Category:Ecclesiastical Structures

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Ecclesiastical Structures

Religious groups Divided into three categories: churches, sects, and cults.


Church Any linked configuration of religious institutions, usually with a professional priesthood.

Churches Large denominations characterized by their inclusive approach to life and their indentification with the prevailing culture. In the United States, the churchly denominations would include such groups as the Roman Catholic Church, the United Methodist Church, the American Baptist Church, the United Church of Christ and the Protestant Episcopal Church.


Confession Body of people sharing the same confession of faith.

Confessionalism Christian church as divided up into confessions.


Denomination Coordinated unit of people practicing the same confession of faith while remaining faithful to Christianity.


Rite There are a number of different Rites, each with its own liturgical traditions. The most common is called the Latin (or Roman) Rite. Others include: Ambrozian, Armenian, Belarussian, Braga, Byzantine, Carthusian, Chaldean, Carmalite, Coptic, Dominican, Ethiopian, Lyonnais, Maronite, Melkite, Malankarese, Mozarabic, Romanian, Ruthenian, Slovakian, Syro-Malabarese, Syrian, and Ukrainian.


Sect Group within a religion that differs from other sections or the mainstream in the practices and doctrines in certain aspects, but shares the basic beliefs of the faith. They conceive of themselves as an elect, apply rigorous standards to those seeking admission, and demand an overriding allegiance to a higher truth.

  1. Sectarian Characteristic of a sect, a religious group adhering to a distinctive doctrine.

Sect characteristics Groups that have broken away from the churchly denominations are termed "sects." They tend to follow the denominations in most patterns but are more strict in doctrine and behavioral demands placed upon members and emphasize their separation and distinctiveness from the larger culture (frequently spoken of as a "rejection of worldliness"). Typical sects have disavowed war (Quakers and Mennonites), championed controversial religious experiences (pentecostals), and demanded conformity to detailed codes of dress, personal piety, and moral conduct (the holiness churches). Sects such as the fundamentalist Christian groups have argued for a stringent orthodoxy in the face of the doctrinal latitude allowed in most larger church bodies. More extreme sect bodies have developed patterns and practices which have largely isolated them from even their closest religious neighbors--snake-handling, drinking poison, alternative sexual relationships, unusual forms of dress.


Cult Small, flexible group whose religion is characterized by its individualism, syncretism and frequently esoteric belief, less well organized than a sect. First used to describe religious movements that did not fall into German sociologist Max Weber’s classification of churches (organizations open to anyone born or baptized into them) and sects (separatist subgroups that demanded theological or moral purity as a condition of membership). In the view of most sociologists loyalty to a charismatic leader over adherence to a particular theology is one feature that distinguishes a cult from a sect. Another defining feature is the tendency of cults to encapsulate or embed at least some of their members in a way of life and set of group values that are radically at odds with the surrounding culture.

  1. Negative cult Body of proscribing rites.
  2. Positive cult Body of prescribing rites.
  3. Millenarian cult Group associated with millenarism.
  4. Nativistic cult Group which is part of a nativistic movement.
  5. Possession cult Group centered on spirit possession.
  6. Cargo cult Belief that wartime supplies where a religious gift, Pacific campaign, WW II.

Note 1 Cult is used as a pejorative label to describe certain religious groups outside of the mainstream of Western religion.

Note 2 Exactly which groups should be considered cults is a matter of disagreement amongt researchers in the cult phenomena, and considerable confusion exists. However, three definitions dominate the writings of social scientists, Christian counter-cult ministries, and secular anticultists.

Cult process Cults represent a force of religious innovation within a culture. In most cases that innovation comes about by the transplantation of a religion from a different culture by the immigration of some of its members and leaders. Thus during the twentieth century, Hinduism and Buddhism have been transplanted to America. In sociological terms, Hindu and Buddhist groups are, in America, cults. Cults may also come about through religious innovation from within the culture. The Church of Scientology ad the Synanon Church are new religious structures which emerged in American society without any direct foreign antecedents.

Cult History

Cult history When social scientists began their discussion of cults in the 1920s, they were aware of only a few cult groups, well-known groups which they could not fit into their more crucial debates about churches versus sects--theosophy, Christian Science, spiritualism, and the two large Hindu groups: the Vedanta Society and the Self-Realization Fellowship. Elmer Clark's pioneering survey of The Small Sects in America (1949) listed fourteen New Thought bodies and thirteen Esoteric bodies, showing an awareness of some twenty-seven cults (plus a few others such as the black Jews considered in the body of his text).

  1. Jan Karel Van Baalen Second definition of cult arose among Christian polemicists. In the early twentieth century several conservative Evangelical Protestant writers, concerned about the growth of different religions in America, attacked these religions for their deviation from Christian orthodox faith. Among the first of the prominent Christian writers on the subject of cults, Jan Karel Van Baalen described cults as non-Christian religions but included those groups which had their roots in Christianity while denying what he considered its essential teaching. According to VanBaalen, all religions could be divided into two groups, those which ascribe to humans the ability to acomplish their own salvation and those which ascribe that ability to God. The latter group is called Christianity. All other religion fits into the first group. In
    1. “The Chaos of Cults” Went through numerous editions from its first appearance in 1938, Van Baalen analyzed various non-Christian religions in the light of Christian teachings.
  2. Cults are heretical They set up their own beliefs in opposition to orthodox faith. As Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, two popular Evangelical writers assert, "A cult is a perversion, a distortion of Biblical Christianity, and, as such, rejects the historical teachings of the Christian Church." The Christian approach to cults would include every group which has departed from orthodox Christianity (such as the Church of Christ, Scientist, the Latter Day Saints, and the Jehovah's Witnesses) as well as those groups which have never made any claim to be Christian. Individual writers disagree over the cultic nature of such groups as the Roman Catholic Church (included and then dropped by Van Baalen), or the Unitarian-Universalist Church. Little consideration has been given to non-Trinitarian Pentecostal groups.
  3. Cults are brainwashing Third definition, the one which became the dominant force in the public debates on cults in the 1970s, developed within the secular anti-cult movement. The definition has shifted and changed thereafter. It did not develop out of any objective research on alternatie religions, rather it emerged in the intense polemics of parents who had been disturbed by changes observed in their sons and dauthters who had joined particular religious groups. These "cults"--predominantly the Children of God, the Church of Armageddon, the Unification Church, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and the Church of Scientology--had, they charged, radically altered the persoality traits of their children.
    1. Cult brainwashing theory Rutgers University Sociology professor Benjamin Zablocki saw brainwashing as an apt description of the behavior he had observed among the theoretically voluntary members of religious groups. From group to group, Zablocki’s subjects had reported undergoing rituals more reminiscent of a prison camp than of your average Sunday school: They were deprived of sleep; they were asked to write confessions; they were told their confessions were not adequate.

Cult-complex Set of associated cults.

New religious movements (NRMs) Value-neutral designation coined in the wake of disasters like Jonestown and Waco as an effort by social scientists to distance themselves from popular anticult prejudice, 1990s.

Self-realization organizations Some cults, such as Scientology, est, and Lifespring Inc., have minimal religious content and might be more accurately defined as secular therapy or self-realization organizations. Even so, Scientology won the Internal Revenue Service’s designation as a church, 1993.

Syncretism Formation of new cults by the merging of elements from different traditions, characteristically in the circumstances of political or cultural dominance and /or subjection. For example, the merging of pagan and Christian belief systems that took place largely between the 4th and 11th cents in western Europe.

Cult brainwashing theory Rutgers University Sociology professor Benjamin Zablocki saw brainwashing as an apt description of the behavior he had observed among the theoretically voluntary members of religious groups. From group to group, Zablocki’s subjects had reported undergoing rituals more reminiscent of a prison camp than of your average Sunday school: They were deprived of sleep; they were asked to write confessions; they were told their confessions were not adequate.

Labeling theory Argues there is simply nothing sinister about alternative religions, that the problem is one of prejudicial labeling on the part of a mainstream culture that sees cult members as brainwashed dupes.

Preexisting condition theory Posits that cult members are people who are mentally ill or otherwise maladjusted before they join.

Tradition, Family & Property (TFP) Founded by Plinio de Correa de Olivier, Brazilian “sister” organization of the radical right-wing “counter-revolutionary” movement Alleanza Cattolica .

  1. “Nobility & Analagous Traditional Elites” By Plinio de Correa de Olivier on the necessity of restoring traditional nobility and elites to rule the world. In the Forward, Morton Blackwell wrote: "One does not have to accept Papal infallibility to appreciate a case persuasively made, using theological, moral, and prudential arguments. This book will convince many readers, whatever their faith, that good elites are legitimate, desirable and, yes, necessary.”

Note The Secret Story of a Cult Apologist by Miguel Martinez features a picture of Paul Weyrich and Morton Blackwell with the American head of TFP.

  1. CESNUR (It, Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni) Cult apology network for cults such as Scientology.
    1. Massimo Introvigne Founder and director of CESNUR, leader of the radical right-wing “counter-revolutionary” movement called Alleanza Cattolica - the Italian "sister" of the Brazilian cult Tradition, Family and Property (TFP).
  2. CESNUR's research is carried out in such a way as to delierately promote the policies and ideological goals of this movement who is also the head of the Italian chapter of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula.
    1. CESNUR controversy CESNUR has been criticized by the Christian countercult movement and cult-watching organizations, and some former members of purported cults. Anton Hein of the Apologetics Index describes it as having “... gained a reputation for being mostly uncritical and, in fact, supportive of movements considered to be cults by secular anticult- and/or Christian countercult professionals.”

New Acropolis

New Acropolis (NA) Neo-theosophical cult, established in 1957, has about 10.000 members in around sixty countries, including Italy (2005). Jorge Angel Livraga, the founder of NA is presented as an "Argentine student who got together with other students interested in philosophy" to set up a circle of people who wanted philosophy to have an application to daily life.

  1. New Acropolis agenda NA presents itself to the public in different ways in each country (it may be anything from a "school of philosophy" to a "natural conservationist movement") and has been able to develop very successful public relations. Speakers at activities organized by NA in Italy have included journalist Paolo Guzzanti, historians Sabatino Moscati and Franco Cardini, philosopher Antimo Negri, ethnologist Vittorio Lanternari, WWF president WWF Fulco Pratesi. In 1996, NA managed to organize a conference at the University of L'Aquila in central Italy with journalist Massimo Fini, Jesuit father Giuseppe De Gennari and the professor and national leader of the Party for Communist Refoundation, Alfonso Gianni; while a round table organized by in Rome was attended by Vera Slepoj, chairperson of the Italian Federation of Psychologists, and Manuela Falcetti, journalist of the public TV network RAI.
  2. Jorge Angel Livraga (JAL) Jorge Angel Livraga Rizzi (1930-1991) born in Argentina whose ancestors came from Italy (this allowed him to get Italian citizenship in the 1980s): his father's family from Livorno Ferraris near Vercelli, his mother's from the hinterland of Liguria., founder of the International Organization New Acropolis (IONA).
    1. Argentine Theosophical Youth Militant movement within the NA founded by Jorge Angel Livraga.
  3. International Organization New Acropolis (IONA) Founded by Jorge Angel Livraga. NA started to expand into other Latin American countries in the 1970s.
    1. Operation Giordano Bruno All over the world, the Acropolitans had to mobilize to defend "the freedom of scientific research" against "every kind of religious fanaticism.” against the Catholic Church, especially Opus Dei as Livraga convinced himself that the "Polish pope" (guilty, among other things, of the population explosion due to his stand on birth control) was terrified of the advance of the "Giant of History"(NA”. This was a return to an old idée fixe of the Theosophical Society.

Note During a meeting for leaders held in Italy, during the 1980s, Livraga spoke in Spanish, while the Italian National Commanders translated. At a certain point, he mentioned how he “used to work for the Argentine secret service.” Noticing the embarrassment of his translators, he said “Tell them what I said!” With us, he claimed to have had contacts with the Argentine military, including an officer who was a high-ranking Freemason.

Verein fur Förderung Menschenkenntnis (VFM) Aggressive psychotherapy cult.


Anti-cultists Christian counter-cult ministries, and secular anti-cultists has singled out a number of groups for attention as prominent or typical examples of cults. Among these groups, some became controversial because of their divergent behavorial norms (polygamy, a leader's claim to divinity, exotic rituals, communalism). Others came into open conflict with the authorities because of violence (the black Muslims). Many groups recruited single young adults and moved them into intense religious communities against the wishes of their parents.

Characteristics of a cult Groups which hypnotized or brainwashed recruits, destroyed their ability to make rational judgments and turned them into slaves of the group's leader. While drawing upon Christian counter-cult literature in the beginning, the secular anti-cultists gradually discarded any overtly religious language as a means of designating cults in order to appeal to government authorities and avoid any seeming attack upon religious liberties. Thus, "cults" have come to be seen as groups that share a variety of generally destructive characteristics. While no one group may embody all of them, any "cult" will possess a majority. Marcia Rudin, a popular anti-cult writer, listed fourteen commonly accepted characteristics of a cult:

  1. Members swear total allegiance to an all-powerful leader who they believe to be the Messiah.
  2. Rational thought is discouraged or forbidden.
  3. Cult's recruitment techniques are often deceptive.
  4. Cult weakens the follower psychologically by making him or her depend upon the group to solve his or her problems.
  5. Cults manipulate guilt to their advantage.
  6. Cult leader makes all the career and life decision of the members.
  7. Cults exist only for their own material survival and make false promises to work to improve society.
  8. Cult members often work fulltime for the group for little or no pay.
  9. Cult members are isolated from the outside world and any reality testing it could provide.
  10. Cults are antiwoman, antichild, and antifamily.
  11. Cults are apocalyptic and believe themselves to be the remnant who will survive the soon-approaching end of the world.
  12. Many cults follow an “ends justify the means” philosophy.
  13. Cults, particularly in regard to their finances, are shrouded in secrecy.
  14. There is frequently an aura of or potential for violence around cults.

Cult Awareness Network (CAN) Anticult group, a nonprofit, national organization to assist the often desperate loved ones of people caught up in the ever-proliferating cult scene, founded in the wake of the murders and mass suicides in Guyana that claimed the lives of hundreds of the Jim Jones' followers. Starting in 1991, CAN had been forced to fend off at least 50 lawsuits filed by Scientologists in state and federal courts around the country. Forced into bankruptcy by judgments totaling $5.2 million awarded in the Scientology cases. Scientologist member bought CAN's name, logo, and hotline number in bankruptcy court for $20,000, 1996. The reformed CAN is now operated by the Foundation for Religious Freedom, a “Scientology-related” entity and promotes cults.

  1. Scientology campaign of destruction Although individual Scientologists filed the suits, many of them contained almost identical language. And there was another common denominator: Many of the lawsuits were drafted by Moxon's law firm. The plaintiffs' claims fell into one of two categories. Either they had been denied membership in one of CAN's local affiliate groups, or they had been refused admission to CAN's annual conference. “You'd have to be an imbecile not to see that it was part of an orchestrated effort,” says Dan Liepold, a Santa Ana attorney who defended CAN in three dozen of the lawsuits. His files contain scores of letters written by Scientologists to CAN, requesting to join it. In many of them, the language is virtually identical as if they were churned out using a common model. The extent of the orchestration became clear when he began to depose individual plaintiffs and discovered that some had not even applied for membership in CAN before they sued. Others did not know who was paying for their lawyers or how the lawyers had been selected. For Coates, the letter-writing campaign held no mystery. “There was nothing spontaneous about it. The letters started arriving in huge numbers, all of them saying pretty much the same thing. It didn't take a rocket scientist to see that [the church] was getting ready to come after us.” Bagley, the former Hubbard secretary, confirms as much. After being rebuffed numerous times by Kisser in an effort to discuss with her “the lies [the old] CAN was fomenting” about Scientology, he says, he informed Kisser in a phone call that he wanted to join CAN “in order to reform [her] organization from within.”

Destructive cults

Destructive cults US Anti-cultists suggest that, as of early 1980, 3,000 to 5,000 destructive cults operate in the US. However, no evidence of the existence of such a large number of religious groups, either cultic or otherwise, has been produced. Anti-cult literature reflects a great concern with approximately 15 groups, though as many as 75 to 100 have received passing mention. Only five groups--the Unification Church, the Children of God, the Church of Scientology, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and The Way International--have received consistent coverage over the years of the anti-cult movement's existence.

Religious group's self-destruction Tragedies involving religious groups:

  1. Branch Davidians
  2. Heaven's Gate
  3. Jonestown
  4. Solar Temple


Fundamentalism Movement within any religion towards the fundamental doctrine out of which the religion has grown, and a refusal to depart from it in order to accommodate extraneous social or moral requirements.

Fundamental religious vision Driving force of any fundamentalist movement which denies any element of developing faith which changes as history unfolds in different ways in different social climates.

  1. Perfect moment Fundamentalism holds that there is a moment in history when a particular book, leader or original social community was perfect.
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