Religious Organization or Cult?

Posted: February 3, 2012 in Christian Living
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Recently I started a Bible study series on religious cults. We discovered that many Evangelical Christians are quick to point to many religious organizations as being cults without really trying to understand its beliefs.

I want to make myself perfectly clear; this is not an attempt to point out scriptural inconsistencies with doctrines within other religions, but to try to unite us on some common ground.

Many Evangelical Christians have been taught that the Mormon Church is actually a religious cult. But is it really? Very few Evangelical Christians I know have ever even researched themselves what the Mormons believe or teach, but rely solely on what they’ve heard from pastors or other “Bible scholars”.

The Mormon Church

The Mormon Church was founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith and his followers. It was claimed that it was a restoration of primitive Christianity as it had been lived in the time of the Apostles with the addition of more recent revelations.

Today, there are two major groups claiming allegiance to Joseph Smith. The differences between the two groups are summarized as follows:

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Brighamites) Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Josephites)
Followed Brigham Young on the death of Joseph Smith. Claimed that succession must be through the seed of Joseph Smith, therefore rejected Brigham Young and chose the son of Smith as head of the church.
Headquarters at Salt Lake City, Utah. Headquarters at Independence, Missouri.
Believe in the revelations regarding polygamy (but do not officially practice it). Reject polygamy and the Brighamite claim that Joseph Smith wrote “Revelation on Celestial Marriage”.
Reject the official use of Joseph Smith’s Inspired Translation of the Bible. The Inspired Translation is published and officially accepted.
Accept the Adam-god doctrine as taught in Doctrine and Covenants. Reject the Adam-god doctrine but retain the belief in gods with flesh and bones. Reject Section 132 of Doctrine and Covenants.
Practice secret rites in temples. No secret temple rites. In the Kirtland Temple all meetings are open to the public.

(from http://www.wrestedscriptures.com)

Mormon “Revelation”

Continuing revelation is held by Mormons to be an essential characteristic of their faith. The following are considered to be divine sources of revelation:

  1. The Bible – The official version is the Authorized “King James Version. It is authoritative insofar as it is translated accurately.
  2. The Book of Mormon– It purports to tell the histories of two nations which flourished in America as descendants of small colonies brought from the “eastern continent”. The first of these – the Jaredite nation followed Jared from the Tower of Babel (2,250 B.C.) By 590 B.C. internal warfare led to the destruction of these people. The colonists are alleged to have crossed the Atlantic in eight cigar-shaped barges and located in Central America. The second nation – the Nephites followed Nephi, the son of Lehi, who (it is said) left Jerusalem in the time of Zedekiah and migrated to the American continent arriving on the coast of Chile by 600 B.C. The golden plates on which this story was written were hidden by the last surviving Nephite, Moroni, (A.D. 421) in the Hill Cumorah in New York State. In A.D. 1827, this same Moroni, then a resurrected personage, delivered the engraved plates to Joseph Smith.
  1. The Doctrine and Covenants– All but two of the 136 sections are revelations allegedly given to Joseph Smith. A concluding “word and will of the Lord, given through President Brigham Young” is included. There is also an “official declaration” prohibiting polygamy, added by Church President Wilford Woodruff in 1890.
  2. The Pearl of Great Price– A small volume containing a “selection from the revelations, translations and narrations of Joseph Smith”. It is usually bound with the Doctrine and Covenants. The thirteen Articles of Faith are included.
  3. Pronouncements by the President – The Mormon church have twelve “spirit-guided apostles” and a president “like unto Moses”- a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God which he bestows upon the head of the church.The president is to Mormons what the pope is to Roman Catholics.

I don’t believe it is advisable to condemn Mormon books as many Evangelical Christians do, based on Rev. 22:18, “If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book”. A more fruitful approach would be to utilize the small common ground that the Bible is the Word of God. The Bible can then be used to test the basic issues of Gospel doctrines rather than disputing Mormon beliefs. Christians who assert that the Mormon Church is a religious cult may be surprised to find out just how much they have in common with them.

Similarities between Mormon and Christian beliefs

Mormon:   

Man is an immortal soul living in a fleshly body – “the soul could never die” (Alma 42:9,p. 299)

Christian:

Man is mortal, and possesses an immortal soul – “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)  

Mormon:

Heaven promised to the righteous – “those that keep the commandments of God . . . if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness.” (Mosiah 2:41, p. 139)

Christian:

Heaven promised to the righteous – “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2)

Mormon:

Eternal hell-fire torment –  “…which lake of fire and brimstone is endless torment” (Jacob 6:10, p. 122-2) “…his final doom is to endure a never-ending torment” (Mosiah 2:39, p. 139)

Christian:

Eternal hell-fire torment – “… And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Rev. 20:14-15)  “… for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched;.” (Isa. 66:24)

Mormon:

The devil is a fallen angel – “…an angel of God had fallen from heaven; wherefore, he became a devil.” (2 Nephi 2:17, p. 54) “…that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil” (2 Nephi 9:8, p. 67)

Christian:

The devil is a fallen angel – “..How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!  How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! “(Isa. 14:12)  “And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years.” (Rev. 20:2)

Mormon:

Pre-human existence of Christ – “Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father? . . . Yea, he is the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth.”  (Alma 11:38, 39, p. 223)

Christian:

Pre-human existence of Christ – “Jesus said unto them, verily, verily, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58)

Just like many religions, Mormon teachings contradict many Bible truths:

Mormons     

God is a progressive being – “What sort of being was God in the beginning? God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man and sits enthroned in yonder heavens.” (Joseph Smith)

Bible

God, unchanging in nature – “…with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” (James 1:17) “For I am the LORD, I change not.” (Mal. 3:6)

Mormons

Revival of the Aaronic Priesthood – “Upon you, [Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery] my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I [John the Baptist] confer the Priesthood of Aaron . . . and this shall never be taken again from the earth . . . ” (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 13. pp. 20, 21)

Bible

Priesthood of all believers – “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” (1Pet. 2:5)

Mormons

Sabbath Observance mandatory (Mormons believe Sunday is Sabbath)

“And the inhabitants of Zion shall also observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 68:29, p. 112)

Bible

Sabbath observance binding

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.” (Ex.20:8, 11)

Mormons

Restrictions on meats and drinks

“. . . flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air . . . should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or of famine.” (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 89:12, 13, p. 155)

“That inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good, neither meet in the sight of your Father . . . hot drinks are not for the body or belly.” (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 89:5,9, p. 154)

Bible

Kosher diet is commanded

“Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, These [are] the beasts which ye shall eat among all the beasts that [are] on the earth. Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is clovenfooted, [and] cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that shall ye eat.” (Lev. 11:2-3)

“And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after … for wine or for strong drink … and thou shalt eat there before the LORD …” (Deut. 14:26)

Mormons

Site of Zion to be Independence, Missouri

”  . . this is the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion . . . Behold the place which is now called Independence, is the centre place.” (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 57:2, 3, p. 89)

Bible

Site of Zion to be in Jerusalem

” …  Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.” (Matt. 5:35)  “… the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” (Micah 4:2)

Mormons

Heathen take part in the First Resurrection

“And then shall the heathen nations be redeemed, and they that knew no law shall have part in the first resurrection.” (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 45:54, p.72)

Bible

Heathen will be resurrected unto damnation

“Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Dan. 12:2)

 “Marvel not at this, for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” (John 5:28, 29)

These contradictions are not just between the Bible and the teachings of Mormonism. But also between the Bible and many mainline denominations. Many Evangelical Christians use the Book of Mormon as undisputed proof that the Mormon Church is a religious cult. But doesn’t the Christian Church have similar books that they use in the same way?

Today the Apocrypha is often used in some editions of the Bible in a separate section between the Old and New Testaments. It had been in use since the 5th century and was in Luther’s Bible of 1534.There was agreement among the Reformers that the Apocrypha contained “books proceeding from godly men” and therefore recommended reading.

The English-language King James Version of 1611 followed the lead of the Luther Bible in using an inter-testament section labeled “Books called Apocrypha”, or just “Apocrypha” at the running page header. Later, during the English Civil War, the Westminster Confession of 1647 excluded the Apocrypha from the canon and made no recommendation of the Apocrypha above other human writings and the name, “Apocrypha” soon came to have an unfavorable significance which still remains with some Protestants today. Because of this hostile attitude towards the Apocrypha, (considered Catholic by some Protestants) many newer translations of the Bible now omit the Apocrypha. Does this make the Catholic Church a religious cult?

I don’t believe reliance on a book other than the Bible confirms that one is involved in a religious cult. There are many books that were not included in the biblical canon that many rely on and are even mentioned in Scripture.

“The Book of Enoch” is referred to, and quoted, in Jude 14-15  “Enoch the Seventh from Adam” is attributed to 1 En 60:8. many Bible scholars believe that all the writers of the New Testament were familiar with it and were influenced by it.

“The Book of Jasher” (whose title fully translated means the Book of the Upright or the Book of the Just) is mentioned in Joshua 10:13 and 2 Samuel 1:18.

“The Book of the Wars of the Lord” is referenced in Numbers 21:14.

“The Chronicles of the Kings of Israel” is mentioned in 1 Kings 16:20 regarding King Zimri, and many other times throughout 1 and 2 Kings.

“The Book of Shemaiah the Prophet, and of Iddo the Seer” (also called Story of the Prophet Iddo or The Annals of the Prophet Iddo) is mentioned in II Chr. 9:29, 12:15, 13:22). Iddo was a seer who lived during the reigns of Solomon, Rehoboam, and Abijah. His deeds were recorded in this book, which has been completely lost to history, except for its title. However, it is interesting to note that Zechariah was the son of Iddo (Ezra 5:1, Zechariah 1:1)

At times some of these books will aid in better understanding Scripture. Without the knowledge of 1 & 2 Maccabees in the Apocrypha we would have very limited information about the Feast of Dedication, commonly known as Chanukah.  Another example of a non- canonical book aiding us in a better understanding of Scripture is the story of Esau selling his birthright for some stew:

“And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint: And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.” (Gen 25:29-34)

At the time, a person’s birthright was very important. Esau’s birthright made him heir to Isaac’s wealth. The oldest son inherited a “double portion” over his brother, and was viewed as the leader of the family. (Deut. 21:15-17) By its design, a birthright brought immediate honor, and in some cases, great personal wealth to a son. That would have been true in Esau’s case and he was first-in-line to inherit that all that wealth. So why would he forfeit all of that for a bowl of stew and some bread?

In the Book of Jasher chapter 27 we get the answer:

1. And Esau at that time, after the death of Abraham, frequently went in the field to hunt. 2. And Nimrod king of Babel, the same was Amraphel, also frequently went with his mighty men to hunt in the field, and to walk about with his men in the cool of the day. 3. And Nimrod was observing Esau all the days, for a jealousy was formed in the heart of Nimrod against Esau all the days. 4. And on a certain day Esau went in the field to hunt, and he found Nimrod walking in the wilderness with his two men. 5. And all his mighty men and his people were with him in the wilderness, but they removed at a distance from him, and they went from him in different directions to hunt, and Esau concealed himself for Nimrod, and he lurked for him in the wilderness. 6. And Nimrod and his men that were with him did not know him, and Nimrod and his men frequently walked about in the field at the cool of the day, and to know where his men were hunting in the field. 7. And Nimrod and two of his men that were with him came to the place where they were, when Esau started suddenly from his lurking place, and drew his sword, and hastened and ran to Nimrod and cut off his head. 8. And Esau fought a desperate fight with the two men that were with Nimrod, and when they called out to him, Esau turned to them and smote them to death with his sword. 9. And all the mighty men of Nimrod, who had left him to go to the wilderness, heard the cry at a distance, and they knew the voices of those two men, and they ran to know the cause of it, when they found their king and the two men that were with him lying dead in the wilderness.10. And when Esau saw the mighty men of Nimrod coming at a distance, he fled, and thereby escaped; and Esau took the valuable garments of Nimrod, which Nimrod’s father had bequeathed to Nimrod, and with which Nimrod prevailed over the whole land, and he ran and concealed them in his house.11. And Esau took those garments and ran into the city on account of Nimrod’s men, and he came unto his father’s house wearied and exhausted from fight, and he was ready to die through grief when he approached his brother Jacob and sat before him.12. And he said unto his brother Jacob, Behold I shall die this day, and wherefore then do I want the birthright? And Jacob acted wisely with Esau in this matter, and Esau sold his birthright to Jacob, for it was so brought about by the Lord.

Without the information written in the Book of Jasher the question of Esau’s birthright might never have been answered today. Even the Apostle John wrote, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.” (John 21:25)

So connecting books alone is not a factor that a religious group is a cult. A better gauge to tell if one is involved in a religious cult is to examine the leadership and find out if it is abusive or controlling. (See my article “Warning Signs of an Unsafe Church”) If it is simply a matter of theological differences maybe we should try to concentrate more on our common ground that will build up rather than on the differences that divide us.

I have personally known several Mormon families over the years and found them to be honest, upright, and sincere to their beliefs.  And although I don’t agree with many of the Mormon doctrines I have found a great appreciation for their dedication to their faith and their love for people.

The Bible doesn’t teach us that people will know we are Jesus’ disciples by the correct doctrine we have but, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35 – NLT)

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