Why So Many New Sects?
TEN main religions, but 10,000 sects! That is the latest estimated number of religious groups into which humanity is divided. Of these, some 6,000 reportedly exist in Africa, 1,200 in the United States, 421 in Japan and 247 in France.
Some of these sects are long-established religious groups and consider themselves to be full-fledged churches. Certain old religions are divided up into sects that are subdivided into subsects. In Japan the Shinto religion is comprised of 153 sects and subsects, and Buddhism is divided into 171 sects and subsects. Interestingly, many Japanese belong to more than one sect.
In South Africa, the Department of Statistics has over 4,000 religious groups on record, some 500 among the whites and the rest among the blacks. Some of these segregated sects claim to be Christian.
Church or Sect?
The word “church” does not have the same connotation in all countries. In predominantly Catholic lands “the Church” means the Roman Catholic Church. In France, for instance, the word Eglise (Church) is not often accompanied by the adjective catholique and hardly ever by romaine. To a French person the word Eglise (with a capital E) can mean only one thing: the Roman Catholic Church. Similarly, in countries where one of the Eastern Orthodox Churches is predominant, the word “church” means the Orthodox Church.
In predominantly Protestant lands, however, it is generally necessary to stipulate the church to which one belongs. Even in these countries, generally a person cannot say he belongs to a church unless he is a member of one of the larger, long-established Protestant religions. Otherwise, he is viewed as belonging to some sect. True, in the United States even small offshoot religions are often honored with the name church. But in most other countries they would have to content themselves with being called a sect.
What Is a Sect?
A sect has been defined as “a comparatively small recently organized exclusive religious body; esp[ecially]: one that has parted company with a longer-established communion.” According to another definition, a sect is “a dissenting religious body; esp[ecially]: one that is heretical in the eyes of other members within the same communion.”
Some claim that the word “sect” is derived from the Latin verb secare (to cut) and define a sect as a group that has broken away from an established church. Others trace the word “sect” back to the Latin verb sequi (to follow) and thus apply it to a group that follows a particular human leader or teacher.
Church Scorn for Sects
Whether a sect is a splinter group that has broken away from a larger denomination or a group of disciples following some man or woman, one thing is certain: the long-established churches look down on the sects. Explaining this scorn, the French Grande Encyclopédie states that the word “sect” and its usage “are filled with strong feelings and even vehemence,” and adds: “Generally, the community from which the little group separated claims authenticity and considers that it alone possesses the fullness of doctrine and means of grace, speaking of the sectarians with a certain disdainful pity. This condescending attitude is often accompanied with a fair amount of aggressiveness, the more so because the sect is a cruel reminder of all that the church used to be, but no longer is—a warm, lively, dynamic, conquering brotherhood.”
Why So Many New Sects?
The sects that are getting the widest media coverage these days—often because of their financial activities and indoctrination methods—have all sprung up within the past 20 or 30 years. This raises questions as to why our times have seen the proliferation of such religious groups. In its 1981 Supplément, the above-quoted French encyclopedia states: “Why are such sects so successful? Firstly, the climate of crisis now prevailing within Western civilization (the challenging of all institutions, such as the family, schools, the army, the churches, etc.) provides a suitable breeding ground. . . . In conclusion, sects are above all a sign of the times, symptomatic of the uneasiness of young people who are thirsting after something different from our flashy ‘consumer society.’”
In a similar vein R. Quebedeaux, a specialist on sects, writes: “The permissive society has created a strong hunger for strictness and discipline and authority. They [young people] are bored with materialistic society and out of this has come a search for new meaning in life.”
Both these explanations show, at least tacitly, that the long-established religions have failed to satisfy the millions of people, young and old, who have turned to such new sects. The blossoming of new sects during the past few decades is further evidence of the “anguish of nations” foretold by Jesus Christ as part of “the sign” indicating that this system of things is ending and “the kingdom of God is near.”—Matthew 24:3; Luke 21:10, 11, 25-31.
However, these new sects that are recruiting so many members do not teach that God’s Kingdom is mankind’s only hope. Rather, what they teach resembles more a philosophy of life, often based on an Oriental religion or on the teachings of some guru (spiritual guide). Each such guru who has a sizable following creates a new sect. This is not surprising for Eastern religions, where the guru principle is currently accepted.
However, it is surprising that of the some 10,000 churches and sects said to exist throughout the world, many hundreds, if not thousands, claim to be Christian. Why is this so surprising? Because the members of many of these sects follow some human leader, whereas Jesus Christ stated: “Your Leader is one, the Christ.” (Matthew 23:10) Surprising, too, is the fact that so-called Christians should be divided up into so many churches, denominations and sects, whereas Christ prayed to his Father concerning his followers that “they may all be one.”—John 17:20, 21.
Why, then, are there so many churches and sects claiming to be Christian? And how did this religious confusion come about?