Is Mormonism a Cult?

 

There’s been a lot of debate lately, thanks to Presidential politics and prospect of the first practicing Mormon president in Mitt Romney, as to whether Mormonism is a cult or not.

Historically, there has been a very clear line drawn between Mormonism and orthodox Christianity, with all leaders of the church across a wide spectrum of Christianity agreeing that Mormonism is not only heretical but also a cult.

But as the wind changes and Mormonism becomes more mainstream, some evangelical leaders are breaking rank. For instance, Rod Dreher, an Eastern Orthodox Christian writing for the The American Conservative, said in a piece entitled, “Mormonism is not a cult, okay?":

“It is especially offensive, at least to me, to hear Christians speak of Mormonism as a ‘cult.’ Usually when you hear that word being applied to a church or religious group, it’s designed not to describe, but solely to marginalize…In my experience, Mormonism produces exemplary people, the kind who form stable families and strong communities, and who make good neighbors. I do not believe in Mormonism, nor do I have the slightest interest in becoming Mormon. That Mormons tend to be good people does not make their doctrines true. But inasmuch as Mormons—and I’m generalizing here—tend to produce people who are often better Christians, in terms of their behavior, than the more orthodox expressions within the Christian tradition, should make thoughtful Christians consider what truth may exist within Mormonism and what we may learn about how to live well from the Mormon experience. “

And Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, who not long ago publicly defended Rob Bell’s aberrant view of hell, also recently wrote an op-ed for CNN’s Belief Blog entitled, “My Take: This Evangelical Says that Mormonism is not a Cult”, stating that while he differs with Mormons on important issues, they are not a cult in his estimation because they are not isolationist and they have a university. The most telling line from this op-ed states, “While I am not prepared to reclassify Mormonism as possessing undeniably Christian theology, I do accept many of my Mormon friends as genuine followers of the Jesus whom I worship as the divine Savior.”

These sentiments are interesting in that they bring up three issues that are important to dissect:

  • What is a cult?

  • Is Christianity about being a “good Christian”?

  • Do Mormons worship the Jesus of the Bible?

 

What is a cult?

The first thing to understand is that there are multiple definitions of the word “cult.” Thus, as with any discourse, it’s important to define what we mean when we say that Mormonism is a cult.

The recent news coverage uses one definition of cult to mean a group of religious adherents on the fringe of society, totalitarian in nature, and anti-intellectual in practice. Both Dreher and Mouw hint at this definition of cult in their defense of Mormonism. How could a religion that is engaged in political discourse, produces good families, and creates morally upright people be looped in with religious nut cases such as Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Heaven’s Gate?

There are two extremes in the types of definitions offered by those who study theology. For instance, the admittedly liberal Charles Braden, a professor of religious history at Northwestern University, wrote the following in a 1949 work: “By the term cult I mean nothing derogatory to any group so classified. A cult, as I define it, is any religious group which differs significantly in one or more respects as to belief or practice from those religious groups which are regarded as the normative expressions of religion in our total culture.”[1] This loose definition speaks more of the fact of deviation from ‘cultural belief’ than of a judgment about the deviation.

On the other end of the spectrum is Christian apologist Walter Martin, who adds to Braden’s definition: “A cult might also be defined as a group of people gathered about a specific person or person’s misinterpretation of the Bible.”[2] Elsewhere he gives a broader definition of a cult: “A cult, then, is a group of people polarized around someone’s interpretation of the Bible and is characterized by major deviations from orthodox Christianity relative to the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith, particularly the fact that God became man in Jesus Christ.”[3] This definition, of course, tends to make all systems of belief that are not Christianity out to be cults.

While there’s no denying that what Mormons teach is whacky to say the least—and antithetical to orthodox Christianity—it’s impossible to make the case that in the popular definition of cults as crazy, fringe groups that deviate from ‘cultural belief’ that Mormons fit into that definition.

And since it’s true that Mormonism deviates from Christianity on fundamental doctrinal issues, it’s not helpful to call it a cult based solely on that definition alone as we’d have to call any group that does so a cult as well.

Is there a better way forward than these two polor definitions?

The origin of the word “cult”

The Oxford English Dictionary indicates that the English word “cult” was first used in a theological controversy in the early 1600s that emerged out of King James I instituting the Oath of Allegiance (1606), which declared that the Pope of the Catholic Church had no authority over the King and his rule.

In its earliest usages, though, the word “cult” did not carry the negative connotation that it does today. Instead it simply meant “worship; reverential homage rendered to a divine being or beings” and “A particular form or system of religious worship; esp. in reference to its external rites and ceremonies.” (Etymologically, our word “cult” is derived from the Latin cultus, which means worship, a form of the Latin verb colÄ•re, meaning to cultivate, attend to, or respect). This non-pejorative meaning of “cult” is still present in most other dictionaries today.

In sociology, the question of what exactly constitutes a cult started with “the church-sect typology” by German Protestant theologian and sociologist Ernst Troeltsch in the early 20th century. In short, Troeltsch gave three fundamental types of religious behavior: (1) churchly, (2) sectarian, and (3) mystical.

Troeltsch’s work was not translated into English until 1931, and so the church-sect typology was actually introduced to English-speaking audiences not from Troeltsch, but from the work of another sociologically inclined theologian, H. Richard Niebuhr’s The Social Sources of Denominationalism.

In this work, Niebuhr revised Troeltsch’s church-sect typology by treating “church” and “sect” as poles of a continuum. Unlike Troeltsch, Niebuhr’s concern was not merely to classify religious groups but rather to analyze the process of religious history as groups moved along a continuum. (For example, Christianity was once considered a sect of Judaism).

Howard Becker (1932) was the first American trained as a sociologist to use and extend church-sect theory. Aiming to make the continuum more specific, Becker divided “church” into “denomination” and “ecclesia [church],” and he divided “sect” into “sect” and “cult.” This resulted in the following continuum: cult-sect-denomination-ecclesia [church].

As Colin Campbell explains, Becker’s use of the word “cult” stressed “the private, personal character of the adherents’ beliefs and the amorphous nature of the organization.” This usage of “cult” caught on in sociology and instead of reading it with reference to Troeltsch’s original three-point typology, which basically equated to how well-established a religious group was, the term came to refer to any relatively small group “whose beliefs and practices were merely deviant from the perspective of religious or secular orthodoxy,” along with “a very loose organizational structure”.[4] This, in short, is how the term “cult” came to enter the discipline of sociology and began its trend toward indicating not just “worship,” but negatively-connoted, deviant religious groups.

Three definitions of cult

In talking about cults, there are three main definitions one could use: the sociological definition, the popular-sensationalist definition, and the theological definition.

A sociological definition includes the authoritarian, manipulative, totalistic and sometimes communal features of cults. A popular-sensational approach to cults is built on journalistic accounts in the popular press, which frequently focus on the dramatic and sometimes bizarre aspects of cultic behavior. A theological definition involves some standard of Christian orthodoxy.

The sociological definition

Speaking on the sociological definition of cults, James T. Richardson writes, “[A cult is] a small informal group lacking a definite authority structure, somewhat spontaneous in its development (although often possessing a somewhat charismatic leader or group of leaders), transitory, somewhat mystical and individualistically oriented, and deriving its inspiration and ideology from outside the predominant religious culture.”[5]

And Allen G. Johnson writes, “[A cult is] a particular structural type of religious institution. Membership is predominantly lower class and usually gained through conversion, often during an emotional crisis that joining a cult is seen to resolve. Unlike other religious institutions, cults tend to be short-lived, primarily because of their social structure—an informal, loose organization formed around a single leader’s charismatic authority; highly emotional services that lack formalized ritual; and a retreatist, hostile orientation to major social institutions. Virtually all major religions began as cults, including Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity.”[6]

In this sense, Mormonism has long outgrown the sociological definition of cult as it is highly organized, engages in institutional study and government, and is now one of the largest religions in the world with over 12 million adherents.[7]

The popular-sensationalist definition

Robbins and Anthony, in their work “Deprogramming, Brainwashing and the Medicalization of Deviant Religious Groups,” published in Social Problems, delineate the more popular and sensationalist definition of cult as follows, “…certain manipulative and authoritarian groups which allegedly employ mind control and pose a threat to mental health are universally labeled cults. These groups are usually (1) authoritarian in their leadership; (2) communal and totalistic in their organization; (3) aggressive in their proselytizing; (4) systematic in their programs of indoctrination; (5) relatively new and unfamiliar in the United States; (6) middle class in their clientele.”[8]

In this definition, small fringe groups such as the Heaven’s Gate cult which believed God was coming in the tail of a comet and that they were to drink poison to die and meet with him, fit the definition of a cult. But, Mormonism has outgrown many of these points—or at least gained a large enough following and is sufficiently established in the US and the world to minimize them—though it is important to note they still are rather authoritarian in government, going as far as to regulate the type of underwear women can use, aggressively proselytize, are systematic in their indoctrination, often hiding certain teachings until new members are fully ingrained into the culture, and are generally middle-class.

The theological definition

Theological definitions of cults are similar to sociological definitions but instead of only including social factors (in an attempt to be nonpartisan), theological definitions add the feature of being contrary to some other specific, usually widely accepted, religious ideology held to be orthodox.

For example, the ESV Study Bible defines a cult as, “…any religious movement that claims to be derived from the Bible and/or the Christian faith, and that advocates beliefs that differ so significantly with major Christian doctrines that two consequences follow: (1) The movement cannot legitimately be considered a valid “Christian” denomination because of its serious deviation from historic Christian orthodoxy. (2) Believing the doctrines of the movement is incompatible with trusting in the Jesus Christ of the Bible for the salvation that comes by God’s grace alone.”

In light of this definition, Mormonism is most certainly a cult theologically speaking because it deviates substantially from historic Orthodox Christian belief about essential issues related to God, humanity, and salvation. But not in that it deviates from Christian teaching alone, as that would make all belief systems apart from orthodox Christianity a cult, but in that it claims Christianity while subtly subverting it in both practice and theology. Because it claims to be Christian, uses Christian language, but is antithetical Christianity, it must be labeled a cult theologically.

Of course, the trouble is that most people are not Christians, do not understand the differences between Mormon and Christian doctrine, and are therefore confused or upset to hear Mormonism labelled a cult, as it simply sounds cruel.

What makes matters even worse is when presumably orthodox Christian leaders add to the confusion by essentially declaring Mormonism as a new form of Christianity. While it is understandable that the average non-Christian, and many Christians, don’t understand the ways in which Mormonism uses Christian terms while importing them into non-Christian meaning, it’s incumbent for Christian leaders to act like shepherds and warn the sheep about the wolves. Failure to do so is both unloving and unhelpful. 

Mormonism and morality

In looking at the question, “Is Christianity about being a ‘good Christian’?, the biblical and orthodox answer is a resounding, “No.”

We are sinners who need a Savior. Sin includes our thoughts, words, deeds, and motives. Sin includes omission, where we fail to do what God commands, and commission, where we do what God forbids. 

What makes one a Christian is not one’s ability to be a good person or follow rules. If that were the case, no one would be a Christian. Paul confirms this in Romans 3:

“What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’ ‘Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.’ ‘The venom of asps is under their lips.’ ‘Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.’ ‘Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.’ ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’ Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:9-20).

Rather, it is through the person of Jesus and his work on the cross and subsequent resurrection that one is made righteous and made a Christian.

Paul continues:

"But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:21-28).

The Christian is not a Christian because he or she is good or even like Christ, but because he or she is in Christ. Out of this comes good works (Ephesians 2:10), but it is not our good works that make us Christian, it is Jesus’ work on the cross (1 John 1:5-7).

This is in contradiction to the Mormon teaching, which states:

“That doesn’t mean [God] expects you to be perfect. He knows you won’t be. But He does expect that while you’re here on earth you try to the best of your ability to be more like Him and that you learn and grow from your mistakes. Each time you make a poor choice with painful consequences, that decision leads to unhappiness—sometimes immediately, sometimes much later. Likewise, choosing good eventually leads to happiness and helps you become more like Heavenly Father.”[9]

For the Mormons, it is not Jesus blood that makes us righteous, but rather his sacrifice that gives us grace to be good, which leads to righteousness and salvation. The Mormons do not find the work of Christ to be sufficient for salvation but rather the starting point.

As Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (CARM) points out, “The doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) are very interesting. Most of the ‘odd’ ones are not initially taught to potential converts. But they should be. Instead, ‘they are revealed later as one matures and gains the ability to accept them.’ The LDS Church tries to make its official doctrines appear Christian but what underlies those Christian sounding terms is far from Christian in meaning.”

This is why a casual review of Mormon doctrines on their website would appear Christian initially. However, a deeper study of Mormon belief and teaching, compiled here by CARM, reveals fundamentally heretical views of Jesus and what makes one right before God:

  • “One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation,” (Miracle of Forgiveness, Spencer W. Kimball, p. 206).

  • “A plan of salvation was needed for the people of earth so Jesus offered a plan to the Father and Satan offered a plan to the father but Jesus’ plan was accepted. In effect the Devil wanted to be the Savior of all Mankind and to ‘deny men their agency and to dethrone god,’” (“Mormon Doctrine,” p. 193; Journal of Discourses, vol. 6, p. 8).

  • “Jesus’ sacrifice was not able to cleanse us from all our sins, (murder and repeated adultery are exceptions).” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 3, 1856, p. 247).

  • “Good works are necessary for salvation.” (Articles of Faith, by James Talmage, p. 92).

  • “There is no salvation without accepting Joseph Smith as a prophet of God.” (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1, p. 188).

  • “The first effect [of the atonement] is to secure to all mankind alike, exemption from the penalty of the fall, thus providing a plan of General Salvation. The second effect is to open a way for Individual Salvation whereby mankind may secure remission of personal sins.” (Articles of Faith, by James Talmage, p. 78-79).

  • “As these sins are the result of individual acts it is just that forgiveness for them should be conditioned on individual compliance with prescribed requirements—'obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel,’” (Articles of Faith, by James Talmage, p. 79).

  • “This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts,” (LDS Bible Dictionary, p. 697).

Admittedly, many Mormons may not even know that this is what their church teaches regarding salvation. But these are Mormon writings that have neither ceased to be taught or been repudiated by the Mormon church, and they are the teachings of leaders in good standing with the church and indeed the foundation of their religious teaching.

In short, Mormons believe that being a good person is precisely what makes someone a Christian. Jesus is not the means of salvation, but the point at which the means begins. This is fundamentally at odds with orthodox Christian teaching, false, unbiblical, and heretical. 

Mormonism and Jesus

This leads us into our third question, “Do Mormons worship the Jesus of the Bible?” which you probably have already figured out the answer to.

The Mormons view the classical Christian doctrine of God as basically a cultural capitulation, meaning the real doctrines of God were lost over time and marred by cultural connotations. (Notably, this view has been debunked by scholars such as Richard Bauckham, Simon Gathercole, and Larry Hurtado, among others.)

Douglas J. Davies spells out the Mormon view of cultural capitulation in his work An Introduction to Mormonism:

“There is nothing surprising or novel in religious groups developing theological ideas in new directions. Early Christians, for example, took Jewish religious traditions of God, creation, sin, the fall, redemption, a saviour figure, resurrection, and a people of God, and reconfigured them all in relation to Jesus of Nazareth identified as saviour and lord. Christianity also brought a very open boundary to that previously, largely controlled community of Jews and talked not only about a spirit power that qualified people for inclusion but also asserted the belief that the resurrection had already begun in the person of Jesus. It was not long before a variety of other ideas, especially Greek ideas, helped ongoing generations of Christians to express their growing sense that Jesus was also divine and needed to be included in a new view of God as a Holy Trinity. The early Christian idea that Christ would soon return to transform the world was itself transformed into an ongoing commitment to develop and expand the Christian community itself.”[10]

What the Mormons teach about Jesus

Davies has done the heavylifting for us on Mormon beliefs. The following is a summary of his research on Mormon belief about Jesus from his work, An Introduction to Mormonism.

The Mormon Scriptures do reference Jesus Christ as the Son of God (Helaman 5:12; 3 Nephi 14:24-6; Mosiah 3:8), and their Articles of Faith open with the assertion that Jesus Christ is the Son of God the Eternal Father. Indeed, the Mormon doctrine of God is often confusing to Christians because it uses the language that is familiar to them but means something different by it.

“The Articles open with the assertion: ‘We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.’ This simple affirmation echoes the doctrine of the Trinity, which gradually became the mark of orthodoxy during the first four hundred years of Christianity and sets the mark for all subsequent debates about the nature of God. Whilst reflecting early Christian creeds the affirmation does not express the rationale of LDS thought, especially its later development, for it does not operate on the same philosophical principles. Though some LDS writers have tried to describe LDS accounts of God in relation to the official creeds of Christendom, the venture is seldom fruitful, because the worlds of thought and of ritual action associated with them are markedly different (Hale 1989: 7–14). In fact the LDS approach to God is not always easy for members of other Christian denominations to grasp, because of the distinctive value given to the relative status of ‘God’, ‘Father’ and ‘Son’. Jesus Christ, for example, is identified with the Old Testament figure of Jehovah and was the God of Israel. This immediately draws a distinction between LDS and most other Christian traditions, which would identify the God of the Hebrews as ‘the Father’, and Jesus as the Father’s Son.”[11]

What exactly do Mormon’s mean by ‘Father’?

“At the outset the very word ‘Father’ demands close attention. Many ordinary Christians would, in popular terms and in practical spirituality, identify God the Father with the God of the Old Testament, often referred to as Jehovah. For them the link between Father and Jehovah is assumed and they would not anticipate the counter-intuitive LDS view that equates Jesus with Jehovah. For ordinary Christians it is important to stress this fact: in Mormon terms Jesus is Jehovah and Jehovah is not the Father. In Mormon terminology the source responsible for all spirits, including that of Jesus, is Elohim. This Hebrew plural noun of majesty or intensity is usually used with a verb in the singular and, biblically, describes the single identity of God the Father. In the opinion of Latter-day Saints and in their traditional ritual, however, Elohim becomes particularly important in relation to creation stories, in which it is given a full plural designation–the Gods (Abraham 4: 1). This marks a clear distinction from historical Christian doctrine.”[12]

What exactly do Mormons mean when they say that Jesus is the ‘Son of God’? Well, they take it quite literally.

“More traditionally, perhaps, Jesus is taken to be the ‘Son of God’, and this in the most direct sense of God the Father engaging with Mary to engender his Son. This allows Latter-day Saints to speak of the divine and the human nature in Jesus without becoming involved in the technical debates of the early period of Christian history. The Articles of Faith, for example, do not refer to the human and divine natures of Jesus, nor yet to his mother being a virgin, nor to a virgin birth. Brigham Young was clear on the subject, ‘the Being whom we call Father was the Father of the spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, and he was also his Father pertaining to the flesh. Infidels and Christians, make all you can of this statement’: Mary was impregnated by God the Father to produce Jesus in the same way as Brigham’s father had sired him (Young 1992:127,137)” (emphasis mine).[13]

For Mormons, Jesus is in the most literal sense God the Father’s son who was born as a result of intimate, physical relations between the Father God and a young woman named Mary, who is somehow still considered by Mormons to be a virgin. 

“In more formal terms, God the Father, or ‘God the Eternal Father’ as he is often addressed in worship, is particularly important because, along with a heavenly mother figure, he is the source of all spirit children. Jesus, too, was produced as a spirit child in this way in the pre-existent world prior to his taking a human body through Mary, in a human birth that was the outcome of a form of union between Mary and the Eternal Father. As the Prophet Ezra Taft Benson explained it: ‘Jesus was not the son of Joseph, nor was he begotten by the Holy Ghost. He is the Son of the Eternal Father’ (1983: 4, cited by Millet 1992: 725)” (emphasis mine).[14]

Because of all of this, Mormons prefer to talk of the Godhead as opposed to the Trinity.

“As far as the LDS doctrine of the godhead is concerned–and ‘Godhead’ is a term much preferred over ‘Trinity’–much is driven by Joseph Smith’s first vision, when he was fourteen years of age. Joseph described a great pillar of light in which two divine beings came to him: the one was assumed to be God the Father because he called the other his Son. It is precisely because these two ‘personages’, as they are usually called, were perceived by Joseph to be distinct entities that Mormonism set itself on the path to a notion of godhead which some stress as being twofold but others as threefold, albeit with the qualification that two of the three possessed actual bodies. This visionary presence of Jesus is at least as important as the doctrine of the Incarnation as the foundation for belief in the divine engagement with human bodies.”[15]

Interestingly, in Mormon theology, Jesus was a polygamist.

“One minor aspect of early LDS thought, or perhaps it might better be called speculation, and one that is rarely formally discussed today, is the idea that Jesus did, in fact, marry, and that he married both Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, whom he raised from the dead (see Buerger 1994: 67; Kraut 1969). This idea would probably be viewed as impious by many ordinary Christian traditions, not simply because the Bible says nothing about it, but because marriage, sex and sin often seem to combine in a negative way in everyday Christian mentality, despite theological protestations to the contrary, and Christians do not associate Jesus with sin of any sort. In LDS spirituality, however, sexuality is largely positive and in early Mormonism marriage, especially plural marriage, became the route to exaltation rather than to hell.”

Put most simply:

“Mormons, as we have seen, identify Christ with Jehovah. Jehovah existed prior to his incarnation as the ‘first-born’ of the myriads of pre-existent spirits. The following statements from James Talmadge, in his Articles of Faith, make this clear: ‘Among the spirit-children of Elohim the firstborn was and is Jehovah or Jesus Christ to whom all others are juniors’ (p. 471). ‘Jesus Christ is not the Father of the spirits who have taken or yet shall take bodies upon this earth, for He is one of them. He is The Son as they are sons or daughters of Elohim’ (pp. 472-73). Not also the following statements from Doctrine and Covenants: ‘And now, verily I say unto you, I was in the beginning with the Father, and am the First-born; And all those who are begotten through me are partakers of the glory of the same, and are the church of the First-born. Yet were also in the beginning with the Father…(93:21-23).’ From these statements it is evident that, for Mormons, the only difference between Christ and us is that Christ was the first-born of Elohim’s children, whereas we, in our pre-existence, were ‘born’ later. The distinction between Christ and us is therefore one of degree, not one of kind.”[16]

However, this system of belief has some undesirable consequences.

“If the devil and the demons were also spirit-children of Elohim, it must follow that they, too, are Jesus’ brothers. This is exactly what one Mormon writer says: ‘As for the Devil and his fellow spirits, they are brothers to man and also to Jesus and sons and daughters of God in the same sense that we are.’ One could therefore even say that, for Mormons, the difference between Christ and the devil is not one of kind, but of degree!”[17]

Or further:

“From the foregoing it has already become evident that in Mormon theology Jesus Christ is basically not any more divine than any one of us. We have previously noted that Mormons deny the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so they teach, are not one God but three gods. It remains further to note that Christ is not considered equal to the Father: ‘Jesus is greater than the Holy Spirit, which is subject unto him, but his Father is greater than he.’ Though it is said that Christ’ created this earth under the Father’s direction, it is also said that certain pre-existence spirits, like Adam and Joseph Smith, helped him. Further confirming Mormonism’s denial of the essential deity of Christ is the following statement by Mormon elder B. H. Roberts: ‘The divinity of Jesus is the truth which now requires to be reperceived…the divinity of Jesus and [the divinity] of all other noble and saintly souls, insofar as they, too, have been inflamed by a spark of Deity—insofar as they, too, can be recognized as manifestations of the Divine.’ When we recall the goal of Mormon eschatology is for man to attain godhood, we conclude that the Christ of Mormonism is a far cry from the Christ of the Scriptures. Neither his divinity nor his incarnation are unique. His divinity is not unique, for it is the same as that to which man may attain. His incarnation is not unique, for it is no different from that of other gods before him, who were incarnated on other earths; nor is it different from that of man, who also was a pre-existent spirit before he was incarnated on this earth.”[18]

The point of all this is that it's clear from Mormonism’s own teachings and doctrines that they do not follow the Jesus of the Bible but rather a Jesus of their own making.

In a former post on this site, I spelled out the doctrine of the Trinity (“Reflections on James MacDonald, TD Jakes, and the Trinity”) in depth, so I’ll refrain from repeating that task here. Suffice it to say, the Mormon’s refusal to accept Jesus as a member of the Trinity, equal with the Father and the Son, fully divine, and not the incarnated God, is flat out heresy and a denial of orthodox Christian teaching.

Conclusion: Mormonism is a cult theologically

So what do we make of all this? Simply said, by the theological definition, Mormonism is a cult.

As the presidential race heats up and the prospect of a practicing Mormon as a viable Republican candidate becomes more a reality, there will be continued effort to bring Mormonism into the center of Christian orthodoxy. Thus, it's important to understand what the cult of Mormonism teaches, to understand that it's antithetical to Christianity, and that, while it's certain there are some Christians in the Mormon church who love the Jesus of the Bible and don’t understand or agree with what their church teaches, the Mormon church could never be considered orthodox unless it made some serious and massive changes to it’s theology.

The danger facing the Christian church is always to capitulate to culture. As Mormonism becomes more culturally acceptable, the temptation will be to make Mormonism more acceptable to Christians as well. This can’t happen if the Church is to preserve it’s witness in the world to the true triune God of the Bible as worshipped by Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians alike

Many mormons are good neighbors, friends, and fellow citizens. But, we cannot go so far as to call them brothers and sisters in a common faith. To do so is to not only confuse real Christians, but to also diminish the importance of lovingly speaking with Mormons about the errors of their belief in hopes of seeing them come to know the real God of the Bible and avoiding eternal damnation for worshipping a false god. 

Further Study

For more on orthodox Christian teachings about Jesus, see my books Vintage Jesus and Doctrine.

Also, see the corresponding sermon series for each book, “Vintage Jesus” and “Doctrine”.

Endnotes

  1. Charles Braden, These Also Believe (MacMillan, 2000), xii.

  2. Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults (Bethany House, 2003), 17.

  3. Walter Martin, The Rise of Cults (Vision House, 1978), 12.

  4. Campbell, Colin. 1998. “Cult.” Pp. 122-123 in Encyclopedia of Religion and Society. William H. Swatos Jr. (ed.). Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

  5. Richardson, James T. 1978. “An Oppositional and General Conceptualization of Cult.” Annual Review of the Social Sciences of Religion 2: 29-52.

  6. Johnson, Allan G. 2000. “Cult.” P. 69 in The Blackwell Dictionary of Sociology: A User’s Guide to Sociological Language, second edition. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.

  7. http://www.adherents.com/adh_rb.html

  8. Robbins, T. and D. Anthony. 1982. “Deprogramming, Brainwashing and the Medicalization of Deviant Religious Groups.” Social Problems 29: 283-297.

  9. http://mormon.org/plan-of-happiness/

  10. Douglas J. Davies, An Introduction to Mormonism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 35.

  11. Davies, An Introduction to Mormonism, 67.

  12. Davies, An Introduction to Mormonism, 67-68.

  13. Davies, An Introduction to Mormonism, 69.

  14. Davies, An Introduction to Mormonism, 70.

  15. Davies, An Introduction to Mormonism, 70-71.

  16. Anthony Hoekema, The Four Major Cults (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eermands Pub. Co., 1963), 53-54. For further refutation, see Andrew Jackson, Mormonism Explains: What Latter-Day Saints Teach and Practice (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008).

  17. Hoekema, The Four Major Cults, 54.

  18. Hoekema, The Four Major Cults, 54.