What Are Religious Sects and What Do They Teach?

Paul Tambrino, EdD, PhD
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Ask Augustine with Dr. Paul Tambrino


Ask Augustine is a weekly column where professor/author Dr. Paul Tambrino discusses various theological questions with wit, clarity and substance.

Question #21 – What Are Religious Sects and What Do They Teach?

 

Mainstream denominations distinguish themselves from what they refer to as sects in that sects do not accept the historic creeds and confessions of the Christian church.

Although most of the major sects hold to moral standards that are taught as the Christian ideal, they differ from historic Christianity in their attitude regarding the Trinity and the incarnation.

Christadelphians believe that the Son of God came into existence when the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus who previously existed as a potential in the will of God.

After Jesus was resurrected His humanity was transformed into a divine being. Their teachings originated with John Thomas who lived from 1805 to 1871.“Mainstream denominations distinguish themselves from what they refer to as sects in that sects do not accept the historic creeds and confessions of the Christian church.”

Christian Science holds that the Trinity is composed of God the Father-Mother, Christ the spiritual idea of sonship and the divine science or the Holy Comforter.

They believe that spirit and matter are complete opposites and cannot co-exist; hence matter, illness, and sin are errors of the mortal mind.

They believe that Jesus, more than anyone else, presents to us Christ, the true “idea” of God.

At His ascension the human, material idea (or Jesus) disappeared, while the spiritual self (or Christ) continues to exist.

Their teachings are based on “Science and Truth with Key to the Scriptures” which was written by their founder Mary Baker Eddy who lived from 1821 to 1910. Her book is held to be supremely authoritative and is read alongside the Bible.

Jehovah Witnesses teach that the Bible does not teach the full deity of Jesus Christ and by so doing adopt the Arian heresy that Christ was the first created being, hence not God.

Their headquarters prescribes the interpretations of Scripture and these interpretations stem from the teachings of Charles Taze Russell who lived from 1852 to 1916.“Jehovah Witnesses teach that the Bible does not teach the full deity of Jesus Christ and by so doing adopt the Arian heresy that Christ was the first created being, hence not God.”

Mormons or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints teach that God has a physical body and that all humans, including Jesus Christ were begotten by God “in the beginning” before being born on earth.

They also teach that just as Jesus “became” God, we too may become gods.

Their teachings originated with Joseph Smith who lived from 1804 to 1844 and who claimed to have translated the “Book of Mormon” from golden plates written in ancient Egyptian that were found in upstate New York.

He also wrote two other books that he claimed were inspired, “Doctrines and Covenants” and “Pearl of Great Price.”

Scientology teaches that Jesus is only one of several great teachers seeking the truth that Scientology reveals.

It’s teaching is a course in psychiatry intended to open up one’s mind, with God somehow tacked on. Taking the course is very expensive and L. Ron Hubbard who lived from 1911 to 1986 founded Scientology.“Scientology teaches that Jesus is only one of several great teachers seeking the truth that Scientology reveals.”

Swedenborg Society and the New Jerusalem Church was founded by the followers of a scientist, philosopher and psychic, Emanuel Swedenborg who lived from 1688 to 1772.

Swedenborg claimed to have revelations of spiritual truth that came from God. He held that there is one God with three essentials that correspond to the soul, body and action in mankind.

At the incarnation the one divine being took up the human into himself and at the cross his human became divine.

They deny vicarious atonement and justification by faith and teach that salvation comes through a life lived in love.

They interpret the Scriptures by their correspondence with inner spiritual truth and reject the biblical books of 1 & 2 Chronicles, Song of Solomon, Acts and all of the epistles because they lack what they regard as the “internal sense.”

The Unification Church or the Moonies interpret the Bible through the teachings Sun Myung Moon who was born in 1920.“Sects hold to secondary sources of divine inspiration apart from the complete, final and literal Word of God in the Bible.”

Moon founded the church on May 1, 1954 based on a series of vision that he had. Moonies hold that Jesus is a man in whom God is incarnate but is NOT God himself.

Although Jesus achieved spiritual salvation for mankind, because Jesus did not marry and have a family, he did not achieve the physical salvation in which there would be more and more perfect families throughout the world.

Therefore, one of the visions Moon had was that he was to complete the unfinished work of Jesus Christ.

None of these sects accept the historic creeds and confessions of the Christian church. They also err in their attitudes regarding the Trinity and the incarnation.

Perhaps most importantly, sects hold to secondary sources of divine inspiration apart from the complete, final and literal Word of God in the Bible.

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Image Credit

Cows in a Meadow near a Farm by Paulus Potter, 1653. The Rijksmuseum. SK-A-711.

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