Expert witness testifies that church is a cult

The Straits Times (Singapore)/July 18, 1997
By Tan Ool Boon

An expert on cult studies said yesterday that it was appropriate to call the Central Christian Churcha cult because it had exhibited "many cultic characteristics." Based on his study of the church, the Rev. Adrian van Leen, 52, said, "I am of the view that the group is disruptive and even destructive to family units." He added that the church's practices were also damaging to the emotional integrity and stability of some of its members.

The expert witness is the director of the Concerned Christians Growth Ministries, which are based in Australia and which conduct researches into religious movements. He was giving evidence to support the defense's case that the editors of The New Paper, Lianhe Wanbao and Impact magazine were justified in calling the church "a cult" in 1991.

Rev. van Leen is not a newcomer to the Singapore High Court. In 1994, he gave evidence on cult matters in another defamation case involving The Straits Times and a religious sect. He said yesterday that it was in the public interest for newspapers to publish reports about the Central Christian Church because the church was active and aggressive in recruiting members at places that included MRT stations and tertiary campuses.

He said, in answer to defense counsel Tan Chee Meng, that the church has many practices that are found in cults. For example, he pointed out that its present suit was "wholly consistent with cultic fear and paranoia" and "a persecution complex".

Former church members had also told the court that they were often rebuked by their leaders when they thought their authority was being questioned, he noted.

And while mainstream churches collected donations or pledges from members, the Central Christian Church carried such a practice to extremes by keeping records of members' monthly income and their pledges, he said. The church even handed out envelopes with sections for members to mark "IOU" for pledges owed, if they did not have money on them, he added.

And he could not agree with the church's's expert witness, Dr. John Gordon Melton, who said on Wednesday that the church was not a cult.

About This Case

The Central Christian Church and its founder, Mr. John Philip Louis, [Transcribers' note: a planting from the London Church of Christ] are suing the editors of The New Paper (TNP) and Liauhe Wanbao for calling it a cult in a TNP report "Concern over two cult groups" on Nov. 23, 1991, a translation of which was published in Lianhe Wanbao the same day.

A Christian magazine, Impact, one of the sources of the report, is also being sued.

The newspaper editors contend that the reports were accurate, and that they had a moral and social public duty to publish such information. Their lawyers are trying to prove that the church has unique and exclusive practices. The parties are expected to present their final arguments soon after the expert witnesses have given their evidence.


The Rev. Adrian van Leen said the Central Christian church had many "cultic" characteristics. These include:


  • believing that its baptism by repentance and full immersion in water is the only true form of becoming a Christian


  • making members confess their sins and private thoughts to leaders


  • making members submit papers on how they spend their time


  • encouraging members to leave home to live communally


  • encouraging members to date and marry only fellow members


  • making members submit sin lists to leaders


  • pressuring members to recruit new members


  • teaching members that their church is the only true church


  • making attendance of all church meetings compulsory


  • disciplining members who question the authority of leaders


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