Monday, February 28, 2011

Studying Mormonism= Studying Christianity?

There is a new (unofficial) webpage put out by mormon’s that purports to be dedicated to “studying Christianity” (hence the name Study Christianity) without regard to “theological differences” (it is not a new page, it looks like it has been around a few years but this is the first time someone has pointed it out to me). Their intro page says:

The Foundation for Christian Studies (FCS) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the study, teaching, and practice of Christianity in a way that inspires all people, regardless of theological differences, to come together in support of essential Christian values and compassionate service to God’s children across the globe. The FCS accomplishes this by providing rich scriptural course study and spiritual commentary, interactive web forums for thoughtful discussion, an online store offering inspirational Christian media, and a charitable giving program that emphasizes individual and community self-reliance.

This is the latest attempt by the mormons to change their tactics from a frontal assault on Christianity into a back-door approach. This approach attempts to draw people in with an ostensibly Christian message that waters down the inherent and irreconcilable differences between mormonism and Christianity in order to gain a foothold with those who are not sufficiently versed in Scripture and mormon marketing methods to recognize the deception. This group, founded by one Eric Shuster, attempts to marginalize the very real differences between Christianity and mormonism by describing any such attempt as “political correctness” and being contentious. That is not how Jesus described it.

In Matthew 16, Jesus asked a pivotal question of Peter….

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. (Matthew 16:13-20)

The answer to that question is the key. Affirming who Christ claims to be is pivotal. It is not enough to say you "believe in Him". you must recognize His divinity because only God Himself is able to make sufficient atonement for the sins of His entire people. Notice in this passage that lots of people talked about Jesus and believed in some aspects of Him, whether it was His teaching or His miracles. It is not enough to say “we believe in Jesus” without also answering the question: “Who is Jesus?”. Mormons can answer the first question in the affirmative but when asked the second question, if they give an honest answer, you will see why Christianity and Mormonism are completely incompatible. This group tries to brush away differences but when you look more closely at what they say, you see we are not talking about the difference between a Baptist and Methodist, we are talking about completely different religions:

The contentious individuals and institutions who deny the Christianity of others often utilize their own personal interpretation of scripture and sect-driven dogma to support their assertions. They contend the privilege of earning the Christian label is dependent on such things as believing in the Triune God, accepting certain creeds, experiencing certain feelings, and/or belonging to a particular faith community (or not belonging to another). These disputations are reminiscent of the Pharisees of old who fought relentlessly to preserve the letter of the law of the Moses, while being urged by Jesus Christ to embrace the spirit of the law by putting love and faith at the center of their energies.

When you lump denying the Trinity in with belonging to a particular church, it is clear that this group is being intentionally deceptive. There are many, many Christians that I disagree with quite vehemently on any number of issues. I am not a Methodist or a Presbyterian or a Lutheran. What divides us doctrinally are secondary issues but every Christian is united on the fundamentals of the faith and the divinity of Christ is a non-negotiable. Whether or not Jesus Christ is God is not a divider among Christian groups but rather a divider between believers and unbelievers, between the faith in Christ that saves and the paganism that denies Him. Just saying “I believe in Jesus” is not enough. James 2:19 tells us even demons believe that God is one and that knowledge makes them shudder!

The Bible is quite clear that not everyone who says to Christ “Lord, Lord” is a Christian…

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

Part of what this foundation is designed to do is encourage Christians and mormons to work together for charitable works. That sounds awfully noble and Biblical on the surface but the unfortunate reality is that it is Scripturally untenable. Christians are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers:

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? (2 Corinthians 6:14-15)

These verses have as much to do with partnering with unbelievers to do charitable works as they do with the more common interpretation of marriage. Making common cause with mormonism makes about as much theological sense as Israelites making common cause with Baal-worshippers. Overly harsh? Not when you consider the very real danger that mormonism presents to the millions of people who adhere to it.

I am all for studying Christianity but I find it disingenuous and intentionally deceptive to play the victim card and plead for common ground in a faith born from a young man lying about a message he received from “God the Father” that paints all of orthodox Christianity as an abomination. At least be honest enough to stand up for your faith and not sugar coat the irreconcilable differences. Brigham Young and Joseph Smith were megalomaniacs and lecherous scoundrels but at least they didn’t play word games to try to hide what mormonism was all about. This webpage is just another in a long line of marketing efforts deigned to deceive those who are Scripturally ignorant and get mormon missionaries in their living room.

Friday, February 25, 2011

What makes a cult?

That is the question raised this morning in the Wall Street Journal by Mitch Horowitz, When Does a Religion Become a Cult? It is an interesting question and one that in Western culture is somewhat uniquely American because of our free and open society when it comes to religious expression. That freedom has made possible all sorts of different denominations, movements, sects and cults. Horowitz describes what makes a religion into a cult in this paragraph:

Many academics and observers of cult phenomena, such as psychologist Philip G. Zimbardo of Stanford, agree on four criteria to define a cult. The first is behavior control, i.e., monitoring of where you go and what you do. The second is information control, such as discouraging members from reading criticism of the group. The third is thought control, placing sharp limits on doctrinal questioning. The fourth is emotional control—using humiliation or guilt. Yet at times these traits can also be detected within mainstream faiths. So I would add two more categories: financial control and extreme leadership.

A few paragraphs later, Horowitz adds: Yet every coercive religious group harbors one telltale trait: untoward secrecy. There some aspects of this in many religious groups but I can think of one that embodies all of these perfectly. No shocker, that religious group is mormonism. Let's look at the list one by one:

1) behavior control, i.e., monitoring of where you go and what you do.

Check. Mormonism is well known for keeping its members busy with activities. It is not so much that Mormonism controls where members go but it does keep them away from certain people (i.e. apostates) so they won't be infected. Add to that the various legalistic requirements of the "Word of Wisdom" and you get a perfect example of behavior control.

2) information control, such as discouraging members from reading criticism of the group.

Check. This is an obvious one. Mormons are strongly discouraged from reading anything written by critics and those who critique or question mormonism are demonized by mormon leaders (i.e. Sandra Tanner)

3) thought control, placing sharp limits on doctrinal questioning

Check. Another easy one. I remember vividly when we lived in Michigan the first time, I mentioned some doubts I had about the Book of Mormon. My wife called some friends because she was concerned and it didn't take long for some "brothers" to stop over to get me back in line. Questioning mormon doctrine or mormon leaders is a sure way to get yourself in trouble and eventually end up in someone's office.

4) emotional control—using humiliation or guilt

Check. Mormonism uses an ornate system of control to keep members in the fold. The standards imposed are high enough to cause a great deal of guilt among mormons for failing to be faithful enough in their calling, home teaching, Family Home Evening, tithing, temple attendance, food storage, etc. Women are especially impacted by this.

5) financial control

Check. If you want to be a god, you need to go to the temple. To go to the temple you need a recommend. To get a recommend you must prove your "worthiness" by submitting to a grilling by a couple of men and you can be sure you are going to be asked about your "tithing". Now no one knows where those tithes go or how they are used because of the veil of secrecy over the finances of the mormon church but you better give 10% regardless!

6) extreme leadership

Is Thomas Monson an extreme leader? Not really but church leaders like Joseph Smith and Brigham Young certainly were. They both were tyrants, lecherous and megalomaniacs. Modern leaders are more like really old corporate CEO's but the extreme hierarchy of mormonism is clear to anyone who bothers to look. Everybody reports to someone.

All six of these factors are bound together by extreme secrecy. Mormonism keeps lots of stuff, including embarrassing documents and their financial records, under tight control. When the pivotal religious experience, i.e. the temple ceremony, is forbidden to be spoken of outside of the building, you have the epitome of control and secrecy.

So based on what Mitch Horowitz listed, is mormonism a cult? Most certainly and the people who are still trapped in it are not only controlled by it but placed in spiritual peril. That is why those of us who have been saved out of mormonism have such an urgency and burden toward those still caught up in it. We are often asked "Why can't you just leave them alone?" My response is that I can no more leave mormons alone than I could walk by a person about to be crushed by a falling piano. Love compels us to speak, even when what we say is received with hostility or makes people upset.