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Excalibur's avatar

Are non-denominational churches disguises for something more sinister?

Asked by Excalibur (331points) January 6th, 2010

I have just watched a documentary which states that although non-denominational churches portray themselves as accepting any denomination and people from other religions, they are in fact strictly fundamentalist in nature and very often sects which could potentially develop into a cult. What do you think?

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37 Answers

gemiwing's avatar

I don’t think it’s appropriate or helpful to paint such a large group with one big stroke.

Snarp's avatar

I think that either you or the documentary have cast to wide a net. This may be true of some, but I think there are an awful lot of different kinds of non-denominational churches.

Snarp's avatar

What’s the difference between a cult and a religion?

gemiwing's avatar

@Snarp one serves communion and the other serves punch?

Grisaille's avatar

Just a little too conspiracy theory to me. Give me some proof, maybe we can have a discussion.

gemiwing's avatar

@Snarp I can no longer bring myself to type out Kool-Aid because every person who runs out of rational arguments nowadays without fail will whip out the ‘kool-aid defense’.

OnaBoat's avatar

Um, no. While I can’t claim to have a large sample size here, I’ve been to a non-denominational church for years that is anything but fundamentalist. If anything, it’s more open than most “single-denomination” churches.

No strong feelings one way or the other on this one, but that documentary is either overly broad or completely on crack.

Excalibur's avatar

@Grisaille. I can’t give you proof. All I can tell you is the story of some friends of mine who joined a small n-d church and found themselves pressurized into conforming to their rules. They were forced to pray out loud, confess and pressurized into baptism. Every time they tried to question or have a discussion about certain parts of the Bible they were shouted at. They were taught that the world outside was evil and that evil forces would try to prevent them from attending the church. They were pressurized into Bible studies and spending as much time as possible devoted to church activities. When they didn’t attend they received cold responses and jibes. Remarks about unsuitable clothing started to creep in. All of them were asked for money and expected to work to support the financial needs of the church. Armegeddon was imminent, all Jews who did not believe in Jesus as saviour would burn in Hell and the Holy Lands would be given to the followers of Jesus entirely! Needless to say their efforts at conforming soon gave way to suspicion about the true motives of the leader and church members and they left amid attempts to shame them. There is more, but that gives you a general idea.

Snarp's avatar

@Excalibur So that’s one church, it’s not all non denominational churches, and it’s not any more fundamentalist or cult like than many denominational churches.

Grisaille's avatar


Then the answer to your original question is still “no.”

Tell your friends not to go back there.

marinelife's avatar

Non-denominational merely means that a church is not part of a specific denomination not that it is open to all people of all denominations.

aprilsimnel's avatar

Jim Jones used Flavor-Aid, y’all. Kool-Aid’s getting a bad rap for nothing!

Not all churches are like that. Some actually treat their members like rational adults instead of disobedient, recalcitrant children who must be disciplined. And if any adult gives in to such a doctrine or organization, it is of their own choice. No adult can be forced to do what they don’t want to do without threats or violence. Just making shaming remarks isn’t enough.

Sounds like that one church wasn’t good for your friends, @Excalibur, but if they exercised their adult (and human) rights of choice to leave, which it sounds like they did, then no harm, no foul. There’s no reason to think any more of it, or to get indignant about such a place. Now if this church were trying to force the entire area to live and believe as they did, and threatened harm for not going along, then that’s when such an organization is dangerous.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

We have a small non-demonination church in a small town in New Hamphshire. It is far from fundamentalist and serves as a focus of community life. Christians of all flavors, agnostics, Jews are all welcome as we celebrate the milestones of peoples lives.

AstroChuck's avatar

I’ve never thought of them that way. Aren’t military chapels non-denominational?

itmustbeken's avatar

My experience has been that non-denominational churches are far from fundamental. In fact they are as far away from fundamental Christian doctrine as you can be.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

Some “Non-denominational” congregations function “to cast a wide net” to attract those whose attachment or commitment to the faith in which they were raised.

Once you have attracted the puzzled, confused or disconnected, these churches soft pedal their beliefs by celebrating life events and connecting them to the underlying religious beliefs and rituals. Their goal is to draw these “lost” souls and gradually reeducate them religiously.

What is that called “evangelism” on the sly.

Excalibur's avatar

@Snarp 1) That was the point of the documentary; that, n-ds in general are sect/cult-like and not what their name would suggest.
2) I understand the word cult has a broad definition but I would have thought that bullying and overt pressurizing and shunning would have confirmed it. I know some churches are wacky but this, according to my friends, seemed a little more sinister than the rest.

Excalibur's avatar

@Marina So that means they can do unto others whatever in **** they like?

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@AstroChuck Indeed the military chapels are n-d, but specific services are held in them (Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim) by specialized chaplains. The fixtures are easily changable so as not to offend one group with the symbols of another.

Snarp's avatar

@Excalibur I would agree that what you described at that particular church sounds pretty cult like, I just think non-denominational churches are too broad a category to lump together that way. It may be true of some, but not all, and probably not the majority.

Val123's avatar

“Documentaries”....gotta l love them. Sometimes they can be nothing more than blogs on TV.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Snarp – In one of my recent questions I’ve used this:

According to Michael Shermer, who is a historian of science and author, a cult is characterized by

1) Veneration, glorification and inerrancy of the former or current leader to the point of virtual sainthood or divinity
2) Acceptance of beliefs and pronouncements on all subjects without applying critical thinking
3) Persuasive techniques from benign to coercive are used to recruit new followers and reinforce current beliefs
4) Hidden agendas exist and the true nature of the group’s beliefs and plans is obscured from or not fully disclosed to potential recruits and the general public
5) There is deceit, therefore recruits and followers are not told everything they should know about the group’s inner circle, and particularly disconcerting flaws or potentially embarrassing events or circumstances are covered up
6) Sometimes there is financial exploitation and recruits and followers are persuaded to invest money and other assets (in very rare cases there’s also sexual exploitation)
7) There is absolute truth which also means that the group has discovered final knowledge on any relevant number of subjects
8) Absolute morality is also being claimed, which means the group’s system of right and wrong thoughts and actions are are applicable to members and non-members alike. Those who strictly follow the moral code become and remain members and those who do not are dismissed or punished

Some people understand the word cult, as destructive cult.

Mainstream religions are not destructive cults.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Excalibur – It’s interesting that almost all famous religious leaders come from mainstream religious organizations and not non-denominational churches. Does this tell us something about non-denominational churches?

Here are some examples I used in the other thread: (German Lutheran pastor and theologian who was also a participant in the German Resistance movement against Hitler) (political and spiritual leader of India during the Indian independence movement and a pioneer of resistance to tyranny through mass civil disobedience) (an American clergyman, activist and prominent leader in the African-American civil rights movement. His main legacy was to secure progress on civil rights in the United States) (a South African cleric and activist who was an opponent of apartheid and who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984) (who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989) (a German pastor who helped to organize the Peace Prayers as part of a joint protest action of Protestant youth organizations in the GDR since September 1982. He was also one of the leading figures and organizers of the 1989 Monday demonstrations in East Germany which finally led to the German reunification and the end of the GDR in 1990) (who founded the Network of Spiritual Progressives and who promotes religious pluralism and progressive or liberal approaches to political problems)

Excalibur's avatar

@mattbrowne I agree with your cult list. My only query would be with the first one; although famous cults have had such charismatic leaders, I believe that a cult can operate with a leader and a group of members exercising coercive forces on the ‘flock’ with the same effect as a single charismatic leader. I do not agree that mainstream religions are cults because most rationally run centres of worship are not coercive and the’ flock’ are free to come and go as they please without harassment.

I like your list. However, the amount of money flowing into non-denominational/evangelical churches is so great that it gives them the power, muscle and influence needed to make up for what they lack in brains!:)

mattbrowne's avatar

@Excalibur – Yes, I am worried about this power and influence too. We need to come up with good strategies to limit the damage.

Excalibur's avatar

I think a lobby to create laws to protect tolerant people from the effects of intolerant groups would be a starting point.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Excalibur – In Germany we’ve got those laws, but it really applies to very intolerant and destructive groups only. Otherwise pluralism and freedom of speech is protected. It’s tricky sometimes. Scientology for example is considered to be a dangerous cult and some practices seem to violate the constitution, see

“The German government has stated that it does not recognize Scientology as a religion, and that it regards some of the goals of Scientology as conflicting with the German constitution. Accordingly, Scientology has for some years been under observation by the German domestic intelligence services.”

Excalibur's avatar

And what about evangelism? I see American missionaries have influenced the Ugandan government to the extent that they have introduced a law making homosexuality a capital offense punishable by hanging. Evangelists should also be watched carefully as they preach a religion of intolerance and promote hatred of certain groups. They have the potential to revive fascism.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Excalibur – The Evangelical movement in general in the US is kind of borderline. Not as dangerous as Scientology or the Jehovas’s Witnesses, but still problematic. Some groups within the movement do indeed promote hatred. Yes, they have the potential to revive fascism. We need to be vigilant.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Excalibur – I’ll watch it tonight.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Marrakech – Sorry about my late reply. I was finally got round to watching the first part of it. Parts of the religious right in the US are indeed very dangerous and I actually think they are not religious anymore or at least Jesus as described in the Bible is no longer their role model. Yes, there are certain similarities with fascism. But full-fledged fascism like Nazism is even worse.

People who want to be religious need alternatives. Not everyone will become an educated atheists. Liberal forms of religions need to become more attractive.

donnastensland's avatar

These were questions and discussions about a non den-om church with very similar issues as the one I just was withdrawn from the worship team…by the worship leader…She had me step down stating after I was yelled at over a question to a scripture…I was rebuked three times and told to leave the church very angrily..I did not leave I stood up for myself asking not to be treated that way and making my case be heard and they all eventually calmed down and apologized to me and was forgiven but then days later the worship leader elder called me during a nap…asked me to be awakened even.. resigned me for a disciplinary probation period until i was correctable..and she said I was immature in the the cause for discipline .Just after being told the opposite days before ..I guess they felt I stepped over the line of their authority and because I never agreed with them and the Pastor decided for me to agree to disagree…I was punished regardless if they felt I was right and they were wrong.They made sure I would be shamed and almost every member has gossiped about me from day one even now…I had to change my face book security privacy setting because a member of the congregation the pastors assistant went on to by blog and printed all of my ministry posts and took it to the pastor behind my back while I was out of town tending to my Grandfather at his death bed,they supposedly were praying for me while I was away and that Sun 1252 pm last week my Grandfather died I came home and all of the conspiracy’s started surfacing even through my mourning they did not care even if I was emotionally ready to be rendered such a blow they hit me while I was not looking and smashed me while i was already down on my knees… I am attending My grandfathers funeral this Friday…and between the Sunday before last and this Sunday I had been excommunicated by the church and I swear by all my being that it was unjust and disturbing all the control I have been suffering from them little by little….I am glad to be free and I know it is not over I had received phone call after phone call some cared some did not want to be involved out of fear I know and so I have researched this possibility that i was in a cult like situation with the demeanor from this church and its leaders.. and I found this story and this blog related to me an my situations and I thank God for leading me to it and hope that I can be proof that these conspiracy’s are real they do exist and they are destroying families and tearing apart the body of Christ and I know for sure Satan is the reason and he is increasingly succeeding at invading the church in unprecedented and alarming rates….So I put on all the armor of God and he who gives me strength keeps me pressed forward and he shields me from the fear and attacks of the enemy,the enemy is underfoot and I will never allow him to have a foothold on my family..Amen
Donna S

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