I realize that most people reading this article are already considering the possibility of a link between Calvinism and cults. So to save them some time, I'll give the short answer right now: No.
There. So if you're a Calvinist, you can hit the 'back' button right now and resume your search. Because you're not going to like the long answer, which we will get to anon, save yourself some frustration and keep your sub-collar temperature down by reading no further.
Cults are a topic I've studied from time to time over the past several decades. I clearly remember the morning I heard over the radio that hundreds of members of a cult in Guyana had been discovered dead, victims of an apparent mass suicide. I remember being approached by a Hare Krishna devotee at an airport, who asked me to donate to a fund that would help young people get off drugs. And I remember the following the long, drawn-out siege of David Koresh's Mount Carmel commune. Deception and death--along with, it will turn out, divorce--seem to sooner or later characterize all cultic movements.
But the question of cults has really hit home to me in recent years as I have watched a cult forming before my very eyes--perhaps several of them; they are all still in such early stages that it isn't yet possible to definitively describe them as such, but they share with other movements the seeds that generally develop into cultic behavior. So it has become important to me not only to identify the marks of a full-blown cult, but those of one in its infancy.
As a result of my studies, I've identified some stages in the Life Cycle of a Cult. Inherent to these stages are the labels which I've assigned to them, which are as follows:
Every cult starts out small, focused on a single individual who brings his followers a never-ending stream of fresh messages directly from God. The lure of new revelation is a temptation to so many that Small Cults, in the normal progression of things, always grow rapidly. At this point the Leader needs to decide whether to keep his flock small enough to manage, or to share some of his authority with deputies who will hopefully carry on his vision. Should he choose the first option, his cult will eventually expire, but usually not until long after he is removed from the scene. Should he choose the second, his cult will go on to evolve into something so far removed from the original structure that even the word 'cult' will no longer adequately describe it as a sociological phenomenon. It will have become a religion.
This latter scenario turned out to be more of the case with the cult allegedly founded by Jean Chauvin. . .
Before closing out this post, I was surprised to find several websites already exist calling Calvinism a cult. So I see I will have to defend my opinions rather carefully.
[added on 11/24] This subject is really deserving of a full thesis, something of a far different nature than a blog post. The tremendous volume this post has generated--second only to my Obama chronology--drives me to finish it. But caution holds me back. I will continue to develop the theme as I have ample material to work with. . .
[added on 12/2] A reader has requested that we define our terms carefully. Very well; I call forth as witness noted Calvinist historian Ruth A. Tucker, in her book Another Gospel:
"A 'cult' is a religious group that has a 'prophet-founder' called of God to give a special message not found in the Bible itself, often apocalyptic in nature and often set forth in 'inspired' writings. . . . the style of leadership is authoritarian and there is frequently an exclusivistic outlook, supported by a legalistic lifestyle and persecution mentality."
See Dr. Tucker's response in the comment section below.
UPDATE MARCH 2012
Here's a rather useful dictionary definition, culled from another blog:
- A religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader.
- The followers of such a religion or sect.
- A system or community of religious worship and ritual.
- The formal means of expressing religious reverence; religious ceremony and ritual.
- A usually nonscientific method or regimen claimed by its originator to have exclusive or exceptional power in curing a particular disease.
- Obsessive, especially faddish, devotion to or veneration for a person, principle, or thing.
- The object of such devotion.
- An exclusive group of persons sharing an esoteric, usually artistic or intellectual interest.