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As fundamentally as I or other Protestants might take issue with Roman Catholicism on specific theological issues, I do not think that Roman Catholicism would be properly categorized as a cult for the following reasons: (1) Cults, generally speaking, are small splinter groups with a fairly recent origin. Catholicism, on the other hand, is the largest body within Christendom, having almost a two-thousand-year history that has continuity with apostolic, first century Christianity, and that forms the ecclesiastical tree from which Protestantism originally splintered. (2) Cults are usually formed, molded, and controlled by a single individual or small group. By contrast, and despite the authority of the pope at any given time, the Catholic church has been molded by a very large number of people throughout its long history, and is governed by creeds and councils. (3) An appropriate description of a cult is “a religious group originating as a heretical sect and maintaining fervent commitment to heresy.” Regardless of one’s criticism of Catholicism, and even if it is heretical at certain points, it does not fit this description. It did not originate in heresy, and it possesses a structural orthodoxy that true cults do not have. (4) Cults (when defined as heretical sects) are classified as such because of their outright denial or rejection of essential Christian doctrine, such as the triune nature of God, the true dual nature (divine-human) of Christ, or the need for divine grace in the process of salvation. While Protestants have accused Catholicism of having an illegitimate authority and of confusing the gospel, Catholicism does affirm the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, and salvation ultimately being a gift from God. (5) Cults frequently have a low view of the Bible, replacing or supplementing it with their own so-called “sacred writings.” In fact, cults often argue that the Bible has been, to some extent, corrupted and therefore their writings are needed to restore the truth. While Catholicism’s acceptance of non-canonical writings (the Apocrypha) and placing of apostolic tradition on par with Scripture are fundamental problems for the Protestant, Catholics nevertheless retain a high view of the Bible (inspired and infallible) and see it as their central source of revelation. 6) A frequent characteristic of cults is their emphasis on a “remnant identity” — that is, they claim to be God’s exclusive agent or people who are restoring “authentic Christianity,” which has been corrupted or lost. Usually this type of restorationism has an accompanying mindset against creeds and Christian history. While Catholicism has at times been guilty of exclusivity, it emphatically denies restorationism, and strongly emphasizes the continuity of God’s church throughout history. 7) Those who classify Roman Catholicism as a cult (that is, an inauthentic and invalid expression of Christianity) usually also give the Eastern Orthodox church the same classification. However, if both of these religious bodies are non-Christian, then there was no authentic Christian church during most of the medieval period. There was no non-denominational, Bible-believing church independent of those two church bodies during most of the Middle Ages. Any schismatic groups that existed during that period were grossly heretical. 8) Even with the serious problems evident in Roman Catholic theology from a Protestant point of view, Catholic doctrine overall does not fit the pattern of recognized cult groups. Catholicism affirms most of what the cults deny and possesses an orthodox foundation that cult groups lack.
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