Rob Davis posted a blog about his experience at an Acts 29 church. He boldly named Acts 29 a cult. You may read it HERE.
Why are we so afraid of the word cult? I agree with him. It's like we can't bring ourselves to say the words. But how many of these things need to be present before we can bring ourselves to name it? A group does not have to use every single tactic to qualify.
In his post, he outlines the problematic characteristics of Acts 29 taken from The Cult Test. I have copied that list here, and applied them to Mars Hill. The comments in parenthesis are mine:
The guru is always right (Do not question Driscoll)
No exit. (Without permission/blessing or countless meetings and harassments)
Cult speak.(Mars Hill has its own catch phrases and buzzwords)
I agree with all of those, but for Mars Hill, I would add the following:
Confession Sessions (community group prayer times, redemption groups, meetings with pastors)
Instant Intimacy (members share very vulnerable things in cg prayer time)
A System of Punishments and Rewards (discipline contracts and titles)
Personal testimonies of previous converts (MH has changed x,y & z's life, therefore it must be good)
Surrender to the Group (spend more and more time with CG and use group for accountability)
The group and its members are special (definite sense of elitism at MH)
The group is self absorbed (they really don't help the poor, it is pretty much a closed system)
You can't tell the truth (or we shun you, or post directions on the City of how to shun you, or lie about your character)
Ideology over experience, observation, logic (well, yeah)
Thought stopping language (was shut down any time I challenged the misuse of terminology to make a point)
The guru is extra-special (he sees things, he is the only person broadcast to 4 states and 14 churches)
Don't trust Your own mind (you are totally depraved)
Dont trust Your own feelings (the heart is deceitful)
You owe the group (you are accountable and must explain why you aren't there)
Progressive indoctrination and Progressive commitments
To me, saying that an organization or church has multiple characteristics of cults, but being unwilling to call it a CULT is akin to living with a man who abuses you but being unwilling to call him ABUSIVE.
This list of signs was taken from a Huffington Post article by Jayanti Tamm here.
Is it a Cult? The Top Ten Signs the 'Group' You've Joined is Not what It Seems
The leader and group are always correct and anything the leader does can be justified.
Questions, suggestions, or critical inquiry are forbidden.
Members incessantly scramble with cramped schedules and activities full of largely meaningless work based on the leader's agenda
Followers are meant to believe that they are never good enough.
Required dependency upon the leader and group for even the most basic problem-solving.
Reporting on members for disobedient actions or thoughts is mandated and rewarded.
Monetary, sexual, or servile labor is expected to gain promotion.
The 'outside' world -- often including family and friends -- is presented as rife with impending catastrophe, evil, and temptations.
Recruitment of new members is designed to be purposefully upbeat and vague about the actual operations of the leader and group.
Former members are shunned and perceived as hostile.