One of the things that liberals did successfully for quite some time was play the race card. One of the things that conservatives (eventually) did in response was name the practice, calling it something like “playing the race card.” Little tricks of illusion and distraction in politics operate much the same way that tricks of levitation and sawing women in two do. Once someone points out to you how it is done, the lustre is gone. No longer do you sit there, staring agape at the magician.
Naming the trick “playing the race card” has been powerful, as all forms of clear naming are. It used to be possible to play the race card, and that would trump all the other cards on the table. But now, as the game evolves, there is another card about, a newer, more powerful card. It is called “playing the playing-the-race-card card.” Or something like that.
Anyhow, the reason for bringing is up is that the time has come for us to expose a rhetorical trick that is now being used by a varied number of our adversaries. Let us call it playing the cult card. In recent months, one of the ways that some of our adversaries have sought to recruit other people to excitements of hyper-ventilating about us (apparently an addictive behavior) is by calling us a cult, or cultic, or displaying cult-like characteristics. The cult card. Since this appears to be gaining popularity, the time has come to supply a three-pronged response. One, to answer the charge briefly. Second, to name it for what it is — playing the cult card. And third, to laugh at it.
What are some of the standard marks of a cult? According to a general evangelical understanding, a cult would be distinguished by reliance on some kind of revelation apart from and senior to Scripture, some form of works-righteousness in salvation, constant manipulation of the members, leaders who effectively replace Jesus Christ, a murky and/or shifting belief system, esoteric knowledge, extreme sectarianism, fleece the flock, and an exegetical torturing of Scripture.
So, then, how does Christ Church stack up? Reading from left to right, we affirm, in our robust Protestant way, the doctrine of sola Scriptura. Works-righteousness? No, salvation is by grace through faith alone, plus nothing. For extra points, I will even quote Ephesians 2:8-9 as through we believe it, which we do. Do we manipulate and control our members through guilt and heavy-handedness? Nope. We proclaim the free grace of God’s forgiveness, and people come and go as they please. And do we think of ourselves as Christ’s replacements or competitors? Heh. A murky belief system? That is not the usual charge brought against the Westminster Confession of Faith, which is our church’s confessional standard. What about esoteric knowledge? The only hidden secret I know is how to get my riding lawn mower started, and not always then. Sectarian? “Just thee and me, and I have my doubts about thee”? No, actually, one of the major emphases of the Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches is applied catholicity with doctrinal integrity. Fleecing the flock? Nice try. And let us conclude with the question about exegetical gymnastics. Okay, let’s have a test-case Bible study, and let’s start with Romans 9. It is kind of like a game of exegetical chicken. Whoever can expound a passage of Scripture (like this), without grimacing or waffling, wins. So, well then. As much as it would have been exciting to be a cult-head-guy-poobah, it looks like we are just clean out of Kool-Aid. But if we are not a cult, what are we then? Well, if you want to use one of the historic names, you could just say Reformed or Presbyterian.
And so, for the second point. What do you do when you just have to oppose Christ Church and you have no arguments, ideas, vision, or meetings with more than ten people? You guessed it. You play the cult card.
And last, when our friends play the cult card, they think they are in a high-stakes poker game over on Morton Street. They think there is green velvet everywhere, and stacks of chips, and urbane Vegas smoke in the air, and leggy dames watching their unquestioned prowess at poker. And so they pull out their cult card, and slowly place it on the table, expecting to walk away with the Loot. But we look back at them, steely-eyed, nary a quaver in the voice, and reveal that we were playing a different game entirely. “Go fish,” we say.