Mormonism is in the news like never before. The third biggest talker in the Land, Glenn Beck is a Mormon. The presumed GOP nominee for president, Mitt Romney is a Mormon. One of his potential running mates, Marco Rubio, used to be a Mormon, before converting to Catholicism.
Many Christians through the years have designated “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” (LDS) as a “cult.” In the past, when used by evangelicals, the term had a fairly general meaning: any religion, which professed to be Christian, but which denied certain foundational doctrines of the church: Jesus Christ and his uniqueness as the only Son of God (fully divine and fully human), the Trinitarian Godhead, and the sufficiency of the Bible as our only Scriptural source of religious Truth.
Of course, some of these cults were founded by individuals who raised themselves up as latter day prophets, such as Joseph Smith (Mormonism) , Charles Taze Russell (Jehovah’s Witnesses), Mary Baker Eddy (Christian Science) and L. Ron Hubbard (Scientology), to name a few. These cults often believed that they were the only remnant left of the true Christian church.
But thing changed after Jim Jones murdered or helped over 900 members of his personality cult to commit suicide in the fall of 1978 by drinking “Kool-Aid” laced with poison. About 40 members of another cult, Heavens’ Gate, killed themselves in a similar manner in 1997. The word cult, therefore, took on a much narrower meaning, having little to do with religious beliefs, and everything to do with strangeness. The word cult then became associated with brainwashing, doomsday fears, blind devotion to a single leader, communal and cloistered living, and often suicidal and/or anti-government tendencies.
Today this presents a problem, not because the Bible has changed, but because the connotation of the word has changed. The problem with using the word “cult” now is that Mormons currently have none of the latter characteristics associated with the word cult. They are not “strange” in the ways often associated with cults (in its new definition). And they make Evangelicals look silly when they use that word. So how should Christians identify Mormonism, if not as a cult? Instead, I suggest we should use phrases like “false religion” or “false doctrines” and call their leaders “false prophets”.
And indeed, in spite of the sleight of hand used by Mormonism’s leaders and many of its followers in trying to portray Mormonism as the same in substance as historical or Biblical Christianity, it is indeed a false religion. They deny all of the essential doctrines of Scripture: the Trinity, the eternality and divinity of Christ, the Bible as the only Word of God (adding the Book of Mormon and other writings), the belief in One God (they believe every good person will become God), and salvation by Grace Alone.
Just as a swindler can dress up in a three-piece suit to fool his victims (does anybody still wear those today?), we must not be misled. The Bible calls false apostles “angels of light” who are yet full of darkness.