Sects, and Religions, and Cults! Oh My!

Over at Real Clear Religion author Douglas Wilson wrote about distinguishing between sects, cults and religions. He began,

“Classification is always a dicey business, and especially if it is classification that brings with it some sort of implicit praise or blame. And if that praise and blame is connected in any significant way to eternity and the afterlife, then the task of classification is like that red wire/green wire moment in the movies. One false move, and it is farewell to your eyebrows.”

Dorothy_Oh_MyConsidering the importance of careful discernment in these classifications, Mr. Wilson made these broad distinctions:

“Within Christendom, a sect would be a group that is basically orthodox, but they usually keep to themselves, fearing the spread of ecumenical cooties. They tend toward rigorism, like the early Donatists, but other than having their sandals strapped on too tight, they are generally orthodox at the center. A cult is a group that is isolated and small, keeping to themselves just like a sect does, but with radically heretical notions at the center.”

Time, he said, can result in the change of one thing into another. That is, something that starts out as a sect might morph into a cult (e.g., People’s Temple). Something that starts out as a cult might grow into a religion (e.g., Mormonism). Mr. Wilson wrote,

“I would want to regard Mormonism as a particular religion, not a cult, simply on the basis of age and size. It is a religion that hived off from orthodox Christianity, but of course, that is also what Islam did — Christian heresies can veer off into cul de sac cults, or they can grow big and become regular religions, like Islam, Marxism, and American Idol.”

Becoming recognized as a religion rather than a cult “does call forth more respect,” Mr. Wilson wrote, but it also has a down side. He noted,

“Now a religion can be every bit as wrong about the world as a cult is, and being widely accepted just puts it in a position to do a lot more damage, and doing a lot more damage is not an upgrade.”

This reminds me of an exchange I once heard about between a mom and her rebellious teen-aged daughter. The daughter, having found herself in some trouble in the past, wanted to do several other things that her mother deemed unwise (and perhaps dangerous). When the mom would not grant permission, the daughter yelled, “Just wait until I’m 18! I can do anything I want once I turn 18!” The mom replied, “All 18 gets you is the right to be tried as an adult.”

It’s same idea with Mormonism. Being “upgraded” to a religion just gets Mormonism the “right” to be scrutinized (and criticized) by a wider audience. That is, it has a greater accountability before men — and God. Being in a position to do “a lot more damage” should be sobering to Mormon leaders as they call people to follow a “different Jesus Christ.”

Defining the differences between sects, cults and religions may seem to some like nothing more than the billowing smoke and frantic hand-waving Dorothy encountered in Oz. Nevertheless, the labels we use do prove helpful as we try to sort through the truth claims promoted in the world in which we live.  Yet in the end, the classification that really matters is whether we are numbered among the sheep or the goats (Matthew 25:32). “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks (Matthew 16:15). The answer to His question makes all the difference in the world to come.

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
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62 Responses to Sects, and Religions, and Cults! Oh My!

  1. grindael says:

    The critics here are truly standing on the weakest of ground and I think they instinctively know it. That is a major factor in their desire to strike out at and criticize the faith of others. Despite the pseudo-intellectual packaging of their arguments, they are truly followers of others and relying upon the arm of flesh.

    This argument is senseless and a product of 21st century politically correct thinking, but has nothing to do with what the Bible teaches us. Did Jesus apostles “strike out” and criticize the faith of others? You bet. Here is Paul to Timothy,

    All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

    What is rebuking? It comes from the Greek word epitimao which means: to tax with fault, rate, chide, rebuke, reprove, censure severely to admonish or charge sharply. That means criticize.

    Mormons act like none of this is in the New Testament. They act like it is wrong to rebuke or find fault with the doctrine of those who claim to worship Christ in Spirit and Truth, and seek to proselyte Christians into their “faith”. If they were Christians, what need for that? Here is Jude:

    “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” —Jude 3,4

    Oh my! Ungodly men who have crept into the fold! Condemnation! Oh my. How about the Nicolaitans, whose practices Jesus said he HATED and that we should also hate:

    “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:

    These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. 5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (Revelation 2:1-7)

    How do we “test” false apostles? By the very thing we do here. Joseph Smith was a false apostle. My list above confirms this. Parley P. Pratt also failed the test. He also was a false prophet and apostle. FOF further argument here, is another straw man made in desperation to keep others from doing what God said we should do, TEST those that claim to be apostles of God. Funny, the only ones I ever see quoting atheist arguments are MORMONS.

  2. MJP says:


    Claiming the critics are weak is both lazy and weak in and of itself. All it seeks to do is disarm the critics and distract from the real issues. If you find our critiques weak, then there should be an easy response. I haven’t seen one yet. And you saying the responses are fine and that we simply don’t accept your response is not a strong response. If you have evidence, produce it. If you have a good argument, make it.

  3. Rick B says:

    FoF, and silfworm
    Do you lie on purpose or are you really ignorant of what Your prophets taught and said?

    Remember, it was your prophet JS who said, A man cannot be saved in ignorance. So either way you have a problem, If your lying, then Jesus said your of your father, if your Ignorant then according to your prophet, your not saved.

    Remember It was your prophet that said, what I believe was supposedly told by the God I serve that it is wrong in His sight. It that was true, You mean I must sit by according to you and take that? But I cannot say anything back?

    Remember also your prophet said

    Read pg 188 of Doct of Salvation vol 1.
    I quote Joseph F Smith. “CHURCH STANDS OR FALLS WITH JOSEPH SMITH. MORMONISM, as it is called, must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. Their is no middle ground. If Joseph Smith was a deceiver, who willfully attempted to mislead the people, then he should be exposed: his claims should be refuted, and his doctrines shown to be false”.

    If you prophet said this, and I do it, then why do you guys get mad at us? Talk to your Prophet about it.

    Did you miss this also?

    Orsan Pratt the seer pg 15. “we ask from you the same generosity–protect us in the exercise of our religious rights–CONVINCE US of our errors of doctrine, if we have any, by reason, by logical arguments, or by the word of god, and we will be ever grateful for the information, and you will ever have the pleasing reflection that you have been instruments in the hands of God redeeming your fellow beings from the darkness which you may see enveloping their minds”.

    and this D and C 71:5-11 98:14,23-26 it says meet your enemy in public. If I am your enemy which I don’t feel I am but if I am it says meet me in public to talk about this stuff. Jesus said love your enemy. D and C 66:7 68:1,9 go into the church’s public or private to discuss this stuff. D and C 6:9-11 say convince us of our error if we have any. why do I get accused of being hateful for doing what the scriptures teach. now let me add this, would you agree it is good to listen to the Mormon prophets? if so, then I am.

    So again, why do you guys get mad at us when we are doing what your prophets, leaders and scripture teach?

  4. faithoffathers says:


    It isn’t political correctness. It is identifying those who spend their lives arm-chair quarterbacking instead of doing something useful with their lives. I have no problem with correction or calls to repentence. Spending one’s life on the internet criticizing the faith of other people and trying to undermine their religion is pathetic. That is my point.

    There are two general types of people in the world- those who create good things to the benefit of other people and those who ride on the coat-tails of the first group, very often leveling criticism at those who provide for them. And the people who spend their time whining about other religions clearly fit into the latter group. It is simply a matter of human nature. But those in the second group have a very difficult time understanding or recognizing this principle. So I don’t expect you to get it.

    I am not trying to prevent the critics from doing anything. I am honestly calling it like I see it. Each person must choose for themselves how he or she will spend the time life alots. But all of us will answer for our choices and how we spend our time. I pitty those who will answer for spitting their lives to the wind, barking and criticizing those who are trying to live their faith.

    You do yourself no favor in perceiving yourself as following in the New Testament tradition and teaching. Any single principle, if built up and given undue emphasis, can destroy all other principles. The critics pick one New Testament principle which they incorrectly apply to justify the bulk of their religious energy condemning others. And it screams of insecurity and doubt.

  5. falcon says:

    FOF wrote:

    ‘You do yourself no favor in perceiving yourself as following in the New Testament tradition and teaching. Any single principle, if built up and given undue emphasis, can destroy all other principles. The critics pick one New Testament principle which they incorrectly apply to justify the bulk of their religious energy condemning others. And it screams of insecurity and doubt.”

    What kind of bizarre mumbo jumbo is that. It’s total irrational nonsense. That’s you’re blow off of NT Christianity? It’s sounds like the stuff I heard in the 60s from people who were burned out on LSD and weed.
    I bet you’re really impressed with your “ability” to wax poetic and philosophical without saying anything. And it’s all so DEEP!
    It’s typical of cult thinking which is the topic at hand here and which you demonstrate.

    Remember a principle set free on the wings of the wind of truth and oracles of the clouds, will emit lightening flashes of vibrant beauty. Capture this principle of the lightening flash and truth will emerge in untold splendor.
    Prune the rose bush at the right time in the warmth of the spring sun and it will flower in the summer of your life.

  6. jaxi says:

    FoF said, “There are two general types of people in the world- those who create good things to the benefit of other people and those who ride on the coat-tails of the first group, very often leveling criticism at those who provide for them. And the people who spend their time whining about other religions clearly fit into the latter group.”

    While FoF sees this site as people whining and wasting their lives, I am thankful for all those on this site. The LDS faith was culturally and socially fulfilling but spiritually I was dead inside and didn’t even know it. I was obedient and working constantly at my LDS faith to figure out why I could find no peace in my faith. The reason is because it wasn’t true. The people on this site aren’t whining for the sake of whining about something that is different from them. They are here because they believe there is an ultimate truth, a truth about God, and that that truth is freeing and a wonderful blessing to those that find it. This site it to share the “good news” to Mormons. The “good news” of Christ that has changed my life.

    FoF’s comments are severely lacking in quality. Instead of promoting his LDS faith as true, he has resorted to calling into question the motives of those that leave the Church and the motives of those that criticize Mormonism. Whenever I speak to someone LDS I try to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are sincere about what they are saying and doing. It would be nice is FoF could do the same and simply discuss the qualities of the LDS faith instead if trying to disgrace “the critics” and “ex-LDS.”

  7. Mike R says:

    Fof F, I’m shaking my head after reading your comment to Grindael . Truly you are frustrated
    with your inability to make a case why Mormonism is the power of God unto salvation(Rom1:16).
    You spend a lot of time here (internet) , why? You’re also a critic , and now you appear to be
    whining also . Look at how you just described Grindael ( and by extention some of the others
    here ) .So why are YOU still spending so much time here ???? There was a time many years
    ago when I was ” trying to live my life “. Then I became aware of how Mormon leaders were
    describing some of my beliefs and my church —-I belonged to the church of the Devil !
    Now these alleged modern day apostles of Jesus were spending their time publishing attacks
    on my beliefs and sending thousands of young men all over the world to inform people that
    their church was false ( as well as other attacks). This activity has only increased since then .
    Bottom line here : much of what you have said about this ministry and about some of those here
    appears to be a example of the pot calling the kettle black .

  8. grindael says:

    The critics pick one New Testament principle which they incorrectly apply to justify the bulk of their religious energy condemning others. And it screams of insecurity and doubt.

    Only to people like you. I have has scores of Mormons thank me for what I do. Did Jesus, Paul, Peter and a host of others do the same? Nope. I don’t either. You are way off base on this one. The problem is, you don’t have a clue. You WANT this to be about insecurity and doubt, but it’s not. Live your faith. Who’s stopping you? See, that is the whole point. YOU CAME HERE. You can just ignore us if you choose. That makes your argument non sequitur.

  9. MJP says:

    Well, we now know what an arrogant and elitist fellow faithoffathers is. Us little people live off people like him. Yup, we’re just little people who sit around looking for things to criticize that we really don’t understand. In our laziness we must find something to tear down.

    My goodness, fof, are you seriously going to make such assumptions about all of us? It’s utterly ridiculous what you have written.

    If you have solid arguments, make them. Don’t accuse people of being lazy and riding the coat tails of the “producers” when they do not accept your arguments.

    There are significant issues being discussed here. What you call laziness is a calling for people: sharing the true Gospel with Mormons. Christians are called for many and vastly different purposes. Ministering to those who do not believe in the Gospel is certainly a worthy calling, don’t you think? Actually, isn’t that why your young men and women go on missions?

  10. falcon says:

    After years of doing things I can tell when a Mormon is out of bullets. FOF is out of bullets. If he had any thing of value to offer he would do so. Generally about this time the Mormon will give his testimony or claim he and his religion are being persecuted or start attacking the Christian posters.
    I think the question that was asked of him is right on the money. That is, what is he doing here? He certainly not effective in defending Mormonism.

    I’m going to pray specifically for FOF tonight that the cloud of confusion be lifted from him and that he will come to an understanding of what God is offering him in Christ Jesus Our Lord.
    FOF I see you with tattered clothes and unshaven face surrounded by sand, like a desert. You are dry and thirsty and you see an oasis but it’s only a mirage. You can’t move and the sun is beating down on you. You have your arms out stretched.
    Jesus is the Living Water. If you drink of Him, you’ll never be thirsty again.

  11. falcon says:

    So we have FOF standing in this desert in tattered clothes, unshaven, no shoes, with his arms out from his side, the sun beating down, and the clincher? He’s not moving. In fact he can’t moved. He’s literally stuck where he is. He has no hope! What a miserable condition to be in.
    God showed me that there’s nothing FOF can do to save himself from this wretched awful condition in which he finds himself. He can’t even shuffle his feet a little bit to try and move and find shelter from the beating sun and water for his parched throat.
    In order for FOF to be saved from his miserable condition, Jesus has to go and rescue him. There’s no way FOF can rescue himself. Without the love, mercy, kindness and benevolence of our Lord reaching out to him, FOF has no hope.
    There’s a scene in the movie Ben Hur where the Romans are dragging a bunch of prisoners across the Judean Desert and the prisoners are badly in need of water. They stop at this small village with a well and the prisoners are given water and it’s a frantic scene. When the villager comes to Ben Hur the Roman soldier says, “Not him!” Ben Hur collapses on the ground delirious half crying half laughing.
    The village is where Jesus lives, but he hadn’t begun His public ministry yet. Our Lord goes over with water, delivers it to Ben Hur’s mouth and at the same time pours some on his head with his hands. He saves Ben Hur. The Roman soldier tried to stop Jesus but Jesus just looks at the soldier. Game over. The soldier backs off.
    This is the way salvation works. We can’t earn it and we certainly don’t deserve it. It’s a free gift offered to us by God. In reality, we don’t even seek Him on our own. He causes us to seek Him through spiritual hunger and thirst.
    Who can say that they can do anything to earn their salvation? Who can add anything to what God has done for us in Christ Jesus Our Lord?
    Will FOF drink of this Living Water or will he continue to depend on a religious system that requires that he do something to save himself?

  12. shematwater says:

    I only have a few minutes, but let me say a few things.

    First, speaking of breaking off friendships because of religion.
    In my personal eperience I have found it much more common for other Christians to shun a person is Mormon. I have never had many friends, and I have found that many people, from the time they learn that I am Mormon, stop seeking an aquaitance with me. I also know many people who come to love the church and are baptized, only to be disowned by their family and abandoned by friends because they were now Mormon.
    Just the other month I was talking to one such man. I was in need of money and was talking about scrapping metal. He said his father had an old engine that I might be able to have, and at first his father seemed willing to let me have it. Then he asked if I was a Mormon, and as soon as he was told that I was the offer was instantly withdrawn.
    My brother, while serving a mission in Nicaragua, was walking down the street when a baptist preacher told his congregation to “Stone the servants of the devil,” and the people literally started throwing rocks the elders.

    Of course this is not just from Christians. I had a good friend who was an athiest who literally cut off all connections with me and my family when I made it clear that I rejected evolution.

    In all the chatacteristics listed and debated here, there is not one of them that cannot be used to describe most any religious organization.


    Just to give you a direct answer to your question; no a conversation with a non-member can have no effect on anything and is not asked about in the Temple interview. What is asked is if the person is directly involved with any group or is supporting any groups whose practices or beliefs are in direct oppostion to the doctrine of the church. A conversation, or even the attendence at other churchs can have no effect on a person in the church. Now, if that person wanted to become a member of the clergy of another religion, or be a direct participant in official ceremonies or rituals, that might. But that is like trying to claim membership in both churches at the same time, and dual-membership is not possible.

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