By Joseph Strong
Something that arises often here is whether or not the Christadelphians are a cult. This is a very difficult question for a number of reasons. Nobody who is in a cult will admit that they are. It is only when they make up their minds to leave, and do so, that it becomes obvious to them.
Things are made more complex by the fact that in attempting to decide if a group is a cult or not, reference and comparison is often made to “normal” religious, and in particular from our point of view, Christian groups.
In considering Christadelphians, things are made doubly difficult by the fact that with no central leader or leadership, each individual Ecclesia (church) will have it's own individual standards of teaching, belief and morality. In smaller religious groups, particularly where most of the members are from generations of the same families, loyalties may not be so much religion based as family based.
I chose to look at a very small sample of sites that attempt to define the most common characteristics of cults. As usual, my warning applies, I am a recovering theist so some of the sites looked at are to some degree Christian. Their beliefs are irrelevant to me. They can worship fried chicken if they want to, I couldn't care less.
Common Characteristics of Cults (Warning-link to religious group)
The first mark of a cult is its manipulation of Scripture. The Bible is twisted to fit the leader or group’s interpretation. Private interpretations are forbidden because the leader of the cult is the only one, of course, who is able to understand God’s voice properly. Their teachings distort the historic, orthodox claims of Christianity.
(2) Mental Manipulation
Second, many times cults manipulate people’s minds. There is little concern for individual thought and development. Education is usually discouraged while the convert is bombarded with the cult’s doctrine and literature. Members are called to leave or neglect their old family and life-style for a brand new one.
A third characteristic is the manipulation of time. Since salvation comes exclusively from the teachings of the group, in many cults members spend much of their time working for their organization. Family, school, leisure, sleep, and even food are most often neglected.
Finally, cults typically manipulate reality. They tend to have an exclusive “us”/“them” mentality in which society and old associates are all out to get them. Anyone outside of the group is suspect.
If a religious group exhibits one or more of the marks mentioned above, that group may well be considered a cult. Jesus Christ said that in the last days many false prophets would arise and deceive many (Matt. 24:11,24). To avoid the deception of the cults, we should be rooted in the teachings of the historic Christian faith, and receive Jesus Christ, God the Son, second Person of the Trinity, as Lord of our lives.
Seven Characteristics of cults: (Warning - link to a religious group)
(1) Oppose critical thinking instead of allowing them to think for themselves.
(2) Dishonour the family unit instead of insisting on the biblical priority of the family unit.
(3) Isolate members and reject them for leaving instead of helping them do God's will.
(4) Promote inappropriate loyalty and connection to the cult leadership instead of to Jesus.
(5) Cross biblical boundaries of behaviour instead of walking in purity and integrity.
(6) Separate from the Church instead of promoting a culture of honour toward the Church.
(7) Emphasise special revelations that contradict scripture instead of honouring scripture.
Finally, it is worth looking at what the International Cultic Studies Association (ISCA)has to say. I am quoting this list in full, but please read the full referenced article for the caveats relating to how to use the list. Of the three lists of indicators of cults, this is probably the most disturbing for the Ex-Christadelphian with family or friends still in the group, because it strips away the religious aspects of the previous quoted lists, but essentially stays the same.
Characteristics Associated With Cultic Groups (Non religious link)
(1)The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.
(2)Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
(3)Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).
(4)The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
(5)The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
(6)The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
(7)The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
(8)The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members' participating in behaviours or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).
(9)The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
(10)Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.
(11)The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
(12)The group is preoccupied with making money.
(13)Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
(14)Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
(15)The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.
How do Christadelphians score? Well, that is a personal matter but for me it is as follows:
List 1 - They score 3 ½ out of 4
List 2 - They score 4 to 5 out of 7 (the group I belonged to managed 6)
List 3 – They score 11 out of 15
In part 2 of this article we will look at specifics and I will state my conclusion (it may surprise you), however in the meantime comments and thoughts from both Ex-Christadelphians and Christadelphians, as well as those with family in the group will be welcome. Usual rules apply, trolls and imbeciles will be deleted before publication.