Definition of "Religion" and "Cult"
The following is from http://www.deceptioninthechurch.com/terms.html
Words Have Meanings!
by Sandy Simpson
The Deception In The Church web site uses the following definitions in order to identify Christians, other religions, cults of Christianity or aberrant Christian teachings.
Definition of "Religion"
A "religion" is any system of belief that adheres to its own specific set of doctrines and practices and claims to be unique, unlike any other religion. A "religion" typically does not want to be associated by name with other religions, ie. Islam does not want people calling them Christian.
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines the word "religion" as follows:
Main Entry: re.li.gion
Etymology: Middle English religioun, from Latin religion-, religio supernatural constraint, sanction, religious practice, perhaps from religare to restrain, tie back -- more at RELY
Date: 13th century
1 a : the state of a religious b (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
2 : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
3 archaic : scrupulous conformity : CONSCIENTIOUSNESS
4 : a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith - re.li.gion.less adjective
The aspect of the word "religion" that we are dealing with here is, in particular, "a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices". If the religious systems differ from one another and there is no desire or attempt to combine differing systems together, then those systems can rightly be called different "religions" in the English language.
Definition of "Cult"
Any system of belief that desires to call itself by the name of a religion, but by its own beliefs taught and promoted either explicitly or implicitly goes against the core beliefs of that religion whose name they desire to associate with, is rightly termed a "cult" of that religion. For instance, a cult of Christianity would be:
A cult of Islam could be defined in much the same way, replacing the Bible with the Koran in the above definition and adding any additional authoritative sources upon which Muslims base their belief system. A cult of Islam would then be defined as any group that wants to be called Islamic but does not adhere to one or more of the core doctrines of Islam.
A group of people, which claiming to be Christian, embraces a particular doctrine system taught by an individual leader, group of leaders, or organization, which system denies either explicitly or implicitly one or more of the central doctrines of the Christian Faith as taught in the sixty-six books of the Bible." (Alan Gomes, Unmasking The Cults, Zondervan, 1995)
The word "cult" is not a derrogatory term but a defining attributive term. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines the word "cult" as follows:
Main Entry: cult
Etymology: French & Latin; French culte, from Latin cultus care, adoration, from colere to cultivate -- more at WHEEL
Usage: often attributive
1 : formal religious veneration : WORSHIP
2 : a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also : its body of adherents
3 : a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also : its body of adherents
4 : a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator
5 a : great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book); especially : such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad b : a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion
Those who would characterize the use of the word "cult" as a "hate crime" obviously are not overly familiar with the English language. The usage of the word is "often attributive" meaning it is used to assign an attribute to a group or individual. The part of the dictionary definition that most applies to our usage of the term is "a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious". As defined above, any group that would call itself by the name of second group must be in line with that second group's teachings, or else they are not truly a part of that group, thus they are to be considered a cult of that group. A cult in this case is defined by unorthodoxy with regards to either group, when those groups are attempting to use the same defining terms such as "Christian".
Definition of "Aberrant"
Within a particular system of belief there are core doctrines and there are secondary doctrines upon which those in the belief system may disagree but still be considered part of that religion and not a cult of that religion. For instance, in Christianity, the core doctrines are defined as follows:
The Trinity: God is one "What" and three "Whos" with each "Who" possessing all the attributes of Deity and personality.
The Person of Jesus Christ: Jesus is 100% God and 100% man for all eternity.
The Second Coming: Jesus Christ is coming bodily to earth to rule and judge.
Salvation: It is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
The Scripture: It is entirely inerrant and sufficient for all Christian life. ("The Fundamentals" edited by R.A. Torrey with contributors such as H.A. Ironside and C.I. Scofield, 1909 - see "The Five Basic Doctrines")
Those who disagree with the core doctrines of Christianity in their teaching and/or actions are, by definition, a cult of historic biblical Christianity. The word "cult", again, is not a way to slander other people, but a definition of their belief system based on what other belief system they wish to associate with by name.
An aberrant doctrine is a teaching that is different than anything other than the core doctrines of Christianity, and which is based on a non orthodox interpretation of Scripture. Care must be taken in the case of aberrant teachings or actions to (1) deliniate between legitimate interpretations of Scripture and those that are not and (2) assess if and when the aberrant teaching becomes an affront to a core doctrine of Christianity. This is what apologetics is all about, which is a good and healthy exercise in any religious system.
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines the word "aberrant" as follows:
Main Entry: ab.er.rant
Etymology: Latin aberrant-, aberrans, present participle of aberrare to go astray, from ab- + errare to wander, err
Date: circa 1780
1 : straying from the right or normal way
2 : deviating from the usual or natural type : ATYPICAL
3 : an aberrant group, individual, or structure
4 : a person whose behavior departs substantially from the standard
The part of the above definition that applies to the term "aberrant doctrine" would, in particular, be "deviating from the usual or natural type". As defined above, an aberrant doctrine is a doctrine that differs from the historical orthodox biblical Christian doctrinal stance. Again, the word "aberrant" is not a put down, but a word to define any doctrines that are unorthodox in nature.
Definition of "Heresy"
The word "heresy" from which we get the word "heretic" is not a put down but a biblical attributive term. First let's look at the dictionary deffinition.
Main Entry: her·e·sy
Etymology: Middle English heresie, from Old French, from Late Latin haeresis, from Late Greek hairesis, from Greek, action of taking, choice, sect, from hairein to take
1 a : adherence to a religious opinion contrary to church dogma b : denial of a revealed truth by a baptized member of the Roman Catholic Church c : an opinion or doctrine contrary to church dogma
2 a : dissent or deviation from a dominant theory, opinion, or practice b : an opinion, doctrine, or practice contrary to the truth or to generally accepted beliefs or standards
The Biblical definition of heresy is much more specific. It states that heresy is laying error alongside truth. Jacob Prasch defines heresy from a biblical perspective this way. The word "privily" or "pareisago" in Greek means to lay error alongside truth or to introduce secretly or craftily.
2 Pet. 2:1 But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
The word "heresy" or "hairesis" in Greek means 1) act of taking, capture: e.g. storming a city 2) choosing, choice 3) that which is chosen 4) a body of men following their own tenets (sect or party) 5) dissensions arising from diversity of opinions and aims. So we can see that heresy has the action of overtaking truth and involves a willful choice. It arrises from disagreements and diverse opinions instead of over the plain truth of the Word of God.
Heretics, those who lay error alongside truth and thereby try to capture the will of people to their own unbiblical ideas, are to be rebuked and, if unrepentant, rejected by the Church.
The rejection of heretics is not based on minor doctrinal divisions or arguments but based on a denial, by teaching and/or actions, of the core doctrines of the Faith as taught by Jesus Christ and the foundational Apostles and Prophets in the sixty-six books of the Bible.
Titus 3:10 A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject;
The Goal of Definitions
The goal of definitions is to keep any religious system doctrinally pure and without any potentially destructive influences from other belief systems being taught that would tend to degrade or nullify the core beliefs of that religion. Some religions are open to change from without and that is their right and choice. Other religions, such as biblical Christianity, Judaism and Islam have been historically not open to doctrinal change and that is also their right and choice.
Biblical Christianity has a doctrinal system that is based on the sixty-six books of the Bible, and this is a Christian's highest authority in all matters of faith and practice. Those who would call themselves Christians will also subscribe to the core doctrines of Christianity which, by definition, define who can call themselves a "Christian".
People are free to call themselves anything they want, but religions such as Christianity have core doctrines they hold to. Those who do not want to be Christians are defined as another "religion". Those who want to call themselves Christians but do not hold to one or more of the core doctrines of Christianity are defined as a "cult" of Christianity. Those who want to call themselves Christians but teach doctrines, other than the core doctrines, which differ from a orthodox interpretation of Scripture; those teachings can be properly defined as "aberrant". It is also possible for a person or group to be a cult and also have aberrant doctrines. If a person or group is aberrant and begins to teach against the core doctrines of Christianity, they need no longer be called aberrant because they have become a cult of Christianity.
The terms "religion", "cult" and "aberrant" are not derogatory names but are definitions of where any individual or group are at on the continuum of any religion they wish to or do not wish to associate with.
"GOD sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7
"Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, And whose hope is the LORD." Jeremiah 17:7