(note: There is increasing confusion between the definition of a sect and a cult. In traditional terms a cult means a quasi-religious organisation which is not part of mainstream religion. However, most people now confuse the two and for the purpose of this article most characteristics of a sect are also true of cults.)
1. A sect views itself as the “true church” and excludes other denominations and churches from being part of the authentic church of Christ. In other words, it is exclusivist in its teaching. The outworking of this is the insistence that converts leave their churches and join them. All other churches are declared to be dishonest, deceitful, and deluded. There are milder varieties of this heresy including the teaching that the church must be without a name and should be the “local” church for all believers in that area.
2. A sect has an errant view of the Trinity in most cases. The classical Church doctrine of “God in Three Persons” is usually modified in some way. Most sects do not consider Jesus as being equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit. Such a group would reject the Apostolic Creed.
3. A sect has a “Jesus plus something else” underlying theology. Whether it is keeping the Sabbath, dress code, or some special ritual, a sect has left the “Christ only” way and has fallen into heretical teaching.
4. A sect usually places inordinate faith and trust in the leader. A “guru” type personality (who is usually given a very dignified title) is sometimes given semi-divine status by the devotees. This results in the belief that everything he or she says or does must be infallible.
5. Sects often claim the Bible as authoritative, yet they always give equal or greater authority to other writings or another person’s revelations.
6. A sect denies salvation as being dependent on grace alone. They reject the foundation of the Christian Gospel – the atonement – that Christ paid the full price for the sin of the human race and that man cannot contribute anything to his salvation.
7. Sects are extremely dogmatic in their eschatological views (end time beliefs) and often include their own group as the fulfillment of the prophecies concerning the end times.
8. A sect often urges members to leave their families by abusing verses such as “unless you hate father, mother, brother sister…”. Some sects insist that their adherents break all ties with family members and friends.
9. A sect usually claims the financial assets of a member for their group. Some sect leaders demand the signing over of all assets to the leader or the group. Handing over of money, homes and property is considered to be obedience to the command “go and sell all”. Mental manipulation, mostly through guilt control, is used to gain financial advantage from members.
10. Sects make all major life and career decisions for its members. There is no freedom for followers to seek God for themselves.
(author: KwaSizabantu Mission)