be considered foolishness. It is common for those befitting of a cultish label to be accredited with normalcy, while those committed to sanity would be regarded as cults.

Popularity is not what describes normalcy when considering that Jesus’ followership did not attract the majority. There is no need to expect anything different when considering Jesus’ words as suggesting the least number of those committed to the truth:

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit, you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7:13-17 NIV)

When using Jesus’ words, the false prophets in sheep’s clothing, fit the description of being cultish. While Jesus was economical about God’s Kingdom secrets, there was no hidden agenda. The things of the flesh are attracted to the earth, just as human flesh also belongs to the earth. Earthly conditions ascribe to cultish provisions. However, there is truth in that any condition that is considered discordant is automatically considered cultish by those of this world.

The most important endowment is the ability to identify cultish conditions. How can one identify a cult, especially when having existed under cultish conditions, throughout one’s life? The above Scripture provides the most, if not the only appropriate description of a cult. The prime conditions of a cult include a charismatic leader being special, or considered to possess exclusive teachings, knowledge, or abilities.

This is what causes the group to refrain from their capacity to reason. That describes what Paul contended with among Corinthian believers. They had placed personalities ahead of Christian provisions. They removed themselves from the equation that constituted the description of God’s Church. The Scriptural passage does not show Paul succeeding in persuading those idolatrous worshipers against such a warped idea.

“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’

“Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Corinthians 1:10-17).

The cultish provision is what appealed most, to those personality worshippers. They had an appetite to follow a leader to whom they could owe allegiance. They lacked faith in themselves, let alone faith in God. Their desire for some personality character above them was not uncommon as existing, even in our political environment. This is what describes the fundamental reality of our Zimbabwe nation.

Indeed, no immediate solution to a problem conditioned in crooked human minds appears achievable. It represents a historical phenomenon, possibly initiated during the Babylonian civilization. Human beings find security in coalescing around a personality, considered to be a spiritual leader, even without proof. The approval of a human leader carries no resistance against idolatry when considered necessary.

However, all humans cannot be compared or likened to anything in this world. The cause of God’s detestation of idolatry is the limiting factor in the human capacity to reason. A person who relies on any other object for survival cancels his reasoning capacity, thereby, reducing himself to an object. The object’s status is supported by the earthly atmosphere.

A human being was created with a reasoning capacity that cannot be matched with anything in this world. Jesus openly declared that with faith as little as a mustard seed, nothing could be impossible with humanity. A person considers himself Godly, yet ignores Jesus’ noble words when surrendering his reasoning capacity.

When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.” “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied. “How long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” 

Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment. Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:14-20 NIV)

Jesus’ castigation of the disciples, suggests that Jesus was against the idea of succumbing to incapacitation. That idea was of an unbelieving and perverse generation. Jesus expected His disciples to imitate His abilities, if they truly believed in Him, rather than consider themselves as incapacitated. They pretended to believe in Him when the opposite was true. At one stage, Simon Peter attempted to imitate Jesus, only to succumb, instantly.

When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:26-33 NIV).

Simon Peter’s ability to temporarily walk on water, despite his doubt, proved that humans can achieve Jesus’ feat. Some people would be quick to assume that Peter’s failure was proof that humans can’t be like Jesus. Such people would be confirming their unbelief which resonates with Peter’s display of doubt.

Otherwise, those truly believing in Jesus know that with faith as little as a mustard seed, nothing is impossible, according to Jesus. True believers do not even talk about miracles, because no miracle surpasses believing in Jesus. The term cult suggests a failure to believe in Jesus, which signifies the realization of being God’s child. Jesus came to reveal the mystery of humans becoming God’s children. Those remaining unaware of that reality are, obviously, nonbelievers.

The Lordship of Jesus is in revealing the mystery of being God’s children rather than revealing Himself for being worshipped by humans. If Jesus sought to be worshipped, why would He have allowed Himself to be taunted by sinful characters on the cross? The only character who constantly seeks to be worshipped in this world is Satan:

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him (Matthew 4:8-11 NIV)

Those who truly believe in Jesus cannot stoop so low as to be tricked by Satan, instead of following Jesus’ footsteps. Those in love of being worshipped by others, and yet calling themselves Christians, can be regarded as fake. Such leaders and their followers are a typical example of a cult. There cannot be any other way of exposing a cultish condition, except by practising the opposite of what Jesus taught.

The time has come for true believers to come out of the cultish condition, by taking seriously, Jesus’ teachings. I cannot see truthful characters remaining in the idea of suspending their reasoning capacity to follow human leaders. Jesus came to grant humanity freedom, rather than subject humanity to slavery. Blessed are those with spiritual eyes to distinguish between falsehood and truth. Such people can easily differentiate between Satan’s falsehood and Jesus’ impeccable voice of reason.

Andrew Masuku is the author of Dimensions of a New Civilization, laying down standards for uplifting Zimbabwe from the current state of economic depression into a model for other nations worldwide. A decaying tree provides an opportunity for a blossoming sprout. Written from a Christian perspective, the book is a product of inspiration, bringing relief to those having witnessed the strings of unworkable solutions––leading to the current economic and social decay. Most Zimbabweans should find the book as a long-awaited providential oasis of hope, in a simple conversational tone.

The Print copy is now available at Amazon.com for $13.99

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