This is one of those unfortunate English words that has acquired a confused meaning because of popular misuse. Even various dictionaries present quite different definitions.
It is not uncommon for fanatics to use this word as a derogatory reference to non-orthodox followers of another denomination of one's faith. Thus we have the specter of Protestants referring to Catholicism as a sect, and visa-versa. This is to say nothing of the Protestants who are pointing to each other as sect followers. Everyone thinks of their own denomination as orthodox, and all others as deviant sects.
There is a more objective usage which clearly identifies certain recognizable characteristics of destructive cults - traits such as:
There is yet another meaning for the word "cult." This defines a group of people who are devotees of a certain personality. Such a personality may or may not be alive. If alive, the personality who is the focus of such cult following may or may not welcome the adulation of their cult followers. Indeed, cult figures may be quite imaginary - such as those admired by the cult followers of comic book and movie show characters.
It is in this later sense that the word is used in this site. In particular, the word is used in the sense of devotees who follow inventions that borrow prestige from the figurehead but who do not actually follow the teachings and principles of their cult figure.
The writer does not consider Roman Catholicism, Orthodox Catholicism, or Protestantism as Christian "sects" (in the common usage), but as denominations of Christianity. However, the tidy segregation of Christianity into three major denominations is totally unrealistic, as each denomination is quite divided - especially Protestantism. As of 1985 there were (according to the World Christian Encyclopedia) about 22,190 distinct denominations. Obviously, only one church could be totally true - the rest suffering from some (or many) man-made inventions.
If Jesus had returned in 1985, which of these 22,190 churches would He have chosen to attend? Let's give Jesus some credit for fairness and say He'd spend a full day of His work week investigating the distinct beliefs and practices of each church -- it would still take Him over 85 years to make His determination of the (then) existing denominations. However, at the current rate of 270 new denominations being created each year, He would never be able to reach a conclusion. And if Jesus Himself could not figure out which church is really following Him, how are we to?
It may be that God is trying to tell something to the Christians.
Author - John Roncalio. © 2003, John Roncalio.
The views expressed herein are those of the author who is solely responsible for their contents.