“Cult” is one of the most frequently misused words in English. I get tired of hearing people say that this or that religious group is a “cult”. Used in that way, the word “cult” is almost meaningless. All it means is that the speaker disagrees with the beliefs or dislikes the activities of the group so described.
There is an accurate and meaningful way of using the word, provided we remember that it refers to what people do rather than to what they are. People may practise a cult, but a group of people cannot be a cult.
I was reminded of this by Michael, who wrote in The Euphemist: Theological eccentricities meme: “non-Lutheran churches which have influenced (or at least nudged) my thinking have included the Seventh-Day Adventists (I’m of the school of thought that agrees with Walter Martin that they are a legitimate Christian denomination and not a cult, as some claim).”
What do those terms mean?
What constitutes a “legitimate Christian denomination”? By what criteria and by whose standards is this “legitimacy” determined and conferred?
It’s like that other meaningless term “mainline churches”. What makes a church “mainline”, and what makes a church “branch line”? Who decides, and by what criteria?
A few years ago someone asked, in a discussion forum, “Are the Jehovah’s Witnesses a cult phenomenon?”
How does one answer it?
One can say that Jehovah’s Witnesses practise the cult of Jehovah, just as Elvis Presley fans practise the cult of Elvis Presley, and there was a cult of Che Guevara, Princess Diana and Britney Spears. But it is really meaningless to say that the people who practise these cults are a cult in a collective and ontological sense.
As an Orthodox Christian I can say that the beliefs of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are heretical: they deny the Holy Trinity. But that doesn’t make them a “heresy” or their members “heretics” any more than it makes them a “cult”. A member of the Orthodox Church who held such beliefs would be a heretic, and if such a person persisted in holding and teaching such beliefs could be labelled as a heretic and excommunicated. But that would because such a persons has deliberately chosen to hold and to teach something contrary to the dogmatic teaching of the Church.
As an Orthodox Christian, I practise a cult, the cult of the Holy Trinity. In that sense, I’m happy to acknowledge that I am a cultist.
As we sing every Sunday at the Divine Liturgy:
We have seen the true Light!
We have received the heavenly Spirit!
We have found the true Faith!
Worshipping the undivided Trinity, who has saved us.
That’s my cult.
This post is part of a synchroblog on the theme of “Emerging heresy”. You can read more about the theme here: Synchroblog “Emerging Heresy”.
There it says that “The emergents and emerging church has been accused of heresy, sometimes this is explicit and at other times it is in the subtext of what people are saying and writing.” I haven’t mentioned the “emergents” and “emerging church” in the body of my post, simply because I do not know what heresy they have been accused of, and by whom. It should be clear from the body of my post why I am not going to try to formulate such accusations.
Another reason is that the “emerging church” movement is pretty amorphous and diffuse. They seem to be as diverse as non-emerging Protestants, so there doesn’t seem to be any dogma that can be identified as “emergent” and pinned down and described as heretical.
Here are links to the other posts:
- Aratus – The Gender of the Creator and Face forward
Cobusvw – Conversing with the heretics
FakeExpressionsOfTheUnknown Who’s Heresy
Liquid Light – Coming out a heretic emerges
Mike Smith – Emerging Heresy
Nic Paton – The Lif Cycle of Heresy and The Blessings of Heresy
Roger Saner Towards a heretical orthodoxy
Ryan Peters – Calling the “H” word and dropping the “H” bomb
Steve Hayes Cult
Tim Victor – Confessions of a heretic
Ther list will change as others add their contributions.