KANSAS City, Mo. (BP) -- Dr. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church of Dallas touched a very sensitive nerve when he referred to the Mormon church and faith as a cult. People have raised the issue and the question, "What, in fact, are evangelicals' attitudes towards Mormons?" That has been the focus of much of the inquiry thrown at Jeffress.
It is important for us to remember that the question here is much broader than just evangelicals. Virtually every self-confessed Christian movement in America rejects Mormonism as a true expression of biblical or traditional Christian faith to the point that ex-Mormons are generally asked to be
|Salt Lake Temple|
baptized again when joining a non-LDS church. This fact is true both of the Roman Catholic Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Presbyterian Church USA, and a variety of others. The United Methodist Church in 1995 included a report and a study document done on Mormonism which stated that the LDS church is not "a part of the historic, apostolic tradition of the Christian faith." The important issue for us is that this raises a concern, not only in terms of Mormonism, but in terms of how a cult is defined.
When I was director of interfaith evangelism at the North American Mission Board, we generally approached the idea of a "cult" as a religious movement which claimed to be the only true expression of the Christian faith and yet had altered or changed one or more of the essential doctrines of the faith. Using this as a working definition, Mormonism is clearly, absolutely, completely, and thoroughly a "religious cult." And while the word "cult" may be less than academic, it still carries popular meaning when used in a doctrinal sense as Dr. Jeffress has done.
While there may be other ways to define a cult both ethically, sociologically and psychologically, our primary concern is the essence and nature of the Mormon movement in terms of its contrasts and comparison with biblically based Christianity. When I am asked the question, "Is Mormonism a cult?," I generally respond by saying there are three elements that everyone must be clearly aware of when it comes to Mormonism. These elements make it an aberrant expression of the Christian faith -- i.e., a "cult."
1. Mormonism radically redefines and doctrinally reconstructs the Christian faith. There is no major doctrine of the faith, whether it be God, Jesus, salvation or inspiration of the Scriptures that Mormonism has not severely and completely altered and changed from its original intent. These alterations include:
-- The Bible has "plain and precious parts" missing from it. The Book of Mormon, and the LDS volumes "Pearl of Great Price" and "Doctrine and Covenants" comprise the truly trustworthy scriptures.
-- The doctrine of god and of humans -- believing that there are an infinite number of gods in the universe and that the temple worthy males among them may become gods. Lorenzo Snow expressed this view in a well-known couplet: "As man is, God once was -- as God is, man may become." God himself is confined to a body of flesh and bones.
-- Jesus was a procreated child of God and his wife in the spirit realm. He is also God's son "in the flesh." Smith maintained that the Holy Spirit was not involved with the conception of Jesus. The issue, then, is figuring out how Mary became pregnant and how she "contributed 23 chromosomes to Jesus while God contributed 23," to quote a BYU professor.
-- The fullness of salvation is "not easy," but it is "possible," as Mormons work to be worthy of celestial exaltation in an ultra-legalistic system of religious acts.
These concerns are just scratching the surface of the doctrinal errors of Mormonism.
2. Mormonism radically redefines and reconstructs the Christian worldview. If one understands the Mormon faith clearly, their position would maintain that:
-- Native Americans are true descendants of Jewish people.
-- There once flourished a major Jewish civilization in the western world.
-- There was a language that existed called Reformed Egyptian which was the dominant language at one time in the western world and the Book of Mormon was written in it.
-- The millennium will be a Mormon millennium with millennial headquarters established in Independence, Mo., with the temple work for the dead and genealogical research being done across the world in order to ensure proxy baptism for virtually every human being who had ever lived.
-- The Mormon faith alone will dominate and guide the world after Christ's return.
-- Joseph Smith is the true prophet of God who reestablished God's one true church on the earth.
3. Mormonism is disingenuous in its approach to proselytization. While claiming to be true to the Christian faith, Mormonism has seriously redesigned and recreated it. The whole basis of the church is built on the words of Jesus which are canonized in Joseph Smith's religious autobiography. Joseph Smith claimed that God and Jesus commanded him not to join any church because "they were all wrong ... their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors [members] were all corrupt." Mormonism, in fact, has set itself apart from main-stream Christianity. It has insisted that in order to join and be a part of God's one true church, as well as to enter into the fullness of his salvation, one must become either a temple-worthy Mormon in this life or proxy baptized and temple-worthy in the life to come.
No matter how Robert Jeffress may be viewed by the general public, the main essential issue is that Mormonism has been, is, and probably always will be a radical departure from Biblical faith.
Phil Roberts is president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.