Is Christianity a cult?

Is Christianity a cult?

I often come across a complaint non-Christians have about the church: it brainwashes people. Many see the church as being the same as a cult, forcing people to believe things. For those who see themselves as enlightened and free thinkers, equating the church to a cult explains why so many people would hold to views that seem odd and outdated to the wider world.

Let’s think a little about this. Cults control their members and force them to believe certain things. In most classic cults, those who are on the inside are prevented from leaving either physically or through threats to their families or reputations. There is no room for dissent or other opinions. Cults are headed up by leaders who have ultimate control and power over those who are lower down in the organisation. It is a terrible thing to be caught in a cult; I have met a variety of people who have come out of that kind of environment incredibly hurt and confused.

Christianity is not like that at all. Let’s unpack why:

  1. The authority lies in the Bible, not in the leaders. Christian teaching is explaining and applying what God has told us already in the Bible. A good sermon is not one where a strong leader says, in essence, “this is what I say, and you need to trust me and believe it”. A good sermon is one where the preacher says, in essence, “look at what the Bible says here, and see that it makes sense”. Even the leaders in a church are subject to what the Bible says; there is no person who decides what is right and wrong.
  1. You are free to ask questions. This is really important. If the Bible is true, and Jesus is really the only way to God, we should be unafraid of questions. The Bible is full of calls for us to consider the world and think about it; Jesus does this often in his teaching, as does Paul in his letters. There are wisdom books in the Old Testament that encourage us to consider the big issues of meaning, sex and suffering and think about them. Christians don’t need to worry that the latest scientific or archaeological discovery will destroy their faith. Anyone can ask questions and see if it makes sense.
  1. Anyone is free to leave a church. Of course, no church wants to see people leave. But joining a church is a voluntary act and leaving is allowable. Should someone change their mind about the gospel, I would hope that the members of that church and their leaders would speak to them about it and pray with them. But there is no coercion. We want people to love God with all their heart, soul and mind, not because someone is forcing them to remain where they do not want to be.
  1. There is teaching, but it is not brainwashing. Christians teach one another in their churches and schools, including their kids. Sometimes this is referred to as brainwashing by outsiders. It is not; as with other teaching from the Bible, all involved are encouraged to think about it, to engage their minds, not just to absorb it and believe it. There is no such thing as a neutral situation for children. Disney is trying to mould their thinking, as is Instagram, as is the worldview presented by their friends. The church is open with teaching what is important to God; so many other sources are closer to brainwashing, subtly influencing children rather than asking them to consider what they are learning.

Christianity is not a cult. You are free to ask questions; if it is true, there is no need to restrict questions or fear them. Cultures influenced by Christianity tend to be open when it comes to religious freedom. You are free to explore other options, for Christians are convinced the Bible is true and stands up to questioning. Instead, you should be wary of religions that do not permit questioning or religious freedom; if they are convinced their faith is true, why are they forcing people to believe certain things and not ask questions?