Those who have left the hardline “churches of Christ” often ask the question: Was I in a cult? They ask this because of the many cult-like attributes of their previous church:
1. Exclusivity: they believe they are the only ones saved. It is not okay to worship with any other religious groups. The only contact with other religious groups allowed is to evangelize them. Constant sermons and lessons on how bad other religious groups are, and how good the in-group is.
2. Control: they withdraw from those who leave or at least threaten withdrawal, and pronounce loss of salvation and the certainty of eternal hellfire for the one leaving the group.
3. Obedience: Three times per week attendance is mandatory, though only enforced by private and public rebukes.
4. Many areas of one’s life is proscribed: dating, sex, marriage, divorce, clothing, hobbies, alcohol use, language, movies, music, child-rearing, women’s submission to men, obedience to the preacher and elders.
5. Ten percent of one’s income is considered the minimum for contributing to the church, though this is usually not enforced, except for the threat of loss of salvation.
But this is only enough to define them as a sect. For instance up until Vatican II in the 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church was considered a sect, having many of the same symptoms.
These symptoms are not quite enough to define the hardline Churches of Christ as a cult. There was a wing of the Church of Christ that did qualify as a cult for a period of about 20 years: the International Church of Christ. A cult has more control:
6. Telling each member where to live, usually communally.
7. A rigid mult-layered hierarchy: prayer-partner, house-leader, team leader, etc.
8. Daily worship times mandatory.
9. All dating, college course choices, friends, hobbies, and money spending supervised.
10. Constant pressure to give more money, to evangelize more.
11. Constant double-bind communication: You have to feel guilty either way you choose.
What ex-church of Christ members mean when they wonder if it is a cult or not, is that people underestimate the amount of stress generated when one leaves the “Church of Christ.” Family members are rude and make visits unpleasant. Invitations to family occasions and get-togethers are not forthcoming. Every area of one’s life becomes judged. Many ex-members exhibit the symptoms of PTSD, reluctant to go to any church of any stripe, for fear of getting into the same quagmire with another group, yet missing the pseudo-closeness of the group they left.
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