Pageviews last month

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Is Calvinism a Cult?

nicht kliken hehrCounter
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:

Small Cult
Big Cult
Evolved Cult
Expired Cult

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.

Here's a rather useful dictionary definition, culled from another blog:
Cult n.
  1. 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.
  2. The followers of such a religion or sect.
  3. A system or community of religious worship and ritual.
  4. The formal means of expressing religious reverence; religious ceremony and ritual.
  5. A usually nonscientific method or regimen claimed by its originator to have exclusive or exceptional power in curing a particular disease.
    1. Obsessive, especially faddish, devotion to or veneration for a person, principle, or thing.
    2. The object of such devotion.
    3. An exclusive group of persons sharing an esoteric, usually artistic or intellectual interest.


  1. Just a suggestion, sir: There are about as many definitions of the word "cult" as there are of "Calvinism," and not all of these are either accurate or workable.

    Until you define what you mean by these terms, your posts will say much less than you probably intend (or more, depending on the bent of the reader.)

    As a Dortian Calvinist, I can concede that there is a certain, technical definition of "cult" which would have been accurately applied to the theological system at a certain point in history; but, this technical definition is hardly in the same hemisphere as the common connotations that are now conjured by the use of the word "cult."

  2. Ruth A. Tucker writes:

    Calvin doesn't fit this description at all. He preached verse by verse from the Bible, with no special revelation directly from God (as, for example, Joseph Smith had). He fled from Geneva, vowing to never come back, and did so only after town leaders pleaded with him to do so.

    Calvin certainly had an authoritarian way about him, but he wasn't a one man show as most cult leaders are.

  3. I'm posting here again in 2009 to let those who come to this post via a search engine that there are other posts on this subject. Just click on "Calvinism" to bring them up. Also to give a quote I found from "Paul" on another blog, from 2005:

    "You really just have to focus on the fact that Calvinism is simply apostolic Biblical doctrine. It is the hard doctrine of the Bible. This is why Calvinists are different from any and every other Christian and groups of Christians, in our manner of defense of the faith and in our manner of evangelization of the faith. We hold to apostolic Biblical doctrine. When we defend the doctrines of grace and the five solas we are defending the Bible."

  4. you people are weird and I didnt even know what he word meant i was listening to a calvinist preacher and i sensed something wrong in my spirit seems like he was causing a lot of chaos and was a snob so ilooked further and found a site with a ex calvinist and he was describing the same thing i sensed in my spirit,

  5. The doctrines of Grace is Biblical and was around way before Calvin. If you haven't studied history or the scriptures and you don't really know who Calvin is I challenge you to do some reading and study for yourself. There are several books out there that can help point you to scripture alone. Be a leader not a follower - Read for yourself!

  6. Thanks, Paul. Augustine's anti-Pelagian polemic was the source for much of Calvin's system, but he was the first to codify the Five Points as they now stand--although I doubt he himself ever listed them as the Five Doctrines of Grace. I haven't read all 66 volumes of Calvin and never intend to, but I do read through all 66 books of the Bible as often as I feel the need for it.

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. I sensed something wrong from the beginning of my membership class into the Reformed Presbyterian Church. I struggled off and on until I left the church. I was being told things I never heard from the other Christian churches I had been involved with. I believe that when you sense something not right in your spirit that is the Holy Spirit telling you to be aware and cautious what you're involved in. Biblical proof was explained with it was assumed instead of giving examples out of the Bible that it did indeed happen. Such as infant baptism. Assumed it happened, but confessed there's no examples in scripture that it was taking place.

  9. The argument for infant baptism is a combination of inference and unanimity: inference that certain passages in Acts may refer to it, and unanimity on the part of patristic writers on the subject of baptism: all mention the baptism of those too young to speak for themselves. If there ever was a dispute over paedobaptism in the early church, no record of it has survived.

  10. This subject really saddens me and I feel like crying for those that are Calvinist.

    Please just stop this whole predestined and salvation chosen belief.
    It makes absolutely no sense to risk teaching something false.

    Writer above, I know what you mean when you say it didn't sit right with your soul. Mine either, in fact I cry when I hear this belief.

    Sir anything that would teach one can not have salvation is a cult. And it did start as a small group of believers that thought they were hearing from God. We don't want to say its a cult cause our closest friends are in this feel good religious thinking...

    At one time this kind of belief spawned "Christians" that said I could never be saved. Now I know they were wrong. And belief that might spawn an evilness like that was clearly wrong from the beginning.

    Please don't risk your salvation by thinking for a second that man does not have a choice to accept Christ into their lives. How wrong and false teacher you are.

    Please just stop teaching this belief. You are in fact a pawn in the Devils plan... You have such a great message right up to the point you think someone can not choose God. Just stop this silly selfish belief that means nothing positive to salvation.

    1. You say that very well Anonymous. The combination of Calvinist teaching and strict authority structure at the Christian college I attended has left me depressed and doubting the love and goodness of the God I once felt I was close to. I can't read the Bible without thinking in the back of my mind that it's not for me because God didn't create me "Elect". Do Calvinists ever think about what they're doing to people? They just nicely explain away all the verses that say Jesus died for everyone. All those stupid explanations.


One comment per viewer, please--unless participating in a dialogue.