Yesterday, I posted a (hopefully) humorous article on “On the Lighter Side: What Most Cults Have In Common”. There was a point to it, though. You have to be careful when you look for common characteristics of any group to make sure you are identifying real distinguishing attributes and not something that is totally irrelevant.
That can be true of degrees of characteristics as well. For example, take mind control. One of the identifying characteristics of a cult is mind control. However, is that really unique of cults?
It doesn’t take long to realize that all religious organizations enforce patterns of thought and behavior and discourage others. In fact, the rituals of religion practically require it. It may be patterns of Bible study, methods of meditation, prescriptions for fasting or certain words to say in prayer. In most cases, the aim is to control or realize certain desires, establish different ways of thinking or at very least give license to certain behavior (usually at the expense of another).
In reality, though, is it just religious organizations? What group of people doesn’t have permissible and not permissible forms of behavior? What group of people does not enforce a code of conduct upon others and in some cases even ostracize members for expressing certain thoughts? Certain occupations require training in certain disciplines. Even the word “discipline” has connotations of patterns of thought and behavior. Political activity often has an almost religious zeal to it. And, then there’s sports.
So, what makes a cult different than any of these? It really boils down to harm, does it not? No one cares if you’re a zealot about the Cleveland Browns, unless of course you are a Steelers fan. In the end, though, it won’t make the news unless there’s a riot. And, that’s the point. A riot causes harm. Likewise, there often is no controversy about faith healing until there is a death or lasting harm.
The problem, though, is that in many cases what one person considers harm might seem normal to another. In fact, even the degree of harm might vary from individual to individual. Fasting, for example, might be downright beneficial to an individual with high cholesterol, but fasting could be devastating to a borderline diabetic.
I want you to consider something else, though. When you look at control, who is supposed to be in control? How is that control supposed to be gained?
Read through the New Testament with this in mind. Jesus often healed those who were demonically possessed. It is quite evident from the stories that this wasn’t something the individuals involved desired. There were real consequences to the possession in most cases. Even the girl who followed Paul around crying that “These men are the servants of the most high God” was a servant with “masters” and was “possessed” (Ac 16:16-19). Satan wants to control you. He really doesn’t care if it is willing or not.
Contrast that with the Holy Spirit. It is only given to those who are broken and repentant. Repentance is a choice.
That’s not all, either. Reading through the Book of Judges, it hard to come away without the impression that things were severely out of control. People talk a lot about freedom, but a world without any control isn’t real freedom. Chaos is not freedom. Israel didn’t initially have control imposed upon them, and, more importantly, they had no self-control.
So, on the one hand, you have Satan who wants control at all costs. On the other hand, you have God Who desires a willing control only in that He desires the best for all. The first requires you simply be. It is mindless. The second requires cooperation. It requires choice, it requires heart, and it requires discernment.
No group of men, no organization and no church is going to get you into the Kingdom. It’s going to have to be a choice, but it will not be theirs. It will be yours. It will be God’s. It will be a cooperative effort. It will be for your benefit and not your harm in the long run.