What is the difference between Christianity and a cult?

What is the difference between Christianity and a cult?


This excerpt is taken from our award-winning curriculum Philosophy Adventure.

You can get the first lesson FREE.

A Charismatic Mystic

In Lesson 2 of Philosophy Adventure, we struggle to separate the Ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras from the Pythagoreans ... and discern the truth of who he actually was.

Secondary sources reveal Pythagoras (c. 570 BC - c. 495 BC) to be a charismatic mystic who exercised (too) much authority over the lives of his followers.

Thinking about the demands Pythagoras placed on his followers such as:

  • Abstain from eating beans or touching dead bodies while wearing wool.
  • Never to touch a white rooster or allow a swallow to settle on your roof.

—and after learning about the tragic mass suicides led by the cult leader Jim Jones—we naturally ask:

Why would anyone follow a leader who sought to control and abuse them?

What History Reveals

Although this sounds like a reasonable question, an honest survey of human history reveals many stories of charismatic leaders leading their followers to their destruction.

In 2 Corinthians 11:20, the Apostle Paul challenged the Corinthians who apparently allowed themselves to be abused by false teachers:

For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. 

Scripture tells us we will certainly submit to someone (Romans 6:16).

The requirements of a follower

When we examine the criteria of what constitutes a cult, it looks surprisingly similar to the requirements of following Jesus.

Cults commonly dictate:

However, there is one unbridgeable difference between any cult and Christianity.

That difference is the character of its leader.

Jesus is the difference.

Review the Scripture citations given in the list above.

Then consider how Pythagoras, the Pythagoreans, or Jim Jones exercised authority compared to Jesus.

John 10:10-11 tells us that the Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep, and that Jesus died that we may live.

the issue is corruption.

It is not the principle of authority that is dangerous; in fact, the Word of God likens human nature to that of sheep, and sheep are vulnerable and lost without proper authority.

Because the absence of authority results in chaos, we must have leaders. Yet danger arises when the source or intent of the authority is corrupt. 

The Choice Set Before Us

We, as a people, are either building or tearing down. We are either traveling toward righteousness or toward depravity.

And what we believe to be true about the essential nature of reality determines who we follow and which path we take.

I have set before you life and death,
blessing and curse.
Therefore choose life….

I'm praying that during this critical time in history, we will be led by godly leaders who choose life.

Learn the shocking story behind The Jonestown Massacre and other significant events when you study the history of ideas in Philosophy Adventure.

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