Is Mormonism a Cult or a Christian Denomination?October 11th, 2011
This past week there was a huge political flap about a Baptist minister named Robert Jeffries over his claim that Mormonism is a cult and that Mitt Romney should not be considered a Christian. The remark set off a firestorm because this was the ground for encouraging people to not vote for Mitt Romney. All of the major GOP rivals for the nomination immediately released statements that they regarded Romney, and fellow Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints members, as Christians and that religion should not be an issue in the GOP nomination.
My own view is that whether a candidate is a Christian or not is only one of a myriad of considerations which one must weigh in an overall decision to vote for or against a candidate. I would never say that someone being a Christian carries no political weight for me at all. However, I would also not say that someone being a Christian or not carries the entire weight in my decision.
The more interesting part of the discussion has to do with whether the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints should be considered a cult or just another denomination or branch of Christianity such as Methodism, Lutheranism or, for that matter, Eastern Orthodoxy. What makes all the diversity of denominations or branches of global Christianity share a “family resemblance” despite our differences is that we are all built on a common confession rooted in the Council of Nicea and, in particular, the Nicene Creed. The Nicene affirmation is the ground of unity upon which the entire global church is built. This is why it is known as an historic, ecumenical creed. It is, of course, true that there are dozens of churches (especially those who identify with fundamentalism) which boldly proclaim that “we have no creed but the Bible” and would not recite the Nicene creed in their services. However, if you look carefully at their church covenants or statements of faith, they fully resonate with Nicea. Furthermore, as Protestants, they trace their heritage back to movements which fully resonate with Nicea.
This is why Arianism back in the fourth century was declared a heresy or a “cult” at the Council of Nicea in 325 even though they ardently claimed to be Christians. They, like modern day Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons, do not fall within the “family” of Christianity primarily because they rejected orthodox Christology. The Arian claim that “there was a time when he was not” is, of course, the same stumbling block which is fallen over by both Jehovah Witnesses’ and Mormons. The former (JW) is a closer version of Arianism (though JW deny the personality of the Holy Spirit which Arius accepted), whereas the latter (Mormons) is a more complex, nuanced view due to the insertion of the Book of Mormon (rather than merely the New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses). Suffice it to say here, Mormons do not believe in the eternal pre-existence of the eternal second person of the Trinity. Mormons believe that He existed eternally only in the way that generic “matter” is viewed as eternal. Any movement that does not affirm the eternal pre-existence of the second person of the Trinity is sub-Christian, regardless how fervently they declare that Jesus is God and that He is the sole savior of the world. At root, Mormonism is about a man becoming God; Christianity is about God becoming a man. Thus, Mormonism has, quite rightly, not been considered a Christian movement.
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