distinct and separate
The courts often consider the existence of a distinct and separate existence in determining if a religion is legally valid.
a distinct legal existence, IRS definition of a church
a definite and distinct ecclesiastical government, IRS definition of a church
a distinct religious history, IRS definition of a church
a membership not associated with any other church or denomination, IRS definition of a church
a literature of its own, IRS definition of a church
religious freedom reply to IRS standards
As to the first criterion, a religious organization should not be required to have a distinct legal existence, since a church may decide not to incorporate for reasons of its own. In addition, a denomination may have no formal organization. For example, the Plymouth Brethren believe that such denominational structures are unscriptural and divisive. Locally, some are incorporated, some are not. This requirement poses a special threat to ministers who serve the poor. Many such ministers lack the legal sophistication and resources to incorporate their churches even if such formal structure were consistent with their theology. Defining Religion in American Law by Bruce J. Casino, International Coalition for Religious Freedom
The problem with the fifth criterion is that a new religion, by definition, cannot have a distinct religious history. American civilization from the beginning and in each passing century has been continuously marked by extraordinary religious fertility and continues to exhibit this propensity to the present day. The emergence of new religions is a common occurrence in American history. The first Amendment serves to protect all religions, old and new, against government harassment, intrusion, injury and discrimination. Baptists, Quakers, Mormons and Jehovahs Witnesses each experienced persecution in America when their churches were new. Although no one would dispute that this history is unfortunate, a similar dynamic is at work in the present attitude of many in government toward new religions. Moreover, even established religious groups might not have a distinct history. Due to the informal nature of the Plymouth Brethren, their religious history is indistinct. Defining Religion in American Law by Bruce J. Casino, International Coalition for Religious Freedom
The sixth criterion, that a church must have a membership not associated with any other church or denomination, stems from confessional Christianity. It does not apply among Japanese, Chinese, or Asian Indians, for instance, who find it quite common to be members of and attend various religious services.
One of the best-known features of Chinese universalism is that the three religions - Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism - are virtually treated as one. The religious allegiance of the average man is not related to one the three religions. He does not belong to a confession or creed. He participates unconcerned as to any apparent lack of consistency, alternatively in Buddhist, Taoist or Confucian rites. He is, by nature, a religious pragmatist.
One of the goals of the ecumenical movement is increased interaction and association between denominations and churches and their members. Religions such as the Bahai and Theosophy aim at unity of all religions.
Gandhi said that [m]ore than all, people of all religions should learn to worship together on occasion. The Plymouth Brethren do not practice formal church membership because they believe church membership has no basis in Scripture, divides Christians from one another and can be a crutch which leads to a false sense of salvation. The American tendency toward exclusive religious affiliation is by no means universal. A Japanese, for instance, may be married as a Shintoist and buried as Buddhist. The Japanese never developed the idea, so prevalent in South and West Asia as well as the West, that a person had to adhere exclusively to one religion or another . . . Japanese were usually both Buddhists and Shintoists at the same time and often enough Confucianists as well. Defining Religion in American Law by Bruce J. Casino, International Coalition for Religious Freedom