Christian Research Institute, Christian Research Journal, Christians on Campus, Christians on Campus cult, Christians on Campus UT Austin, persecution of Christians
Christians on Campus cult rumor
When I began my graduate work at the University of Texas at Austin, I encountered a wonderful Christian group called Christians on Campus (I’ve mentioned this in my very first blog post entitled “Christians on Campus”). I learned so much about the Bible every time I met with them, and my experience of Christ grew. However, I was advised by an acquaintance to beware of this group. She said she had heard from someone else that Christians on Campus was a cult. That one word “cult” evoked in me all kinds of negative feelings and thoughts. I even stopped meeting with the group for a period of time in order to sort through this matter. I compared what I heard from this “concerned” person with what I had experienced of Christ and learned from the Bible during the previous six months of fellowship. In the end, I realized that what I had heard from this acquaintance did not match with what I had actually experienced with Christians on Campus. I decided to dismiss the so-called warning as a rumor and continued to fellowship with the group. Yet that one, little word “cult” nearly caused me to miss out on real and meaningful Christian fellowship. Unfortunately, many young Christians have been totally derailed in their pursuit of Christ because of some loosely tossing around that one word, “cult.”
The story behind the rumor
The word “cult” is a powerful, emotionally-charged buzzword. It evokes suspicion, fear, and distrust. How could a Christian group which rendered me so much help be casually referred to by others as a cult? How could a Christian group which has been on a major university campus for over 30 years come to be called a cult?
Although “warnings” like the one I received may be innocently passed on by fellow Christians with a good intention, it turns out that the source of these rumors is intentionally harmful. These rumors about Christians on Campus being a cult originate from an article published by Rachael Alterman in a UT magazine entitled UtmosT in 1991 (which went out of business a couple of years later). I was a graduate student at UT then, and was very much aware of the situation. Prior to this, a friend of hers (L. Wimberly, a member of Campus Crusade for Christ), had published in The Daily Texan campus newspaper on May 1, 1990, a very damaging article about Christians on Campus being a cult. Within a week, both the editor and managing editor published an apology, stating that they deeply regretted the many errors in Ms. Wimberly’s story, especially the use of the word “cult” (The Daily Texan, May 7, 1990). After the apology was printed, Ms. Wimberly, intending to get revenge for being “called on the carpet” for seriously unprofessional journalism, prompted her friend Rachael Alterman to publish an article in UtmosT magazine.
Persecution among Christians
The sad truth is that name-calling and mudslinging often occur between fellow Christian groups. Obviously, this is extremely detrimental to the unity of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:10; John 17:21). What’s worse is when this happens without any attempt to meet face to face and discuss perceived issues. Or still worse, when it is purposefully done despite knowing the facts are different. It turns out this is the case with the article that was written about Christians on Campus. All of the information in Rachael Alterman’s 1991 UtmosT article was a rehashing of material from the 1970’s when the cult frenzy in America was at its heyday (please see http://christiansoncampus.us). The original material itself was judged false and libelous on June 5, 1985 in the Superior Court of the State of California. Judge Leon G. Seyranian concluded that every single accusation in that material was false, defamatory, unprivileged, and therefore libelous. Thus, the charges Alterman levies against Christians on Campus are simply unwarranted.
Christian Research Institute claimed “We Were Wrong”
In contrast to the UtmosT article, Christian Research Institute (CRI) took the time to reassess Christians on Campus and their supporting churches and reached a very different conclusion in 2009. They decided to look into these rumors for the same reasons I did—things just weren’t lining up. President of CRI, Hank Hanegraaff, put it this way:
“What happens when someone looks you in the eye involved in a ministry and tells you point blank, ‘No, what you say we believe is not really what we believe?’ So we started six years ago, now almost seven years ago, a primary research project, and out of that we ended up doing an article in the Christian Research Journal which ended up encompassing the entirety of the journal. The words on the cover of the journal were ‘We Were Wrong.’ The reason that we overtly communicated we were wrong is because truth matters.” (Watch Hank Hanegraaff speaks at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZ6GUTbkHkE)
CRI was the original source of the research that was used to write the material back in the 1970’s. However, after six years of primary research and extensive dialogue they concluded that Christians on Campus and their supporting churches are not only not a cult theologically or sociologically, but have much to offer. At a club meeting at the University of Southern California in October 2011 where he was a guest speaker, Hank Hanegraaff stated that “in the case of Christians on Campus, for example, this is an organization that holds to essential Christian doctrine.” (For the whole video see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ws0zrzWp2Qo.)
Gretchen Passantino, who participated in this dialogue, described the group in 2009 as “orthodox but startlingly vibrant” and that Christians who meet with them will find “sound theology, enriching worship, challenging discipleship, and enthusiastic evangelism opportunities.” This resonates with the deep joy and meaningful fellowship I experienced from my own years at UT with Christians on Campus.
More on CRI’s assessment can be found in the entire issue of Christian Research Journal they devoted to the topic entitled, “We Were Wrong: A Reassessment of the ‘Local Church Movement of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee,” 2009, Vol. 32, No. 6.
A Christian student on a California campus has five posts on his blog about this same topic. His posts are quotes from CRI leaders and short videos of them. The first of the five is at http://graceandreality.wordpress.com/2013/04/29/shortcomings-of-an-open-letter-1/
Tomas Flores said:
So glad someone wrote a great blog on COC. I am so thankful to the Lord for meeting with Christians on Campus at the University of Texas at Austin while I was a student there. My life has been blessed immeasurably by coming to know Christ in His Word with this group. May many others continue to have the same positive experience with this group as I truly have.
A Crazy Lover of Jesus said:
Thank you so much for blogging about this! As an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, I faced the same kind of speaking concerning Christians on Campus from Christians who threw around that word without checking to see if it was true. Like you, I also had my suspicions after hearing such claims, but realized that what was being spoken about this group, and what I was both reading in the Bible and experiencing in my walk with God did not match up at all. Through fellowship with this group, I came to know about Jesus Christ more as well as develop healthy Christian habits of reading my Bible daily and having more times of prayer. I hope that every Christian would take what someone says about another Christian group with a grain of salt and exercise not to pass on things that may not be founded in the truth. God bless! 🙂
Stefan Misaras said:
Thank you for the blog post and the history. I heard bits and pieces here and there, and I was wondering “what’s going on”. It is good to KNOW THE TRUTH, and to really let the Lord’s light shine in this matter.
I met many of the Christian Students on campus, and I had such a good fellowship with them in spirit. I looked into their history also, and it is such a shame that some people chose to throw a dark light on them…. – in the Body of Christ, such a thing should have never happened!
But praise the Lord for our God of light shining in this situation and clearing up both the things published and the people involved. May the Lord use this situation for the building up of His Body!
Stephen M. said:
Thank you for this article! I find it very helpful and well researched. And for your desire to find the facts. I hope many others will find this article.
Phil Watson (@pswatson) said:
It’s sad that these lies continue in this day, after so many years with the truth being out. I pray that the light would shine both on ones hearing this and on those propagating it.
Paul Joseph said:
Thanks for the comment, Phil. May your prayer be answered!
Nancy Northrup said:
Was it Will Rogers who said that a lie can travel half way around the world before the truth can even put it’s boots on. The original slanderer was the serpent in the garden of Eden who slithered in to confidentially clue Eve in on what the “real truth” was.
Paul Joseph said:
Thanks, Nancy, for this true saying. Not sure if it was Will Rogers or someone else, but it’s right on. Concerning the serpent in the Garden of Eden, I was reminded of a verse in The Gospel of John, chapter 8, where Jesus was addressing the religious people who wanted to tempt Him and accuse Him: “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks the lie, he speaks it out of his own possessions; for he is a liar and the father of it” (v. 44).
Nancy Northrup said:
“Now has come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ, for the accuser of our brothers has been cast down, who accuses them before our God day and night (Rev. 12:10).” Verse 9 shows that the accuser is the dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil [“slanderer” in Greek] and Satan [“adversary” in Greek] and says that he is the one who DECEIVES the whole inhabited earth. Surely, those who crucified the Lord were deceived, and Saul (Paul) when he persecuted the church, and on down through the ages.
Thank you so much for the history behind the accusations. It continues to amaze me that such a small little group can generate such violent reactions. My experience with this group on other campuses has been that the students are truly seekers after the Lord AND the truth in His Word. Such a combination is so safe; capable of thwarting any heresy.
Paul Joseph said:
Juliaetta – Thank you for inputting your experience here. The Lord and His Word are always in harmony!
Shawn Bak said:
I enjoyed your writing.
May the Lord gain even more students on campus in the midst of opposition.
I pray the testimony of Jesus on campus be stronger and stronger.
Paul Joseph said:
Dear Shawn. Thanks for your comment and prayer. When the Jews were rebuilding the temple in the days of Nehemiah, there was much opposition: “with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon” (Neh. 4:17). And such is the nature of the Lord’s building work today!
Paul, great application of history to the present situation. Thanks.
A Christian or pseudo-Christian group can legitimately be called cultic when they fall apostate in any one of the ESSENTIAL matters of fundamental of christian doctrine. Hank understands this very well. He even admitted to disagreeing with brother Lee on certain SECONDARY matters, but dismissed them as being mostly unimportant (the celebration of Christmas, etc.). I’m so glad you posted this; the matter has been much in my consideration lately. Christians don’t realize the damage they can cause when using that word. I fear perhaps that many of them know neither the actual definition of cultism or what fundamental Christian doctrine is. If so, they would use the word with much more trepidation.