Are we a CULT? What IS a cult?

The term "cult" has just devolved into something prejorative (insulting) and charged with all kinds of emotion and baggage.  The term carries with it all kinds of insinuations about mind control, isolation, child abuse, ritual suicide, gun stockpiling, and more.  Despite that there are VERY few instances that people can point to - they have imprinted on the public psyche and people seem to expect Jim Jones around every corner.  It's the same kind of thinking that would keep a person from going on a cruise ship because the Titanic sank once - therefore they're all unsafe.  But the reality is that for every "Jim Jones" there are DOZENS of "Koinonia Farms" that spawned Habitat for Humanity and have blessed the world.

To the person being accused of being in a "cult" or being a "cult leader" it's the equivalent of a racial slur.  There seems to be no real defense to it that changes people's minds because by using a term like "cult" they dehumanize the people involved and then ignore any defense those people put up.  So it may do no good at all to post this, because some folks have made up their mind and WILL NOT change no matter what we say. But, again, our goal is to shine the light of Truth and see what happens. 

Below we have quoted from the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM) their definition of "cult".  It's available on this page -

Social aspects of cult-like behavior

For a group to be a cult in the social sense, many of the following characteristics would have to be present. For a group to be a cult in the doctrinal sense, essentials (in this case of the Christian faith) would have to be violated. Some of the characteristics are listed below.

  1. Submission:
    1. Complete, almost unquestioned trust in the leadership. 
    2. Leaders are often seen as prophets, apostles, or special individuals with unusual connections to God. This helps a person give themselves over psychologically to trusting someone else for their spiritual welfare.
    3. Increased submission to the leadership is rewarded with additional responsibilities and/or roles, and/or praises, increasing the importance of the person within the group.
  2. Exclusivity
    1. Their group is the only true religious system, or one of the few true remnants of God's people.
  3. Persecution complex
    1. Us against them mentality. Therefore, when someone (inside or outside of the group) corrects the group in doctrine and/or behavior, it is interpreted as persecution, which then is interpreted as validation.  
  4. Control
    1. Control of members' actions and thinking through repeated indoctrination and/or threats of loss of salvation, or a place to live, or receiving curses from God, etc.
  5. Isolation
    1. Minimizing contact of church members with those outside the group. This facilitates a further control over the thinking and practices of the members by the leadership.
  6. Love Bombing
    1. Showing great attention and love to a person in the group by others in the group, to help transfer emotional dependence to the group.
  7. Special Knowledge
    1. Instructions and/or knowledge are sometimes said to be received by a leader(s) from God. This leader then informs the members.
    2. The Special Knowledge can be received through visions, dreams, or new interpretations of sacred scriptures such as the Bible.
  8. Indoctrination
    1. The teachings of the group are repeatedly drilled into the members, but the indoctrination usually occurs around Special Knowledge.
  9. Salvation
    1. Salvation from the judgment of God is maintained through association and/or submission with the group, its authority, and/or its Special Knowledge.
  10. Group Think
    1. The group's coherence is maintained by the observance to policies handed down from those in authority.
    2. There is an internal enforcement of policies by members who reward "proper" behavior, and those who perform properly are rewarded with further inclusion and acceptance by the group.
  11. Cognitive Dissonance
    1. Avoidance of critical thinking and/or maintaining logically impossible beliefs and/or beliefs that are inconsistent with other beliefs held by the group.
    2. Avoidance of and/or denial of any facts that might contradict the group's belief system.
  12. Shunning
    1. Those who do not keep in step with group policies are shunned and/or expelled.
  13. Gender Roles
    1. Control of gender roles and definitions.
    2. Severe control of gender roles sometimes leads to sexual exploitation.
  14. Appearance Standards
    1. Often a common appearance is required and maintained. For instance, women might wear prairie dresses, and/or their hair in buns, and/or no makeup, and/or the men might all wear white short-sleeved shirts, and/or without beards, or all wear beards.

Doctrinal aspects of a cult

Since CARM is a Christian-based ministry (statement of faith) it holds to the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. Therefore, deviation from any of the doctrinal essentials as defined by the Bible would qualify a group as being a cult. The essentials of the Christian faith, as revealed in Scripture, are as follows:

  1. The Deity of Christ
    1. Jesus is God in flesh (John 8:58 with Exodus 3:14). See also John 1:1148:24;10:30-3320:28Col. 2:9Phil. 2:5-8Heb. 1:8
  2. Salvation by grace through faith alone
    1. Romans 3:284:1-55:1Ephesians 2:8-9Galatians 3:21;5:3-5
  3. The physical resurrection of Christ
    1. John 2:19-211 Corinthians 15:1417John 20:25-28Luke 24:39
  4. The Gospel, as the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus
    1. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4Galatians 1:8-9
  5. Monotheism
    1. Exodus 20:3-6Isaiah 43:1044:68
  6. Trinity
    1. Though the Trinity is not explicitly defined in Scripture and stated to be a necessity, it is a logically necessary doctrine since it properly describes the true nature of God.
    2. Matt. 3:16-1728:191 Corinthians 12:4-62 Corinthians 13:14Ephesians 4:4-6
  7. Virgin Birth
    1. The Virgin birth is an essential to the Christian faith since without it, the true nature of the incarnation of Christ could not be scripturally maintained and it could not be said that Jesus is deity.
    2. Matthew 1:23


Now, the problem with ANY definition is that a lot of stuff applies to most ANY organization.  For some, Amway is a cult. For some, Catholicism is a cult. Having a charismatic leader that people trust and want to follow is typical of Apple Computer, most of the military, political parties and a zillion other organizations.  Nobody puts the LEAST capable guy out front!


But let us respond to the list above:

1. Submission - We have consistently and repeatedly told people that they need to obey GOD and do as their conscience leads them. While Doug Perry has a wisdom that we respect, nobody here is making him an idol. Even a cursory review of the videos and books will show that Doug has always done all he could to KEEP people from looking to him as the source of all revelation or information.

2. Exclusivity – The name “The Church of Liberty” was meant to express the reality that ALL OF THOSE who live in Liberty, Missouri and are part of the Body of Christ are ONE CHURCH regardless of where they happen to be on Sunday morning or their disagreement on secondary issues. Likewise, “Fellowship of the Martyrs” is a statement about the church as a whole, not this local group. We have never believed we were the only ones right and have always sought fellowship with ALL believers.

3. Persecution complex – We understand very clearly that God can use anyone to correct you – and will, at times, use the one that makes it the hardest for you to receive the correction. We don't believe that correction is persecution. We believe that persecution is persecution.

4. Control – We are so NOT controlling people, it's hilarious that anyone would even accuse us of it! While there are lists of things that need doing, each individual is very self-directed. Some of the people here have NEVER watched any of Doug's videos or read his books. Some never come to meetings. Some volunteer to work at the thrift store or food pantry or farm – some don't. They can even put nasty stuff about the group up on the internet and still keep living there – and have! There is no imperative that they agree with Doug or with anyone else. We believe that God is more interested in how well we LOVE than how RIGHT we are.

5. Isolation – Folks have their own rooms, with locks on their doors, their own cell phones, their own vehicles. No one is told who they can and can't talk to or when they can leave. Many of the folks here attend other congregations on Sunday morning, as they feel led. We've never had Sunday morning services (and don't expect to) because we never wanted to “compete” with any pastors or make people feel that they couldn't fellowship elsewhere. We talk a lot about our role to “Equip and Ship” meaning that we help people get closer to God and then send them on their way to whatever their “mission field” might be. The goal has NEVER been to keep people here long-term – and certainly not to isolate them.

6. Love Bombing – It's strange to us that this is on the list since so many congregations are being TRAINED to make a big fuss about visitors. Pleasant Valley Baptist has (or had) volunteers that would drive to a visitor's house between services and leave a “gift pack” on their doorstep for when they got home. On the one hand, we have a responsibility to love and support one another that SHOULD be different from the “world” - but the flowers in a mug on the doorstep thing is a little creepy. If you come hang out with us you will meet people that sincerely want to know your name and care about you, folks that will pray with all their heart for the issues in your life that you want to change. For us that's just “normal love” not “love bombing.” It really comes down to the motive behind it – whether obedience to Christ's example or recruitment. If you just want people to be where God wants them then you don't think in terms of recruitment.

7. Special Knowledge – Vast sections of Christianity believe that God still speaks to people. About 750 million Christians around the world fall into the “charismatic” category that believe in the Gifts of the Spirit and visions, dreams, etc. In those congregations, it's a regular thing for the leader – or members – to give a “word from the Lord” in one form or another. Then it needs to be tested against the Bible. That's not the same as some new theology that goes against the written Scriptures. The Bible says that we ALL “see through a glass darkly” - meaning that none of us are really all the way right about the deep details of faith. Most people go to church to have the pastor/priest/bishop/rabbi/imam/etc. tell them what God wants them to do. We help them hear God for themselves.

8. Indoctrination – People picture Jim Jones having loudspeakers in the compound blasting his sermons 24/7. Typically we've had one “official” meeting a week, usually on Sunday evenings, and it's a time for announcements, schedules for the week, dinner together and prayer and Bible study. And it's a time for each person to bring a song or tell what God is teaching them that week. Some folks even complain that it's not enough. But there's no way you could stretch it into “indoctrination.”

9. Salvation – It's clear that salvation comes by you being in the Book of Life, not by association with ANY group or knowledge or leader. We preach Christ and Him crucified as the only hope for Mankind. Period.

10. Group Think – Again, group think can affect lots of people that aren't “cults.” Military boot camps are an effort to create “group think” so that everyone knows expectations and rules. Leaders are put into place to enforce them. Many companies are the same way. We would argue that “group think” was a big part of the last Zoning hearing. Every group begins to have some commonality in the way they see things and react – in fact, that's probably what brought them together in the first place. However much we may have in common, or agree on issues of faith, we are VERY careful to try to avoid any requirements that folks agree with us on those issues. But there still has to be a place to throw someone out if they hurt another person or break the law.

11. Cognitive Dissonance – Doug is constantly asking for corrrection from others. We are a group that is seeking to walk in Truth and that means being willing to change when necessary. A verse that speaks to that is Psalm 141:5 “Let a righteous man strike me, it is oil on my head, my head will not refuse it.” Meaning if someone is righteous and they feel we need to be smacked, then we rejoice in it because it's for our own good.

12. Shunning – While there have been times someone had to be ejected, it wasn't because they disagreed about doctrine. It's strange that this one comes up too when a lot of the people here are folks that were ejected from “churches” because they asked too many hard questions. And they like it here because folks are more accepting of differences than any place else they have been.

13. Gender Roles – We think the husband is supposed to be the head of the family, but sometimes he's not. We encourage them to grow up and be the men of God they are supposed to be. Other than that, we support Biblical marriage and let folks do as they feel led. We are absolutely serious about sexual purity and that people should not be fooling around before marriage or outside of marriage. We believe that marriage is an estate of God, established by Him and that the government has abdicated any moral authority they might have had to decide who should be married to whom.

14. Appearance Standards – This is another one that by itself doesn't define a “cult.” Many of the Primitive Baptists, Mennonites, Amish and even United Pentecostals have a particular “uniform.” Not to mention the “professional” religious folks like nuns, priests, many pastors, etc. Private schools, military, particular careers also have good reasons to be differentiated from others. That said, we have no such standards. We have folks with tattoos and those without, with beards and without. We don't insert ourselves into what people ought to wear although we do think folks should be modest. Occasionally we have a family that thinks the woman should cover her head – so they do. Occasionally we have Messianic believers that believe the men should wear a prayer shawl (talit) when praying – so they do. It's no different than that we have had vegans and vegetarians and omnivores. And they do as they feel led. That's what LIBERTY in Christ means.


Doctrinal Aspects

We believe that there are some essentials of the faith. Things that are “salvific” - meaning without them you can't be “saved.” And there are a lot of things that are secondary issues – that some people think are primary issues and really aren't. For example, to a Baptist the belief that the Gifts of the Spirit are real and for today may be anywhere from “incorrect” up to “heretical” because it's not their belief. But it's not a salvific primary issue. Those pretty much all have to do with Christ, not tradition or style or musical instruments or interpretations of future events in the Bible. A belief in a pre-, mid-, or post-tribulational rapture is not salvific and we've wasted a lot of time fighting about stuff like that when we should have been caring for the poor. We find most of the divisions between denominations to be carnal arguments about things that don't really matter. (1 Corinthians 3)

We believe that Jesus Christ was God made flesh. He wasn't a human being that got promoted (Jehovah's Witnesses). He wasn't Lucifer's brother (Mormon's). He wasn't a created thing. He was and is part of the Godhead.

We believe that Jesus Christ died and rose again as the propitiation for our sins so that we might be able to receive the free gift of grace and be saved. Salvation is only through Jesus Christ and is a free gift, received by faith. We believe that those who accept Him as “Lord” will show the evidence of a change in their lives and want to serve and obey Jesus and be like Him. Romans 12:1-2.

We believe that Jesus Christ was an actual, verifiable historical figure, that He was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, prophesied His own death and resurrection, was crucified, died, was placed in a tomb and rose on the third day having conquered death and holding the keys to hell. He was seen by many witnesses, ascended into heaven telling us all to go into all the world and make disciples, and promising that He would come back one day. We believe that day is coming soon and people need to get right with God.

We believe that there is One God, that He expresses Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that He is the one and only true God and that there is no other path to salvation but through Jesus Christ.

We have been praying for ten years, talking to pastors and hoping to simply have a “family reunion” in the park where ALL the brothers and sisters in Christ could get together and praise and worship God together. But we can't … because the Church of Christ doesn't like it if we use instruments, the Baptists don't like it if someone speaks in tongues, some won't come if a Catholic shows up, the United Pentecostals won't come if Trinitarians are there, the Fundamental Baptists won't come if we're not using the 1611 King James exclusively, some won't come if we play drums, some won't come if a kid wants to do a rap that he wrote to the Lord, some won't come if we have HAM!

And these are ALL the same people who say they worship the guy whose last dying wish before He went to the Cross was that we would be ONE as He and the Father are ONE! You wouldn't believe how insanely difficult it is to get CHRISTIANS to agree on practically ANYTHING!

Well, like it or not, the LIBERTY FARM is going to be a place where those arguments have to be parked at the gate out front. We're going to cultivate a culture of LOVE that supersedes the need to be RIGHT. The thing we ALL have in common is that we're all ANTS looking out the plastic at the guy that built the ant farm and claiming that we know what He's thinking. We don't. We ALL see through a glass darkly and what we ought to do is hit our knees together, weep and repent for our pride, admit that we ALL see through a glass darkly and beg Him to teach us HIS ways and make us ONE whether we like it or not!

Can we get an “Amen”?

THAT is what we're about.