What is a cult? The word is certainly bandied about lately since one Texas pastor commented on the Mormon religion with certain Republicans in mind. The media likes the word since they find it dark, ominous and insulting. But what actually is a cult. Do you know?
Clearly the popular understanding of the word is negative in the extreme, and it has been used as a pejorative term for centuries, it is true. When people hear “cult” they think of some sixties guru turning college kids into mindless zombies, or they think of Jim Jones and his Kool-aid fun. I am sure this is the kind of thing the media has in mind, especially when applicable to Republicans, but is it reasonable?
What is a cult? Let me offer two definitions. One is the historic definition. The other is a kind of modern interpretation of the historic definition:
1. A cult is any group of people who claim to be Christian but deviate from traditional, historic orthodoxy. (Scripture and the creeds of Nicene and Chalcedon).
By this definition, nearly every Christian denomination is a cult. Nearly all non-denominational and evangelical churches are cults. And certainly the Mormons are, too. Though to be fair, Mormons preach and teach (generally) something closer to historic orthodoxy than many.
By this definition, the Roman church and the Eastern Orthodox churches excommunicated each other. (They refused to drink each other’s Kool-aid).
By this definition the Roman church called the Protestant churches cults for centuries. Anabaptist, Reformed or Lutheran did not matter. Again, to be fair many Protestant churches claimed that the Roman church had become little more than a cult. There were wars. You can easily imagine how the epitaph “cult” became a fighting word – like the media wants to use it today.
Sadly, since people these days will argue stupidly over what exactly constitutes traditional and historic orthodoxy, let me offer a more modern view:
2. A cult is any group that pulls a BUT, as in we believe in Jesus, but… or we accept the Bible, but…
The primal confession of the church is Jesus is Lord. We have King James to thanks for the wording, but like so much of King James, that can pose a problem in our day. You see, it does not mean Jesus is some kind of medieval lord or even that Jesus is king. A better translation for our day would be, Jesus is God.
(Fully God and fully human…See? Those confessions keep coming back). Whenever someone says we believe in Jesus, or even that Jesus is lord and then adds a but, you know they are in cult-land.
But we believe he was a great man or a great teacher or a prophet, but not God… CULT.
But Buddah was also God OR there have been many children of God OR we are all God’s children OR we are all God… CULT.
And they may be sitting in the pew next to you on Sunday morning. (Not to make you paranoid).
But as far as I know there are no problems in Mormonism with the confession that Jesus is Lord.
The same test, however must be laid to the Scriptures. When people say they believe in the Bible, but… again trouble.
But our teacher is the only one who understands and is able to interpret the Bible. (And to think, Tyndale worked so hard to get it into English so we could all read it for ourselves. Of course, they burned that cultist at the stake).
But we also believe in this other book… And here is where the Mormons fall. The Book of Mormon is kind of a dead giveaway as far as this definition of “cult” is concerned. Of course, this definition also gets a bit problematic when you think about it.
Muslims claim to believe in Jesus (not that he was God), but they believe more in the “one true prophet.” They also accept the Bible but believe more in the Koran. Still, by this definition… Is anyone prepared to suggest that Islam is simply a Christian cult?
So, the question for today: is Mormonism a cult? Well, yes by both first and second definitions, but rather we might ask, who isn’t?