Christianity, Cults and Religion

by Robert Allen
Historically, Christians have taken different approaches to cults and other religions.

Historically, Christians have taken different approaches to cults and other religions.

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Throughout the history of the Christian Church, its relationship with other religious groups has ranged from happy cooperation to toleration to armed opposition. Some groups have been condemned as cults, while others have been rejected as false religions. Even some Christian groups view other Christian groups as cult-like, or even declare them to be an entirely different religion.

Heresy

The early history of the Christian Church saw the slow development and articulation of Christian beliefs. While Christians believe the ideas behind the Trinity are contained in the Bible, for example, the doctrine itself wasn't fully explained and accepted by the Church until the Council of Nicaea and beyond. Along the way, many splinter groups rose up, only to be condemned by the Church. Examples include the Montanists, who believed they held special prophetic knowledge; the Donatists, who believed a priest must be pure for the sacraments to be effective; the Gnostics, who taught matter was evil and only secret knowledge could save a person; and the Docetists, who believed that Christ didn't have a real physical body but was only spiritual. Each of these heresies eventually ended in the face of opposition.

Schism

Christianity has a long history of being a splintered religion. The Great Schism separated the Roman Catholic Church from the Eastern Orthodox Church in 1054. In the early 1500s, Martin Luther led the Protestants in a revolt against Rome. Since then, hundreds of Protestant denominations have sprung up, too. Relationships between each of these groups typically began with one group excommunicating the other. In the modern age, however, there has been tremendous dialogue between most of the larger groups, with interfaith and ecumenical discussions taking place between Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant groups.

Cults

Christians have often labeled other groups as "cults." In some cases, these definitions agree with sociological definitions of a cult. Cults tend to be closed groups with a single charismatic leader. They often have a strong apocalyptic belief and a deep sense of persecution. Rather than establishing a dialogue, Christianity tends to reject cults outright, suggesting instead that members need to be rescued. Some Christians with Evangelical or fundamentalist backgrounds even consider Catholicism a cult rather than a true religion.

Other Religions

Other world religions have often been at odds with Christianity. During the Inquisition, Christians persecuted Jews, while during the Crusades, Christians went to war with both Muslims and Jews. In modern times, however, Christian churches tend to take a less aggressive approach. The Catholic Church even has a Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue to facilitate discussions and understanding between religions. Some Christians are interested in discovering religious truth wherever it can be found. Even so, many Christian groups have as part of their mission a desire to see the conversion of others to Christianity.

About the Author

Robert Allen has been a full-time writer for more than a decade. He previously worked in information technology as a network engineer. Allen earned a bachelor's degree in history and religion/philosophy from Indiana Wesleyan University, a master's degree in humanities from Central Michigan University and completed his graduate studies at Christian Theological Seminary.

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