How do we define a cult?

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Coram Deo

Puritan Board Junior
I am confused over the whole definition of a cult.. It seems we Christians use it differently then the dictionary definition...

So where and how do we get our definition..

It wouldn't just be easier to avoid the term (since sociologist and medical people have a different definition) and just use Heresy or false religion?

Is the word cult just an emotional used word?

Here is the definition of cult:

The literal and traditional meaning of the word cult is derived from the Latin cultus, meaning "care" or "adoration."

In non-English European terms, the cognates of the English word "cult" are neutral, and refer mainly to divisions within a single faith, a case where English speakers might use the word "sect," as in "Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism are sects (or denominations) within Christianity." In French or...weaner... Spanish, culte or culto simply means "worship" or "religious attendance"; thus an association cultuelle is an association whose goal is to organize religious worship and practices.

By comparison, the non-English European cognates of "sect" mean what "cult" does in English: secte (French), secta (Spanish), sekta Russian, and Sekte (German) which also has other definitions.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary definitions of the word "cult."

1. Formal religious veneration
2. A system of religious beliefs and ritual; also: its body of adherents;
 

Casey

Puritan Board Junior
It would be interesting to know when the term gained its negative connotation. Did it come into play at the beginning of the modern era? If so, perhaps it arose in connection with the rise of secularism as a way to deride those who worship God. I tend to use it in two ways: neutrally, as in "the OT cult focused around the temple," and negatively, as in "the Mormon church is a cult." Maybe it should be used more precisely to refer to one or the other?
 

ColdSilverMoon

Puritan Board Senior
Very broadly, I was always taught a cult is a group that denies the Trinity, changes the 66-book Bible in any way (including adding to or deleting from), and believes in a salvation other than by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. So, included in this definition would be Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Roman Catholics, Episcopalians (strict Anglicans), and Church of Christ. But I agree that there is no firm definition that is universally agreed upon.
 

Herald

Administrator
Staff member
Language morphs with time. An evangelical today is not the same as an evangelical thirty years ago. The term "cult" has come to define any group that is steeped in heresy and has a brain-washing effect on its adherents. Groups such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, B'hai, Unification Church (Moonies) are grounded in heresy and exemplify the brain-washing effect. Some of the more radical cults in recent memory are the Branch Davidians and The Peoples Temple (Jim Jones). Both groups came to a violent end. I have no problem with the term but that doesn't mean liberal Protestant churches, the Roman Catholic Church or the Oneness Pentecostals are any less dangerous.
 

Coram Deo

Puritan Board Junior
But Sociologist and even government people are defining all religions including Christianity, Reformed, Baptistic, Paedobaptistic, etc as cult..

They have said we brain-wash our adherents and shun/ex-communicate if they break the rules of the church.. I have even heard them say that to ex-communicate is abuse and a form of mind-control... That any form of church discipline is mind-control... This is what sociologist say about us...

By historical definition as least they are correct that the word cultus means adoration.. And We worship and adore the True God..

It seems like we christians use a different definition of cult then the society or culture.. How did this happen?

I am just not sure if the word cult is a good word to use in any case since there seems to be so much difference in understanding of it and how to define it.

It also seems that the groups it is used against each other... We call Mormons a cult, they call us a cult...

It is most likely better to just say that Mormonism is heresy and is a false religion then to use the emotionally charged misdetermined word definition of cult..



Language morphs with time. An evangelical today is not the same as an evangelical thirty years ago. The term "cult" has come to define any group that is steeped in heresy and has a brain-washing effect on its adherents. Groups such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, B'hai, Unification Church (Moonies) are grounded in heresy and exemplify the brain-washing effect. Some of the more radical cults in recent memory are the Branch Davidians and The Peoples Temple (Jim Jones). Both groups came to a violent end. I have no problem with the term but that doesn't mean liberal Protestant churches, the Roman Catholic Church or the Oneness Pentecostals are any less dangerous.
 

KMK

Administrator
Staff member
Any group that teaches you cause your righteousness in any way!
 

jambo

Puritan Board Senior
The marks of a cult define it as a cult and the four marks are:-
-human figurehead (ie Joseph Smith)
-new truth discovered
-new writings to accompany the bible (but in actual fact supercede the bible)
-"salvation" found only within the membership of that group.
-the belief that Christ's work is insufficient and needs to be suplemented in some way

Although cults are often thought of as small groups they do of course include bigger groups such as Mormons and JWs. However the biggest cult (and not always seen as such) is the RC church.
 

Herald

Administrator
Staff member
But Sociologist and even government people are defining all religions including Christianity, Reformed, Baptistic, Paedobaptistic, etc as cult..

They have said we brain-wash our adherents and shun/ex-communicate if they break the rules of the church.. I have even heard them say that to ex-communicate is abuse and a form of mind-control... That any form of church discipline is mind-control... This is what sociologist say about us...

By historical definition as least they are correct that the word cultus means adoration.. And We worship and adore the True God..

It seems like we christians use a different definition of cult then the society or culture.. How did this happen?

I am just not sure if the word cult is a good word to use in any case since there seems to be so much difference in understanding of it and how to define it.

It also seems that the groups it is used against each other... We call Mormons a cult, they call us a cult...

It is most likely better to just say that Mormonism is heresy and is a false religion then to use the emotionally charged misdetermined word definition of cult..



Language morphs with time. An evangelical today is not the same as an evangelical thirty years ago. The term "cult" has come to define any group that is steeped in heresy and has a brain-washing effect on its adherents. Groups such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, B'hai, Unification Church (Moonies) are grounded in heresy and exemplify the brain-washing effect. Some of the more radical cults in recent memory are the Branch Davidians and The Peoples Temple (Jim Jones). Both groups came to a violent end. I have no problem with the term but that doesn't mean liberal Protestant churches, the Roman Catholic Church or the Oneness Pentecostals are any less dangerous.

Michael, I should have qualified my comments. I was coming from the true church position. In other words I was speaking of our definition of a cult, not the worlds definition. I fully expect the world to think of true believers as out to lunch or even dangerous. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals certainly has that opinion. What the "cults" think of us is of little consequence.
 

Coram Deo

Puritan Board Junior
This is of course the Christian's definition of cult, but it does not appear in the dictionary nor is it used that way by sociologist and other people....

I gave the definition of cult by the historical root, dictionarly, and sociologically here


I still don't know how two definitions formed independently and I have not found the evangelical definition in any dictionary..


The marks of a cult define it as a cult and the four marks are:-
-human figurehead (ie Joseph Smith)
-new truth discovered
-new writings to accompany the bible (but in actual fact supercede the bible)
-"salvation" found only within the membership of that group.
-the belief that Christ's work is insufficient and needs to be suplemented in some way

Although cults are often thought of as small groups they do of course include bigger groups such as Mormons and JWs. However the biggest cult (and not always seen as such) is the RC church.
 

Herald

Administrator
Staff member
Any group that teaches you cause your righteousness in any way!

so an arminian would be?

"Im righteous because i used my own free will to accept Christ?" (I caused my righteousness because I accepted)

Jeff, I've said this on more than a few threads. Use caution on who you label an Arminian. For example, not every non-Calvinistic Baptist is a classical/historical Arminian. They may have Arminian tendencies. Some of them are even Calvinistic, although they would never admit it. Thank God for the inconsistency! We paint with such a wide brush at times that we push people into corners that aren't deserved.
 

Herald

Administrator
Staff member
This is of course the Christian's definition of cult, but it does not appear in the dictionary nor is it used that way by sociologist and other people....

I gave the definition of cult by the historical root, dictionarly, and sociologically here


I still don't know how two definitions formed independently and I have not found the evangelical definition in any dictionary..


The marks of a cult define it as a cult and the four marks are:-
-human figurehead (ie Joseph Smith)
-new truth discovered
-new writings to accompany the bible (but in actual fact supercede the bible)
-"salvation" found only within the membership of that group.
-the belief that Christ's work is insufficient and needs to be suplemented in some way

Although cults are often thought of as small groups they do of course include bigger groups such as Mormons and JWs. However the biggest cult (and not always seen as such) is the RC church.

Michael, remember what I said earlier. Terminology changes. Webster's dictionary does not take that into account. Some words become idiomatic over time. I think that is the case with the word "cult."
 

ModernPuritan?

Puritan Board Freshman
Any group that teaches you cause your righteousness in any way!

so an arminian would be?

"Im righteous because i used my own free will to accept Christ?" (I caused my righteousness because I accepted)

Jeff, I've said this on more than a few threads. Use caution on who you label an Arminian. For example, not every non-Calvinistic Baptist is a classical/historical Arminian. They may have Arminian tendencies. Some of them are even Calvinistic, although they would never admit it. Thank God for the inconsistency! We paint with such a wide brush at times that we push people into corners that aren't deserved.

sorry, I should of qualified the term, But i refer to arminian in the fully fledged 5 pointer.

other than the COC, that theology is the only one i know of that really leads to what KMK said "any group that causes etc.." that within the protestant realm.
 

Herald

Administrator
Staff member
so an arminian would be?

"Im righteous because i used my own free will to accept Christ?" (I caused my righteousness because I accepted)

Jeff, I've said this on more than a few threads. Use caution on who you label an Arminian. For example, not every non-Calvinistic Baptist is a classical/historical Arminian. They may have Arminian tendencies. Some of them are even Calvinistic, although they would never admit it. Thank God for the inconsistency! We paint with such a wide brush at times that we push people into corners that aren't deserved.

sorry, I should of qualified the term, But i refer to arminian in the fully fledged 5 pointer.

other than the COC, that theology is the only one i know of that really leads to what KMK said "any group that causes etc.." that within the protestant realm.

Jeff, no problem. I insist on accuracy when labeling someone an Arminian for reasons I've already given. I understand completely where you're coming from though.

Curl away, my son!
 

JBaldwin

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Cult n.1.
A religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader.
The followers of such a religion or sect.
Obsessive, especially faddish, devotion to or veneration for a person, principle, or thing.
The object of such devotion. American Heritage Dictionary

This is the first definition given of cult in the American Heritage Dictionary.

I looked up the word in several dictionaries. One had 10 definitions with one being very similar to the one above. They also included the definitions already cited above
 

DMcFadden

Puritanboard Commissioner
Michael,

Part of the problem relates to the varied legitimate uses of this word like many others.

Merriam Webster defines cult thusly:
1. Formal religious veneration
2. A system of religious beliefs and ritual; also: its body of adherents;
3. A religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also: its body of adherents;
4. A system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator;
5. Great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book).

In OT scholarship, "cult" refers to the ritualized religion of ancient Israel without any negative connotation whatsoever.

In other contexts, as you observe, it carries the connotation of one "sect" among other sects of various belief systems. Again, it has no negative notions or associations at all (e.g., baptists vs. methodists vs. presbyterians). This use is not terrribly well attested here in the U.S.

Finally, with the rise of Christian-based heresies (e.g., J.W.s and Mormons), conservative Christians have taken up the term with very negative connotative associations. This was how Walter Martin famously defined cults: "By cultism we mean the adherence to doctrines which are pointedly contradictory to orthodox Christianity and which yet claim the distinction of either tracing their origin to orthodox sources or of being in essential harmony with those sources. Cultism, in short, is any major deviation from orthodox Christianity relative to the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith."

The conservative Christian meaning is a development from the sociological sense of a clearly defined set of beliefs and practices. In this sense the Mormon cult believes X,Y, and Z. It is a very short distance to travel from saying "The Mormon cult" to "Mormonism is a cult." That, in my view, is how we got here. Since orthodox Christians oppose and denigrate the beliefs of Mormonism, the "cult" of Mormonism became a very negative thing in Christian circles.
 

SRoper

Puritan Board Graduate
Michael, remember what I said earlier. Terminology changes. Webster's dictionary does not take that into account. Some words become idiomatic over time. I think that is the case with the word "cult."

Actually, Merriam-Webster does take into account usage. They have been descriptive rather than prescriptive for some time. In any case, my edition of Webster's has "3: a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also: its body of adherents." Keep in mind that Webster's lists the definitions chronologically in order of first recorded use.

I tend to avoid the word altogether. "Heretical" or "apostate" are much better alternatives, although the frightening and controlling connotations of "cult" is lost.
 
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