Use of the Word 'Cult' on This Site

The 'cult' word is inflammatory. NXIVM and Keith Raniere, Waco, Heaven's Gate come to mind...weird extreme fanaticism, mass suicides. To some, Mormonism is a blatant cult; to others its just a different version of Christanity.

We'd like to be clear how we use 'cult' and 'cultic' on this website. We are not implying that the Kool-Aid is on the way. Nor are we using it in the sense the Christian community often does, to mean that a group holds outspoken unorthodox doctrine.1 Many cultic Bible-based groups appear to hold quite orthodox doctrine, and are accepted by the wider Christian community as one of themselves.

Rather, we use the term in the sociological sense,2 to refer to groups that have a specific set of characteristics: they have an authoritarian and/or charismatic leader, they have a belief system that gives the answer to everything, they have controlling rules and regulations, they have systems of influence that prey on emotions to motivate, and they are exploitative.

Prospective members are not completely informed about the group's agenda before they join. Once they have become part of the group, they learn that they can't leave without incurring dire consequences. On this site we are particularly concerned with a Bible-based group that functioned in this manner.

For a fuller discussion of this concept, see Definition of an Abusive Group. The first seven minutes of the podcast, 'What Is a Cult?' is a great explanation of cults.

In the months after the implosion of the Assembly there was a lively thread on the AssemblyBoard about whether the Assembly was a cult.

1 "Defined theologically, a cult is a group of people, which claiming to be Christian, embraces a particular doctrinal system...which denies (either explicitly or implicitly) one or more of the central doctrines of the Christian faith..." Alan Gomes, Unmasking the Cults, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995, p. 7.

2 "Sociological definitions of the term...include consideration of such factors as authoritarian leadership patterns, loyalty and commitment mechanisms, lifestyle characteristics, [and] conformity patterns (including the use of various sanctions in connection with those members who deviate)." Ronald Enroth, ed., A Guide to Cults and New Religions, Downers Grove, Il., InterVarsity Press, 1983, p. 14.

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