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Defining a "sect" or a "cult"

(41 Posts)
Gracesgran Mon 06-Jul-15 10:17:43

I recently referred to extreme a fundamental Methodist group as a "sect" but this was challenged.

This is one definition of "sect". There are others but they seem quite similar to me.

1. A group of people forming a distinct unit within a larger group by virtue of certain refinements or distinctions of belief or practice.
2. A religious body, especially one that has separated from a larger denomination.
3. A faction united by common interests or beliefs.

As Methodism is, in itself a distinct unit of Christianity I thought this qualified. To be honest the group that has been described seems to have such extreme views, claiming to be Christian, even considering the Bible to be authoritative whilst manipulating the Scriptures to fit their own beliefs so I do not feel I would have been wrong in calling it a cult.

I think we are often blinkered when we look at these organisations, feeling that such sects or cults are only based on non-Christian beliefs and not seeing the overall issues from all groups that believe they, and only they know the absolute truth.

... but I could be wrong. smile

annsixty Mon 06-Jul-15 10:25:43

All the Methodists I know, and that is plenty, are lovely rational people. You seem to be lumping them all together by judging them based on one poster on here. I hope I haven't misjudged you now.

Gracesgran Mon 06-Jul-15 10:34:50

I don't think that I said Methodists, or any others religious groups, were irrational annsixty. Sect would, I presume come from the same root as "section" which would not imply irrational thinking. The beliefs that have been described on here are, in my opinion, separate yet again from mainstream Methodism so you could say a sect within a sect. Whether the beliefs described fall within in a cult status is open to argument in my opinion.

annsixty Mon 06-Jul-15 10:40:36

Well I obviously did misinterpret your post thereby misjudging you and I apologise.

Greenfinch Mon 06-Jul-15 11:11:07

I believe that the correct definition of a sect is that it has a leader whom the followers venerate alongside Jesus. Thus the Mormons are a sect because of the role of Joseph Smith in their beliefs and so are the Moonies and the Christian Scientists amongst others while a group such as the Seventh Day Adventists remain within mainstream Christianity because Jesus is their supreme figurehead .Under this definition Methodists are certainly not members of a sect.

Lilygran Mon 06-Jul-15 11:12:53

It's very tricky using terms like 'sect' because people think of them as being derogatory. But I think the definition you quote is correct, Gracesgran. 'Cult' is even trickier because it implies that the body referred to is part of a belief system which is either not current or not universally recognised as a genuine religion. Like Mithraism or Scientology. But that then poses another question, what is a 'genuine religion'? Oh, dearie, dearie me! (Head in hands, low moaning noise).

Lilygran Mon 06-Jul-15 11:18:03

But having checked the various definitions of 'cult' it can also mean a group offering particular veneration to a leader or object, for example, a saint. But what do I know?

Gracesgran Mon 06-Jul-15 13:39:18

annsixty you certainly don't need to apologise. I sometimes wonder how we manage, without body language, facial expressions and a knowledge of how someone would normally frame a thought in a conversation, not to completely misunderstand one another's train of thought all the time wink

Greenfinch I would call that a cult rather than a sect for the very reasons you put forward. Having said that Lilygran you sum up the whole problem. I have no idea what a "genuine religion" is either!

Elegran Mon 06-Jul-15 14:36:55

I don't think that a sect necessarily venerate their leader, a sect is an offshoot of a religious group, usually more narrow and strict that the mainstream.. Venerating a leader seems to me more like a cult - think Scientology and L Ron Hubbard, Waco and David Koresh.

rosesarered Mon 06-Jul-15 15:09:51

I would agree with Lilygran's definition of both words.

rosesarered Mon 06-Jul-15 15:10:20

Sorry, Elegran's I mean!

rosesarered Mon 06-Jul-15 15:12:17

Actually, I agree with both Elegran and Lilygran's

Atqui Mon 06-Jul-15 15:23:07

As language changes over time in its common usage , it's not always helpful to look at literal definitions IMHO. The words Sect and Cult seem to have taken on a more derogatory meaning now . When Methodism first appeared it was probably viewed as a weird offshoot of the Anglican Church , but surely now it is considered mainstream even to atheists, or other people who disagree with its beliefs.

Lilygran Mon 06-Jul-15 16:28:56

I don't think Methodists believe anything different from CoE. It's more the organisation of the church that's different. 'Denomination' is the word that comes to mind as avoiding unintentional offence for variations of churches.

Ariadne Mon 06-Jul-15 16:31:07

I agree about the general perception of Methodism, but I would guess that, like most Churches and religions, it has its own sub groups - there used to be (still are?) Primitive Methodists, for example, and, surmising again, I would presume that they were more fundamentalist than the mainstream. There are Pentecostal Methodist groups, and Methodists led revival camps in the States.

(Wesley wasn't much of a soft touch, either - he was an evangelist. Evangelism and "Proclamation" (of the Gospel) were two of his tenets. I studied a bit of theology at one stage, a long time ago,mand am dredging my memory.)

petra Mon 06-Jul-15 16:37:34

There's somebody missing from this thread.

Gracesgran Mon 06-Jul-15 17:04:47

To add another thread to our skein, I imagine that Protestantism was originally neither a sect or a cult but a heresy ... or not? Methodism was purely British I think (?) I suppose Lutherism (Luther being born a Catholic of course) was the equivalent on the continent. He was certainly seen as a heretic and excommunicated. It is a tangled web hmm Thinking about it Christianity was probably seen, in its very early days and even by some of the followers, as a Jewish sect.

Ariadne Mon 06-Jul-15 19:11:27

That's true, gracesgran! Interesting...

soontobe Mon 06-Jul-15 19:15:37

I am here petra. But I know little about history of Methodism, and only know the standard Methodist Church. So nothing to contribute really. Lilygran probably knows far me about all of this than I do.

Ariadne Mon 06-Jul-15 19:20:29

What a shame, soontobe! Methodism has such an intricate and positive (on the whole) history. But then, so do all religions, of whatever type or denomination. "By their fruits shall ye know them."

soontobe Mon 06-Jul-15 19:38:32

"By their fruits shall ye know them" is an important verse in the Bible.
People have to be careful in how they come to their conclusion though. Do they know everything? Have they assessed correctly? Is there something they have not seen. Are they only seeing part of the picture.
But yes. Good quote.

durhamjen Mon 06-Jul-15 19:51:30

Some scholars think Jesus was a Hasidic Jew. That was a sect.

Gracesgran Mon 06-Jul-15 20:02:30

I have read that he may have been an Essene Jen and that is referred to as a sect too although it seems to be one of the three main strands of Judaism.. So "sect" seems to be used as division in this case.

Lilygran Mon 06-Jul-15 21:01:56

Not want to pick nits but I think Hasidic Judaism is quite recent? 18th century, I thought. Gracesgran I'm sure you're right.

Riverwalk Mon 06-Jul-15 21:04:27

I always associate the Methodist church with Lord (Donald) Soper smile