What is a Cult?
Some Definitions

© Spotlight Ministries, Vincent McCann, 2001

Setting out definitions of what group is, or is not, a cult is becoming an area of increasing debate. The word "Cult" can be defined in different ways by different people. However, from my own observations and research, as a Christian, I have found it useful to use the categories to identify a particular group which may be called a cult:

  1. Theologically - From a Christian perspective, a group may be defined as a cult when it radically deviates from the essential historic and biblical beliefs of the Christian Church. For example, this would be seen in the various groups which deny the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ.

  2. Sociologically - A group which uses mind control tactics such as subtle fear, guilt, and pressure etc. can be classed as a cult. It must be said that this definition is even wide enough to include some groups which may be theologically correct in many of their doctrinal beliefs. Unfortunately, even some Christian churches where a leader, or leaders, are not acting in submission and humility to Christ, but rather have fallen into a dictatorial nature, can fall into this category.

It should also be noted that in the above mentioned categories there is a good deal of crossing over between the two. For example, many of the groups which have fallen into theological error tend to stress a "salvation by works" doctrine and consequently bring great guilt and pressure into a group member to 'perform'. Likewise, a group whereby leaders become tyrannical and abusive to its members will often, eventually, be led into theological error.

I have found the following sites which deal with the subject of cult definitions to be of use:

  • Check out the excellent research on definitions at Apologetics Index. This web site discusses the terms "Cult", "Sect", "New Religious Movements", "Anti-cult", and "Counter-cult". In addition, the work of "Cult Apologists" and the "Anti-Anti Movements" are also examined.

  • Matt Slick, of Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (CARM), has some brief observations on cult definitions.

  • Some useful definitions from an academic perspective are given at the New Religious Movements. Org Website.

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