Assess the View That Sects Always Compromise and Turn Into Denominations
Sects are usually very hostile groups and 9 times out of 10 they will be ‘world rejecting’, meaning that they reject the outside world and believe it is either corrupt or beyond redemption.Such groups tend to abandon the outside world and start their own community with their own way of life or attempt to transform the world with an evangelical approach.An example of a sect which has cut off from the world is the Unification Church, often known as ‘The moonies’ – they reject materialism and encourage its members to hand over all assets whilst imposing an ascetic lifestyle on them.
Sects and Cults are known for being quite short lived, and it is suggested that over time they will either turn into a denomination or disband and disappear all together.
An example of this is the Methodists, they originally began as a world rejecting religious sect, with members living a lifestyle in opposition to existing society. However, they have evolved over time into becoming the world accommodating denomination that they are today.
Neibuhr puts forward his explanation of this and calls it ‘denomination or death. ’ He believes that a Sect is a world rejecting organization that comes into existence because of a schism from an established church due to disagreements within either teachings or religious doctrine. He argues that sects are usually short lived because within one generation they will either compromise with the world, abandon their extreme beliefs and become a denomination or ultimately die out.
One reason that Neibuhr puts forward is ‘the second generation’ – this refers to the children of the members who joined voluntarily, they lack the same enthusiasm and beliefs that their parents showed because they were born into it and will not express the same extreme beliefs. He also suggests, ‘the protestant ethic effect’ this is the result of the members living an ascetic lifestyle. People are most likely to join a sect because they are looking for a theodicy of disprivelage to legitimate their position in society, and after living this lifestyle where by they save their money and do not spend it on material goods.
They will no longer need the theodicy of disprivelage and will be tempted to compromise with the world and become world accommodating. The Final suggestion, also stated in item A is that most sects have a charismatic leader, and when this leader dies they will either collapse or a new more bureaucratic leadership will take over, this will then transform them into a denomination. However, on the other hand Aldridge suggests that many sects have existed a long time while still retaining their features as sects such as Jehovah’s witnesses.
In addition, sects maintain a strict conduct, so much so that if members fail to conform to these standards then they will be expelled, he also points out that sects are very good at socializing children into the acceptance of their beliefs and practices. Similarly, Stark and Bainbridge view religious organizations such as sects as moving through a cycle, they call this ‘the sectarian cycle. ’ The first stage is the ‘schism’, which is when there is tension and disagreement between the privileged, and deprived within a church, the deprived break away to form a world-rejecting sect with slightly different beliefs and practices.
The second stage is ‘initial fervor’ which is when a charismatic leader will take over and form great tension between the sect and the outside world, thirdly the sect will then turn to a denomination for the same reasons suggested by Niebuhr leading to them finally, becoming an establishment. This sees the sect become world accommodating; within this stage there is usually a further schism, where more zealous members break away to form a new sect more true to the original message. On the other hand, not all sects are short – lived.
Not all sects depend on a charismatic leader so the death of a leader would not affect the functioning of the sect enough for it to collapse and become a denomination; also Many sects have outlived one generation and have still retained their features. Wilson also argues that not all sects follow the pattern of turning into a denomination or dying out, he believes that whether or not this happens to sects depends on how they answer the question that they ask themselves ‘how can we be saved’? onversionist sects will try to convert as many people as possible through evangelism, these will be more likely to turn into larger more formal denominations. Where as Adventist sects such as the seventh day Adventists await the second coming of Christ and will hold themselves separate to society, this separatism will prevent them becoming a denomination. Wilson also argues that globalization will make it harder in the future for sects to keep themselves separate from the outside world.
On the other hand, it will also allow them to recruit in the third world, where there are large numbers of deprived people that will be attracted to sects. This is shown by the success of Pentecostalism. To conclude, the evidence suggests that although it is very easy for a sect to turn into a denomination, not all sects always do. They have means and ways of avoiding this and many have become established sects that will continue to socialize further generation and carry on the original message.