Is the Catholic Church a Cult? | Is it a Sin?
Despite an extensive theological agreement between Catholics and Protestants, many Protestant fundamentalists maintain that Catholicism is an anti-Christian cult. Chick Publications, Alberto Rivera’s Antichrist Information Center, Tony Alamo’s Christian Foundation, Bill Jackson’s Christians Evangelizing Catholics, Albert James Dager’s Media Spotlight, and Dave Hunt’s The Berean Call are among the organizations and people who label Catholicism as a cult.
(This is not to argue that all of these persons are equal – the latter three are more respectable than the former three.) These are only a handful of the numerous people and organizations that regard Catholicism as an anti-Christian cult. We must confront their assertion since it has gained traction in some evangelical circles.
Ten Reasons Why Catholicism Is Not a Cult
Those who label Catholicism a cult do not seem to understand that, even if one considers Catholicism to be unscriptural and greatly mistaken on many critical doctrinal issues, it is unjustified and incorrect to label Roman Catholicism as an anti-Christian cult for a variety of reasons.
- Cults, in general, are tiny offshoot groups with a recent start. Most American-based cults, for example, split apart from other Christian groups to varying degrees and developed in the nineteenth or twentieth century. On the other hand, Catholicism is the most incredible body within Christendom, with a nearly two-thousand-year history (historical continuity with apostolic, first-century Christianity), and is the spiritual branch from which Protestantism broke.
- Cults often impose strict control on their members and require unquestioning submission, with disobedience punished by isolation and expulsion. While Catholicism has historically exerted chauvinism and undue control over its followers, this is no longer the case, especially following the Second Vatican Council. As seen in Part One of this series, the diverse nature of contemporary Catholicism attests to this notion.
- Cults (when characterized as heretical sects) are labeled as such because they deny or reject core Christian theology. This has primarily been a denial of the essence of God (the Trinity), the nature of the incarnate Christ (divine-human), and the essential requirement of divine grace in redemption throughout history. While Protestants have accused Catholicism of having illegitimate power and of misunderstanding the gospel (two necessary allegations that will be addressed later), Catholicism does maintain the Trinity, Christ’s two natures. That redemption is ultimately a gift of God’s mercy.
- Cults are typically led by an authoritarian, totalitarian leader or prophet. While some believe that the pope falls into this category, the pope manages the church with significant reliance on the bishops (college of cardinals) and within the church’s official teaching constraints. Protestants disagree with the pope’s authority and high titles, yet he does not fulfill the definition of a cult leader.
- Those who label Roman Catholicism as a cult (an untruthful and illegitimate form of Christianity) frequently label the Eastern Orthodox church. They don’t comprehend that if both of these religious groups are non-Christian, there was no legitimate Christian church during most of the medieval period. Contrary to what some Protestants think, there was no independent, nonreligious, Bible-believing church on the corner (or in the caves) during most of the Middle Ages.
- Some attempt to avoid this issue by arguing that as long as a few people remained biblically orthodox separate from the institutional or structured church, those few people formed God’s real church (a remnant). Hence, the church was never entirely defeated. This way of thinking, although partially true, is not entirely correct. The church does have an invisible16 and local dimension, but it also has a visible and organized component (John 17:21). While the church is mainly a community of believers, it also serves as an institution where Christians can encounter the ministry of the Word and the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper). Scripture does not permit the stark difference that some would like to make between the spiritual and organizational components of the church.
- Cults are often founded, shaped, and controlled by a single person or small group. In contrast, the Catholic church has been shaped by an unimaginable number of people during its lengthy history: creeds, councils, and the continuous teachings of the church to regulate Catholicism.
- A cult is defined as “a religious group that originated as a heretical sect and maintained a strong dedication to deviation.” Regardless of how one feels about Catholicism, even if it is heretical at times, it does not meet this criterion. It is not founded on deviation, and, as previously said, it possesses structural orthodoxy that other cults do not have.
- Cults commonly dismiss the Bible, substituting or augmenting it with their own “holy books.” Indeed, cults frequently contend that the Bible has been perverted to some level and that their works are required to restore the truth. While Catholics’ acceptance of Elseworlds books (the Apocrypha) and elevating apostolic tradition to the level of Scripture are significant concerns for Protestants, Catholics have high regard for the Bible (inspired and infallible) and see it as their primary source of revelation.
- The focus on a “remnant identity” is a common feature of cults; they claim to be God’s unique agent or persons who restore “true Christianity,” which has been perverted or lost. Typically, this kind of restorationism is accompanied by an anti creedal and anti-historical attitude. While Catholicism has been guilty of terrible exclusivity at times (as have particular Protestant churches), they explicitly repudiate restorationism and highlight the continuity of God’s church throughout history.
- Even with the significant faults that Protestants identify in Roman Catholic theology, Catholic teaching does not match the pattern of the known cult organizations (see comparison chart). Catholicism supports most of what cults deny and has an orthodox base that other cult organizations lack.
In short, a cult is a group that rejects orthodoxy and stays steadfastly dedicated to extremism. On the other hand, the difficulty with Catholicism is of a different kind. It affirms doctrine that is both redundant and contradictory to its historical orthodoxy. From the perspective of an evangelical Protestant, Catholicism is unquestionably “too much,” but cults are unquestionably “insufficient.”.