Is Mormonism a Cult?
There are many people in the world who refer to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the “Mormon Church.” Perhaps one of the main reasons for this nickname is the fact that the Latter-day Saints use an additional volume of scripture called the Book of Mormon, which they undeniably testify is Another Testament of Jesus Christ. It is also for this reason that many people, including many mainstream Christian denominations, argue that the teachings and doctrine (known as Mormonism) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are false, and that members of the Church are not Christians, but are practicing members of a cult.
One definition of the word cult is: “A system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.” By that definition alone, almost any Christian denomination could be classified as a cult. A second definition of the word, and perhaps the one that those who oppose the teachings of the LDS Church refer to is: “A relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.” It is interesting to note that as of 31 December 2010, it was reported that there are approximately 14.1 million members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worldwide, indicating that the members are not small in number. And so, it is not the number of members per se that people have issues with, but rather it is the beliefs and practices of the Church that they deem as being strange or sinister.
There are those, however, who do not necessarily believe that Mormonism is a cult, but rather are intrigued by the beliefs and teachings of the LDS Church and genuinely seek to find answers to their questions to help gain a better understanding of those things that seem to be a mystery, but in reality are not. In his book titled The Complete Christian, Elder Robert S. Wood of the Second Quorum of the Seventy and former international affairs advisor, recounts an experience he had with a Russian diplomat in the mid-1980s. The Russian diplomat asked Elder Wood if he had ever heard of Joseph Smith. Elder Wood answered that not only had he heard of Joseph Smith, but that he was also a member of the Church Smith had organized. Having been introduced to Mormonism by a book entitled A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, the Russian diplomat proceeded to offer his profound, sincere summary of meaning of the LDS religion:
As I understand it, Joseph Smith brought together two ideas that are generally in conflict with each other and combined them in a remarkable synthesis. On the one hand, the Latter-day Saints believe that mortality is but a moment in eternity and that men and women do not spring into existence at birth and are annihilated at death. We existed before birth and shall persist after death. Moreover, there is a link between those who are yet to be born, those who now live, and those who have passed beyond the grave; there is, in fact, communication across those seeming barriers. Some who have lived have returned and communicated with the living, and there is a great cooperative enterprise that links the unborn, the living, and the dead, aimed at their mutual salvation and perfection.
At the same time, the Latter-day Saints seem very concerned with improving the lot of mankind in mortality. They do not believe that happiness is simply for another world but needs to be established here through common temporal as well as spiritual efforts. You seem to be community builders. You’re very pragmatic as well.
Describing the character of Latter-day Saints, Newsweek magazine wrote: “No matter where Mormons live, they find themselves part of a network of mutual concern; in Mormon theology everyone is a minister of a kind, everyone is empowered in some way to do good to others, and to have good done unto them: it is a 21st century covenant of caring. This caring is not limited to Church members alone, but extends far beyond.”
Although there is a considerable amount of positive reporting about the Church in the media, there is also an overshadowing of negativism about the Church that appears in media resources as well. As noted by Church spokespersons in the LDS Newsroom article “Mormonism 101″:
For instance, reporters pressed for time tend to take peripheral aspects of the faith and place them front and center as if they were vital tenets of belief. Additionally, sincere commentators often overemphasize what others see as “different” about Latter-day Saints at the expense of highlighting the Church’s most fundamental doctrines in their reporting. Unfortunately, as many members attest, this kind of journalism paints a distorted picture of the Church and continues to confuse the public.
Despite these complications, the Church welcomes honest inquiry from all types of media outlets. The Church expects journalists to be accurate and honest and to focus on the faith as it is lived and believed by its members.
In spite of all of the good reports from the media and from people who have shared their positive experiences about the Church, there are still many sincere people who continue to debate whether or not Latter-day Saints are Christians. One might ask why anyone would even need to ask such a question. Doesn’t the name of the Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, stand as its own witness and testimony that this is a Christian church? Do not the members of the Church worship Christ and preach and teach His doctrines? If a person would take the time to prayerfully read and ponder the Book of Mormon, would they not discover for themselves that it is Another Testament of Jesus Christ?
Stephen E. Robinson in his article titled “Are Mormons Christian?” which appeared in the May 1998 isssue of the New Era magazine stated:
There are a number of arguments used supposedly to “prove” that we are not Christian. It is important to recognize that none of them have anything to do with whether or not Latter-day Saints believe in Jesus Christ. Rather, what they basically boil down to is this: Latter-day Saints are different from the other Christian churches. (We understand that these differences exist because traditional Christianity has wandered from the truth over the centuries, but other denominations see things otherwise.)
Robinson further stated that, “Their arguments against the Latter-day Saints being Christian generally fall into six basic categories:” (1) Exclusion by special definition, (2) Exclusion by misrepresentation, (3) Name calling, (4) Exclusion by tradition, (5) The canonical or biblical exclusion, and (6) The doctrinal exclusion. The following are his definitions of each of these six categories:
Exclusion by special definition
What is a Christian? The term is found three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16), but it is not defined in any of those passages. According to Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, the term Christian may be defined in a number of ways, but the most common is “one who believes or professes … to believe in Jesus Christ and the truth as taught by him … one whose life is conformed to the doctrines of Christ.” The second most common meaning is “a member of a church or group professing Christian doctrine or belief.”
Under either of these two definitions, Latter-day Saints qualify as Christians. However, if a special definition is created under which Christian means “only those who believe as I do,” then others might claim Latter-day Saints aren’t Christians—but all this would really mean is that while Mormons believe in Christ, we don’t believe exactly as they do. Excluding us in this way by inventing a special definition for the word Christian is like defining a duck as an aquatic bird with a broad, flat bill, webbed feet, and white feathers, and then concluding that mallards aren’t ducks because their feathers are the wrong color. . . .
Exclusion by misrepresentation
Some people insist on condemning Latter-day Saints for doctrines the Saints don’t even believe. They say, in effect, “This is what you Mormons believe.” Then they recite something that is certainly not taught by the Latter-day Saints. It’s easy to make LDS beliefs seem absurd if critics can make up whatever they want and pass it off as LDS doctrine. . . .
Another form of misrepresentation is to claim something is official LDS doctrine when it may merely be an individual opinion or even speculation. The official doctrine of the Latter-day Saints is clearly defined and readily accessible to all. Doctrines are official if they are found in the standard works of the Church, if they are sustained by the Church in general conference (D&C 26:2), or if they are taught by the First Presidency as a presidency. Policies and procedures are official whenever those who hold the keys and have been sustained by the Church to make them declare them so. . . .
Name calling has often been used in religious controversies. At one time, Catholics called Protestants “heretics,” and Protestants called Catholics “papists.” But this sort of tactic amounts to nothing more than saying, “Boo for your religion, and hurrah for mine.”
The negative term most frequently flung at the LDS is “cult,” a term which can suggest images of pagan priests and rituals. But the truth is there is no objective distinction by which a cult may be distinguished from a religion. Use of the term cult does not tell us what a religion is, only how it is regarded by the person using the term. It simply means “a religion I don’t like.” . . .
Exclusion by tradition
It is sometimes argued that to be truly Christian, modern churches must accept both biblical Christianity and the traditional Christianity of later history. In other words, one must accept not just biblical doctrines, but also the centuries of historical development—the councils, creeds, customs, theologians, and philosophers—that came along after New Testament times. Since the Latter-day Saints do not accept doctrines originating in the early Church after the death of the apostles and prophets, we are accused of not being “historical” or “traditional” Christians.
In fact, we believe that revelation to the early Church stopped because of the death of the Apostles and the growing apostasy, or falling away, from the truth. In the absence of Apostles, the church eventually turned to councils of philosophers and theologians, for guidance. These councils, after lengthy debates, in turn interpreted the gospel according to their best understanding. Often they drew upon the philosophies of respected men (like Plato), concluding, for example, that God has no body or physical nature; or that the three separate persons of the Godhead—the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost—are only one being. The declarations of these councils are still generally accepted today by traditional Christian churches as official doctrines. Yet these creeds were formulated centuries after the deaths of the Apostles and the close of the New Testament. . . .
The canonical or biblical exclusion
The term “canon of scripture” refers to the collection of books accepted by any group as the authoritative word of God. For most Christians the canon of scripture is limited to the Bible. But Latter-day Saints have a larger canon of scripture that includes the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. The canonical exclusion, in its simplest form, says that since Latter-day Saints have books of scripture in addition to the “traditional” Christian Bible, they cannot be Christians.
One of the problems with this canonical exclusion lies in the assumption that there is only one “traditional” Christian Bible. Over the centuries, there have been a number of different versions of the Bible, and many Christian churches and individuals have disagreed about which books should be included. Even today, the Bible used by Catholics contains a number of different books than the Bible used by Protestants. Yet Catholics and Protestants continue to call each other Christians—even though they have different canons of scripture. . . .
One of the most common arguments used by critics of the Church as evidence that the Bible forbids adding to or taking away from the canon of scripture is based on the scripture found in Revelation 22:18–19:
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
What many critics fail to realize or admit is that when John wrote Revelation, the Bible as we know it today did not exist. Therefore, “this book” that he refers to is in reference to his own book—the Book of Revelation—and not the entire Bible. If that were the case, and if there were any validity to the argument, then would it not follow that Christians should not read past the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy (also known as the fifth book of Moses) in the Bible because in Deuteronomy 4:2 are recorded these words, “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you“?
In his New Era magazine article, Stephen Robinson further stated, “The truth is that prophets have usually added to the scriptures—almost all the biblical apostles and prophets did this. There is, in fact, no biblical statement whatever closing the canon of scripture or prohibiting additional revelation or additional scripture after the New Testament.”
The doctrinal exclusion
This type of argument claims that since the Latter-day Saints do not always interpret the Bible as other Christians do, we must not be Christians. But, in fact, other denominations also differ among themselves doctrinally, and it is unreasonable to demand that Latter-day Saints conform to a single standard of “Christian” doctrine when no such single standard exists.
For example, the Latter-day Saints are accused of worshiping a “different god” because we do not believe in the traditional Trinity. “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost” (Article of Faith 1) as taught in the New Testament. What Latter-day Saints do not believe is the non-Biblical doctrine formulated by the councils of Nicaea (A.D. 325) and Chalcedon (A.D. 451) centuries after the time of Jesus—the doctrine that God is three coequal persons in one substance or essence. We do not believe it because it is not scriptural. As Harper’s Bible Dictionary states: “The formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the New Testament.”
Not one of these aforementioned arguments, as defined and addressed by Stephen Robinson in his article as to why some people consider Latter-day Saints to be non-Christian, holds water. Careful notice will show that none of the arguments presented by critics addresses the question of whether Latter-day Saints accept Jesus Christ as the Divine Son of God and Savior of the world. Why is this? It is because in all actuality it isn’t the LDS doctrine that is objectionable to critics.
What is objectionable to critics is the claim that a 14-year-old, uneducated farm boy saw God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ in the sacred grove in upstate New York in the Spring of 1820, as he knelt to pray to inquire of the Lord which of all the sects was right, that he might know which to join; that Joseph was given the answer he must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and that the Personage who addressed Joseph said, “all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof’” (see Joseph Smith—History 1:18–19).
What is objectionable to critics is the fact that this uneducated farm boy was called to be God’s Prophet and was the Lord’s instrument for bringing about the restoration of the fulness of the everlasting Gospel. Critics object not to what the Book of Mormon says, but rather to the Book of Mormon itself and the fact that Latter-day Saints believe that it, like the Bible, is the Word of God and is another testament of Jesus Christ.
Finally, what these critics find objectionable is that the everlasting Gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth in its fulness in these the latter-days. It is these beliefs and teachings of the Latter-day Saints that critics of the Church find to be strange and sinister, and which they therefore use to justify considering The Church of Jesus of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be non-Christian and its members to be practitioners of a cult.