A Mormon State of Mind
I have Mormons on the brain.
I guess it all started a couple of months ago when my amazing wife took me to New York City to celebrate my 40th birthday. She surprised me by pulling out tickets to the multiple-Tony-award-winning "Book of Mormon." That was a crazy experience, and not just because we sat two rows behind Tom Brokaw.
That night I downloaded the soundtrack onto my iPod. There are a couple of the songs that I don't listen to because they are deeply blasphemous and the language is sickening, but many of the songs are terrific. The songs made me wonder about Mormonism in general, so I started reading the book "Under the Banner of Heaven." It is a terrific read, and is helpful in describing the history of the Latter Day Saints (LDS). I highly recommend it.
Then yesterday, the inevitable happened. The pastor of First Baptist in Dallas described the LDS as a cult. All hell broke out in the Situation Room. So now it's out there. Are the Mormons part of a cult?
"Cult" is a very hard word to define. My working definition is "a religious group formed around a central, charismatic figure. This figure claims to have special revelations from God. The group is very close knit, easy to join but hard to leave. The figure makes decisions which primarily benefit himself, but also benefit the group. Those outside the group are considered lost." By that definition Mormonism definitely started out as a cult.
All these years later, though, the LDS doesn't still share those characteristics. While it has a central leader, he is not the foundation of the group. Also, the leader's decisions seem to benefit the group but not necessarily himself. As a whole the group is just too large to be considered close knit. Leaving doesn't seem that difficult, any more than leaving any other religion.
The other question that is hanging out there is related to the first. Is the LDS church "Christian"? In order to answer that, one must ask what makes any denomination or sect "Christian." Because I am part of the Great Tradition I actually have a ready answer. Beginning in 325 and revised in 381, the Nicene Creed is the standard formulary of Christian doctrine. The Creed is firmly rooted in the Bible as well as orthodox Christian theology. It has been used for hundreds and hundreds of years to discern whether or not a sect was, at the most basic level, Christian.
Of course, the Nicene Creed is not the perfect arbiter of this question. It has nothing to say about practices or church discipline or worship or (most importantly) how we love one another. The Anglican Church developed a still flexible but more rigorous standard called the Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral which is more helpful. That said, I think it is fair to say that if a group does not hold to the tenets of the Nicene Creed that it is not "Christian" in the most basic, historic sense of the word.
There is no doubt that LDS theology is not in-line with the Nicene Creed. And I'm not even touching on the terribly odd pronouncements made by the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith in his lifetime, statements which the LDS later disavowed, pronouncements about the sanctity of polygamy, the inferiority of African people, or the assertion that Adam was the God and Father of Jesus. I'm talking about bare-bones official church doctrine.
You can compare these for yourself.
Here is the Nicene Creed: http://www.anglicansonline.org/basics/nicene.html
Here is the Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral: http://anglicansonline.org/basics/Chicago_Lambeth.html
Here is are the 13 Articles of Faith: http://mormon.org/articles-of-faith/
The Articles of Faith are especially interesting because they represent Joseph Smith's attempt to make his religion look as orthodox as possible. Look at the first Article: "We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost." Compare this to the Nicene Creed. The LDS do not teach the divinity of Jesus or of the Holy Spirit. Rather, they teach that these three exist. On the face of it, this first statement sounds like something Christians would say. We too believe in God the Father and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. But we also believe these are the three persons of the Holy Trinity, that they are One God. Muslims would agree with the first of the Mormon 13 Articles (except they don't use the word "Father" for God). Is Islam Christian?
Look at the third article. "We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel." So we all may be saved because of Christ's Atonement, as long as we obey all the rules. This is in direct contradiction to the teaching that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone.
Look at the eighth article. "We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God." When is the Bible not properly translated? When it disagrees with the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is here put on the same level as the Bible, actually above it. Does that sound in the least bit like a Christian teaching?
I could do this all day with these 13 Articles. If we got into theological teachings not listed on the official website, things would get especially strange.
Is the Mormon religion Christian? No, it isn't. Mormons may be nice people, but they are not part of the Christian Church. It could be that individual Mormons may be Christians. I would never rule out our God's amazing ability to give his grace to anyone, anywhere! But to say that the LDS is a part of the Church is just not accurate.
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