In an article in the June 25, 2007 Los Angeles Times on cults and mind control, a number of traits were listed as comprising a cult. The list might surprise you. It included the following: a demand for purity, confession of sins, the total control of information and communication, and a sharp delineation between insiders and the outside world. The scary thing about this is: these are all good things, that in the wrong hands and used for the wrong reasons, can be devastating. And because their misuse is so subtle, we need to be better at spotting where the truth stops and the lie begins, so as to not be lead astray.
The first one is probably the most dangerous because it sounds so right: a demand for purity.
Truly, this demand is biblical and should be a part of our life and worship as followers of Christ. Jesus told us in no uncertain terms to be holy as His heavenly Father is holy. Peter told us to live lives above reproach. James told us to not be corrupted by the world. And Paul told us to walk in a manner worthy of our calling. So what could possibly go wrong with this kind of emphasis? Exactly this: as soon as anyone claims to actually be pulling any of this off, is when the trouble begins.
God's demand for perfection is there for one reason: to show us how imperfect we are, and to confirm our need for Jesus. True holiness and righteousness comes from Christ in our lives, not how well we are doing at being pure and holy.
A cult is present when it is assumed that someone has actually reached the level of purity required (usually the leader). As soon as that happens, look out. The demand for purity is good and right, it's just that purity must never come at the expense of honesty. But because no one is perfect, it always does.
Purity is the standard, not the practice that we all will attain at some point in this life. True holiness is unattainable by any one of us; it comes only through Christ. And how does that come? Upon the admission of our unholiness, and our need to depend on Him for everything.
My wife can tell you all the exact details of where we were when, in a family discussion, my mother came out with her version of the facts: that I never sinned. Marti almost lost it. Obviously she knew a different me than my mom imagined me as. If my mom had been right, I could have created a cult on the spot. As it is, I am just happy to know my forgiveness is continual because I have a habit of continually needing it.