At this point, most of us are sort of looking around, wondering if someone else is going to ask the question or if we're going to have to. And that question is this: if we, as Christians, go around talking about this awesome Guy we know who has long hair, wears sandals, eats with sinners, and has some amazing thoughts about love and grace, well...isn't that kind of...like a....cult?
We've heard a lot about these kinds of movements. Some charismatic leader shows up and promises people the world if only they'll come and live with him in his compound, throw all their resources into his bank account (you know, for community purposes and so forth), and wear the uniform. It's the kind of stuff nightmares (and some rather captivating television dramas...and documentaries) are made of.
It seems to always lead to something like Waco. Or Jonestown. A whole lot of people drinking the Kool-Aid. I have to be honest and think that sometimes, I think about these sorts of things when we're taking Communion, and I can't help but laugh.
To an outsider looking in, there's not much difference between Jesus and these other guys. It's easy to think that one day, the curtain will be lifted and Jesus will be revealed as just another fraud.
But there are some fundamental differences between Jesus and these other guys. There are some things that make Him stand out as not just another cult leader, as not just some charismatic character to be blindly bought into and followed.
First, most of these charismatic leaders require their followers to move onto their property. They build whole towns cut off from the rest of the world, complete with their own schools and stores and security forces. Jesus never did that. Jesus sent His disciples out into the world. He told them to go to the world's schools and stores and not to worry about security. In Jesus's community, the worst thing you can do is separate yourself. You've got to be a part of the unfolding revelation, not apart from it.
Second, Jesus doesn't require you to give any more than He's given. He's not asking you to live with nothing so that He can have everything; He's given everything for your sake. You're never going to see that with a real cult leader. He may smooth-talk and convince his followers that he's giving up something for them, but it's all smoke and mirrors. For Jesus, it was all blood and nails. That's legit.
Third, Jesus doesn't clothe His followers in some pretentious garb or some bland uniform meant to make them distinctive somehow. No, He strips His disciples naked. Bare bones. Just the basics. That may sound more sinister, but it's really not. The cult says you need something to mark you so that people know who you are; the Christ says you need nothing else to be known, for you bear on you the image of God. You should wear it without shame.
The cult depersonalizes; the Christ radically differentiates. You are who you are for a reason, for a unique purpose to bring about God's glory in this world.
So does it sound kind of like a cult? Yeah, kind of. But Jesus is no simple charismatic; He's the Christ. There's never been one like Him, and there never will be again. He's the real deal, no simple passing fad, and I promise you this adventure doesn't end at the bottom of a glass of sugar water.
It begins with an offering of Living Water.