Recently there has been quite a discussion about what religion is and isn’t. How does one differentiate between faith and cult? When we have a culture that talks about inclusiveness do we ever exclude something? We have many religious groups in America, so how do we decide?
At any one time in history a religion that deviated significantly from others was defined as a cult. The Mormons,Jehovahs WitnessesChristian Scientists and Seventh Day Adventists were labeled cults in the early to middle 20th century. Some still describe these religious groups as unique enough to be cults. On the other hand, in most places in the United States, these groups now associate with other Christian groups and have become increasingly accepted as simply different sects of Christianity. One group often questioned is Scientology that many call a cult.
Still further back in history such groups now considered main stream such as Quakers and Baptists, who broke off from the Church of England about the same time, were considered cultists by the traditional churches of the time. Also some folks label a church as a cult simply because it differs in some degree from one’s own belief. Even the Catholic Church has been identified as a cult because certain Protestant groups find its tenets unusual. Because the term cult has been so loosely used, and has differed in meaning from one historical period to another, it is difficult to find an acceptable definition for cults. Besides in a culture of indifference where there are numerous divisions, and in a greater society where anything goes, folks are unlikely to pay much attention to unusual church practices.
In the town of Natchitoches there are many religious groups, mostly Christian, and more groups moving into town all the time. There is a tendency to form a new church when there is disagreement among some members, when a minister’s tenure ends or when one of them is having a problem getting a congregation responsive to his or her message.
Even within the same denomination there are divisions. For example, presently there are 43 Baptist Churches in Natchitoches and the surrounding area within a radius of 15 miles. That is a large number for a relatively small, mostly rural population. And that is just one Christian group. This may be a symbol of a great deal of spiritual involvement or it could indicate serious divisions. Nevertheless, for the most part, the majority of the denominations are accepted into the brotherhood of common Christianity with little differentiation made and general tolerance applied.
Examine carefully the beliefs and practices of religious groups; and if they emphasize money, are secretive, focus on personality rather than message, this may cause concern. Ask questions and get information from research and a number of services if there are questions, because it is easier to walk away before joining a cult then be in the middle and end up in trouble. Check to see if the ideas presented are appropriate and consistent with your life and beliefs before making a commitment.