Lately, there has been much discussion about whether the LDS religion is a cult, mostly by mean-spirited people who do not want to see Governor Romney elected president. I think it is time to explain what a cult is.
I dislike commenting on these things, because some will feel I am being critical of the LDS religion and start an argument with me.
That said, …
“Cult” is one of those slippery, multi-meaning words. When the LDS hear the word, they associate it with the Branch Davidians, Jim Jones’ People’s Temple, and the like, and they rightly take offense. I don’t blame them.
When a theologian uses the word “cult,” the word means a religion which:
a. Has as scripture literature other than the Bible,
b. Has religious beliefs or practices which stem from that literature and are not found in the Bible, and
c. Has a charismatic person as a leader.
I think the LDS would proudly agree that the three characteristics listed above would apply to their religion. They just do not like the word “cult” because most people think it means only the first definition.
When the LDS religion began, it was indeed a cult by the second definition. Later, as it grew, it became a “classic cult” which is a cult which has gained respectability. Now, it has lasted long enough to be regarded as a religion.
When people say that the LDS religion is not Christian, what they mean is that it does not follow the beliefs of the Athanasian Creed, especially that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are one and eternal.
I think the LDS people would agree that they do not believe this.
Another accusation hurled at the LDS is that they are not Christians. What those who say this mean is that the LDS do not believe what the Athanasian Creed proclaims, that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are one God, eternal, and uncreated.
I think the LDS people would proudly agree that they do not believe this.
What people may not realize is that, even in the days of Athanasius, back in the fourth century C.E., there were those Christians who also did not agree with the creed. The followers of Arius, known as Arians, did not believe in the trinity. For this heresy, they were exiled by the Roman emperor to an island.
I think it is a waste of time to argue these points. What we are supposed to be doing is what Jesus commanded in two passages: Matthew 22:37-40, “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself….’ and Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Those trumpeting loudly that the LDS are not Christians should look to what Jesus himself said in Mark 9:38-40: “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.”
This same story is also recounted in Luke 9:49-50.
This instruction of Jesus is often twisted around to read, “Whoever is not for us is against us,” but Jesus says exactly the opposite, “Whoever is not against us is for us.”
Pastor Benjamin Tomczak of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Duncanville, Texas wrote, in a sermon titled “It’s not a competition,”
“A … reaction to this “He’s not one of us” attitude is an arrogance that fills the whole body of Christ. Not just the clergy, but the people start to look around and realize how wonderful they are. “Hey, not only am I a Christian, but I’m a Lutheran. That doofus over there following the pope, or his ‘God told me to start a church,’ miracle working whirling dervish of a preacher doesn’t know what the heck is going on.” It’s just a short step from Lutheran pride to a Lutheran arrogance that says there are no Christians outside the Lutheran church, outside the Wisconsin Synod, outside St. Mark. An attitude like that puts us on the outside of Jesus’ way of thinking, because He said that whoever is not against us is for us (Mark 9:40, NIV84).
So, what should we do? We should stop calling names, for one thing. One of my friends on Facebook has suggested that the word “cult” has come to have so many negative associations that it should no longer be used, relegating it to the dustbin with the n-word, the s-word, and the like.
But another thing to remember is that is more important to live a life of Christian example than it is to be a judge of others’ Christianity. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.”
So, let’s not worry about who’s a cult and who’s a Christian and get on with living in such a way that others will know that our relgion is not a cult, and that our religion is indeed truly Christian.