THE COUNTER-CULT MOVEMENT (CCM)
Definitions of terms; history
Topics covered in this essay:
Overview of the Counter Cult movement (CCM):
The CCM generally
groups that regard themselves as Christian but who hold some unorthodox,
Examples of the latter are the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the
"Mormon church), the Unification church,
Christian Science, and Jehovah's
Witnesses. Some within the CCM also attack non-Christian faith groups. e.g.
Agnosticism, Atheism, the
New Age Movement, Buddhism,
Hinduism and other Eastern religions. Some
in the CCM consider the Roman Catholic church to be non-Christian at best, and a
Pagan cult at
The CCM is almost entirely composed of conservative Christian individuals
and agencies. They teach that any new religious group which
rejects one or more of the historical Christian beliefs is a danger to the
welfare of its members, and to Christianity itself. This is consistent with
their theology. Conservative Christians generally believe that the vast majority
of humans are headed to Hell when they die. It is only
by being saved that one can attain heaven. But if a
person accepts the non-traditional beliefs of a new religious movement, then
personal salvation may be jeopardized.
It is difficult to underestimate the motivation experienced by those in the
CCM. They see tens of millions of North Americans naively believing falsehoods
and being led down a path that leads to eternal suffering in
Hell. They are
desperate to save as many souls as they can.
Religious terminology is confusing. People frequently assign different
meanings to the same terms. Within the counter-cult movement (CCM), the following
definitions are common:
|The term "Christian" generally means an individual or
religious organization which accepts all of the
historical beliefs of Protestantism, including the inerrancy
of the Bible, the Trinity, deity and resurrection of
Jesus, virgin birth, heaven, hell, salvation
by grace alone, etc. |
|The CCM often do not regard such groups as the Roman Catholic church,
Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, liberal, and some mainline churches
to be true Christian denominations. They are sometimes referred to as "sub-Christian."
|Liberal Christians, many mainline Christians and non-Christians
generally regard all persons and groups who sincerely believe that
they are following Christ to be Christian. This is the definition
that we use on this web site.|
|Cult: This is generally interpreted
as a "snarl"
word. Some of the many negative meanings of this word are used:
|By the media to refer to dangerous, destructive religious groups
which have engineered mass murders.|
|By the anti-cult movement (ACM), to refer
mainly to faith groups who they feel engage in deceptive recruiting
methods and inflict psychological abuse on
|By the counter-cult movement (CCM), to refer mainly to Christian faith
groups which hold one or more non-traditional religious beliefs. As
one example, the Apologetics Index says that "A cult of Christianity is
a group of people, which claiming to be Christian, embraces a particular
doctrinal system taught by an individual leader, group of leaders, or
organization, which (system) denies (either explicitly or implicitly)
one or more of the central doctrines of the Christian faith as taught in
the sixty-six books of the Bible." 1|
The term cult is almost always a hurtful term. Few groups willingly accept
being called by that term. Since the word has so many different and mutually
exclusive meanings, we recommend that it not be used as a stand-alone term.
If you do use it, we suggest that you carefully modify the word to make its
meaning clear, as in "benign cult" or
"destructive cult." Even better is to
use the emotionally neutral term "new religious movement."
One sociologist, Jeffrey Hadden, uses the term "weird religion,"
and finds that that term "opens minds more readily than either the language of
new religious movements or cults and sects." Because the term
"cult" is so ambiguous, we recommend that writers
refer to groups by their actual name, rather than categorize them with
the name "cult."
|Counter-cult movement: (CCM) An almost
completely uncoordinated group of many hundreds of conservative
ministries, mostly conservative Protestant. Their prime goal is to locate and expose what they
perceive as the hazards of diversity of
Christian theological belief. Most people in the CCM
believe that they personally follow true Christianity. They oppose
Christian faith groups which have one or more fundamental beliefs
different from their own. Their goal is to educate the public and prevent them from accepting what the CCM groups
believe are deviant, mistaken and dangerous beliefs. CCM activities
can become confusing. One group's heresy is another group's orthodoxy.
If faith group "A" regards group "B" to be a heretical
then "B" probably considers "A" to also be a cult.|
|Anti-cult movement: (ACM)
A group dedicated to raising public awareness of what they perceive
are the dangers of cults. They see cults as engaging in deceptive
recruiting techniques, and "in 'brainwashing,'
'mind control,' 'sinister manipulation,' 'creation of environments of totalism,' etc."
2 They consider the religious beliefs of new religious
movements of minor importance. Some in the ACM have attempted to
convince individuals to leave religious groups. Some have engaged in
criminal acts in the past, such as kidnapping, assault, attempts at non-consensual
brainwashing, etc., in order to force them to abandon their beliefs.
Fortunately, such activities have now become rare.|
|New Religious Movement: (NRM) an emotionally
neutral term used to refer to recently created and usually small faith
groups. We recommend this term in preference to "cult."|
|Cult Apologists: A snarl term used by some in the
anti-cult and counter-cult movements to criticize sociologists,
theologians and other academics who study new religious groups.
Unlike the CCM and ACM, most mental health professionals and religious
academics find that almost all new religious movements
benign. They urge that such groups be free from
CCM groups has existed in some form since the dawn or organized religion. It has
historically come in two forms:
|Intra-religious conflict is inevitable within any
established orthodox religion. Various denominations may promote
different spiritual beliefs, theological beliefs and ritual practices.
Often, one group will become dominant, and declare the others to be
heretics. Their motivation is to maintain doctrinal purity.
In earlier years, the losers were forced to conform, or were jailed,
or were exiled, or were exterminated. |
|Inter-religious conflict appears most frequently
in countries lacking a wall of separation between church and state.
Here, the dominant religious group may attempt to gain a religious monopoly
by oppressing and persecuting minority faith groups - often with the
help of their federal government. This has led to
civil conflict, mass crimes against humanity and even
genocide. The most notable recent case was
the genocide perpetrated by the Bosnian Orthodox church members against
the Muslim minority in Bosnia Herzegovina during the 1990s.|
Perhaps the largest and most harmful counter-cult religious group in the West
was the Christian church itself, during the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods.
They engaged in intra-religious wars of extermination, against Christian groups
which they considered heretical, including the Cathars, Knights Templar, and
their prime targets were inter-religious. They carried out mass murders of Jews
for not accepting Christianity. They hunted down people who they called
"Witches" and who allegedly worshiped Satan.
The Christian churches burned alive (or hung) uncounted thousands of
innocent people. Inspired by the teachings of the Church, civil courts
in Western Europe judicially murdered tens or hundreds of thousands of
persons accused of Witchcraft.
The CCM in modern times:
Although much inter-religious conflict continues today in North America, the
CCM is now largely focused on combating heresy within Christianity. There are
now hundreds of groups 3 in the United States alone whose prime mandate is to preserve what they
view as the
doctrinal purity of Protestantism. They attempt to
raise awareness among other Christians about the existence of new religious
groups which are teaching beliefs different from traditional
Christianity. They are sometimes referred to as "heresy
hunters," "heresiologists," or "witch hunters." Although these terms
are sometimes literally true, we advise against their usage, because they most
people consider them
emotionally laden, snarl words. The CCM views cultic activity as intentionally
misleading individual believers away from the established faith to their eternal
The CCM appears to be found almost exclusively within the conservative wing of
Protestant Christianity, among Fundamentalists and other Evangelicals. This is to be
expected, because conservative Christians tend hold fast to fundamental, historic Protestant beliefs.
Most also believe that only a small
percentage of the human race will attain heaven after death; the vast majority
who are not
"saved" will go to Hell. This motivates those in the CCM to try to
as many people as possible to leave NRMs. Many CCM groups teach that while a person is in a NRM, their salvation is in doubt. Any groups that do not meet their
minimum standards of belief are called sub-Christian, cultic or
non-Christian. On the other hand, liberal and mainline Christian
groups rarely, if ever, join the CCM. They tend to be more inclusive. They accept as Christian,
many groups whose
beliefs and practices vary greatly from their own.
Many individuals in the CCM are ex-members of new religious movements.
They entered a faith group because it appeared to offer advantages over more
established denominations at the time. But, after some months or years, they
became disillusioned and left. Some terminated their membership with a great
deal of animosity - perhaps fueled by anger at having invested so much time and
effort in what became, for them, a spiritual blind alley. Other CCM members are
parents. Often their children had entered a faith group against the parents'
wishes and were seen as wasting their time on spiritual matters when they should
be committing their time to obtain higher education or further their work career.
Jeffery Hadden wrote: "...counter-cultists and anti-cultists speak to
different audiences. The counter-cultist aim their message at conservative Christian
groups. They are prolific producers of books and pamphlets, as well as audio and video
tapes from Christian radio and television. Most Christian book stores have a special
section of cult literature.... Many of them are skilled communicators and they are often
permitted to present their views virtually unchallenged to large television audiences."
Some CCM groups offer support services to persons who have
recently left NRM faith groups. Sometimes, a person will be deeply involved in a
high-demand religious organization and obtain most of their economic, social, spiritual,
relationship, accommodation and other supports from that group. When they leave,
they may need help to establish new support systems.
Umbrella groups and denominations which are occasionally
part of the CCM:
Sometimes individual denominations and national groups of denominations
perform an anti-heretical, counter-cult function. A few examples are:
|Starting in the 1970's, the Southern Baptist Convention
experienced an internal conflict between fundamentalists and moderates
within the denomination. The more liberal wing lost the battle. One
result was a purging of employees of the Convention on the basis
of belief. Employees were required to sign a loyalty oath which
specified that they held certain beliefs. For example, academics were
required to affirm that they believed that the Gospels were written by
four men whose names were Mark, Matthew, Luke and John -- a belief which
|In the late 1990s, the membership of three congregations within the
Southern Baptist Convention decided to study homosexuality. Like
most religious conservatives, the Southern Baptists teach that
homosexuality is chosen, changeable,
abnormal, unnatural behavior which is hated by God. All three
congregations rejected this traditional teaching as a result of their
investigations, and decided to welcome gays and lesbians into their
churches. The Convention expelled all three congregations for heresy.|
|In late 2003, the National Association of Evangelicals, (NAE)
an umbrella conservative Christian group of denominations, began an
investigation of the University Bible Fellowship (UBF) on charge
of heretical beliefs. An online petition was initiated tu urge the NAE to expel the group. The NAE voted to terminate UBF's membership in
Internet references, magazines, etc:
- "Cult: A theological definition," Apologetics Index, at:
- Jeffery Hadden, "On Cults and Sects," an essay in the
Religious Movements" site at: http://www.religiousmovements.org
- Keith E. Tolbert and Eric Pement, "1996 Directory of Cult Research
Organizations", American Religion Center, PO Box 168, Trenton, MI
48183 (313) 692-7772.
Copyright © 1997 to 2004 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2004-JUL-24
Author: B.A. Robinson