ICC Meet Two Criteria for Cult Status
The Tech (MIT), September 14, 1993
A letter from Ed Johnson
I’d like to respond to the question recently debated in The Tech of whether the International Church of Christ (a.k.a. Boston Church of Christ), with which the Christian Student Association is affiliated, is to be considered a cult. I was amazed that Amy Courtney and James Ryan would suggest that the BCC should not be considered a cult merely because there are many exemplary in the group (Courtney’s main point), or because the group has participated in so many charitable activities. I do not doubt that either of these things is true. However, such facts completely miss the point: They have almost nothing to do with whether or not a group should be considered a “cult.”
Generally speaking, a religious group is considered a cult when it fulfills at least one of two criteria: its teachings are deviant from historical orthodox teachings and foundational doctrinal beliefs, and the group practices subtle (or sometimes blatant) psychological manipulation of its members and potential members. The Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) and Jehovah Witnesses are usually referred to as “cults” because they fulfill the first criteria in that they deny some tenets of the more commonly accepted Christian faith. (In some cases, they may also meet the second criteria of psychological control over members). The Moonies are also referred to as a “cult” because of their teachings on the person of Jesus (among other things). It is also well established that Moonies are often deemed a cult because of the excessive control they exercise over their members.
The Boston Church of Christ also satisfies the first criterion of a cult because of its teachings on salvation. The BCC teaches that in addition to faith in Christ, a person must also be baptized to be saved. Strictly speaking, in order to be saved they teach that one must be baptized by immersion, be baptized within their church (with few exceptions), and believe that the process of baptism is saving him. The fact that the BCC believes using musical instruments is unbiblical (based on the observation that there is no mention of this practice in the New Testament) does not make them a cult. Such a belief, while admittedly eccentric, is not foundational to the Christian faith in my opinion. Therefore, their departure from the historical Christian teaching on this issue qualifies them as a cult.
Although it is possible their practices have changed, the BCC has also been rightfully classified as a cult in the past by fulfilling the second criteria of a cult: psychological manipulation of its members. Betsy Draper mentioned this briefly in her letter [“Christian Student Association Has Cult Ties,” Sept. 2]. This is not her personal opinion, but rather a conclusion based on the testimony of dozens of former members and potential members. I seriously doubt that Draper meant to imply that all BCC members practice (or have even experienced) such manipulation. However, the undeniable fact that such practices have been prevalent in the past still remains.
The skeptic should not simply accept or reject Ms. Draper’s opinion. Investigate the available information. The Tech produced an outstanding four-part series on the BCC in October of 1989. This is a “must-read” for anyone willing to learn more about the BCC. Another article worth reading, “Keepers of the Flock,” was published in the May 18, 1992 edition of Time magazine. For those wishing more information on the theological debate of water baptism, contrasting the BCC’s teaching of the Bible, an excellent book Eternal Life and Water Baptism is available locally from the Waltham Evangelical Free Church, and can be obtained by calling 891-3851. For more information on the BCC, and on cults in general, you can also contact the Christian Research Institute at P.O. Box 500, San Juan, CA 92693.
The determination of whether a group should be qualified as a cult should not be made on the basis of the caliber of people within the group, or even on the basis of the group’s activities, but rather on the teachings of that group relative to historical orthodoxy, and the extent to which a group seeks to control its members.
Ed Johnson ’88