Do Latter-day Saints Belong to "The Mormon Cult"?
(Cult Definitions, the Trinity, the Bible, Jesus Christ, and Other Issues)

Christians or cultists - just what are these Mormons, anyway? Hint: Christians! Our critics try to scare people and stop debate by giving us the frightening label of "cult." Yikes, it's the dread Mormon Cult! You should be scared, right? Maybe not. This page explores scare tactics and the arguments made on doctrinal issues (e.g., the doctrine of the Trinity, etc.) by those who rail against the "Mormon Cult." This is one of several pages in a suite of "Frequently Asked Questions about Latter-day Saint Beliefs." This work is solely the responsibility of Jeff Lindsay. While I strive to be accurate, my writings reflect my personal understanding and are subject to human error and bias.

Is the LDS Church a Cult? The Mormon Cult?

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"A cult is a religion with no political power." -- Tom Wolfe

One of the most repeated accusations made by critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that we are a "cult" - the dread "Mormon Cult." When you hear this accusation, please ask precisely what is meant by the frightening term "cult." The use of that word is not really meant to explain anything about the Church or its positions, but is meant to end discussion and investigation with scare tactics.

The primary definition for "cult" in many dictionaries is synonymous with "religious organization." For example, in the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the first two definitions given are (as viewed March 2007):

1: formal religious veneration : worship
2: a system of religious beliefs and ritual.

I have to admit that BOTH definitions fit us, though we're really not that formal. But these definitions don't spook people enough to be used by our critics. Honestly, ambitious anti-Mormons would not sell many books and videos if they had titles like, "Mormonism is a Religious Organization: Find Out Why!" or "Kingdom of the Religious Organizations." it's much more ominous to call us the Mormon Cult!

According to the dictionary, "cult" can also mean a group that pays special devotion to some individual. For example, in the Compact Oxford English Dictionary, the first definition given is "a system of religious worship directed towards a particular figure or object." Yes, I suppose that definition fits us as well, with the particular figure or object of our worship being the Lord Jesus Christ. So, yes, we are guilty as charged -- but forgiven! (And yes, you bet we believe in the grace and Atonement of Jesus Christ -- it's our only hope.)

But recently, contrary to its original generic meaning, the word "cult" in popular use carries frightening overtones. It evokes images of suicidal, comet-chasing groups, physically abusive regimens, corrupt tyrants and Satanic rituals. Clearly there are some odd beliefs and groups in the world -- but every religion can seem odd or even extreme to those who do not understand it.

The problem is that any general definition of "cult" in the negative, frightening sense is likely to include many presumably "decent" religions, including early Christianity, which was also denounced as a "sect" and a "cult" by its critics. In my opinion, the "Mormon Cult" is much like the "Christian Cult" from 2000 years ago. Misunderstood, controversial, but nothing to fear.

When other Christian label Latter-day Saints as "the Mormon Cult" to frighten people, they implicitly create their own special definitions, but nearly all of these special definitions would likewise condemn Christ and the early Christians as cultists, as I will show below. Many of the special definitions of cult that "cult warriors" use boil down to this: "A cult is any group whose members don't believe exactly the same way I do." And if you're not LDS, then yes, I guess that definition applies to us once again, at least for the moment - but perhaps that can change if you'll just meet with a couple of our fine LDS missionaries....

A tongue-in-cheek demonstration of the tactics used by some self-proclaimed cult experts can be found on the Web page for the popular CultMaster 2000 Software System. This powerful software enables you to prove that anybody you don't agree with belongs to a cult. (Not for the comically impaired!) A demo of the one of the many tools that come with the CultMaster 2000 CD set is the Letter of Love to a Cultist. Try it today! (Customize your own version online and send a printout to a cultist you love.)

The specific doctrinal differences that are cited to condemn the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a cult would equally well condemn the original Church of Jesus Christ. Please remember how severely that Church was persecuted. The Bible reports that it was called a "sect" and spoken against everywhere (Acts 28:22). People thought they were serving God by reviling it and even killing its leaders. Religious leaders were the most zealous in condemning it. It even had professional critics, such as Celsus in the second century, who condemned it as a "cult" and twisted its doctrines to sound terrible and wrong. A great essay on this topic is "Celsus And Modern Anti-Mormonism" by Aaron Christensen, available at the site.

Making Cultists out of Mormons: Special Definitions

In condemning the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as "the Mormon Cult," the main issues used by critics to create special definitions of the word "cult" are (links are to explanations on this page):

These special definitions of cults are used to label us as "cultists" and to exclude members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from the ranks of Christianity, regardless of our belief in and acceptance of Christ as our Savior and as the Son of God who died to free us from our sins and from death. Naturally, the critics usually call the Church by any name (Mormon Church, Mormonism, Church of Latter-day Saints, etc.) other than it's official and correct name, lest their audience wonder why a non-Christian group calls itself after the name of Christ. Curiously, most of the special definitions listed above would also have condemned Christ and His New Testament church as non-Christian cultists. Was Christ a Christian? I should think so - but the logic of popular "cult slayers" would suggest otherwise, if their logic were applied to Him. Let's consider each of these charges in light of New Testament teachings of Christ and His Apostles to see if they were also "cultists."

The "Mormon Cult"? Dangerous Definitions:
Were Christ and the Prophets of the Bible Cultists, Too?

Let's consider each of the special definitions for "cult" given above and see how well they differentiate "cultists" from Christ, the early Christians, and the prophets of the Bible.

Issue #1: The Trinity

The doctrine of the Trinity, as defined in several post-biblical councils, is widely used as the standard of what one must believe to be a Christian. Latter-day Saints are routinely said to be a cult for not accepting some doctrines from the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed (or click here), and other creeds from the fourth century and beyond (e.g., the Westminster Confession of Faith from 1646, used by Presbyterians). In many of those creeds and related statements of belief, it is taught that there is one God manifest in three persons, all of one substance, without body, parts, or passions. This differs from the LDS view, as we shall see.

As a reminder, the creeds from the Council of Nicaea and the related Council of Chalcedon were theological, philosophical statements developed in the fourth century A.D. amid intense debate about the nature of God. Influenced heavily by Greek philosophy (Neo-Platonism), these creeds teach the concept of an abstract, transcendent, "consubstantial" unity in trinity, one in three, coequal, existing incomprehensibly without body, parts, or passions, wholly other and outside space and time as we know it.

We do not fully accept that doctrine. We believe in God the Father, in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost, but we believe that they are three distinct Beings who are one in purpose and intent, perfectly united to comprise one Godhead, but not "consubstantial" (made of one essence or substance, not being physically distinct). We believe that Christ literally resurrected and has a tangible body of both matter and spirit which He allowed his disciples to feel and see, proving that He was not spirit alone but had flesh and bone (Luke 24:36-43). We believe that the Father looks like the Son and that we are literally created in God's image (Gen. 1:26,27; Gen. 5:1-3). In short, we reject much of the philosophical or metaphysical statements of the Trinitarian creeds. Now my desire is not to attack those who accept the doctrine of the Trinity, but to address the allegation that real Christians must accept Trinitarian philosophy and that those who don't must belong to a cult. Does rejecting the doctrine of the Trinity mean that we reject the God of the Bible? Absolutely not.

For all its popularity and dominance in the Christian world, the doctrine of the Trinity, as stated in the creeds of the 4th century, cannot be found in the Bible. (For a well documented discussion of the corrupted text in the King James Version of 1 John 5:7,8 - the infamous Johannine Comma, apparently added by men to the Biblical text centuries after the time of John - see Marc Schindler's "Trinity and the Bible".) Yes, we can read that there is one God and that the Father and the Son are one, but these simple statements hardly lead to the complex and abstract metaphysics of consubstantiality, or to an understanding that Christ is without body, parts, or passions. In my view, the doctrine of the Trinity is not a genuine summary of anything in the Bible, but rather is an extensive, philosophical elaboration that goes far beyond what is taught in the Bible. Even if that doctrine is correct, is it fair to require that Christians must accept a formulation not found in the Bible in order to be Christians? What is the basis for branding someone as a cultist for not accepting a post-biblical, manmade statement of philosophy? Ironically, some groups teach that the Bible alone is sufficient for salvation (Luther's doctrine of sola scriptura) while also teaching that one must also believe extra-biblical creeds - in addition to the Bible - in order to be saved as a Christian. Did Christ teach the doctrine of the Trinity? Do we find all the teachings of the Nicene Creed in the Bible? No. But don't take my word for it. Consider the teachings of some of the foremost non-LDS Protestant and Catholic religious scholars on this topic. For example, Harper's Bible Dictionary, compiled with the help of the Society of Biblical Literature, declares that "[t]he formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the New Testament" (in P. Achtemeier, ed., Harper's Bible Dictionary, Harper and Row, San Francisco, 1985, p. 1099, as cited by Stephen E. Robinson, Are Mormons Christians?, Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, 1991, p. 74).

Further, Edmund J. Fortman, a Jesuit scholar who authored a major work on the Trinity, wrote that "there is no trinitarian doctrine in the Synoptics [Matthew, Mark, and Luke] or Acts" and that "nowhere do we find any trinitarian doctrine of three distinct subjects of divine life and activity in the same Godhead" and that "in John there is no trinitarian formula" (The Triune God: A Historical Study of the Doctrine of the Trinity, Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1972, pp. 14,16,29, as cited by Robinson, p. 74). In fact, after examining the whole New Testament, Fortman concludes that the classical Trinity doctrine is not to be found there, only a foundation for the future development of that doctrine:

There is no formal doctrine of the Trinity in the New Testament writers, if this means an explicit teaching that in one God there are three co-equal divine persons. But the three are there, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and a triadic ground plan is there, and triadic formulas are there. . . . The Biblical witness to God, as we have seen, did not contain any formal or formulated doctrine of the Trinity, any explicit teaching that in one God there are three co-equal divine persons. (Fortman, pp. 22-23, as cited by Robinson, p. 74) In the New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 14, p. 299, R. L. Richard writes that "the formulation 'one God in three persons' was not solidly established, certainly not fully assimilated into Christian life and its profession of faith, prior to the end of the 4th century. . . . Among the Apostolic Fathers, there had been nothing even remotely approaching such a mentality or perspective" (as cited by Robinson, p. 121).
The non-LDS scholar J.N.D. Kelly noted the absence of the doctrine of the Trinity in the early writings of the Church. "The Church had to wait for more than three hundred years for a final synthesis, for not until the Council of Constantinople (381) was the formula of one God existing in three coequal persons formally ratified" (Early Christian Doctrines Harper, New York, 1978, pp. 87-88, as cited by Robinson, p. 76).

Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks in Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Aspen Books, 1992, pp. 45-48) explain that LDS theology is essentially consistent with the early and simple Apostles' Creed, although we do not use it per se (its principles are well covered by the scriptures and the LDS Articles of Faith). Anti-Mormons, looking for tools to exclude Latter-day Saints from Christianity, have therefore turned to the more esoteric philosophy behind later creeds to distinguish LDS doctrine from their view of Christianity (Peterson and Ricks, pp. 47-48):

Among them, the Nicene Creed is almost certainly the most famous and the most important. Yet its very innovativeness makes it a most questionable basis for banishing the Latter-day Saints from Christendom. "It is impossible for any one," declared [the non-LDS scholar] Edwin Hatch in his classic 1888 Hibbert Lectures, "whether he be a student of history or no, to fail to notice a difference of both form and content between the Sermon on the Mount and the Nicene Creed. The Sermon on the Mount is the promulgation of a new law of conduct; it assumes beliefs rather than formulates them; the theological conceptions which underlie it belong to the ethical rather than the speculative side of theology; metaphysics are wholly absent. The Nicene Creed is a statement partly of historical facts and partly of dogmatic inferences; the metaphysical terms which it contains would probably have been unintelligible to the first disciples; ethics have no place in it. The one belongs to a world of Jewish peasants, the other to a world of Greek philosophers. The contrast," Hatch continues, "is patent. If any one thinks that it is sufficiently explained by saying that the one is a sermon and the other a creed, it must be pointed out in reply that the question why an ethical sermon stood in the forefront of the teaching of Jesus Christ, and a metaphysical creed in the forefront of the Christianity of the fourth century, is a problem which claims investigation." [Edwin Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas on Christianity, Gloucester, MA: Smith, 1970, p. 1.]
The problem Hatch refers to at the end of the above quotation is, in the LDS view, a symptom of the Great Apostasy which occurred gradually after the persecution and death of the Apostles and during the subsequent Hellenization of the Church once it became popular and powerful, entwined with the Roman empire.

I realize this is a sensitive issue for many people who have grown up taught nothing but the doctrine of the Trinity all their lives, but in my opinion, the modern doctrine of the Trinity is not taught in the Bible and is a doctrine introduced by philosophers, not prophets and apostles. I respect those who believe otherwise and I would never say someone is not a Christian for differing in their belief on this crucial issue, but I feel the Bible does not support that doctrine. There is no mention of the Trinity in the New Testament, but there are numerous clear teachings that God and the Son are separate beings, though ONE in purpose, heart, and intent.

The Hellenistic doctrine of unity of substance, a God that was one being without body, parts, or passions, was not found or taught in early Christian doctrine until almost the fourth century, introduced by men to make Christian doctrine more reasonable in light of Greek philosophy (Neo-Platonism in particular), where the concept of a God with a body - such as that shown and revealed by Christ - was most objectionable. The Nicene creed does not properly reflect the plain teachings of the Bible, which we will review below.

Christ did teach that He and His Father are one (John 10:30), but He explained what this unity meant. In John 17:20-22, He prayed that He and His followers might be one, as God and Christ are one. In other words, God and Christ are one - united - in the same way that we should be united with them. This does not mean that we will no longer be individuals or that we will be dissolved into one substance, but that we can be of one heart and mind, united with the will of God, in perfect agreement and unity. This same teaching occurs in other passages, where Christ explains that the oneness and unity between the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are what we should have with each other or what we can also have with them in heaven. For example, in John 14:10,11, Christ says that the Father is in Christ and Christ is in the Father. Does this mean they are the same person or same being? No, for in verse 20 He explains that in heaven, we will know that Christ is in the Father and we are in Christ and He is in us. Clearly, something other than oneness of substance and person is meant here.

As for the meaning of "I and the Father are one" in John 10:30, the non-LDS scholar David J. Ellis gives the following explanation in his commentary on John in The International Bible Commentary, ed. F.F. Bruce, Zondervan Publ. House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1986, p. 1249:

I and the Father are one (Gk. hen): The neuter gender rules out any thought of meaning 'one Person.' This is not a comment on the Godhead. Rather, having spoken of the sheep's security in both Himself and the Father, Jesus underlines what He has said by indicating that in action the Father and He be can regarded as a single entity, because their wills are one.
How do we know that Christ is different from the Father, that they are two Beings rather than different aspects of a single Being? One reason we know is because Christ said so in clear terms, and said so many times. The Gospel of John, for example, makes this point repeatedly, as do other parts of the Bible. We see that the Father is a different Being, with a distinct "will" and "self," dwelling in a different location, and being "greater" than Christ, a Being whom Christ obeys and honors. We consider specific examples below. In doing so, I realize that the following scriptures can be adapted to the doctrine of the Trinity by arguing that there are three "Persons" within one Being having one substance, something which is a mystery that cannot be explained in human terms. But is this what the writers of the Bible understood and meant? Is that metaphysical doctrine really what the Bible is trying to teach us? Was Christ's physical, resurrected body that His disciples touched just a vision? Was the missing body from His tomb metaphorical? Are the references to our creation in the "image" of God purely figurative, in spite of the repeated use of that Hebrew word to describe physical appearance? When we read of Christ being at the right hand of God, isn't it possible that Christ and the Father are two distinct Beings, yet operating in perfect oneness and unity?

Joseph Smith saw with his own eyes that the Father and the Son are two distinct Personages, in whose physical image we are created. Here are comments on specific passages of the Bible confirming that precious truth:

The concept of the oneness of God, in terms of Biblical, early Christian and modern LDS understanding, is discussed in more detail on my LDSFAQ page, "The Oneness of God," where I also discuss the post-Biblical doctrine of the Trinity.

The relationship between the Father and the Son

What, then, is the relationship between the Father and the Son? Forgive me for stating something so obvious, but its import has been forgotten by many: one is the Father, and the other is His Son. They are related as a human child is related to his father. Christ identified Himself as the SON of God. Examples: John 10:35-36; John 11:27; John 6:35; John 6:69; John 5:18; and John 3:16,17. Interestingly, Christ is also called the Son of man (e.g., John 6:27).

Christ, though a Son, is one with the Father and has power and authority from the Father. he represents the Father and does only that which the Father would do, teaching only that which the Father would teach (John 5:19; John 7:16-18).

Though He shared divine glory with His Father before His birth, He came to earth as a man, inheriting mortality from His mother and godly power from His Father, that He might suffer and be able to die, yet also be able to take up His life again and bring to pass the Resurrection. Thus Christ, though God, became like mortal man, like we are, that we might be able to become more like Him through His atonement (suffering an infinite burden of pain to pay the full price of our sins, making forgiveness possible), the reconciliation of our sins, and also through the Resurrection, which will give us endless life. These concepts are taught plainly in the Book of Mormon (e.g., Alma 34; Alma 40-42; Mosiah 27; 2 Nephi 2 and 9; 3 Nephi 11, etc.) and also in the Bible, in passages such as Hebrews 2:7-18; Heb. 4:15-16; 1 Peter 1, etc. Through His Atonement and work on the earth, the Son was "made perfect, [and] became the author of salvation unto all them that obey him" (Heb. 5:8,9).

Do not forget this basic truth, taught so plainly in the Bible: Christ is the Son of God, and God is the Father. Among the many implications of this truth, we know that as a child looks like its father, so Christ looks like His Father in Heaven. More than just being in the image of God, as all of us are (Gen. 1:26,27; James 3:9; Gen. 5:1-3), Christ is "the express image of his person" (Heb. 1:3), meaning that His physical appearance (the only proper translation for the word "image") is expressly that of the Father's. It can't be said much more clearly than that. So exact is the physical resemblance that in John 14:9, Christ says to Peter that "he that hath seen me hath seen the Father." It is important to realize that Christ is in our image, that He looks like us and has a physical, tangible body, though it is now immortal and glorious. He showed His body after He was resurrected and had his disciples feel it to remove all doubt that He was alive, resurrected, and not just a spirit. This powerful point is made in Luke 24: 36-43. He even went so far as to eat and swallow food in front of His apostles to make sure they understood the nature of His glorious body after the Resurrection, the same kind of body that we should look forward to receiving (Philip. 3:21; 1 Cor. 15:39-43; John 5:28,29). Christ is in the image of God the Father, and we are created in their image.

Some Christians, having never been taught the plain meaning behind the phrase "in the image of God," and not having understood the physical reality of Christ's resurrection, are offended at the "new" LDS view of God. They have been taught that it is a departure from the Bible to believe that God looks like man or could even have a body (as the Resurrected Christ most obviously does). They are offended to think that God could be anthropomorphic. But it's not God that has been "created" to look like man, but man that has been created to look like our Father in Heaven. Rather than God being anthropomorphic, it is man that is "theomorphic." But is this doctrine something new to Christianity? Though we may point to Bible verses for support, did the original Christians believe such a thing? Yes! It was post-apostolic philosophers and intellectuals who introduced a new, manmade doctrine in denying that God has a body, parts, or passions, seemingly recreating God in their own intellectual image. Peterson and Ricks explain (pp. 74-75):

And, finally, does anthropomorphism really disqualify those who believe in it from being Christian? It would be odd if it did, for most Christians of the very earliest period were almost certainly anthropomorphists. As a recent article in the Harvard Theological Review contends, "ordinary Christians for at least the first three centuries of the current era commonly (and perhaps generally) believed God to be corporeal," or embodied. "The belief was abandoned (and then only gradually) as Neoplatonism became more and more entrenched as the dominant world view of Christian thinkers." [David L. Paulsen, "Early Christian Belief in a Corporeal Deity: Origen and Augustine as Reluctant Witnesses," Harvard theological Review 83 (1990): 105-16; quotation from p. 105.] And these early Christians had excellent biblical reasons for believing in a corporeal deity, as the contemporary fundamentalist preacher Jimmy Swaggart, an anthropomorphist himself, has noticed. [Swaggart, "What is Meant by the Trinity? And When We Get to Heaven Will We See Three Gods?", typed, undated paper.] But pursuing this argument would take us too far afield. Roland J. Teske has shown that the great Augustine turned to Manichaeism out of disgust at the anthropomorphism that characterized the Christianity in which he had been raised, and that he had thought was typical of Christianity as a whole. "Prior to Augustine (and, of course, the Neoplatonic group in Milan)," writes Teske, "the Western Church was simply without a concept of God as a spiritual substance." [R.J. Teske, "Divine Immutability in Saint Augustine, The Modern Schoolman 63 (May 1986): 233-49, especially 242 n. 25, 244 nn. 34 and 35.]

Having a body does not limit God. He created it and we can presume it is a powerful tool, just as our vastly inferior, mortal bodies are great blessings to us. He has a body, as does Christ. They are distinct beings, yet one, just as the followers of Christ should be one (John 17:20-23) - meaning one in heart, mind, intent, will, etc. - but not one substance.

While I feel that the LDS doctrine of the nature of God is purely Biblical, there is room for disagreement. But using that doctrinal disagreement to label someone as a non-Christian cult is grossly improper. It would certainly rule out many of the earliest Christians and, in my opinion, the writers of the Bible themselves. Call them cultists, too, if you will, but that's the kind of cult I want to support.

Issue #2: Prophets and Apostles

We are condemned as a cult because we have modern apostles and prophets, men who are fallible but whom we respect as chosen and authorized servants of God. While it may offend critics to be told that the organization and apostolic priesthood authority that Christ gave His original Church has been restored in these latter days, their rejection of the concept of apostles and prophets is most surprising. They may argue that there were to be no prophets after Christ, overlooking the obvious fact that the Church He left behind had apostles and prophets (Ephesians 4:11-14; Acts 11:26,27) and that Christ said He would send prophets who would be persecuted and rejected:
"Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city..." (Matthew 23:34)
If believing in living prophets and apostles makes us a cult in the negative sense of the word, then Christ Himself must be condemned for the same reason.

Some critics say that we only need Christ alone for salvation, not human prophets. But in rejecting those whom Christ sends, however weak and mortal, they actually reject Christ:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. (John 13:20)
Christ gave special authority to Peter and his disciples, authority to seal in heaven what is sealed in earth (Matt. 16) and power to baptize, to heal, to give the gift of the Holy Ghost, and to teach and bless the lives of His people. To the extent that we need valid baptism to be saved (John 3:3-5; Acts 2:37,38), we certainly need to accept God's authorized servants. If we wish to be sealed in heaven and to have the full blessings of the Gospel, we should not presume that we can reject what God has commanded us to accept. Salvation comes through the grace of Christ, not the sacrifice of Joseph Smith or any other mortal, but there are means the Lord has given for us to receive the blessings of His grace, including baptism and other aspects of the Gospel. God has always worked through prophets and apostles, and He does so again today in the restored Church of Jesus Christ.

The world despises the message of prophets, but Christians are told, "Despise not prophesyings" (1 Thess. 5:20) and "Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7). To his apostles, Christ said, "As my Father hath sent me, even so I send you." (John 20:21). Of the special role of apostles, Christ said in John 15: 15-20:

15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.

16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. . . .

19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.

It is no wonder that the faithful early Christians honored and respected the leaders whom Christ had sent. Yet we are condemned as a cult for honoring modern apostles and prophets in the same way. We recognize them as mortals, but respect the calling and authority God has given them. If we wish to keep Christ's sayings, we will keep the inspired and prophetic sayings of Christ's chosen prophets and apostles (John 15:20). That's not what most Christians have been taught in this modern era, but it is what Christ taught. If we are cultists for believing that, then so was Christ and the early Christians.

For answers to common questions about the LDS belief in modern prophets and apostles, see my LDSFAQ Page on Prophets. For examples of accurate prophecies made by Joseph Smith, see my LDSFAQ page, "Did Joseph Smith Make Any Accurate Prophecies?"

Issue #3: New Scripture

In addition to the Bible, Latter-day Saints also accept The Book of Mormon: Another Witness for Jesus Christ as a sacred scripture, along with canonized volumes of revelations to Joseph Smith, the Doctrine and Covenants and also the Pearl of Great Price. Basic information about the Book of Mormon is given on my page, An Introduction to the Book of Mormon. The issue at hand, however, is whether new scripture by itself is sufficient cause to condemn an organization or a person as a cult in the negative sense of the word. Clearly, almost every prophet has ADDED scripture. God spoke to Moses, and Moses wrote several new books. God spoke to Isaiah, and Isaiah's new writings were eventually added as scripture. God inspired Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to write, and the ultimate result was that NEW SCRIPTURE was added. Indeed, the very name "NEW TESTAMENT" indicates that a new volume of scripture was added to the previously accepted canon of scripture. If adding scripture makes one a cultist, then Christ and His apostles must likewise be condemned. But there is nothing in the Bible to support this kind of condemnation.

Much has been said about the evil of adding to or subtracting from the word of God. Obviously, no man has authority on his own to add or subtract from the word of God, as Moses taught in Deuteronomy 4:2:

"Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it...."
In spite of these strong words, Moses continued writing, and many other prophets continued writing, adding to the word of God. They could do so because they wrote more as God inspired them, not altering previously written texts, but revealing more as God commanded. With this in mind, we can better understand what John meant when he used words similar to those of Moses as he concluded the Book of Revelation (Rev. 22:18,19):
"For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:

"And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book."

In those verses, John, who is in exile on the Isle of Patmos, is obviously referring to the text before him - the Book of Revelation and its prophecies, its descriptions of plagues, its discussion of the holy city, etc. - and urges no one to change what he has written. The Bible as a collection of canonized books did not exist when he wrote those lines. In fact, several non-LDS authorities believe that Revelation was not the last book of the Bible to be written, but may have preceded other writings of John himself by a couple of years. Nevertheless, what John wrote is true: no man should change what God has spoken. However, God has the authority to speak what and when He wants. God spoke to other prophets after Moses (the injunction against men adding to the word in Deut. 4:2 not being applicable to the case of God adding to His words), and many of their divinely commissioned writings have been preserved in the Bible.

Some people cite 2 Timothy 3:16 to argue that there can be no more scripture:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness . . .
We fully agree that all genuine scripture is inspired and profitable, but this statement on the value of scripture cannot possibly mean that all scripture had already been given, as some of our critics wish to imply. If so, why did Paul keep on writing? Why is there a verse 17 if all scripture had been given by verse 16? Why did other apostles keep writing after 2 Timothy 3 had been concluded? All scripture is inspired, whether it is past, modern, or still waiting to be revealed in the future. 2 Timothy 3:16 applies perfectly to the Book of Mormon and all other genuine scripture: it's inspired.

Given that the true Church of Jesus Christ was characterized by prophets and apostles who were guided by revelation and wrote revelations which became scripture, one of the hallmarks of the true Church - if such a church exists - must be that it has a growing volume of scripture. If God is active and leading a church, that Church will have prophets and revelations, some of which will become canonized. May I mention a candidate? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, restored upon the earth as part of God's prophesied "restitution of all things" (Acts 3:19) is once again lead by revelation to apostles and prophets, and is characterized by new volumes of scripture, just like in the original Church of Jesus Christ before the era of apostasy. If the restored Church of Jesus Christ must be condemned for new volumes of scripture, then so must the early Church of Jesus Christ. If Christ and all the prophets and apostles were cultists, then we're happy to be in their company.

Issue #4: New Doctrines

Changes in practices or doctrines implemented by LDS prophets are said to be evidence that we are a cult. The argument seems to be that God would never change any commandment or rule, so changes made by LDS prophets must "prove" that the Church is not of God but deserves the negative label "cult."

God's nature does not change, and absolute truth does not change, but the rules and instructions God gives to man are adapted for our time and circumstances, and DO change. This is part of the reason why we need continuing revelation and living prophets.

The early Christians had many changes in their doctrine and practice relative to the "mainstream" practices of Judaism at that time, and had changes relative to Old Testament teachings. Were early Christians therefore cultists, in the negative sense of the word?

Consider a few examples. Should Christians keep the feast of the Passover, the feast of unleavened bread, and offer animal sacrifices? Yet the Old Testament tells us that these rites should be kept FOREVER (Exodus 12:14-24). Should we keep the Feast of Firstfruits, which was to be a "statute for ever throughout your generations" (Lev. 23:9-14), or the wave offerings of sacrificed animals, another "statute forever" (Lev. 23:15-21), or the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:33-44, esp. v. 41) or offerings of flour and frankincense (Lev. 24:5-9), also said to be everlasting and perpetual? Do modern Protestants and Catholics strictly observe the Sabbath day as taught in the Old Testament (absolutely no work or shopping and observing the Sabbath on Saturday)? Yet the Old Testament practices were said to be given as "a perpetual covenant" and a sign between God and Israel forever (Exodus 31:16-17). Many of these Old Testament ordinances and observances were changed in the original Church of Jesus Christ - not by men, but by revelation from God.

Further examples include circumcision, which was said to be "an everlasting covenant" in Genesis 17:13, yet this commandment was later changed, making circumcision of no importance at all (1 Corinthians 7:19, Galatians 5:6). The change was made through revelation to living apostles and prophets. A dramatic example of revealed change occurred in the revelation to Peter that showed him the Gospel was now to be preached to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. That revelation in Acts 10:9-18 occurred with the help of a vision in which Peter was commanded to eat "unclean" things. This revelation directly contradicted two previous Biblical revelations. One was the instruction from Christ that the Apostles were sent to preach to the house of Israel, not to the Gentiles (Matthew 10:5; see also Matthew 15:24); the other was the prior strict prohibitions against eating the very things that Peter was commanded to eat (Leviticus 11:2-47). Those changes may have been hard for Peter to accept, but they were from God and he obeyed. (Speaking of food, are Christians today allowed to eat fat? Yet a prohibition against eating fat in Leviticus 3:17 is said to be a perpetual statute.)

How can we account for the changes that occurred in laws and ordinances that were said to be perpetual or forever? God can give a set of laws that are to be ongoing until He issues a change - but He must do it, not man. The changes that took us away from many aspects of the Mosaic law, as with the changes away from the still older rules of Sabbath observance and circumcision, were made under divine inspiration after the Atonement of Christ had been completed, which fulfilled the Mosaic law and required or permitted change of other practices. God did not change, but the rules that we needed were changed. The changes were revealed by those having authority, not by committees. Besides change made through apostles and prophets, Christ also personally reversed, modified, or strengthened several previous teachings of past prophets (e.g., see Matthew 5, esp. v. 21-22, 27-28, and 31-44).

Based on the many changes in laws and commandments documented in the Bible, it is entirely incorrect to say that modern prophets are false if they reveal any changes in practices or rules. The real issue is not whether we agree with them, but whether they are true prophets or not. That question, again, can begin to be answered by determining if the Book of Mormon is true. If it is not, Joseph Smith and all successive prophets in the Church were false. If it is true, then we should be careful not to reject those whom the Lord has called.

Issue #5: Commandment Keeping

Latter-day Saints do not agree with Martin Luther's doctrine of justification by faith alone, but believe that we access the grace of Christ in a covenant relationship with Him. He offers us salvation and eternal life if we accept Him and follow Him, having faith in Him and striving to repent of our sins and keep His commandments. The concept of following Christ to gain access to His grace is taught in many places in the Bible. (For a lengthy an detailed discussion, please see my page on Faith, Works, and Grace.) For example, Revelation 22:12-14 reflects this relationship. This passage briefly describes the judgment and the conditions for entering into the heavenly city of God:
And behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be....

Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.

Our critics say that we deny the grace of Christ by thinking that we must keep the commandments of Christ, appalled at the thought that anything we could possibly do would have any bearing on our eternal status. They say that we are a cult because we allegedly do not accept the grace of Christ. What they really mean, I fear, is that we are a "cult" because we don't accept their particular view of what must be done to be saved.

If we must be condemned as a cult for not accepting Luther's views, what about Christ and the early Christians? The words of Christ are focused almost exclusively on our behavior, dealing with what we do. Read the Sermon on the Mount, which says that we'll be judged by our fruits and our deeds. Read the parables and stories about judgment, which emphasize our actions as determining factors. Read His answer to direct questions about what must be done to gain eternal life. Did He say faith without works was sufficient? On the contrary, in Matthew 19:16-21, He urged us to keep the commandments, saying "if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments."

Luke 10:25-37 provides another example of Christ's answer to the question, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life." We again learn that we must serve God with all our heart and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves. We are told to follow the example of the good Samaritan in response to this lawyer's questioning about eternal life. Some have argued that such passages from Christ were meant to be ironic parodies of the futility of trying to keep the commandments, but to argue such is to wrestle violently with the scriptures. Certainly it is impossible for man to be saved alone, without the grace of God, but Christ definitely and unmistakably taught that we must follow him and keep his commandments. He didn't say we would do that automatically if we believed him. He said, "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). Likewise in John 15:14, He said, "ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you."

In Mark 12:28-34, a sincere scribe approaches Christ and asks which is the first commandment. Christ does not criticize the question or impugn the whole concept of keeping commandments. Hear his words:

29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:

30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.

31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

32 And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he:

33 And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.

34 And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.

What was Christ teaching? That there are crucial commandments for us to keep - primarily to love and serve God, and to love our neighbors. His words speak of much more than belief alone. To the scribe who understood the importance of these commandments, Christ said he was not far from the kingdom of God. As Christ said in Luke 11:28, "blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it." Using our free will to choose to follow Christ and to keep his commandments is not contrary to the Gospel - it's at the heart of the what Christ taught. If we hear and DO what Christ commands us, we our built on a sure foundation (Matt. 7:24-28), for it is not just those who profess Christ that are saved, but those who DO the will of His Father in heaven (Matt. 7:21-23). Does that teaching deny the status of Christ as our Redeemer and Savior? Absolutely not. It brings us to Christ, that we might gain access to his grace.

Again, for a more extensive treatment of the LDS/Biblical doctrine on the relationship between faith, grace, and works, please see my page on Faith, Works, and Grace. The point, though, is not whether our interpretation of the Bible is superior to Martin Luther's or John Calvin's or "Dr." Walter Martin's, but whether Latter-day Saints belong to a cult because they don't accept the standard modern Protestant view. The problem is, if those views make us a cult, then the words of Christ would seem to make Him a cultist as well. As for the doctrine of salvation by faith alone apart from works, it is difficult to find even a trace of that in early Christian writings before Augustine, and it was still poorly developed before Luther (note that even Paul made many references to the need to obey, to repent, to follow Christ, and to endure to the end, as can be seen by study of a list of scriptures on faith and works).

. The modern Protestant view of salvation does not seem to have been well established in Christianity before Luther's time. Did all Christians before that time belong to cults? Again, using doctrinal differences to brand others as cultists in this manner is unfair name-calling. We don't call others cultists for not believing just the way we do, even when we think they're plainly incorrect. We don't exclude them from Christianity for having doctrines that we feel are unbiblical, though we are adamant that the Lord's true Church has been restored. Those who sincerely believe in Christ are Christians in our book, though they may have some things wrong or incomplete. Naturally, we stand ready to be of assistance to remedy any such problems!

Issue #6: Divine Potential of Human Beings

Latter-day Saints are said to believe that they may eventually become "gods," thus making the Church a non-Christian cult. It is true that we believe that man has divine potential as sons and daughters of God, and that we can mature through the Gospel of Christ and His Atonement and become in some way more like Christ, as "joint heirs" with Christ in heaven. If that makes us a cult, so be it. Yet there is one major problem with defining "cult" to include any organization teaching such doctrines: it would make Christ and the early Christians into the worst of cultists. I refer to much more than just the controversial quote from Christ in John 10:34, "Ye are gods." I refer to a major paradigm of early Christianity, also common to LDS theology, about the relationship between God and man.

Christ is the Son of God, having both a spirit and a body begotten by God. The rest of us have something in common with Him, for our spirits are also begotten of God, making us spirit sons and daughters of God (Heb. 12:9; Acts 17:28,29; Roms 8:14-18). As a result, Christ is - in a sense - our Brother, and calls His followers His brethren (John 7:3,5,10). This common relationship was reflected in what He said to Mary as He was about to ascend unto His Father after the Resurrection: "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended unto my Father; but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God" (John 20:17). The Father is not only the Father of Christ, but also of us (of our spirits). Further, Christ calls the Father His God, who is also our God. There is something in common between Christ's relationship to the Father and our relationship to the Father. Should we be surprised that He uses the word "brethren" to describe those who worship the Father? In describing the mission of Christ, Paul says Christ brought many sons unto glory, and that those who are so sanctified "are all of one" with Christ (there is that theme of unity among distinct individuals again, which was discussed above in the section on the Trinity), "for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren" (Heb. 2: 10-12).

If we are brethren, then we should not be surprised that the grace and power of Christ gives us the ability to become more like Him and to share in that which He has received from the Father. Paul teaches this in Romans 8:14-18, where he explains that we are children of God and because of that, we can become heirs of God and "joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified together." Indeed, those whom God knew would accept Christ were foreordained "to conform to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren" (Romans 8:29). The goal is to become more like Christ and the Father, which we are commanded to do, as Christ taught in Matt 5:48 ("be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect").

Our acceptance of these Biblical teachings leads many to condemn us as a cult, saying that we think we will become gods and be worshipped instead of the Father. We will always worship the Father and Christ, who give us life, forgiveness, and all things pertaining to godliness, as Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:4-10. But it was Christ Himself who said "Ye are gods" in John 10:34, referring to the divine potential of sons and daughters of God. As to what He meant, consider the words of C.S. Lewis, a non-LDS writer who few would condemn as a cultist. Here is a quote from his book, Mere Christianity (Collier Books, MacMillan Publ. Co., New York, 1943; paperback edition, 1960; p. 160 - the last paragraph of Chapter 9, "Counting the Cost," in Book IV):

"The command Be ye perfect [Matt. 5:48] is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were "gods" and he is going to make good His words. If we let Him - for we can prevent Him, if we choose - He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what he said."
Likewise, in The Grand Miracle (Ballantine Books, New York, 1970, p. 85 - the last page of the essay, "Man or Rabbit?" in Chapter 11), C.S. Lewis wrote:
The people who keep on asking if they can't lead a good life without Christ, don't know what life is about; if they did they would know that "a decent life" is mere machinery compared with the thing we men are really made for. Morality is indispensable: but the Divine Life, which gives itself to us and which calls us to be gods, intends for us something in which morality will be swallowed up. We are to be remade. All the rabbit in us will be swallowed up - the worried, conscientious, ethical rabbit as well as the cowardly and sensual rabbit. We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of fur come out; and then surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy. [emphasis mine]
And from the same book, p. 65 (the last page of Chapter 8), is another C.S. Lewis gem:
Christ has risen, and so we shall rise. St. Peter for a few seconds walked on the water, and the day will come when there will be a remade universe, infinitely obedient to the will of glorified and obedient men, when we can do all things, when we shall be those gods that we are described as being in Scripture.
Where did the highly respected C.S. Lewis get such doctrine? From the Bible, which teaches us that we can indeed put on the divine nature and mature as sons and daughters of God, becoming like Him.

Critics misrepresent our beliefs by saying that we think we will become God, or that we hope to usurp the glory that belongs to the Father. In spite of what our critics says, we believe we will always worship and give glory to God the Father, and that we will always be subject to Him, subordinate to Him, as sons and daughters. The modern Apostle Boyd K. Packer has clarified this issue:

The Father is the one true God. This thing is certain: no one will ever ascend above Him; no one will ever replace Him. Nor will anything ever change the relationship that we, His literal offspring, have with Him. He is Eloheim, the Father. He is God. Of Him there is only one. We revere our Father and our God; we worship Him.

There is only one Christ, one Redeemer. We accept the divinity of the Only Begotten Son of God in the flesh. We accept the promise that we may become joint heirs with Him.

(Boyd K. Packer, "The Pattern of Our Parentage," Ensign, Nov. 1984, p. 69.)

We accept the Biblical teaching that we can become heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17; see also Galatians 4:7). Heirs of what? Revelation 21:7 teaches that he who overcomes all things (through the Atonement of Christ, of course) will inherit "all things" - but in that relationship, though the exalted Christian will be joint heirs with Christ, Christ will still say "I will be his God, and he shall be my son." (See also 1 Corinthians 3:21-23.) That's straight LDS doctrine. In that state, we will help rule over all things (Luke 12:43-44; Revelation 3:21), will be one with God and Christ (John 17:20-23); will have a glorious body like God's (Philippians 3:21; 1 John 3:2; 1 Corinthians 15:49) and will receive glory from God (Romans 8:18; ; 2 Corinthians 3:18).

But isn't this concept of "deification" counter to Christianity? Are Mormons just wresting the scriptures to provide support for a blasphemous, non-Christian doctrine? We can gain insight into these issues by asking a related question: How did mainstream, early Christians understand Bible passages that appear to suggest the doctrine of deification? Did early Christians actually believe things? The answer is going to shock and disturb many fellow Christians who are used to hearing that Mormons are a cult for believing that they can become "gods." It is very important to understand that at least some significant, mainstream, early Christian leaders also understood and accepted this doctrine. As I show on my page, "The Divine Potential of Mankind," the list of people sharing similar views on deification includes Saint Athanasius, Saint Augustine, Saint Irenaeus, Saint Cyril, Saint Maximus the Confessor, Saint Clement of Alexandria, and Saint Justin Martyr. Modern Christian writers, like C.S. Lewis, have also taught this doctrine in various forms. The fact this doctrine is not found in most modern Christian churches is not because it is a non-Christian doctrine, but because many things once understood and practiced in the original Church of Jesus Christ were lost through apostasy and errant, uninspired human leadership. Without continuing revelation to chosen apostles and prophets, much of what the Church once had has been lost or corrupted. But the Restoration of the Gospel restored not only sacred authority and revelation to divinely chosen apostles and prophets, but also restored correct understanding of many sacred doctrines, including an understanding of the divine potential of man.

Our critics object that if there were other godlike beings, then God would not be the only God. Again, this sidesteps the teachings of the scriptures. As Paul explained, though there be many "gods," there is only one Whom we worship (1 Cor. 8:5,6), only One Creator of the Universe, a Being whom the scriptures call the "God of gods" (Joshua 22:22, Deut. 10:17) - a title that only makes sense if we accept the existence of other genuine beings called "gods" over whom God reigns.

For more information on this early Christian doctrine known as theosis (deification of human through Christ), see my LDSFAQ page, "The Divine Potential of Mankind." If our views on this Biblical topic make us cultists and exclude us from Christianity, some early Christians are likewise condemned, including several New Testament writers and even Christ Himself.

Issue #7: Close Social Ties

"Cults" are often described as close-knit groups with strong social ties and influence from fellow believers, a definition which would seem to fit Latter-day Saints - as well as they early Christians both during New Testament times and in the following days of the Church, during the era of persecution, prior to the assumption of Christianity into the Roman Empire.

Lists of warning signs for cults often indicate that cults have rigid standards for membership and that members often become heavily involved with other members and less involved with those outside the group. We do have basic standards of membership, just as the New Testament Church did (Matt. 7:14, 1 Cor. 5:11,13; 1 Cor. 6:9-10, etc.) Do high standards make a cult? Does being strongly committed to a religion make one a cultist? If so, the early followers of Christ were clearly cultists.

We do have social activities and Church programs that provide many interactions among members, and we do try to strengthen and support each other. We try to reach out to others and to maintain circles of friends, but differences in standards often interfere with past relationships and lack of time may limit some outside relationships. But if less active involvement with outsiders makes us a cult, we must also condemn early Christians, and Paul in particular, who seems to have discouraged marriage and close association with outsiders (2 Cor. 6:14-17).

As for social ties and our time and activities together as fellow believers, please recall approach of the Christians, as described in Acts 2: 41-47:

41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.

42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

43 And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.

44 And all that believed were together, and had all things common;

45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.

46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,

47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

That description sounds like a classic cult: a close-knit group, heavily involved with and committed to their religion, influenced by dynamic leaders, making large financial sacrifices for their group, spending lots of time together, recruiting new converts, and acting like those in their group were on the path to salvation. As frightening as that sounds, it was early Christianity at its finest. It was a classic cult - if we accept the loose and unjust special definitions of cult used by modern "cult evangelists" and "cult bashers," whose attempts to condemn Latter-day Saints also condemn the earliest and most authentic Christians. Some day, I hope we will be able to establish such a unified community of saints as described in Acts 2, but at the moment Latter-day Saints are still not quite "cultish" enough! But we do fairly well on many counts: we actively proselyte (a definite sign of a "cult"- and a commandment of Christ to His followers in Matthew 28:19-20, who were to preach to all the world); we make financial sacrifices for the Church (another "cult" trait and a trait of the New Testament Church); we have apostles and prophets as leaders; and we spend time together and help each other in many ways (but more time and more strengthening is still needed to meet the needs of many - please join today and help!).

Issue #8: Polygamy

Polygamy was practiced and even encouraged by leaders of the Church between about 1840 and 1890, when it was officially ended. Frankly, I don't understand it and am relieved that it was abandoned in 1890 (or at least that's when official efforts began to stop it -- some polygamous marriages apparently continued to occur for several years thereafter, in Mexico or elsewhere, with approval of some leaders of the Church - but it did eventually come to a complete halt worldwide, and for many decades polygamy has been a very effective way to get excommunicated from the Church). OK, I don't like the idea of polygamy, now or in the past, but given that it was practiced by several Old Testament prophets who seemed to be on good terms with God, we may need to be careful about our condemnation of this exceptional practice.

LDS scriptures (Jacob 2:30 in the Book of Mormon) say that polygamy is normally forbidden unless commanded by God. During the early days of the Church, polygamy was practiced by a minority of members of the Church under direction of Church leaders, in response to revelation from God. It was strongly advocated as an important principle. I do not know the reasons why the Lord required this, but many assume that it was to strengthen the Church in numbers if not in faith during that time. At other times in the past, God has commanded or permitted prophets to practice plural marriage as evidenced by Abraham (see Gen. 25:1-6), Jacob (see Gen. 29 and 30), and others (see 2 Samuel 12:7-9 for the case of David), but it certainly conflicts with modern European cultural views and was offensive and difficult for many Latter-day Saints, many of whom came from Puritan stock. It's a tough thing to understand and very easy to misunderstand, and I will admit that it still bothers me, especially some of the details of its implementation, which may include some mistakes made in sincere good faith to carry out what people saw as an expression of faith. For more background information, see the discussion of polygamy on my Facetious Questions page or read the related article on plural marriage in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

Many critics have used the past practice of polygamy, which was ended by the Church in 1890, as evidence that we are not Christians but rather an evil cult. If so, then Abraham, that most honored of Old Testament prophets, the one who the scriptures call the "friend" of God (2 Chron. 20:7, Isaiah 41:8, James 2:23), was also a cultist. One wonders why Christ spoke of Abraham in respectful terms (Matt. 8:11, 22:31-32; Mark 12:26; Like 16:23-30, 20:37; John 8:39,56) when He could have clarified our thinking by informing us of Abraham's evil and cultic status. Not only were Abraham and other Biblical prophets cultists, by this definition, but even Martin Luther must have been a cultist, too, for twice approving of bigamous marriages. I quote from Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks,Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints, Aspen Books, Salt Lake City, UT, 1992, pp.154-156:

"Christian history demonstrates beyond question that polygamy cannot be used as a club with which to drive the Mormons from Christendom. It is too blunt an instrument, and would chase too many obvious Christians from the fold as well. The sixth century Arab Christian kings of Lakhm and Ghassan were polygamists, for instance, as were the contemporary Christians of Ethiopia [1]. Pope Clement VII, faced with the threat of a continent-dividing divorce, considered bigamy as a solution to the problem of Henry VIII. Was he, with such thoughts, flirting with becoming a non-Christian? [2] Did Martin Luther cease to be a Christian when he made the same suggestion, in September 1531, to King Henry's envoy, Robert Barnes? [3] Nearly a decade later, Luther counselled Philip of Hesse to take Margaret von der Sale as a second wife. He justified the idea from the Old Testament, as the Mormons would in a later century. Furthermore, he suggested public denial. (Generally, he had written in an earlier letter, he favored monogamy, remarking that "a Christian is not free to marry several wives unless God commands him to go beyond the liberty which is conditioned by love.") [4] But when Philip actually did marry Margaret in March of 1540, he did so - contrary to Luther's counsel - publicly. Indeed, the marriage was performed by Philip's Lutheran chaplain and in the presence of Luther's chief lieutenants, Philip Melanchthon and Martin Bucer. Needless to say, a storm of controversy broke out. Writing to John Frederick of Saxony on 10 June 1540, Luther declared, "I am not ashamed of the counsel I gave even if it should become known throughout the world. Because it is unpleasant, however, I should prefer, if possible, to have it kept quiet." [5] Was Luther a pagan? Did his associates, Bucer and Melanchthon, leave Christianity when they joined in Luther's advice? [6] Of course not. This was "Christianity Polygamy in the Sixteenth Century," as Elder Orson Pratt termed it in a well informed 1853 article. [7] Citing the statement by Luther, Melanchthon, and Bucer, to the effect that "the Gospel hath neither recalled nor forbid what was permitted in the law of Moses with respect to marriage," Elder Pratt quite correctly concluded that the case of Philip of Hesse "proves most conclusively, that those Divines did sincerely believe it to be just as legal and lawful for a Christian to have two wives as to have one only." [8]

Yet many Protestant Christians today are convinced that polygamy disqualifies Latter-day Saints from acceptance within Christendom. Why? "What is surprising," notes Manas Buthelezi, "is that the Christian Church has raised this essentially cultural matter to a level of a soteriological absolute." [9]

Many observers of Christianity in Africa, including the illustrious modern theologian Karl Rahner, have raised serious questions about whether Indo-European marital custom really belongs to the essence of being Christian. [10] "Let it be publicly declared," writes H. W. Turner, that a polygamous African church may still be classed as a Christian church." [11] But if a "polygamous African church" can be called Christian, why cannot a once-polygamous American church? Anti-Mormons would not, we assume, want to claim that the definition of "Christian" differs between Africa and North America.

Footnotes for the above passage

1. D.S. Margoliouth, Mohammed and the Rise of Islam (New York: Putnam's Sons,1905): 38, 160.

2. See Robert Holst, "Polygamy and the Bible," International Review of Missions, 56 (April 1967): 205-213 (in particular, see p. 212, n. 2).

3. For the Latin texts of two letters to Barnes related to this issue, with notes, see Ernst L. Enders, ed., Dr. Martin Luther's Briefwechsel (Stuttgart, Verein der Varlagsbuchhandlung, 1903), 9: 80-99. (Vol. 9 is from a 17 volume set, published 1884-1915.)

4. From a letter of 1526, in Theodore G. Tappert, ed. and trans., Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel (Philadelphia, Westminster, 1955): 276 (emphasis by Peterson and Ricks). The parallel to Jacob 2:27-30 should be obvious.

5. An English translation of the letter is to be found in Tappert (1955): 288-291. For a brief account of the incident, see Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, (Nashville, Abingdon, 1950): 373-375.

6. See the annotated German text of a letter from Luther, Melanchthon, and Bucer, given in Enders (1903), 12: 319-328. Compare Robert Stupperich, Melanchthon (Berlin, de Gruyter, 1960): 95; Holst (1967): 212, n.2; Clyde L. Manschreck, A History of Christianity in the World, 2nd ed. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice Hall, 1985): 261-270. Later, in the eighteenth century, Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia took plural wives on at least two occasions, citing Luther's counsel to Philip of Hesse as a precedent and with the approval of his own Lutheran court chaplain; cf. Gerd Heinrich, Geschichte Pruessens: Staat und Dynastie (Frankfurt am Main, Propylaen,1981): 257.

7. Orson Pratt, "Christian Polygamy in the Sixteenth Century," The Seer, 1 (Dec. 1853): 177-183.

8. Pratt (1853): 179, 182.

9. Manas Buthelezi, "Polygyny in the light of the New Testament," Africa Theological Journal, 2 (Feb. 1969), 58-70 (see in particular p. 69).

10. See Eugene Hillman, Polygamy Reconsidered (Maryknoll, NY, Orbis, 1975), Buthelezi (1969), and Holst (1967).

11. H. W. Turner, "Monogamy: A Mark of the Church?" International Review of Missions, 55 (July 1966): 313-321 (in particular, see p. 321).

Other resources on the polygamy issue:

Issue #9: Departure from Tradition

We are said to be a cult because we depart from much of established Christian tradition. However, many of the traditions from which we depart - baptism of infants, no new scripture, no more prophets, the doctrine of the Trinity, paid clergy, salvation by faith alone, and so forth - were not established in the original Church of Christ but came much later, arguably as the traditions of men, not of God. Departing from such traditions certainly upsets the ministers of the mainstream, just as Christ and His followers upset the ministers of mainstream Judaism. If departing from established traditions condemns us as a cult, then Christ Himself stands condemned. Christ outraged the mainstream traditionalists with His criticism of their corrupt traditions. Early Christians further outraged the Establishment by overthrowing their most basic traditions: the Law of Moses and the Sabbath on the seventh day (changed to the first day).

If the Restored Church departs from existing traditions, it may not be not because those traditions are purely Biblical, but are based in part on the teachings of men and committees. Indeed, original traditions and practices of God have been restored in the Church: the tradition of prophets and apostles, baptism by immersion, living scripture, tithing, temples, the true knowledge of the nature of God, priesthood authority, active missionary work, etc. However, the restoration of such things departs from the traditions of other churches, who have suffered the loss of many things over the centuries through apostasy or misunderstanding. However, we will continue to be condemned as a cult for overthrowing "church tradition." For example, recently a well educated Christian with extensive knowledge of the Bible (he was even able to quote Hebrew to me) wrote this in an e-mail message:

Do I believe the LDS [church] is a cult? I have to. There are too many departure points from the Bible and church tradition.
The evidence he offered for departure from the Bible related to the doctrine of the Trinity, which he feels is derivable from the Bible. As for departure from "church tradition," we are guilty of that - but I'm happy to depart from all that is man-made and incorrect. To say that departure from tradition makes one a cult is most ironic, for this was the very thing that caused so much persecution of the early Christians.

Proof by spoof: Are your children in a cult?

An earnest warning by Jeff Lindsay,
noted cult authority and author of the
CultMaster 2000 Software System

(A modest example of the problem with the loose definition of "cult" used by many "cult experts.")

Any competent expert on cults will tell you that typical cults display one or more of the following warning signs:

Only the most extreme and dangerous cults display all of the above warning signs - but one such extreme cult has infiltrated thousands of high schools and colleges across the country. Many parents have been deceived into thinking that their son or daughter has become involved in a healthy school activity, when in fact they have been recruited by one of the most sophisticated and dangerous cults ever. This cult takes up many hours of student time, imposes physically grueling demands, requires total obedience to shadowy authority figures who exert control over many aspects of the child's life, subjects them to extreme peer pressure to perform and achieve goals for the group, demands that the child obey strict rules of behavior and diet, and even forces the child to wear special ritualistic clothing - often including special underwear (at least for boys)! The cult I speak of is actually a network of several related organizations, all of which focus on the same cultic specialty: competitive sports. Posing as intercollegiate or high school athletic teams, these cults dominate a young person's life. Whether it's basketball, football, baseball, soccer, wrestling, track and field, hockey, or lacrosse, your child is being pulled into the web of a giant cult conspiracy. The lure of these sports cults draws thousands of young people every year, who then become trained for intense, warlike pagan rituals with "opponent teams." All "competitors" wear ritualistic clothing with specific colors and symbols pertaining to their branch of the cult. Parents often feel proud of their son or daughter in their attractive "uniform," not recognizing the occult nature of the garb that shrouds their child.

Rigid rules of conduct govern the rituals, and those who fail to comply may be ejected or otherwise humiliated. All must obey the supreme cult authority figure, the "coach," whose iron will governs the child's life both during and after competitive rituals. All must be scarified to please the coach and to achieve goals for the good of the cult. Shockingly, child involvement in the sports cults often happens with the encouragement and support of gullible parents who have no idea how sinister competitive sports really are.

Once a youth has been conditioned and trained by a sports cult, the victim tends to have a mindless addiction to competitive sports rituals throughout adulthood, often persisting right into senility and beyond. Many victims become evangelists for their cult, often wearing sweaters and jackets displaying the occult logos or symbols of their particular "team," and sometimes paying large amounts of money and waiting hours in line just for a chance to observe a competitive ritual involving their branch of the cult. Sometimes entire student bodies rally to support the cause of a cult, though only an elite and exclusive minority are allowed to actually join and participate.

All this occurs in public schools, in spite of public pronouncements about the separation of Church and State. The sports cults receive millions of dollars of public funds and almost unlimited support from public schools, often at the expense of real education. Lives are ruined, souls are entangled in darkness, and thousands of debilitating injuries are suffered as human sacrifices before the altars of the sports cults. Yet Americans, blind and gullible, are unable to see the evil that lurks before their eyes and that has entangled their own children. Parents, your child may belong to a dangerous cult - and you may be the one who encouraged him or her to join!

As with all the dark tools of the Evil One, the sports cults trace their roots back to the early days of human civilization. Archaeologists recently uncovered an intact cultic shrine in Syria, dating to 1000 B.C., where ancient pagans worshipped the false god Baal. In this shrine was a dimly lit room where cultic worshipers would sit for hours before a large altar. On the altar, three strange objects were displayed: a large empty vase, a clay statue of a human foot, and a wicker basket. Participants would stare at these objects and worship for hours, often chanting and yelling while partaking of cultic beverages, typically alcoholic. Apparently, the objects on the altar were viewed as manifestations of the god Baal. Thus, as early as 1000 B.C., we find evidence of devout pagan worship of the gods Vase-Baal, Foot-Baal, and Basket-Baal. This form of worship continues today in the sports cults.

Finally, for those who are not yet convinced, let me simply point out that sports cults DO NOT teach modern Protestant doctrines. If they aren't officially mainstream Protestant, they are officially a cult. End of story.

Parents, you can protect your child. Be informed, do all you can to stop these cults, and above all, be sure to buy the CultMaster 2000 CD set, which will give you all the tools you need to battle cults of all kinds. Any parent who does not buy the CultMaster 2000 CD set may well be guilty of child abuse through neglect. Order now!

It Cuts Both Ways....

Remember, the definitions used to condemn us as cultists can cut the other way as well. For example, here's some e-mail I received on April 10, 2001:
Our Church has videos that I have watched on the why the Mormon Church is a cult.

Here is a definition that you missed when speaking of a cult: 1) A religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader.

It came from with a simple search of "cult." It is the first line.

From my perspective, Mormons seem to quote the verses of the Holy Bible (The 66 Books of the Old and New Testaments) only when it suits them. Your religion, and even you on the site at seem to pick and choose which verses you believe in.

The fact is if Mormons were simply a sect of Christians like the Baptists, Methodists, etc., you would believe that the Holy Bible was the complete, inerrant and infallible Word of God. This would mean that you would have to believe in the whole Bible, not just parts.

My response:

That's a great definition of cult. We've got to watch out for such groups! In fact, I pray that you are not part of the dreaded Christian cult. From its earliest days right up to the modern, Christianity has been generally considered to be false (ask any ancient Roman, any Buddhist, any atheist or animist). Its deceived adherents, of course, engage in all sorts of unconventional practices, such as symbolic cannibalistic rites with bread and wine, refusing to work one day a week, payment of tithes or offerings to a church, getting on knees to utter prayers to an invisible God, teaching children that God created the earth in 7 days (intelligent people know it must have taken weeks!), and sometimes even suffering death rather than acknowledge officially sanctioned truths from the State. Such extremism is no surprise when we consider that Christianity traces its cultic roots to a highly charismatic, authoritarian leader named Jesus Christ, who encouraged his followers to be prepared to give up all that they had, even their lives, rather than yield to other ways of thinking and living. He died under Roman torture, refusing to give up His Messianic mission, an extremist to the end. Heaven help those who follow such a Leader!

I trust you are also not a member of another related cult (arguably outside the scope of authentic Christian cults) which places its trust not directly in God but in a man-made object alleged to contain ALL the words of God. Members of this cult worship a book called the Bible, believing that they can put all trust in their human translations of multiple competing versions of copies of ancient texts (no originals are left to check which copies are best!). They believe that this book, in spite of some undeniable textual problems and uncertainties, is the complete, inerrant and infallible Word of God, though this statement of faith is NOT found in their supposedly complete book, nor is the statement of faith that God cannot give any more scripture. It is a closed system immune to debate, relying on blind faith in their authoritarian system which results in a variety of extreme, unconventional positions and behaviors generally considered to be false by those outside their circle of faith.

FYI, I accept every verse of the Bible as it was written under inspiration of God.

Conclusion: Before You Condemn. . .

My desire is that people will see through the clouds of misunderstanding that may obscure their view of the Latter-day Saint people, and perhaps seek to understand us better rather than rashly condemning us. To help, I offer a few things to ponder BEFORE you condemn the Latter-day Saints as non-Christians, cultists, villains, or worse.

General questions to ask before you condemn Latter-day Saints as non-Christians or as cultists:

Could your argument equally well exclude many other groups that are widely accepted as Christians?

Could your argument equally well exclude the early Christians themselves, or even Christ himself?

Are you using a Biblical definition of "Christian" or "cult" to condemn and exclude, or a definition that you or some other modern writer has devised? (E.g., are you applying a Biblical verse that uses and defines the word "Christian"?)

Is your definition of Christian a fair, defensible, Biblical standard, or is it just a way of saying, "Anyone who disagrees with my view of theology and my interpretations of the Bible is not a Christian?" (Same applies to "cultist.")

Before you say we are non-Christians or cultists because we accept some books as scripture not found in your set of canonized scriptures, ask yourselves these questions:

Did the early Christians accept some writings as sacred that were not in the standard canon of the day, the Old Testament? (E.g., the writings of Peter, Paul, Matthew, etc.)

When the canon of God's Word grew from the Old Testament alone to include the New Testament, were the parties responsible for these additional inspired writings non-Christian cultists?

Did both Jews and early Christians accept some books as sacred that are not found in the Bible today - books such as the Book of Enoch (see Jude)?

Did ancient writers of the Old Testament have a canon of prophetic writings and books that is larger than the set found in the Old Testament of today?

Must we likewise condemn Catholics and other Christian groups who accept a larger set of writings than typical Protestants?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the restored Church of Jesus Christ upon the earth, led by Christ through modern revelation. Among the many traits we share with the early Christians is that we are spoken against by many, labeled as members of a cult or sect, a group that has departed from accepted "mainstream" views and beliefs. In terms of the basic dictionary definition, we are a cult - that is, a religious organization. It's unfair and misleading to use special definitions of cult to call us "the Mormon Cult." In terms of the special definitions our critics use to exclude us from Christianity and to frighten potential converts, those definitions fit the early Christians and the prophets and apostles of the Bible as well as they fit us. If what we have in common with early Christianity makes us a cult, then we're glad to be in such company - and I hope you'll become a fellow Mormon cult member in "the cult of Mormonism" as well. Sorry, we're not going to brainwash you, put you in isolation chambers, or make you wear special tennis shoes, but you will find that the Lord has opportunities for you to serve others and to grow in faith as you follow Christ with all your heart.

CultMaster 2000 CD - powerful software that enables you to prove that anybody you don't agree with belongs to a cult! Order now and be saved. Not for the comically impaired. Mormon Cult members get special discounts!

Letter of Love to a Cultist - a demo version of one of the powerful tools in the CultMaster 2000 software system.

LDSFAQBack to the LDS FAQ Index

Introduction to the LDS Church

The Oneness of God - one of my LDSFAQ pages.

List of LDS Resources

The Countercult Movement: Walter Martin - biographical information on this leading figure in the battle against tolerance. Provided by Dr. Douglas Cowan, University of Calgary, Canada.

Marc Schindler's "Trinity and the Bible" - a scholarly discussion of the evolution of the doctrine of the Trinity in light of Greek philosophy and a review of Biblical teachings.

Celsus and Modern Anti-Mormonism by Aaron Christensen, available at the site. A great essay showing how the anti-Christian propaganda that ancient Christians faced is strikingly similar to the anti-Mormon propaganda that modern Latter-day Saints face. Why the similarity in the tactics of both groups of "antis"? My opinion: both are inspired by the same source.

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Curator: Jeff Lindsay Contact:
Last Updated: March 22, 2011
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