Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Are All Non-Evangelical Churches Cults?

It is an intriguing question. If a church is not an evangelical church, does that put it into the same category as the Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses? Particularly, how do you classify Roman Catholicism? Do you find little reason to hope that you will see Benedict of Nursia, Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas, or Mother Theresa in Heaven? The Southern Baptist relationship with Roman Catholicism has always involved tremendous theological tension. Such tension is understandable, since we occupy such vastly different locations on the theological spectrum. But I'm wondering, how many of you would put them into the same category as the Christian Science folks? (Hat Tip: David Rogers, for bringing up this fascinating question. See here.)


sbc pastor said...


Any religion that identifies Mary as Co-Redeemer, Mediator, and Advocate along with Christ is a cult, period. Any religion that believes in works salvation is a cult, period. Any religion that places the Apocrypha and the (infallible?) utterances of the Pope as being just as authoritative as the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God is a cult, period. If I understand correctly, Roman Catholicism holds to each of those tenets. Thus, in my opinion, they are most certainly a cult.

However, that does not necessarily mean that each and every individual that has ever been a Roman Catholic is an unbeliever. It simply means that one cannot be truly saved by believing and trusting in the “gospel” according to Roman Catholicism. In other words, one would have to “backslide” as a Roman Catholic in order to be truly born again :0). The Scripture very clearly states that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone… so leave it alone! God bless!!!

In Christ,

davidinflorida said...

Hi Bart,

I wouldn`t put Catholics in the same in the same caregory as Christian Scientists, but I don`t know exactly why. Then I thought, does it really matter?

Our SB churches have their own issues to resolve, especially if you take this quote from Spurgeon to heart, "Have you no wish for others to be saved? Then you are not saved yourself. Be sure of that."

With only 2% to 5% OF SB`s sharing their faith and the low number of Baptisms in the past few years, how many people that attend and/or are members of our churchs are lost?

Just a thought.... By the way, are you flying to sun n fun ?

R. L. Vaughn said...

Bart, how is evangelical being defined in this discussion?

I don't have a problem seeing Roman Catholic doctrine as far off as Mormon or Jehovah Witnesses. OTOH, Primitive Baptists don't define themselves as evangelicals, and I certainly can't consider them a cult.

selahV said...

Bart: Put me on record as one who expects to see many people who belong to the Catholic church walking the streets and avenues of Heaven. selahV

Clyde said...

One definition of ‘cult’ (in fact, the first definition in the dictionary I consulted) is any organized system of beliefs or practices. That would catch just about anybody who believes anything. The second definition included the terms ‘extreme’ and ‘bogus’. That would be closer to the definition used by most of the people I know. However, most everybody I know think of cults as being not only extreme and bogus, but dangerous. Using that definition, cults would have to include any groups, organizations, denominations that cause people to miss salvation because of false teaching. Many of the folks in these groups are quite conscientious and lead moral, upright lives. That may make some cult good citizens but they are still dangerous.

Defining cults as groups that cause people to miss salvation would necessarily have to include denominations that promote salvation by works or salvation granted by earthly leaders or departed saints, although there are evidently believing Christians in those denominations. I’m sure there are many saved people in the various Anglican branches, for instance. But when the Archbishop of Canterbury recently stated that ‘Muslims will be in Heaven!” he very clearly identified that church as a dangerous cult that denied Jesus’ words that are given in John 14.

It is probably not helpful in individual conversations to call anybody ‘cultists’. But it is certainly not acceptable to God’s work to let dangerous ideas go unchallenged, no matter whether they are held by small strange groups or global denominations. So the idea is to respond lovingly but firmly with teaching from God’s word.

In Christ,

David Rogers said...


I will post here the same I answer I gave to the same question over on my blog:


I know that some people have a technical defintion of the term "cult," which would perhaps not include the RCC. In Spanish, for instance, the concept of "cult" and "sect" are very much intertwined. And "sect" is, by defintion, a minority group. In other words, decidedly not Catholic. We also make the difference between "normal sects" and "dangerous sects," the dangerous ones being those that tend toward brain-washing, manipulation, and psychological and emotional abuse.

In my opinion, some elements of Roman Catholicism down through the years have fallen into some of these things in one way or another. For that matter, some groups and leaders that are doctrinally evangelical have fallen into some of these things, as well.

The important thing, here, though, is whether or not the official teaching of a church or group will lead you to salvation. In that sense, I think it is correct to group the RCC and various cults together."

Pastor Brad said...

I would agree with much of what Jeremy said.
If one drinks all the RC kool-aid, we most certainly should not expect to see them in Heaven.
Our church plant is made up of probably 60% Roman Catholics who believe to varying degrees what the Catholic Church teaches. Some I would identify, to the best of my ability, as born-again believers. Others I think are sincere, searching (which is why I think they have landed with us), and lost. For most, the RC church has such a hold, because they have been taught that if they leave the church they are damned and they are turning their backs on their family, their faith, and their heritage. Probably another 20% of our church are former-RC.
Great question.

James Heffington said...

I have wrestled with this question for some time now. I had a very close friend convert to Catholicism from the Assembly of God church about 10 years ago. I would not say the Catholic church is a cult but it borders on being one. I think people can find faith in Christ while attending the Catholic Church. I think Francis, Mother Theresa and many others will be in Heaven because of their faith in Christ. I think they will grieve their legalistic understanding of their faith while on earth.

Bart Barber said...


The "co-redemptrix" stuff is pretty recent—it may very well be that such abominations push them over the line to "cult" status.

As to the "works salvation" situation, I would note the following: Roman Catholics would claim that they believe in salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. We differ greatly as to the mechanics of how that grace works. They obviously believe that, in addition to saving faith, one must keep up various works (sacraments) in order to show that faith and remain in a state of grace. I agree with you that such beliefs constitute a kind of works salvation.

My question is, how does that differ from Arminianism? If a group does not believe in eternal security, I think that they also teach a gospel in which one must participate in satisfactory works after believing in order to remain in a state of grace. I think that Arminianism equates to a kind of works salvation. Does that mean that churches are actually cults if they do not espouse eternal security?

Bart Barber said...


I will not be at the big fly-in this year. In fact, I have never gone. Someday I would love to do so.

I'm just waiting on 100LL to slip under $2.50 a gallon (yeah...right)

By the way, I would not dispute that your question matters...even that it matters more. Nevertheless, the importance of your question does not require the unimportance of this one. Perhaps both issues are worthy of consideration.

Bart Barber said...


I would define as evangelical any church that is non-sacramental, non-sacerdotal, conversionist, missiological, and inerrantist.

Bart Barber said...

Selah V,

Your point is a good one, and one that others have echoed. With regard to cults, when I learn that someone is a Mormon, I presume immediately that they are lost. Indeed, I am not sure that there can be such a thing as a genuinely saved Mormon. If there is such a creature, it is an anomaly. Ditto for all of the cults.

I presume that many, many, many Roman Catholics are lost. I presume that many Southern Baptists are lost, but the RCC percentages are likely an order of magnitude higher. Nevertheless, I believe that there are many Roman Catholic genuine believers as well.

Somewhere out there is the line between orthodox and heterodox—between Christian group and cult. If Roman Catholics are on the orthodox side of the line, they are barely so. Nevertheless, I have up to this point considered them barely on the orthodox side of the line.

I have posted the question because it is a good one. I have them so close to the line in my mind…perhaps I should put them just on the other side. I'm listening to what everyone is saying.

Bro. Robin said...


You said, "If a group does not believe in eternal security, I think that they also teach a gospel in which one must participate in satisfactory works after believing in order to remain in a state of grace. I think that Arminianism equates to a kind of works salvation. Does that mean that churches are actually cults if they do not espouse eternal security?"

Bart, let me take this one step further. If a church doesn't believe in eternal security, would you accept their baptism if the mode was by immersion and they had a candidate who trusted that Jesus died for their sins?

I was once challenged as to whether I would accept a Freewill Baptist baptism. I said no because of their denial of eternal security as Southern Baptists see it. What's your view?

Bart Barber said...


When I employ the word "cult" I am referring to groups that claim to be Christian, but are not genuinely Christian. In other words: heterodox Christian groups.

Bart Barber said...


Thanks for the response. The sense you highlight at the end is the one that matters, I suppose.

I always begin my classes by teaching about the "Christian Essentials" that define the faith. Genuine Christianity affirms the same God, the same Gospel, and the same Bible. Defective theology on any of those points makes a group a cult.

As Jeremy has highlighted, the continuing movement of Maryolatry in the RCC endangers the first point, the progression of sacramentalism strains the second point, and the inclusion of the apocrypha strains the third. Nevertheless, I have considered the RCC as barely qualifying. Perhaps I have been too generous (a strange position for a Baptist sectarian, don't you think?).

Bart Barber said...


Baptism symbolizes soteriology. We evaluate each case individually, but we do not recognize as valid any baptism that symbolizes anything other than Christ's once-and-for-all sacrifice providing once-and-for-all salvation.

Bart Barber said...


To give an illustration of the case-by-case evaluation: A few years back we received by letter some members of the Carlisle Street Church of Christ in McKinney, TX. Discussions with the church revealed that they believe in eternal security, symbolic believer's immersion, etc. As you perhaps know, Church of Christ churches are autonomous, and the denomination is going through significant changes right now. The pastor of this particular congregation is a DTS grad and the congregation is not your typical Church of Christ congregation.

At the conclusion of our discussions, I did two things: I recommended that our church receive the family by letter, and I encouraged the congregation in McKinney to petition for membership in the Collin Baptist Association. The congregation declined, but I am confident that they could have been accepted if they had applied.

Tim Rogers said...

Brother Bart,

Help me with an understanding of the word "Cult". I know this is a simple definition, but I am reading Thom Rainer's book.:>)

I thought a cult was any group that denied Jesus is God.


Bart Barber said...


Brother, I think we were commenting at the same time. Look slightly upward at my response to David. I think you'll find my defintion there, under the discussion about "Christian Essentials."

Bart Barber said...


Thanks for bringing your wrestling over here and sharing it with us. I am (obviously) wrestling, too.

Of course, wrestling is an honorable profession for an Arkansan like me.

Bro. Robin said...


So can I assume that if someone came from a Freewill background that did not believe in eternal security that you would not accept that baptism?

Bart Barber said...


Sorry. Wasn't trying to be evasive. Yes, that's what I'm saying.

Bro. Robin said...


I know you weren't. Being from Arkansas, I am as thick as a stump sometimes. But, I am sure you in no way relate to this. :-)

sbc pastor said...


Any religion that maintains that works are necessary in order to save you or to keep you saved is proclaiming a false gospel, and is therefore a cult. Furthermore, I agree that the method of baptism is inextricably linked to the meaning of baptism (soteriology). Thus, the new baptism guidelines at the IMB certainly appear to be making an effort to ensure that our missionaries are both trusting in Christ alone for their salvation and proclaiming a gospel that is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Thanks for the great discussion and God bless!!!

In Christ,

sbc pastor said...


You are right on target, sir. God bless!!!

In Christ,

Bro. Robin said...


So, are you saying that I am as thick as a stump? :-)

Just kidding, I know what you meant and I got your voice mail.

God Bless

kws said...


Without reservation or qualification put me down as one who believes that the RCC teaches a "different gospel" (II Corinthians 11:4) and belongs in the same category as the Mormon and J.W. cults. To say otherwise is to recognize the RCC as another Christian denomination. It is not.

James said...

Wrestling is good for building muscles and getting in shape and that is what it has done for me. My understanding of Catholicism has greatly increased in the process and subsequent ability to deal with the subject increased.

The question of Mary as co-redemptrix is an interesting an academic sense. As I understand the theology Catholics teach Mary is a co-redeemer because of her part in the story of the birth of Christ...Without Mary (or some other human representative among the female population) you have no Christ...So, Mary is necessary to the story and therefore has a cooperative part in our redemption.

I am certainly not arguing for this point of theology personally but I do find it to be a unique and interesting discussion.

David Rogers said...


Would you consider "grace" that is dispensed through the "sacraments" to really be grace at all?

Would you consider "faith" in the saving efficacy of the "sacraments" to really be faith at all?

Big Daddy Weave said...

Based on these comments, I do wonder if you, Bart, or anyone else sees value in the past, present?, and future dialogues with representatives from the Roman Catholic Church?

If I remember correctly, Patterson, Mohler, and George were involved in a 6 year long dialogue with the United States Conference on Catholic Bishops. Timothy George has continued this dialogue with Catholic groups and has befriended this new group of Catholic Baptists which he dubbed "young moderates."

Obviously, the SBC would never have a serious dialogue with Witnesses or Mormons. So, if the RCC is a cult (as has been defined here) - what are the benefits from these past and future conversations between the two groups?

Grosey's Messages said...

Folks, whether someone attends a church or not, unless they come to saving faith in Christ.. they can be called "cult" or "sect" or "cult-type" or "sect type", but the Bible calls them LOST.
Its probably safest to regard everyone as lost until they give credible evidence of saving faith in the Lord Jesus.
With regard to where they worship, standing by our distinctives we can encourage every new convert to come worship with us!
This way I can be consistently naive about whether or not other's denominational ties are "in" or "out". Now in this last sentence I am being half humourous and half serious, but over all pragmatic!

cml said...

Bart--Concerning your reply to Robin and your receiving Church of Christ Church membership by letter, shame on you. Compare the Church of Christ's Churches major doctrines with Roman Catholic and see how similar they


Bart Barber said...

I'm back!

I offer a few summary statements as a general response:

First, I think the departure from the Southern Baptist vocabulary of such fine concepts as "false and apostate church" force us to lump groups like the Roman Catholics into the category of "cult." I consider the RCC to belong in the former category but not quite in the latter.

A "false and apostate church" is the historic Baptist language for them. Such a group once held the truth but has compromised it in such a way as to invalidate themselves as a church. A cult never did hold the truth.

Furthermore, a cult is built around what I would call "damnable heresy"—that which, if affirmed, inherently requires that the affirmer is not a Christian. Thus, I would not say of Mormons, "I don't think their doctrine leads you to salvation in Christ, but I'm sure there are some among them who are truly saved." Rather, I would say that affirmation of Mormon doctrine means ipso facto that one cannot be a genuine Christian. Yet, many have acknowledged in this thread that they believe some committed Roman Catholics might actually be genuine Christians.

I have hope that Thomas Aquinas might be in heaven; I harbor no such hope for Joseph Smith.

Bart Barber said...


As to the validity of such grace and faith, I believe that the vast preponderance of such faith is not saving faith, and that it therefore receives no saving grace. However, as you seem to do, I believe that some small remnant might possess genuine faith in Christ and wrongly exercise it through this system, believing that obedience to Christ is somehow synonymous with obedience to His "church."

Let us not forget that Luther, John Smythe, etc., while they were not led to the faith by such churches (i.e., by their regnant theologies), did indeed come to faith within such churches and for some period of time exercised their faith through the liturgy of such churches (of course, I use the term "churches" loosely here).

Bart Barber said...


The value I see in future dialogue with the RCC is the hope of bringing them to repentance. And, of course, they are an important ally in the fight for unborn human life.

Bart Barber said...


I agree that we cannot safely presume any to be saved simply because of denominational affiliation.

Rumor has it that there may be one or two Baptist church members worldwide who are not actual Christians! :-O

Bart Barber said...


Certainly, there is plenty of cause for shame in myself. But are you seriously suggesting that a congregation, if it officially believes in every case according to Baptist theology, ought to be rejected simply because of the label it places upon its sign? If so, then it might trouble you to know that "Church of Christ" was among the more popular label that the early Baptist churches adopted before they warmed up to the name "Baptist" as a moniker.

Furthermore, I suggest to you that the day is rapidly coming and may yet be upon us when the label "Baptist" or "Southern Baptist" no longer has enough meaning to guarantee that conscientious Baptists might freely exchange members with every congregation out there that employs that terminology to describe itself.

David Rogers said...


I would word it this way:

If someone knowingly embraces the doctrine contained in the official Catechism of the Catholic Church, they cannot be saved. However, there are no doubt many, who either disagree with official Catholic doctrine or are ignorant of the implications of official Catholic doctrine, are truly saved, and choose to remain within the Catholic Church. While I do not agree this is the wisest position, I do not insist that these people are necessarily unregenerate.

Anonymous said...


This website summarizes 300 United States court cases and lawsuits affecting children of Jehovah's Witnesses, including dozens of cases where the Parents refused to consent to life-saving blood transfusions:


This website summarizes 160 United States court cases and lawsuits filed by Jehovah's Witnesses against Employers: