This column appeared Sept. 12, 2012, in The Pathway, the official news service of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
With the national conventions behind us and the November elections on the horizon, Mitt Romney’s Mormonism increasingly finds its way into conversations. And that’s a good thing because it prompts all of us to learn more about a belief system that remains shrouded in mystery despite its American roots nearly 200 years ago.
At the end of the day, your friends may ask you point-blank: Is Mormonism a cult?
It’s a dicey question. If you answer yes, you may be accused of political incorrectness – or worse, religious bigotry. If you answer no, you may be tacitly approving of Mormonism as just another Christian denomination, which it’s not.
Think you know a lot about the differences between Christianity and other belief systems? Here’s a chance to test your knowledge — and have a little fun along the way. The answers are at the end of the exam.
1. Which of the following is not a Hindu scripture:
a) Rig Veda
b) Sama Veda
c) Yajur Veda
d) Darth Veda
2. True or false:
Islam is the second largest religion in the world – and one of the fastest growing.
3. True or false:
Buddhism has its roots in Hinduism but differs in many beliefs and practices.
4. The great dividing line between Judaism and Christianity is:
a) Kosher foods
b) The Sabbath
c) Mel Brooks
d) Jesus as Messiah
5. Who founded Scientology:
a) Tom Cruise
b) L. Ron Hubbard
c) E. Buzz Miller
d) Stephen Hawking
6. Which of the following religions is best summarized by the statement, “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become:”
b) Christian Science
7. A cult is best described as:
a) A blue oyster
b) A dead-end street
c) Merchandise at Big Lots
d) Counterfeit Christianity
8. Muhammad taught that Jesus (circle all that apply):
a) Was a great prophet
b) Was born of a virgin
c) Lived a sinless life
d) Died on the cross
e) Is coming back one day
9. The Jehovah’s Witnesses deny (circle all that apply):
a) Ever knocking on your door
b) The deity of Christ
c) The Trinity
d) Soul sleep
e) Eternal punishment in hell
f) Jesus’ invisible return in 1914
10. Who is Siddhartha Gautama?
a) Master of the pan flute
b) The explorer who discovered Guatemala
c) The founder of Buddhism
d) The real name of rapper Snoop Dogg
11. True or false:
Mary Baker Eddy, L. Ron Hubbard and Sun Myung Moon joined forces in 1984 to form what they claimed was “perfect Christianity.” They called their new organization the Unification Church of Christian Scientology.
12. According to Mormon history, which of the following Jewish tribes crossed the Atlantic and became the ancestors of the American Indians:
a) The Lamanites
b) The Jebusites
c) The Parasites
d) The Kung Pao Buckaroos
1) d; 2) true; 3) true; 4) d; 5) b; 6) c; 7) d; 8) a, b, c, e; 9) b, c, e; 10) c; 11) false; 12) a
An article posted on the Web site 2spare.com profiles the 10 greatest impostors in history. Topping the list is Victor Lustig, the man who sold the Eiffel Tower for scrap and then fled the country with a suitcase full of cash; Frank Abagnale, who is best known for masquerading as Pan Am pilot Frank Williams, and whose life story was captured in the popular film “Catch Me if You Can;” and Christopher Rocancourt, who scammed affulent people by masquerading as a French member of the Rockefeller family. Also on the list are Mary Baker, the so-called Princess Caraboo from the island of Javasu; and pop duo Milli Vanilli.
But one name conspicuous by its absence is the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church, who claims to be the messiah. For more than 50 years, he has gathered followers in South Korea, the United States and other countries, promoting himself as the “Lord of the Second Advent” who has come to finish the mission that Jesus failed to complete.
Every Christian should reject the Rev. Moon’s claims — and should reject the teachings of the Unification Church because of its unbiblical views, specifically concerning God, the Fall, Jesus, the Rev. Moon, and salvation.
Click on the links below for illustrations of how the Mormon Church historically has explained “Heavenly Father’s” / “Elohim’s” path to godhood, followed by an illustration of man’s path to “exaltation” or “eternal life.”
Christians should reject the Mormon doctrine of God for three reasons:
1. It is unscriptural
2. It is polytheistic (worshiping multiple gods) and henotheistic (directing worship to one god among many)
3. It degrades God and deifies man
Listen to an audio file:
Download an audio file:
What is a cult?
We are defining a cult as: a religious organization whose members claim to be Christians, and who use the Bible and Christian terms, yet who deny the central beliefs of historical Christianity. Simply put, a cult is counterfeit Christianity.
The Bible cautions us to beware of false messiahs, false prophets and false teachers who “disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” and promote “doctrines of demons” (see Matt. 24:23-27; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 4:1-4).
What are some words and concepts related to the word “cult”?
False religion/false belief system. From a New Testament perspective, a false religion is any system of belief that opposes the central teachings of the Christian faith. While all cults of Christianity are false religions, not all false religions are cults, because not all religions claim to be Christian. Islam, for example, is a false religion but not a cult, because Islam does not claim to be Christian.
Occult. The occult generally is classified in three ways: 1) spiritism or spiritualism – the view that spirit is a prime element or reality, or a belief that the spirits of the dead can commune with the living, usually through a medium; 2) fortune telling or sorcery – divination by the assistance of evil spirits; and 3) magic– the use of means such as charms or spells believed to have power over natural forces. Although cults should not be confused with the occult, some cults and cult founders, such as Mormonism’s founder Joseph Smith, do engage in occultic practices.
Heresy. This may be defined as a teaching that directly opposes the essentials of the Christian faith, so that true Christians must separate themselves from those who hold to that teaching. Examples of heresy include a denial of Christ’s deity, full humanity, virgin birth, or bodily resurrection.
Sect. Within Christianity, a sect is a distinctive, persisting and separately organized group of believers who reject the established religious authorities, but who claim to adhere to the authentic elements of the faith. So the term may refer to genuinely Christian groups that have distanced themselves from established churches or denominations – and to some degree the predominant culture they represent – in order to emphasize one or more beliefs or practices they feel have been lost. Example: The International Church of Christ, which adheres to a Biblical view of God and Christ but claims to be the only movement proclaiming the true message of salvation today.
How many people are in cults?
It’s difficult to know with certainty the number of people engaged in cults because of varying definitions of the term cult. But if you consider only Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses – the two largest cults that fit our definition – the number of cult members totals nearly 20 million.
What are common characteristics of cults?
While cults vary widely in beliefs and practices, some common threads run through them, for example:
A single charismatic leader or authority figure apart from Jesus Christ. Examples include Victor Paul Wierwille (now deceased), founder of The Way International; and the Unification Church’s Sun Myung Moon, the self-proclaimed messiah who came to complete Jesus’ failed mission.
Belief in “new” revelation, which often contradicts and always overrides previous revelations. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), for example, is led by a president who is called “prophet, seer and revelator.” He receives and passes down new revelation – such as the “new” and unscriptural revelation that humans are essentially “gods in embryo.”
Acceptance of new written authority, which either supercedes the Bible or is necessary to “properly understand” scripture. For example, Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures is the Christian Scientist’s way to interpret the Bible. And The Book of Mormon is one of several “inspired” writings considered authoritative by Latter-day Saints.
Changed theology, which redefines Christian terms, remakes Jesus Christ and reforms His finished work at Calvary. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, claim Jesus was once Michael the Archangel, a created being; and Latter-day Saints believe that men may become gods. Key theological characteristics of the cults include:
- A denial of the Trinity.
- A denial of salvation by grace alone through faith.
- Denial of Jesus’ bodily resurrection.
- Reduction of the absolute authority of Scripture.
- Rejection of the doctrine of eternal punishment.
- Emphasis on experience over doctrine.
- Emphasis on direct revelations and visions from God.
- Unhealthy fixation on the end times.
- Over-emphasis on minor points of theology.
To boil it down, cult leaders consistently counterfeit Christianity in three ways, according to the apostle Paul: They preach “another Jesus … a different spirit … a different gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4). By masquerading as “servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:15), they twist the doctrines concerning the person and work of Christ; the Holy Spirit and the spiritual realm; and the gospel message of salvation by grace through faith, apart from human effort.
Download this Powerpoint presentation:
Copyright 2008 Rob Phillips