The above suggestion was made to a young person who was talking to some friends about the assembly and its activities. What is surprising is that those friends were not unbelievers but other Christians, so why would they consider an assembly to be a cult? As I was not present at the time of the conversation, I can only second-guess what might have prompted such a response, but let me offer some possible reasons.
Most mainstream Christian churches are easily identified by a denominational name. People are familiar with Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists, Anglicans, Independent evangelicals etc., but assemblies do not subscribe to such names. In addition, many believers belong to a church that either has a national headquarters or is affiliated to some form of federation of churches, even if within that affiliation each fellowship is free to act according to their own convictions. As these scenarios are so common, they are perceived to be the ‘norm’, and any company of Christians not adhering to this standard is viewed with an element of suspicion.
A close study of the New Testament will reveal that each assembly of God’s people is accountable to no one except the Lord Jesus, a truth that is very clearly emphasized in the seven letters addressed to the seven churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. The word of God makes no allowance for any form of centralized church government. No assembly is answerable to any servant of God; its only authority is that which is laid out in the apostles’ doctrine as recorded in the New Testament. Furthermore, the only name any assembly should be linked with is that of our Lord Jesus, He said, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’, Matt. 18. 20 [my emphasis]. Sometimes other believers refer to the assemblies as ‘the Brethren’, but no company of God’s people should be willing to adopt this name. All believers are brethren in Christ, irrespective of where or with whom they gather; we are brethren because we have all been born of God – He is our Father.
As we read Paul’s letters to the various churches, it becomes apparent that there was a definite practice of inter-church fellowship. The letter he wrote to the Colossians was also to be read by another assembly, and the churches of Macedonia were held up to the church at Corinth as being a worthy example to emulate in giving material aid to relieve suffering believers elsewhere, as recorded in 2 Corinthians chapter 8. However, this unity between churches did not forge them into a denomination, and we should not seek to make assemblies a denomination today.
Another feature that distinguishes assemblies from many other church groups is the absence of a figurehead, be that a vicar, priest, or pastor. It may seem very strange to your Christian friends to learn that in the assembly where you belong there is no one person who takes the lead, or decides what happens, or is responsible for all the preaching. Peter teaches us that every believer is a priest, and that, as such, each has a responsibility to act in a priestly way, offering ‘spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ’, 1 Pet. 2. 5.
With political correctness gaining ground, not only in the world but also in religious circles, assemblies of God will become increasingly marginalized because of their commitment to the Bible’s teaching on the gender distinctions relative to church doctrine. The silence of women, the requirement for sisters to wear a head covering in the meetings and the headship of the men would all be considered strange, and perhaps even cultish to some who have never been taught about such matters. How vital it is for all of us to be very certain as to what the Bible has to say about these important issues. If you are unclear about them then speak to your elders and ask them to explain to you why women are not permitted to teach, why only the men are allowed to pray audibly, and why women are to cover their heads and men are not to have a head covering when the church meets.
Perhaps one of the primary reasons why others may consider an assembly to be a cult is based on the fact that while they feel free to go to meetings in any church, you do not. In the course of a month, they may attend events at a number of different churches, even though those churches do not share similar convictions about matters of doctrine. If we gather in an assembly because we see that it follows the teachings of the New Testament, we would not feel at liberty to go to other places, and this may be difficult for our friends to understand. However, let us ensure that we do not consider ourselves to be superior to these other Christians and may we show love and care for them knowing that they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.