NEW RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS
Reflection based on Cultural Analysis
There are several reasonable factors to be reflected in the course of dealing with New Religious Movements (in short “NRMs”) with the following questions in relation to the characteristics of NRMs. 1) What is legitimacy? How will we judge it? 2) What is Orthodoxy? How will we profess it? 3) What is faith and what is action? How will we define them? 4) What is true theology? How will we apply it? 5) What is culture? How will we apply it? These factors involve inseparably in any new movement especially in the NRMs. However, I will try to reflect on some of them.
To me, there is a profound fact that everything is new before it came to old status. I simply assume that human nature have two categories of relative reality regarding the new and the old. First, people are generally hard to accept new philosophy, religion, idea, belief, system, etc. and want to retain the old one which they adhered. This kind of new movement requires the process of changing. Therefore, this kind of movement needs a kind of reformation and sometimes even big revolution.
The second is related with material ones. People want to accept easily things such as, new house, new cloth, new car, new book, etc. and used to occupy with no doubt as soon as possible. At the same time people are not reluctant to abandon the old ones from the said second category. Therefore, it is here, good to raise questions like—what is the reason, what are the connections of the two? I would conclude the fact that 1) philosophical, theological, ideological setting, etc. (in other words, invisible ones) are hard to change, to accept, to adopt, etc. 2) metaphysical, material things (in other words, visible ones) are easy to change, to accept, to adopt, etc. To engage with the NRMs needs to aware of these settings and especially the first category is more important than the second category.
The problem of orthodoxy
What is the orthodoxy? One Catholic archbishop affirms, “Orthodoxy is the true, undistorted, unperverted by any human sophistry or invention, genuine teaching of Christ in all its purity and fullness—the teaching of faith and piety which is life according to the Faith.” Furthermore, Orthodoxy is not only the sum total of dogmas accepted as true in a purely formal manner. It is not only theory, but practice; it is not only right Faith, but a life which agrees in everything with this Faith. Orthodoxy is the mystical "Body of Christ," the Head of which is Christ Himself (see Eph. 1:22-23 and Col. 1:18, 24 et seq.). Orthodoxy is the one and only Truth, the pure Truth, without any admixture or the least shadow of falsehood, lie, evil or fraud.
In fact, bearing in mind the above facts being orthodox, all religions including NRMs claim their beliefs and practices to be true orthodox and authentic. This is the biggest problem. This problem lies mostly in the realm of the starts of religions as cults and sects. The most relevant approach to recognize as true orthodoxy, in my view is to be seen in ethical application of each religion. This means that ethical life of the members of any NRMs is to be judged by their ethical and moral disciplines whether they keep always or not. Since orthodoxy, in secular meaning, is the practice of observing established social customs and its appropriateness with the community, it is also important to take action on this regard. The reason is that there is no religion free from connection with the bound of secular as well as government.
It is true that the only one unique orthodoxy cannot be set for all Christian churches as a whole. Each denomination as well as new religious movement have their polity, creed, and faith and order respectively which they claimed orthodox and reliable. In such situations, each denomination needs to observe and maintain their traditions, beliefs and practices faithfully as it has been set and adopted. One important thing we should not mix with other denomination’s orthodoxy is church traditions. Tradition in Catholic Church is very important like scripture. It should not be mixed with contemporary emerging social and political issues. The church should observe and keep faithfully Christian traditions as her orthodoxy.
Regarding Church polity, creeds, or practices
Church polity is the form of government used in a church. There are many forms of polity in the world, and a few distinct models used within American Christendom. The main models we see today are the Monarchical, Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Congregational systems. “Polity” itself, in a more extensive meaning is the form of government of a nation, state, church, or organization; an organized society, such as a nation, having a specific form of government.
There are generally three principal Ecclesiastical polities, such as 1) Episcopal polity. This polity is a form of church governance which is hierarchical in structure with the chief authority over a local Christian church resting in a bishop. It is usually considered that the bishops of an Episcopal polity derive part of their authority from an unbroken, personal Apostolic Succession from the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. 2) Presbyterian Polity. This polity is a method of church governance typified by the rule of assemblies of presbyters, or elders. Each local church is governed by a body of elected elders usually called the session.3) Congregational polity. The Congregationalist polity dispenses with elders or bishops as a requirement of church structure. The local congregation rules itself, though local leaders and councils may be appointed.
Therefore, regarding the denomination’s polity, there is no and will not be a common polity for the entire Christian churches. each denomination or new religious movement is to allow its own polity which serves best it based on cultural and social settings.
Creed is a formal summary of the principles of the Christian faith, a set of religious beliefs. As far as my knowledge, most Christian denominations are generally following the same path in terms of observing Christian creed. But nowadays in some NRMs they seem not even professed and practiced such creeds in their beliefs and practices. I believe, if one denomination or new religious movement remains long in this way, it will not firm for long spiritually and theologically. With regard to the practices, among several methods: alter-centered (Meditation and confession), pulpit-centered (preaching and sharing), message-centered (Bible study and testimony sharing) are the most popular. I think, the best method is to follow the middle way, without lacking in one and without missing the other while keeping balancing. Every Christian church or new religious movement need to adjust these three practices to become healthy and mature.
The problem of legitimacy
First of all, I would say that the problem of Religion is the diverse doctrines and worldviews of them. Each religion, more specifically each denomination within Christianity has their accepted standards/criteria to comply by the adherents respectively. For example, the Episcopalian churches, the Presbyterian churches, and other mainline churches have their own particular standards/criteria as pointed out above. Therefore to see one emerging New Religious Movement as legitimate will almost totally depend on what the host community of Christian denomination would judge the emerging New Religions to meet/fit with their standards.
I agree with the sociologists’ view that the test of inculturation over time as the only means of determining legitimacy, i.e., if the new religion has survived over time and entered into the mainstream of society. With this point of view, I would further state that any religious as well as non-religious movements that do not comply with the host society’s standards or that astray from the host community life-setting will not surely be legitimate. Moreover, cultural standards also play very important role in this regard of being legitimate. In other words, any new emerging religious movement needs to abide with the existing cultural settings. In this sense cultural norm stands as the essential criterion for judging legitimacy.
NRMs or Cults?
There are several religious movements to be labeled as cults around my ministry. They are Jehovah’s Witnesses, Church of Christ, Church of the Living Bread, United Pentecostal Church, Church of no Church, etc. They attribute themselves as full and accurate Christian Church and following the core teaching of the Bible. They claimed having common faith of mainstream church and following common practices too. They regard themselves being Orthodox, legitimate, and having polity which is directly instructed by God himself through the Holy Spirit.
To me, they are unChristians, illegitimate, and unstructured movements. They are neither folk church nor national church which in a certain means support the community as a whole. They do not support the community by means of social welfares and even hostile to political affairs. They only emphasize their fanatic spiritual zeal and seek it in deeper means. They separate from the community, they partner only within members and socially isolated from the host community and church members. They are many factors to mention more. This situation might have been due to lack of knowledge and education. These are the reasons why I attribute them as cults and label them as unorthodox Christians as the theological definition does. The fact that why I label them unorthodox Church/Christian is that they do not observe and follow important Christian theology and traditions such as the earthly birth of Jesus Christ (Humanity of Christ), creeds, liturgies. They deny theological studies, sermons, reading as they regard them unfruitful. They always confront the host church and sometimes into a certain degree of point.
As a response, I never confront them as they do. Instead I try to love them, try to deal with them in a more humble way better than they do. And yet I try to convince them the importance of theology and its meaning to Christian life. I always share them good and acceptable ethical life being the norm of Christian life. I invite them into social welfare services as many as work and time available.
In short, as time went year by year, as information and technology penetrates the entire globe of the world, people are no more convincing in what is to follow and what is not to obey. Compare to the situation a decade years ago, these cults are more and more realizing the true nature of religion and theology. There is more understandings and mutual aid between mainstream and cults movement.