To first century Judaism, The Christian Church was a cult. To 16th century Roman Catholics, Lutheranism was a cult. To most contemporary Jews, The Jews for Jesus is a cult.


Cult/Sectarian - blurred designation - unconventional religions; non-normative religions; new religious movements.


Definition - Latin - cultus - worship.  Cultic act of worship involving external rites and ceremonies/attitudes,  e.g. Personality cults - Hitler, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson; Sports and Entertainment - Fan/Fanatic- religious extremism or cultism.


Three Perspectives for Viewing Cults [Christians and non-Christian (Eastern)] 


1.  Popular approach

2.  Sociological approach

3.  Theological approach:


A. Journalistic accounts in the popular press focuses on the dramatic and the bizarre.

B. Sociological Perspective includes an authoritarian, manipulative leader Totalistic/ Communal features - comparative historical perspectives; psychosocial behavior.

C. Theological Perspective involves some standard of orthodoxy.


Warning: Caution and suspicion.  Descriptive adjective - strange, sensational, curious, unconventional - degrees of accommodation.


Belief systems/Behavior systems - 1. Authoritarian Leadership Patterns; 2. Loyalty and Commitment mechanisms; 3. Lifestyle characteristics; 4. Conformity patterns; Elitist groups; sanctions for or against.


Theological Perspective entails Truth/Error distinctions. Standard of Biblical Orthodoxy; Counterfeit Faith; Supermarket of religious diversity; aberrant theology


Danger zones: Psychological; Sociological; Theological


1.  Authoritarian:  Leadership model demands total loyalty and allegiance over both doctrine and


2.  Oppositional:  Adversarial role affects family (parents and children).

3.  Exclusivistic; Elitism/exclusivism - the truth

4.  Legalistic:  Rules and regulations abound; autocratic groups operate within a legalistic

framework; control via policies and procedures.

5.  Subjective! i.e. emphasis on the experiential feelings and emotions: e.g.: New Age

Psychotherapies and Self-Improvement groups like Est and Lifespring .


Subjectivism is linked to anti-intellectualism, putting down rational processes and devaluing

knowledge and education

6.  Persecution complex: Perceived persecution is one of the hallmarks of virtually all new

religious movements.

7.  Sanction-Oriented :  require conformity to established practices and beliefs and readily

exercise sanctions against the wayward. Control mechanism of rebellious : a. fear;

b. intimidation; c. guilt to manipulate; d. signing of covenants; e. signing of loyalty oaths.

8.  Esoteric emphasis on secrecy and concealment.

9.  Anti-Sacerdotal - no paid clergy or professional religious functionaries. Groups stress

involvement of everyone vs. priestly class.  Meeting centers, private homes and meditation



Categories of Cults


1.  World-denying cults emphasize the evilness of the world system and the necessity to Be

saved from the world.

2.  World-indifferent cults - In but not of the world - relate only to members- e.g. The Way

International and The Moonies.

3.  World-enhancing cults - TM, Lifespring, Church of Scientology (Christian/ Secular analysis

of cult/occult).  Band aids on broken arms


Classification Scheme (Lure of Cults)


1.  Eastern Mystical

2.  Aberrational Christian

3.  Psycho-spiritual or Self-Improvement

4.  Eclectic Syncrystic

5.  Psychic-Occult Astral

6.  Institutionalized /Established - Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons


James D. Strauss