CULT! It seems such a pejorative word and certainly in ministry it is not intended as a compliment. But is it an insult? Is its use an example of disagreeing while being disagreeable? To listen to many there is no excuse for using it, especially when what people see as sensible alternatives are available such as sect, or the more acceptable “new (or alternative) religious movement.” So is “cult” used out of nothing more than spite? Or is there a legitimate application in ministry terms? These four posts address the question and hopefully put Mormonism into context, both in terms of the Christian Church and of the world.
Giving Mormonism a Correct Context
With the Book of Mormon musical scoring a hit on Broadway and coming soon to the
West End, Mormonism being the subject of TV drama in Big Love, with Mormon
matters hardly out of the press and a Mormon running for the Whitehouse you
might be forgiven for thinking that we really are experiencing what has come to
be known as the Mormon moment. But lets find some context...
Sociologists distinguished between three types of religious behaviour: church,
sect and mystic. If “church” is the mainstream body of believers a “sect” is a
break-way from that body, where we get the idea of sectarianism, it is division.
Mysticism goes even further, putting forward the idea of enlightenment, or
mystical attainment regardless of faith. Later, church was split into ecclesia
and denomination and sect became sect and cult. Cult then came to mean a deviant
religious group “deriving their inspiration from outside the predominant
culture or denomination.”
Richard Mouw's "Marks of a Cult"
One of the things that has prompted this question is the controversial
apology given by Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary at the
Salt Lake Tabernacle in Nov. 2004. We will come on to the apology presently.
Richard Mouw said in 2004,
“For the past dozen years, I’ve been co-chairing, with Professor Robert
Millet of Brigham Young University – the respected Mormon school - a
behind-closed-doors dialogue between about a dozen evangelicals and an equal
number of our Mormon counterparts.”
In defending Mormonism against the charge professor Mouw identifies four
things that show Mormonism is not a cult and argues that the dialogue he
describes shows these four things not to be true of Mormonism...
That Apology and How Liberals go Native
Mormonism is a cult in terms established and understood by sociologists, by
Christian leaders and academics alike. “Cult” is not a pejorative but a
descriptive. The only “Christians” saying otherwise are liberals who would
rather be branded with hot irons than define a doctrine, identify an orthodoxy
or draw a line in the sand.
Why Mormons aren't Christians
There are many and significant differences between Christianity and Mormonism. But there is one great difference between the Christian message of the Bible and
the message of Mormonism that is of paramount importance. It is this, more than
any other distinction, that disqualifies the Mormon from that blessed society of
Christians described in the Bible. It is this that our Mormon friends need to