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Christian countercult movement

From Academic Kids

The Christian countercult movement is a loosely knit affiliation made primarily of Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians to resist viewpoints and organizations which they see as opposing what they view as the historic and orthodox Christian faith. Most of their efforts are directed against what they call cults — groups or churches that claim to be Christian but that, in the movement's view, do not subscribe to essential Christian doctrine or practice. In essence, the Christian countercult movement seeks to define the boundaries of what it means to be truly Christian.

The Christian countercult movement therefore does not consitute the totality of concerns which many Christians have about cult practices, which are similar to the concerns of the secular anti-cult movement.

Contents

History

One of the first prominent countercult apologists was Jan Karel van Baalen (1890-1968), an ordained minister in the Christian Reformed Church in North America. His 1960 book, The Chaos of Cults, is a classic in the field.

Historically, one of the most important leaders of the movement was Walter R. Martin (1928-89), whose numerous books include the 1955 The Rise of the Cults: An Introductory Guide to the Non-Christian Cults and the 1965 The Kingdom of the Cults: An Analysis of Major Cult Systems in the Present Christian Era, which continues to be influential. He became well-known in conservative Christian circles through a radio program, "The Bible Answer Man", currently hosted by Hank Hanegraaff.

In his 1955 book, Martin gave the following definition of a cult, a definition that continues to be used within the movement:

"By cultism we mean the adherence to doctrines which are pointedly contradictory to orthodox Christianity and which yet claim the distinction of either tracing their origin to orthodox sources or of being in essential harmony with those sources. Cultism, in short, is any major deviation from orthodox Christianity relative to the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith."

Since at least the 1940s, the approach of orthodox or conservative or fundamentalist Christians was to apply the meaning of cult such that it included those religious groups whose bibles or practices deviated from the orthodox King James Bible and its interpretation by orthodox Christian teachers and practitioners. Some examples of sources (with published dates where known) that documented this approach are:

  • Heresies and Cults, by J.Oswald Sanders, pub.1948.
  • Cults and Isms, by J.Oswald Sanders, pub.1962, 1969, 1980 (Arrowsmith), ISBN 0551004584.
  • Chaos of the Cults, by J.K.van Baalen.
  • Heresies Exposed, by W.C.Irvine.
  • Confusion of Tongues, by C.W.Ferguson.
  • Isms New and Old, by Julius Bodensieck.
  • Some Latter-Day Religions, by G.H.Combs.

These unorthodox groups were variously relatively quite large (for example, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) or quite small (for example, the Swedenborgian Church).

Various other conservative Christian leaders — among them Bob Larson, John Ankerberg and Norman Geisler — have emphasized themes similar to Martin's. Perhaps more importantly, numerous other well-known conservative Christian leaders as well as many conservative pastors have accepted Martin's definition of a cult as well as his understanding of the groups to which he gave that label. (Compare this definition with heresy.)

As Martin's definition suggests, the countercult movement's emphasis has been on those groups that claim to be Christian, so chief targets have been the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Science and the Unification Church. The countercult movement at times also has spoken out against other religious movements that seem to be gaining popularity, such as the New Age movement, or against certain trends in society, such as the popularity of Harry Potter books.

Numerous other authors and Web site writers shape the movement today. Many of them target only one or two groups, often ones they have been disaffected with.

As would be expected in a diverse movement, not all countercult activists agree on which groups cross the boundary from being Christian to being a cult. Hanegraaff, for example, doesn't give the cult label to the Catholic church or the Seventh-day Adventist Church, although he says they have aberrant teachings. (Unlike most of the groups opposed by the movement, both Catholics and Adventists accept the traditional understanding of the Trinity.) Some countercult leaders have referred to both of those groups as cults because they are seen as obtaining some doctrines from places other than the Bible (Ellen G. White in the case of the Adventists, Sacred Tradition in the case of Catholics).

Hanegraaff also has been an outspoken opponent of what he calls word-faith teaching and the "holy laughter" movement, which he says are common in some Pentecostal circles. Prominent people in those movements include Rodney Howard-Browne, Paul Crouch, Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland. All of them emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit in a dramatic fashion, such as through glossolalia or faith healing; according to Hanegraaff and some others in the Christian countercult movement, those leaders often teach concepts that aren't in the Bible.

Prominent Christian Countercult Activists

People

Organizations

External links

  • Apologetics Index (http://www.apologeticsindex.org/) - large database on religious cults, sects, world religions, doctrines, and related issues. While operated from an Evangelical Christian perspective, entries include links to material from a variety of viewpoints.
  • Religion News Blog (http://www.religionnewsblog.com) - news and news archive about religious cults, sects, world religions, and related issues.
  • The Anti-Cult Movement (http://www.religioustolerance.org/acm.htm) - essay on countercult movements



Cult | List of purported cults
Opposition to cults and NRMs | Christian countercult movement | Anti-cult movement
Religious intolerance | Post-cult trauma | Apostasy | Witch hunt | Bigotry
Cult of personality | Cult checklists | Charismatic authority
Mind control | Exit counseling | Deprogramming

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