Wikipedia defines a ‘cult’ as “a social group that is defined by its unusual religious, spiritual, or philosophical beliefs, or its common interest in a particular personality, object, or goal.” For many people, the word ‘cult’ evokes scary and dangerous associations of brainwashing, extremism, mind-control, idolizing human leaders, strong emotional pressure tactics, isolation from family and friends, and being ‘robbed’ of ones’ finances. Since Google searches involving the name ‘Christadelphian’ bring up articles labelling this religious group as a cult, some investigation is required.
The name ‘Christadelphian’ does sound strange until one understands that it is based on the Greek phrase ‘Christou adelphoi’ which simply means ‘brothers (and sisters) in Christ.’
“To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:” (Colossians 1:2)
DO THE CHRISTADELPHIANS EXHIBIT ‘CULT-LIKE’ BEHAVIOUR?
In order to answer this question fairly, we must keep in mind that any human establishment with real, living human beings, be it secular or religious, has the potential for some of their members to develop wrong motives and destroy the good intentions and moral standing of others. Human beings are complex creatures that aren’t always able to resist the temptations that come their way, especially if they are charismatic individuals that naturally draw others to themselves. Sometimes their popularity grows faster than their character develops. History is full of such accounts whether it be in world governments, secular companies, schools, families or churches.
The lurking desire for power, control and other selfish ambitions can turn fully committed followers of Christ into deluded, hostile leaders who wreak havoc everywhere they go. Often, such deluded individuals proclaim their motives and actions are based on doing ‘what is best’ for others or the ‘greater good’, when in reality they are only serving themselves. Generally, in religious groups, such members deftly twist the clear commands of Christ to justify their wrongful actions. This was even happening in the First Century when the Apostles were still alive and the New Testament was being written (2 Timothy 2:16-19; Matthew 7:15-20; Acts 20:29-30; 2 Corinthians 11:12-15). Corruption or insistence on extreme views – whether liberal or conservative – destroys the faith of many and brings heartache and bitterness to others. Corrupt or extreme individuals have at times disrupted individual Christadelphian congregations, just as they do in every other religious or secular organization. Such ‘cult-like’ behavior can occur within any group of people.
Judas Iscariot’s betrayal did not make everything that Jesus taught and did hypocritical, but rather demonstrated that he had not taken Jesus Christ’s principles to heart in his own personal life. In most establishments – secular or religious – you will find people who honestly want to hold to the principles of the group intermingled with those who are unable to overcome their own base desires. Jesus Christ warned that the ‘tares’ will grow with the ‘wheat’ until he returns and separates the two. (Matthew 13:25-30) Paul says, “For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” 1 Corinthians 11:18-19
It is always important to examine the foundational principles of an organization – and determine whether its principles are true and valid, or actually contributing to the wrong behavior within the group.
CHARISMATIC HUMAN LEADERSHIP DISCOURAGED
Across the world, Christadelphians recognize the human weakness to blindly follow strong personalities, and appreciate the importance of keeping the Lord Jesus Christ in his proper prominent position. Therefore, as a group they have purposely chosen not to have a paid ministry or Central organization in order to counteract the human lust for power and influence. Each congregation strives to follow First Century practices and teachings. Every member is expected to reason through their beliefs and hold speakers and writers to be accountable to the inspired message of the Bible.
Some claim that John Thomas is the leader of the Christadelphians, but this is misleading. In the 1800’s John Thomas founded the group, but he never claimed Divine inspiration or any special direct channel to God. He is not revered as a ‘prophet’, but gratefully acknowledged as a man who devoted his life to rediscovering the original Gospel message which had been lost during the Dark Ages. Several groups, by various names, throughout the last 2000 years have testified to the same simple Gospel as the Christadelphians do today and many lost their lives for this witness. The Polish Brethren, the Anabaptists, Socinianism, William Tyndale and Sir Isaac Newton all spoke against various Church teachings which they felt were sadly astray from First Century Christianity.
NO EMOTIONAL PRESSURE TACTICS
Christadelphians don’t use highly charged music or emotional appeals to pressure people into “on the spot” conversions. ‘Brainwashing’ and mind-control tactics are never used, instead members are encouraged to personally compare everything they hear with what they read in the Bible. The Bible – both the Old and New Testaments – is the only authority the Christadelphians acknowledge worldwide.
“Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” Acts 17:11 (See also 2 Timothy 3:12-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21)
Giving one’s life to Christ is a very personal commitment which requires maturity. Within Christadelphian circles, those who choose to make the decision to be ‘baptized into Christ’ are encouraged to think it through carefully, prayerfully, and articulate a good understanding of the Gospel message. (Acts 8:26-38; 6:36-42)
As much as possible, monetary donations are made in secret without show, and without highly pressurized, emotional appeals. There is no mandatory ‘tithing’ or amounts ‘suggested.’ Members give as they choose to do so within their means.
“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:6. See also Matthew 6:1-4)
NO DIRECTIVES TO GO INTO ISOLATION
As Jesus commanded, Christadelphians remain ‘in the world,’ sharing Christ’s message of hope, but keep separate from immoral practices and behaviour.
“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one… As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:14-18; See also 1 Peter 4:1-5; Matthew 5:14-16)
There are never any highly charged appeals or directives to isolate in secluded retreats for long periods of time. Christadelphians do run wonderful, weekly Bible schools in the summer that are freely attended and enjoyed by those who want to take part… but there is never any pressure forcing members to attend.
CHRISTADELPHIANS ARE REGARDED AS ‘UNORTHODOX’
We acknowledge that even with these moderating choices in place, there have been some individuals who have lost sight of the principles of Christ and acted in ways that damaged or destroyed the faith of others. However, we feel strongly that the only valid reason for suggesting that Christadelphians, as a whole, are ‘a cult’ is that they differ from mainstream Christianity in their teachings. ‘Sect’ would be a more accurate description – ‘A sect is a subgroup of a religious, political or philosophical belief system, usually an offshoot of a larger group.. any organization that breaks away from a larger one to follow a different set of rules and principles. Sects are usually created due to perception of heresy by the subgroup and/or the larger group.’ (Wikipedia) The early Christians were also labelled a ‘sect’ by the Jewish leaders (see Acts 28:22).
Christadelphians believe that the original Gospel message has been substantially altered during the last 2000 years, as Greek and Roman philosophies, practices and teachings were incorporated in order to make Christianity more appealing to the masses. The New Testament warns us that this was already happening in the First Century and would get even worse.
“…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:2-4)
“Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come… They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.” (1 John 2:18-19; See also 4:1-4; Acts 20:29-30)
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:6-8
WHAT GOSPEL MESSAGE DO THE CHRISTADELPHIANS TEACH?
The original Gospel message was based on two aspects – ‘the Kingdom of God and the Name of Jesus Christ’ (Acts 8:12; 28:23).
THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST
Christadelphians believe in a powerful Creator God – the Father, who has a Son – Jesus Christ, and whose power is referred to as ‘the Holy Spirit’ (2 Corinthians 1:3; 1 Peter 1:3). Through His Holy Spirit power God miraculously caused a virgin to conceive without the involvement of a man (Luke 1:30-35). Through his mother, Mary, Jesus was a direct descendant of Abraham and David (Matthew 1:1; Galatians 3:16; Revelation 22:16). This faithful Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, died for the sins of all mankind (Hebrews 2:9-18; Isaiah 53), willingly sacrificing his own life so that believers now have the hope of rising from the dead to immortality just as he did (1 Cor. 15:20-49; Romans 8:29). Having been the first to rise from the dead and receive immortality, the Lord Jesus Christ is ‘the firstborn from the dead’!! (Colossians 1:18; Acts 26:23; Rev. 1:5) He now shares God’s immortal nature (1 Timothy 6:16; 1 Corinthians 15:35-57). He has been ‘given the Name that is above all names’ (Philippians 2:9). Jesus Christ is the Creator of the new creation – a spiritual creation, reconciling men and women to His Father (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 3:10). Presently, he is at his Father’s right hand in Heaven awaiting his return to establish God’s Kingdom on earth and to be the King of the World. (John 18:33-37)
THE KINGDOM OF GOD
Christadelphians hold the hope of resurrection which Abraham, Job, David, Isaiah and Daniel also expressed (Hebrews 11:8-16; Job 19:25-17; Psalm 17:15; Isaiah 26:29; Daniel 12:2), when believers will receive immortality, just as our Lord Jesus Christ did at his resurrection when he was made ‘the firstborn among many brothers’ (Philippians 3:20-21: 1 John 3:2; Romans 8:29; 1 Corinthians 15). This resurrection and judgment will occur when our Lord returns to judge the living and the dead (Daniel 12:1-3; John 5:25-29; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 1:5-7) commencing the Kingdom of God, when the Lord Jesus Christ will reign with his saints over the entire earth (Daniel 7:13-27; 2:44-45; Zechariah 14; Revelation 11:15; 5:10; 20:1-6).
Christadelphians are found in most countries of the world, although generally small in number. It is because they hold beliefs differing from ‘mainstream’ Christianity that other religious groups have labelled this movement a ‘cult.’ Misleading associations with this word ‘cult’, scare many away from a careful investigation with their Bible in hand. Sadly, the leaders of the Jewish world also used scare tactics to steer others away from the Christian movement and even from the Lord Jesus Christ.
‘Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.’ 2 Timothy 3:12-17
God doesn’t change. His inspired Word was recorded for our benefit and since it is ‘breathed out by God’, it won’t change either… it is still perfectly true today! Any attempts to ‘modernize’ Christianity might make it more popular but will only lead people astray from the real Gospel of salvation. Be like the Bereans and examine the Scriptures daily to see if ‘these things are so’. (Acts 17:11)
An excellent podcast interview on this topic is available on Apple Podcasts: “Why the Christadelphians are not a ‘Cult’.