Comparing early Christian groups with modern new religious movements (nrms) and cults enables us to identify and analyze indicative social and religious attributes that defined the self-identity of the early Christians (as reflected in the letters of Paul, Acts, and the Gospel of John), made them stand out as different, and, ultimately, led to their rejection by outside society.
The devotion to Jesus as Christ and the inclusion of Gentiles among these early Christian groups were novel features that, by definition, created a new religious movement rejected by both Jews and Romans. The intense recruitment of converts by early Christians, also a characteristic of nrms, was seen as a direct threat by their contemporaries. Early Christian groups lacked social separation from mainstream society, strong demands on their members along with sanctions against deviant ones, and systematic organization — all characteristics which are particular to certain cults, such as Scientology in its early years and the Sōka Gakkai. Taken together, these three social features demonstrate that early Christianity was not a segregated sect but, rather, a cult that aimed to penetrate mainstream society, gain legitimacy, and recruit converts.
This article tries to demonstrate that the unique regulations of the Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls) sect are derived from its social character as a sect, not from scriptural exegesis or Hellenistic influence. In order to achieve this goal, the article introduces practices that are typical of introversionist sects, and shows that they can also be found in Qumran. Thus the evidence from Qumran contributes to the understanding of the sectarian practices and organization in general. The article compares the regulations from Qumran to those of the Shakers, the Hutterites, the Mennonites and the Amish and also makes inferences concerning the practices of these different sects. The comparison pertains to the procedures of joining the sect, admission to adulthood, annual or semi-annual ceremonial communions, sanctions and punishments, confessions, economical organization and organizational patterns, especially the tendency of keeping the local community small, as well as gender relations and social hierarchy within the sect.