What is the difference between a denomination and a cult?

A denomination adheres to the essentials of the Christian faith (which are listed below) but may differ in their liturgical approach, method of worship, etc.
By contrast, a cult (of the Christian variety) will depart from the essentials of Christianity i.e. Trinity, Salvation through Christ alone, the virgin birth, etc but may very well resemble the same liturgical approach, and/or methods of worship as orthodox Christianity. c.f. Oneness Pentecostalism.

i.e. LDS/Mormons - The god of Mormonism is one of many gods who comes from a planet near the star called Kolob whereas Biblical Christianity adheres to the fundamental that God is Creator of all things seen and unseen including any and all planets and any and all stars (even the star named ‘Kolob’ if such a star existed)

A group need not be affiliated with Christianity to be considered a cult. Consider the tragedy of the Heaven’s Gate cult. This cult resembled much of the more extreme “space visitor” and “space salvation” doctrines of Scientology but was not directly related to the views of any established world religion. It was simply a “science fiction” cult which seem to be growing in number (cf “Jediism” - newfound cult of the “Jedi” of the science fiction works of George Lucas.)

There are cults that come from Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Atheism, and other world religions. Many of which have grown so large that the primary religion from which they emerged has simply recognized them as a “sect” and not a cult at all (i.e. Hare Krishas, Nation of Islam, etc).

There are a number of criteria to consider when examining a particular religion or faith. This criteria is used to determine whether the faith is a “cult” or simply a “cult-like” sect, religion, or denomination. Have a look at the list below and see how your group measures up.

Characteristics of a Cult

  1. Private revelation of God via one supreme leader or group of leaders who claim to possess an exclusive position as mediator with God.

  2. This leadership is generally charismatic (attractive, persuasive, endearing, etc) with an extraordinary ability to communicate.

  3. The group functions in an exclusive manner (not inclusive), referring to its movement as the “one true_____(group, church, gathering, etc)"

  4. Isolation of the cult member from their family or friends who are not part of the cult, is often encouraged. (used as an effort to control)

  5. Relationship to the god of this ‘religion’ is through the leader or leaders of that group (no direct relationship - used as an effort to control)

  6. Often times detractors or those that question said leadership are branded as spiritual malfeasants or “enemies of the church” “Suppressive Persons” etc.

  7. Salvation/Heaven in afterlife is through this group alone and/or specific leader and his/her/their “secretly discovered and protected” teaching.

  8. Salvation/Heaven is usually based on stringent works and human effort to please/appease the god of the cult

  9. There is an emphasis on performance for the furtherance of influence of that group through selling literature, flowers, knocking on doors, taking 2 year missions etc.

  10. There is usually an undue amount of pressure - socially and religiously - to “give” financially to that specific group only and no other.

  11. There is usually a great level of control exerted over its members through isolation from family and loved ones who do not ascribe to the cult’s teachings.

  12. There is usually a great level of control, overtly or otherwise, exerted over its members through the threat of expulsion and disassociation from the group

  13. If expulsion from the group does occur - complete “shunning” or “total avoidance” is commanded toward the ‘apostate’ by the existing members.

  14. Cult leaders will always demote and/or degrade the Bible as being untrustworthy for someone to read on their own - pointing that person back to the cult leader(s) to provide the interpretation - which always contradicts itself in other parts of Scripture

Point #13 causes great consternation for some whose grandparents, parents, siblings, and entire social network may be part of the cult and from whom, the expelled person would be ‘excommunicated’. Cults will use the threat of losing relationships of family-member cultists to keep "straying or questioning" cult member in line. (method of control

Groups that are commonly considered a cult because they bear many of the characteristics above are:

Jehovah’s Witnesses, Latter Day Saints - LDS - Mormons, Nation of Islam (i.e. Farrakhan), Roman Catholicism, Scientology, Rev Myung Sun Moon (Moonies), Christadelphians, Oneness Pentecostalism, Transcendental Meditation (TM); Hare Krishnas, I would add that MANY charismatic groups - New Apostolic Reformation and Word Faith groups, are very much a part of these groups which meet much of the cult criteria above.

Groups that are “cult like” in their behaviour but still attempt to maintain orthodox Biblical foundations are:

Amish, Disciples of Christ, Potter’s House, Seventh Day Adventists, and many of the charismatic movements within Christianity.

These groups are considered by some to be “Exo-orthodox” or “outside” of orthodox practices according to the Bible.

Nation of Islam: Sect or Cult?The Nation of Islam or "Black Muslims" as they're known in the US are not considered a “sect” of Islam. Black Muslims are not considered “orthodox” by Muslims but rather, are looked upon as a pseudo-Islamic cult founded by Wallace Fard Muhammad in 1930 Wallace Fard was preached, by the Nation of Islam ‘prophet’ Elijah Mohammad, to be "Allah incarnate". Mohammed touted Fard as being the Christian Messiah and the Muslim 'Mahdi' (Redeemer) however, Fard mysteriously disappeared only a few years after appointing an unemployed auto worker, Elijah Poole, who renamed himself Elijah Mohammad, as his primary spokesman. Fard was never heard from again and Elijah immediately assumed leadership of the group. The primary leaders were:
              a. Elijah Mohammad (considered a prophet)
              b. Malcolm X, a charismatic outspoken proponent for the nation of Islam. He was
              purportedly murdered by followers loyal to Elijah Mohammad who was upset
              over Malcolm's discovery and subsequent complaints of Elijah's impropriety with
              women in the movement. (Two secretaries had filed paternity suits against Elijah).

Nation Islamists basically believe in the supierority of the black race and the inferiority and wickedness of the white race, all of which are preached to be the devil.
Nation of Islam believes in a different version of Allah and the prophet Mohammad than do traditional Muslims. It is for these departures from the essentials of the Islamic faith
that many mainstream Muslims do not consider the Nation of Islam to be Muslim or even a sect of Islam.

Hare Krishnas: Sect or Cult?Once considered a cult due to the odd dress of orange (similar to Buddhist monk attire) and the shaved heads with a lock of hair. The Hare Krishnas would descend upon airports in an effort to raise money for their faith and the members are worked extremely hard while convinced to exist in total isolation from their families. All of these characteristics would point to this group as a cult, not from the Christian faith but from the Hindu faith. It was only upon visiting the Hare Krishna headquarters (ISKON temple) in India that I would discover that among Hindus, the Hare Krishnas are mainly considered a “sect” and not a Hindu cult. However, in the West, the Hare Krishnas are considered a cult.

Jehovah’s Witness: Denomination or Cult?Founded by Charles Taze Russell in 1879. Are Jehovah's Witnesses Christian?Russell was raised as a congregationalist and, like Joseph Smith of the Mormons, grew disillusioned with orthodox Christianity on the whole. He soon met a “Second Adventist” (a formation of Millerites and a forerunner for the 7th Day Adventists) by the name of Jonas Wendell. Wendell would breathe new life into Russell’s view of Christianity and eventually Russell would adopt the peculiar manner whereby the Adventists would erroneously predict the end of the world and the subsequent Second Coming of Jesus.

Mormons: Denomination or Cult? The official church name is Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints called “Mormons” or “LDS” for short.
Christian Essentials

What exactly do authentic, historic, Biblically-based Christians believe? For the early centuries, there was an uncodified yet universally held set of beliefs that were passed down from the Apostles to the early church patriarchs either by word or by written epistle. After a number of heresies arose, the early Christian church decided to gather together at specific councils to officially codify the true Christian doctrine passed on from the 12 Apostles. It is important to note that from the writings of the Apostles, to the times of the various councils to this very day, there is an unbroken line of correct doctrine that can be demonstrated by the preserved writings of that day. Often times, cultists will claim that “precious truths” were removed by “wicked priests” but when I press them to show me evidence of a broken line of teaching and during what time period did the “wicked priests” carried out the ‘removal’, I am met with deafening silence. There isn’t an answer from the cults because the historical and archaeological record supports the orthodox Christian belief that what was taught 2000 years ago, is still taught today, I’ve included a few words about the the Creeds that were assembled as a result of a couple of the major councils:

The Creeds of Christianity: The Nicene Creed, The Apostles Creed
  1. The creeds are a codification of belief not the ‘invention’ of it as cults claim

    1. Greeks (Antioch) Had trouble with Christ’s humanity i.e born of a virgin and resurrected in the flesh. (Which is what may have led to the Gnostic heresy)

    2. Semitc origins (Alexandria) Had trouble with Christ’s Deity i.e. One in being with The Father and God from God without beginning (to address the Arian heresy)

  2. The codifcation was arrived at over the course of 3-4 centuries9

    1. Apostle’s Creed (Roman Creed) 2nd century against gnosticim affirmed Christ’s humanity to the Greeks

    2. Council of Nicaea 325 A. D. Called and Presided over by Constantine. Defended Christ’s Deity against Arian heresy. The Nicene Creed emerged as a result of this council

    3. Council of Constantinople – 381 A.D. called to affirm the singular person of Christ in both Deity and Humanity (Theanthropos)

Essentials of The Christian Faith
  1. There is One God - Isa 44:8; Deut 6:4; 1Tim 2:5 ‘One God, One Mediator...

    1. Father as One Lord Eph 4:5 (v4-church); I Cor 8:6;

    2. Son as One Lord Jn 11:32;

    3. Spirit as One Lord 2Cor 3:17; 1Tim 6:15

    4. Father – Rom 1:7

    5. Creator of all – Zec 12:1

  2. Deity of Jesus – Col 1:15, 2:9 ; Phil 2:6-8 ; Zec 12:10; Isa 9:6; Heb 1:6-8

  3. Salvation: Man; Christ’s Atoning Death; Baptism – Adamic sin in all men Rom 3:23; Isa 53:6 ;

  4. Virgin Birth – Isa 9:6 ; Necessary for sinless birth

  5. Christ’s Atoning Death – Jn 19:30 “It is finished” – all sufficient; Eph 2:8,9

  6. Resurrection – cornerstone of our faith; “if Christ be not raised, you are...”

  7. Holy Spirit – 2Sam 23:2-3; Ps 95:7-11 w/ Heb 3:7-19 ; Isa 6:8-10 w/Acts 28:25-27;

    1. cannot be “lied to”

    2. is referred to as “He” throughout bible

  8. Trinity – Isa 48:16; Math 28:19; 2Cor 13:14;

    1. The word ‘Trinity’ is not in the bible, but neither is the word ‘bible’

  9. One Baptism Into Christ (One Faith) – Eph 4:4, 5 – “One body...One Lord, one faith...”

    1. Worldwide inclusive (not exclusive) unity of Born Again believers across denominational, geo-political boundaries.

    2. Not a pluralist belief - i.e. "one of many faiths" - John 14:6

    3. Not a universalist belief - i.e. all men and women go to heaven no matter who or what they believe "Enter by the narrow gate"

    4. Not an ecumenical belief - i.e. unity at the expense of truth, togetherness superseding sound doctrine "I do not come to bring unity but rather a sword"

  10. Resurrection and Return of Jesus

    1. In fulfillment of all prophecies

    2. to resolve the issue of sin and death

    3. to establish God’s reign on Earth

Characteristics of the God of Christianity (in contrast to the cult groups mentioned above)
  1. He is Spirit - John 4:24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth

  2. He is Omniscient – All knowing6

    1. Father – Isa 44:7-8 “Did I not proclaim it? foretell it long ago?”

    2. Son - Jn 2:24 ; I Cor 1:24 ; Col 2:3

    3. Spirit - Psa 139:1-18 You know all things; my days before there was yet one of them Ezek 11:5 ; I Cor 2:10

  3. He is Omnipresent – Present everywhere at once

    1. Father – Jer 23:24 ; I Kgs 8:27

    2. Son - Math 28:20 (v18 omnipotent)

    3. Spirit - Psa 139:1-18 “If I descend to the depths THOU”7

  4. He is Omnipotent – All powerful; able to accomplish all things that can be accomplished w/power

    1. Father - Job 42:2 “No purpose of yours can be withheld from You” Jer 32:17

    2. Son – Math 28:18; I Cor 1:24 ; Col 1:16-18

    3. Spirit - Luke 1:35-37

    4. Can God make a rock so big even He can’t move it? answer God can do everything that power can do, power cannot accomplish the logically/mathmatically impossible How much power is required to make 2+2=6? 8

  5. He is Fully Love (I Jn 4:8) while Fully Righteous and Fully Just - Isa 45:21; Zeph 3:5; Acts 3:14

    1. Some can embrace a god thats one or the other. While in truth, He is both simultaneously

    2. cults ask, “How can a loving God send anyone to hell?”

      1. RESPONSE: “How can a righteous/just God send anyone to heaven?” “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God”; ‘Each one has gone astray’

      2. RESPONSE: Their (the self-condemned) understanding of God’s character is warped. He honors man’s free will choice to be separate from Him as he TRULY is! The Bible speaks of this sort of person: Rom 1:28 “They did not think it worthwhile to retain the true knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind...”
  6. He is Fully Just

  7. He is Eternal: Isa 41:4; Rev 1:8 Alpha and the Omega; Deut 33:27 Without beginning or end: Mic 5:2 From everlasting; Heb 9:14 Eternal Spirit ITim 1:17; Gen 21:33; Psa 93:2

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