Is Mormonism a Cult?

I have no interest in the political aspects of this question, and I have no political recommendations for you. I’m interested in the question because I’m fascinated by words and by the media’s inadequacy in dealing with religious questions.

The problem with the question is that the word “cult” has several meanings. I can think of a number of different usages, but only two are germane to the current question. The popular meaning of cult today is a religious group often with a charismatic leader who is authoritarian and uses mind control techniques on his followers. Think Jim Jones and the mass suicide of his followers in Guyana or David Koresh and the Branch Davidians who died in Waco. Is Mormonism a cult in this sense? I think the answer is no.

But there is another definition that is relevant. The late Anthony Hoekema, a former Calvin College professor, wrote a book called The Four Major Cults. The four are Christian Science, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, and Seventh Day Adventism. He had a very specialized meaning of cult in mind. His definition is that which is unorthodox and breaks with historic Christianity.1 The World Christian Encyclopedia is a social science reference book that attempts to classify all Christian denominations, but they break all of them down into six major groupings. One group is “marginal,” and that is where Mormonism is placed. Why marginal? Again, it is because of their break with historic Christian beliefs.

How different is it? Latayne C. Scott is a convert from Mormonism. Her book, The Mormon Mirage, was published 32 years ago by Zondervan and is still in print. When asked whether Mormonism is Christian, she answers with a series of questions.

Do you believe that God the father was once a man and grew to adulthood on another earth and achieved godhood? Do you believe you can become a god or goddess? Do you believe that the Bible is so flawed and in error that it gives Satan power over people who read and believe it? Do you believe that Jesus didn’t keep his promise to protect his church against the gates of hell?2

Mormonism does not believe in God as trinity, but rather the Father Son, and Holy Spirit are three gods. Doctrines and Covenants teaches that the Father has a body of flesh and blood (130:22). Human beings have the potential of becoming a god. Mormons have a wonderful emphasis on family and a notable missionary zeal, but they frequently use Bible terms with entirely different meanings. Are they a cult in the sense that they break with historic Christian teaching? The answer is yes.

1Anthony Hoekema, The Four Major Cults, p. 374

2http://www.christianchronicle.org/article2159446~A_conversation_with_Latayne_C._Scott

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