The abundance of literature on the subject shows a great interest today in the thought and actions of the “sects.” Before we take a brief look at recent books and articles on this subject it is quite necessary to define the word as we are using it. There is wide difference among writers on the meaning of “sect,” with resulting confusion. This confusion we would avoid, even though we have little hope of convincing everyone of our definition of the word.
“Sect” is often used, by Roman Catholic writers and others, as equivalent to denomination, in distinction from “church.” This is consistent with Roman theory that allows there is but one true church, namely the Roman. Liberal Protestant writers sometimes use the word “sect” in approximately the same sense as the Roman church uses it, though for exactly the opposite reason. Thus, Rome sometimes designates all non-Roman denominations as sects because she believes herself to have the sole right to being called a church; while some liberals apply the word to virtually all Christian denominations because they think that none of them is really more entitled to the term “church” than another.
Evangelicals generally use “sect” when referring to those Christian denominations not regarded as evangelical. They generally believe that there are many denominations which are entitled to the designation “church,” and so freely apply that term to them. Those which do not hold to evangelical principles are not usually called churches at all, but sects or cults.
If it is asked what is essential to being an evangelical church, the answer is usually forthright. Being evangelical is holding to evangelical or fundamental principles, especially the deity of Christ and his atonement.
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