A Cult Or A Church?

Let me call your attention to Ephesians 4.

Paul is considered an Apostle because Jesus directly revealed to him the “mystery” that the gospel was not for the Jews only (Ephesians 3 and Acts 9-10). He taught that all those who trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ could boldly enter the presence of the Father through the righteousness of their Redeemer instead of through their own good deeds, sacrifice, religious observance, or ethic background (Ephesians 3:11-12; Romans 4:16-25). So it behooves us to listen carefully to what he says in Ephesians 4 about the church.

A Christian church should never be run like a cult. Cults are marked by arrogant, often charismatic, leaders who impose their will on others. Arrogance and manipulation happen in evangelical circles too! There is a trickle down effect as well. Instead of humility and service, pride and willfulness begin to characterize the congregation. Arrogance becomes the accepted norm. Instead, Paul urged everyone to daily live

“…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2).

Paul spoke of unity around the truth of the gospel, but he never taught the kind of forced unity that emanates from the top leadership down on the rest of the church. There is plenty of room for diversity within the foundational unity of the gospel. It is wrong when leaders misuse their position to conjure up a unity that is not there. Paul’s called for a bond of peace…a breaking down of partitions between people from different backgrounds and an attempt to keep the peace. But, this is not something that is forced from the top down as has been done in cults. There is no need for that when everyone watches their attitudes and remain humble, meek, patient, and loving with one another (Ephesians 4:1-3). Even those at the top are to exhibit these characteristics. (And I might add: “Especially” those at the top!)

Of course, this is not easy for anyone once conflict starts. I have witnessed five churches fall apart because the leadership thought too highly of themselves and ran roughshod over anyone who got in the way of their favorite program for church growth, or their pet doctrine, or even their favorite person. The failure of leaders to remain humble is a disaster–not only for the organization, but for the heartbreak and shipwreck it leads to in the lives and families of church participants.

Then why attend a local church when so much can go wrong? Paul, the other apostles, and the early church fathers never spoke of para-church organizations, television evangelists, or blogs as replacements for the local church. Jesus spoke of going all over the world with the gospel, administering the sacraments, and teaching how to live lives pleasing to God. It takes effective churches to do all these things. As we do these things together, we grow as we do them together. In order to prevent a forced unity and to carry out its mission, the church is given a variety of gifts. Just the existence of these gifts means there will be diversity. (I can’t be an administrator or a time management person. I will fail at the task and any loving, patient attitude will slip! If I am to teach, I must have an organizer to come along beside me and make it happen.) Our diverse gifts can work together to promote the gospel and teach the Bible so others can live in unity, experience the love of God, and become more like Christ. We function better with each other’s help (Ephesians 4:11-13; 1 Corinthians 12). You have some gifts that could help others along the road to Christ-likeness.

What about your family? Husbands and parents are not exempt from these errors of abuse of authority. If you are active in a church where arrogance is the norm, then watch out for it in your family. What is your husband or father like when you disagree with him? Does he allow open discussion or slam the door on any objection? This can be loudly done, or he can quietly walk away, then start manipulating to get his way. Not to even mention physical or emotional abuse! And then, of course, he will point out how God has put him in the position of authority in the home–just as he saw his church leaders do. Men aren’t the only arrogant ones. You might be acting the same way with your children. Even though Ephesians 4 is dealing with churches, these attitudes of service, humility, patience, and love are to be the very fabric of our homes as well.

Not so easy, is it? That is when we begin to understand the glory of His grace. The Holy Spirit gives us power to be humble and kind to others. Ask God for it and then keep on asking and asking. One day you will be taken off guard when you see yourself responding with patience.

About Carol Brandt

I earned a B.A. in History from Florida State University and M.Ed in.Higher Education from Florida Atlantic University. I taught high school social studies before "retiring" to full-time homemaking and raising two daughters. Now I love being a grandmother to four boys and a girl. I have also raised five collies. My husband, John, was an optometrist, who worked tirelessly for his profession through private practice and as a consultant, and served on the Board of Trustees of Illinois College of Optometry for twenty years. Ernest Reisinger was my chief mentor in this warm-hearted application of Calvinism. He gave me many books! The Founders Journal and Founders Conferences, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and Charles Spurgeon have been other sources of Reformed thinking as well as the other warm-hearted ones listed in my book, "Warm-hearted Calvinists."

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