Richard J. Mouw wrote an astounding article for CNN in which he used the subject of presidential candidate Mitt Romney in an attempt to legitimize Mormonism.
Mouw, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary who claims to “know cults” and has “studied them and taught about them for a long time,” for some reason seems utterly incapable of spotting one right in front of him.
God gave us a means by which to identify a false prophet, false teacher, or cult. Through the pen of Paul He told us in Galatians 1:6-9 to watch out for anyone (even an angel from Heaven) that preaches “another gospel.” If anyone (which includes religious organizations) preaches “another gospel,” they are anathema! Mr. Mouw, however, is actively directing us away from Scripture and toward human reasoning by advancing his own means of how to identify those that are accursed. From Mouw’s article:
“[A cult's] adherents are taught to think that they are the only ones who benefit from divine approval. They don’t like to engage in serious, respectful give-and-take dialogue with people with whom they disagree. Nor do they promote the kind of scholarship that works alongside others in pursuing the truth. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for instance, haven’t established a university. They don’t sponsor a law school or offer graduate-level courses in world religions. The same goes for Christian Science. If you want to call those groups cults I will not argue with you. But Brigham Young University is a world-class educational institution, with professors who’ve earned doctorates from some of the best universities in the world. Several of the top leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have PhDs from Ivy League schools.”
You read that right (I actually had to read it twice). The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Science are cults because they have not established a university, sponsored a law school, or offered graduate-level courses in world religions, but Mormonism is not a cult because they founded Brigham Young University and several of their top leaders have earned degrees from Ivy League schools.
Is the Watchtower organization taking notes?
So, according to Mr. Mouw, is there anything else that differentiates a cult from biblical Christianity besides whether or not they’ve established colleges? How about the person and work of Christ?
“Cults do not engage in . . . self-examining conversations. If they do, they do not remain cults.”
Well, what about the presence of a works righteousness theology being the hallmark of a cult? Surely that is something Mr. Mouw would recognize as error, right?
“These [Mormon] folks talk admiringly of the evangelical Billy Graham and the Catholic Mother Teresa, and they enjoy reading the evangelical C.S. Lewis and Father Henri Nouwen, a Catholic. That is not the kind of thing you run into in anti-Christian cults.”
So, an apostate organization only needs to pay lip service to Graham, Lewis, Teresa, and Nouwen to no longer bear the status of a cult?
Mormons have been very successful at disguising their true beliefs by adopting Christian terminology with radically different definitions (it has obviously worked to pull the wool over Mouw’s eyes), but now they’re taking the deception a step further. By appealing to two prominent Protestant icons (both with arguably suspect theology) and two Romanist icons, they have now been able to convince Mouw that they are no longer a cult and that their false gospel is somehow no longer a threat to a man’s soul. (Whatever happened to discernment?)
For those familiar with Mormon history, this recent pandering to Protestants and Romanists does not reflect authentic Mormonism; it’s certainly not the Mormonism of its founders. For some samples of Mormonism’s historical view of Christians check out: What do Mormons Really Believe About Christians?
Well, so far we’ve seen a lot of speculation and opinion from Mr. Mouw, but now we’re surely going to get around to such crucial matters as weighing Mormonism’s position on the nature of God, right?
“Those of us who have made the effort to engage Mormons in friendly and sustained give-and-take conversations have come to see them as good citizens whose life of faith often exhibits qualities that are worthy of the Christian label, even as we continue to engage in friendly arguments with them about crucial theological issues.”
That’s it? Mormons are worthy of the “Christian label” because of their “life of faith?”
But wait, Mouw’s not done:
“While I am not prepared to reclassify Mormonism as possessing undeniably Christian theology, I do accept many of my Mormon friends as genuine followers of the Jesus whom I worship as the divine Savior.”
This begs the question: Which Jesus is Mouw speaking of? The Jesus of Christianity or the “Jesus” of Mormonism? It can’t be both.
One is eternal, the other is not. One has always been God, the other had to earn godhood. One is the Creator, the other is part of the creation. One stepped into humanity by the power of the Holy Spirit, the other was conceived through incestual sexual intercourse between “God” the father and the Virgin Mary. One remained unmarried, the other was a polygamist. One bore the sins of man on the cross, the other in the Garden of Gethsemane. One’s shed blood was sufficient to save His people, the other only meets you half way requiring you to do the rest including requiring you to shed your own blood or suffer in Hell to atone for your sins.
Jesus: the same name but a completely different object of worship.
And the final excerpt from Mouw’s article reveals that this ecumenical poison is also being spread to his seminary students:
“I recently showed a video to my evangelical Fuller Seminary students of Mormon Elder Jeffrey Holland, one of the Twelve Apostles who help lead the LDS church. The video captures Holland speaking to thousands of Mormons about Christ’s death on the cross. Several of my students remarked that if they had not known that he was a Mormon leader they would have guessed that he was an evangelical preacher.”
And that, dear reader, should frighten us. When an organization that preaches a different god, a different savior, and a different gospel assimilates and counterfeits itself so well with Christianity that truth and anathema are almost indistinguishable, then the deception becomes that much more dangerous and requires the saints of God to be that much more discerning.
For those of you who will no doubt claim I’ve misunderstood Mouw or have taken his words out of context, I’ll not only direct you to the article where you can read it for yourself (here), but also to another article on his own blog (here) where he defends his stance on his endorsement of Mormonism.
Here’s an excerpt:
“I have felt that same kind of frustration recently with regard to my relation to Mormonism. Having published a couple of pieces lately arguing that Mormonism is not a ‘cult,’ I am getting two kinds of angry responses. Some folks insist that I simply do not understand Mormonism. Read Walter Martin, they say. Or watch the video The God-Makers, produced in the early 1980s by Ed Decker and Dave Hunt. Or they recommend books by ex-Mormons who have become evangelicals. Actually, I am very familiar with all of that. It was precisely my dissatisfaction with the basic approach in that kind of thing that motivated me actually to start talking to Mormons themselves—a sustained conversation that has now been going on for almost a dozen years. Other folks see that long-term dialogue itself as the real problem. You know them too well, these people tell me. Having spent all those hours with Mormon scholars and church leaders has dulled your ability to see things clearly. They have duped you. Now you are one of their apologists.”
Unfortunately, Mouw is not the only one blurring the lines between the gospel of Jesus Christ and the “another gospel” of Joseph Smith (as seen in this previous article).
And finally, I would be remiss if I did not conclude by drawing your attention to a fantastic article in the Salt Lake Tribune by Bryan Hurlbutt, pastor of Lifeline Community Church in Utah. Pastor Hurlbutt does not bow to the god of ecumenicalism and he pulls no punches nor minces any words in his blunt response to Mr. Mouw.
Here is Pastor Hurlbutt’s article:
In reading Richard Mouw’s comments about Mitt Romney, Mormonism and evangelicals (“Mormonism: Neither a cult nor a problem,” Opinion, Nov. 25), I find myself at my usual point of frustration. I was told the other day by a Mormon that if anyone tells a Mormon that they are not Christian, the Mormon is likely to be bothered and alienated by it.
My initial response is “so what?” The English language is not infinitely malleable. Words mean something in both the abstract sense and in the concrete sense. The term “Christian” is no different.
The term originated in the first century as a mildly pejorative label for followers of what the Book of Acts described as “The Way.” It is believed that individuals who were part of The Way were first called “Christians” in Antioch. They held certain views about who Jesus was, who God the Father was and what salvation entailed, that were very clear. So clear that they endured periodic intense persecution as a result of both the content of their theology and the nomenclature that was foisted upon them.
So when I hear a Mormon want to claim a title that cost many before me their own blood it is both intellectually and personally offensive. What Mouw calls “historic Christianity” is Christianity plain and simple. There is not another version. Once a group redefines Jesus’ essence, the Father’s essence and the entire doctrine of salvation it is no longer allowed to co-opt a term with a rich, blood-stained heritage from my ideological ancestors. That, to me, is the height of hubris.
As for the term “cult,” we have to recognize its technical sociological use, its use in pop culture and its technical theological use. Of course The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a cult in the sense meant by pop culture, which typically views a cult as a group of crazies, one bad day away from calling for the end of the world.
I have Mormon friends just like Richard Mouw does, and they are great business people, rationally concerned citizens and fun-loving companions. Is it a cult in the sociological sense? No, not necessarily. I don’t think a lot of its contemporary flavor would fit the bill, although some of its earlier history clearly would have.
I do have my doubts, however, when we talk about how much authority is vested in contemporary prophetic leadership. I think this is part of what makes evangelical voters a bit nervous.
Would Romney be under the authority of the prophet? Ezra Taft Benson, in a 1980 speech entitled “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet,” surely indicated so in his statements about the prophet’s authority extending to civic life.
The real rub for most evangelicals comes in talking about Mormonism as a theological “cult.” The struggle for many of us, honestly, is that we don’t know what else to accurately call it. Any term that is used that divides and places it outside the mainstream will be perceived as pejorative. I doubt any Latter-day Saint would feel good about substitute terms like “heretical” or “heterodox.”
The point is that we have a limited lexicon of terms, and minimizing central theological distinctions is not an option for us. We aren’t trying to be mean-spirited. We are just trying to be clear. However, when our terms (like “Christian”) get co-opted and misappropriated, the matter is not helped.
So my request to my LDS friends is to offer another term that shows eternally defining distinctions, and to please stop ignoring historical labels like they don’t matter because the sacrifices of many say they do.
Bryan Hurlbutt is lead pastor of Lifeline Community in West Jordan.