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I understand the implication of witnessing to a Mormon without telling them, at the start, that they are in a cult. But at some time or other you will have to tell them that they are in a cult.

A cult is a Religious group that claims to be Christian but does not hold views of Christianity. It's like math:

If they ADD to the word of God:
(Pearl of Great price, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants)

If they SUBTRACT from the deity of Christ:
(Mormon's claim that Jesus is a separate god from God the father. They believe that Jesus was created as a spirit child by God the Father and Mother in heaven. They claim that Jesus is the spirit brother of Lucifer. They believe that Jesus physical body was created sexually by God and Mary, and that Jesus death on the cross was not enough for full atonement for all sin.)

If they MULTIPLY the requirements of salvation:
(Mormons believe that they are resurrected by grace, but saved by works including faithfulness to church leaders, Mormon baptism, tithing, ordination, marriage, and secret temple rituals. They do not believe there is eternal life without Mormon membership)

If they DIVIDE from the family and church:
(They have secret temple endowment rituals and celestial marriages that are available only to members in good standing. And Mormon membership is all that they recognize as church.

This is a humble Bible College student's view. Yes it is a cult, and yes we should call it what it is. If they themselves claim to be Christian we have to be ready to tell people why it is NOT Christian.



My Father, step Mother and one Brother were Mormons and I attended for several years as a teenager.

As such, I have a focus on evangelizing Mormons whenever possible. I don’t declare to know the best or even proper way to approach the Mormon. I can say that my experience in approaching and talking with hundreds of folks over the last 20 years leads me to downplay the word cult as it can shut down an opportunity to talk.

Dwight McKissic


At what point did the word "cult" become the improper word to describe Mormonism, and what is the basis for the change?

peter lumpkins


Thank you. And, know your thoughts I deeply respect. Nonetheless I would be dishonest if I did not respectfully dissent from your thoughtful rebuttal. First off, I'm not so sure mathematical formulas are the best approach to analyze religious belief systems. Second, as repulsive as we may find some of the more bazaar Mormon beliefs, repulsion alone does not appear to qualify a belief system to be a cult.

Third, why Mormon-is-a-cult proponents do not perceive the gross unfairness--not to mention the personally, morally insulting practice--of insisting on making a one-size-fits-all category they designate "cult" I find thoroughly perplexing. In one seamless stroke, David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, Jim Jones and The Peoples Temple, and Ma Anand Sheela and the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh/Osho clan are readily pitched into the same frying pan as Mitt Romney and Mormonism. A cult is a cult is a cult. This same type of reasoning seems to be found in extreme animal rights advocates with their a-rat-is-a-pig-is-a-dog-is-a-boy approach to valuing all life. In their zeal to express animals have rights too, they sliced human dignity right out of the equation and conclude there is no value distinction between a pig and a person or a horse and a human. All belong in the same category.

Finally, unless someone can demonstrate a hermeneutically sound biblical principle which distinguishes for us between "false religion" on one hand and "cult" on the other (or "heresy" and "cult" for that matter), the jury will remain on permanent leave so far as I am concerned.

Thanks again, brother. Always good to chat.

With that, I am...

peter lumpkins

My brother Dwight,

Thank you. Not to dodge your question, I feel answering it with a question may best suit the occasion: at what point did we begin to insist on making an extra-biblical term (i.e. "cult") the definitive description for false religions of any stripe?

The fact is, "cult" is a recent term among evangelicals going back little more than half a century. As late as 1960 (and subsequent reprints as late as 1978 if I'm not mistaken), Reformed theologian, John Gerstner, was calling Mormonism a "major sect" in his monograph Theology of the Major Sects wherein he dealt with Seventh-day Adventism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Liberalism, New Thought, Christian Science, Spiritualism, Theosophy, Faith Healing, and yes, Mormonism . "Cult" became cool primarily after the 60s as a generic dumping ground mostly for new religious ideas, especially anti-establishment ideas.

Spurgeon dealt with Mormonism but he never called it a cult. Most all of late 19th century evangelical theologians severely criticized Mormonism when it was just beginning to bud. Albeit all the devastating critiques by evangelicals, what will prove extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find among them is a reference to Mormons being a "cult"--at least not in the senses we moderns use the term.

Hence, why we think the term is apparently necessary I do not understand.

Thanks, Dwight.

With that, I am...

P.S. Would you like to debate this issue at the next SBC? Just kidding brother. :^) Maybe our good brother Robin would step in. No wait! He probably agrees with you on this one ;^)

Dwight McKissic


If the SBC move away from labeling Mormonism as a cult, and continue to split hairs between a "theological cult and a sociological cult," history will record that the reason for the change in labeling and the splitting of hairs can be summed up in two words: Mitt Romney.

Additionally, if the Mormons are no longer a cult, we will--by virtue of fairness and consistency--have to drop this label from other groups as well. Is electing Mitt Romney that essential to Southern Baptist?(I will be away from the computer for a couple of hours)


So is the argument that we should not call them cults but its okay to call them a false religion? Sounds fairly synonymous to me. So if there is a "religion" that believes a different gospel and has extra-biblical texts what would you call them Peter?!

And thanks for the reply! I'm loving the Prov. 27:17 approach here! :)

P.S. As for the extra-biblical term, why is that a big deal...don't we use terms like trinity and rapture all the time? We see the overall picture of scripture pointing out these ideas--can't we say the same about "cults" and the "accursed?"


I can't believe there is now a question whether Mormonism is a cult or not. The Mormons must be giddy realizing that conservative Evangelicals are now arguing over whether they are a cult or not. Our conscience tells us that it is wrong to vote for Mitt Romney because of his Mormonism, but our political pragmatism provides the rationale for betraying our conscience. In order to do that we are now redefining the status of Mormonism. How many of us truly want to admit that we voted for a cult member for president of the USA?

I early voted for a cult member and I regret it. I should have written in a candidate or voted third party.

This election will mark the period of history when one of the largest man made religious cults in history became mainstream. God help us.


Call Mormonism what you will, bottom line for me this election is that this country cannot afford to extend the "Obama Moment" another moment. I'm willing to forget about magic underwear if someone can lead us to put our pants on again. And I don't think I've lost my sanity or Christianity for feeling that way about Gov. Romney.

I suppose you could assign a 1-10 scale to the cult characteristics of many religions in America. Some of our SBC brethren have even labeled the majority in our ranks as semi to full blown heretics in belief and practice (heresy borders on cult). And some in traditional SBC ranks feel that Calvinism holds a questionable position in Christianity's list of accepted theologies (cultish thinking).

While there is no doubt that Mormonism is fundamentally not Christian, perhaps we should turn our attention to Romney's ideals, not his faith. Lord knows that Christians can't support our current President's ideals! For Christian folks to do nothing come election time would essentially ensure that our current ruler stays in place. I don't view this election as a choice of the lesser of two evils, but whether or not we allow the downward spiral of moral virtue to go unchallenged. Obama isn't going to challenge that - Romney just might.

peter lumpkins


Supposing the SBC moves away from labeling Mormonism a cult (against reasonable inference I might add), there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest history will bear out it will be because of Mitt Romney. I've said before and will say again--Mitt Romney has never been my candidate for President of the United States. With you, my candidate was Herman Cain, and after he bottomed out, Newt Gingrich. Albeit I pushed the button for Romney in early voting 2 weeks ago, I did so ultimately not because he was ever my candidate but because, in my estimation, he represented the sole electable alternative to a failed presidency. Why you insist on politicizing this issue seems to me beyond reason.

In addition, you reasserted your former question in the form of a hypothetical assertion--"if the Mormons are no longer a cult." I challenge you once again, Dwight: explain to me at what point we began insisting on making "cult" the definitive description for false religions of any stripe? So because we do not call Mormonism a "cult" it follows we no longer hold their view as definitively false, deceptive, heretical, sub-Christian, and/or even anathama? Please explain how it follows, my brother. None of our spiritual ancestors dubbed them a "cult." Does that mean they were soft on Mormonism?

Moreover, how does it follow that other groups will necessarily have to be dropped from the "cult" list? It might follow if it could be shown that there are groups on the supposed "cult" list which might not necessitate their being there. But that is nothing new. For example, it's safe to say a sizable portion of evangelicals no longer view Seventh-Day Adventists as a "cult".

Finally, from my side of the aisle, your rhetorical question at the end appears little more than a parting insult, my brother Dwight--"Is electing Mitt Romney that essential to Southern Baptist?" You seem to indicate that questioning the status of Mormonism being a "cult" constitutes our position on Mormonism as being politically motivated. Brother, I absolutely resent that. Please know: while I may have desires that Romney be elected as President over Obama, I have not, did not, and will not sell my biblical birthright for a bowl of political pottage. And, for you or anyone else to suggest I do gets under my skin pretty doggone quick. I love you brother Dwight. But you really need to drop that line here.

Lord bless. Hope we can have coffee when you're in Atlanta sometime.

With that, I am...

Dwight McKissic

Bro. Peter,

I will drink coffee to u on any day, anytime, or anyplace. On this issue we will simply agree to disagree. On my side of the fence, the discussion & declassification of Mormonism is purely a political issue. Nothing more, nothing less.
Therefore, I will bow out of this conversation. But know that my appreciation for u remains in tact.

peter lumpkins


First, I don't give two shakes of a gnat's behind how giddy Mormons get. I do care very much about being as fair and accurate as I can when assessing other faiths, even those faiths that are theologically repulsive to me. Nor do I want to needlessly impede helpful dialog with them.

Second, you assert that "Our conscience tells us that it is wrong to vote for Mitt Romney because of his Mormonism..." I simply say, speak for yourself. If your conscience told you it was wrong to vote for Romney and you did it anyway, I suggest make it right with God.

On the other hand, I have not the least regret or reservation about pressing the button for Romney. And, especially did I have no theological reservations about voting for him. In short, his Mormonism did not deter me one moment from casting my vote.

Finally, to frame this issue in terms of making Mormonism "mainstream" constitutes irresponsible misrepresentation and will only breed emotional ignorance. No one I know has remotely suggested Mormonism was "mainstream" or believes it needs to be. I have employed the strongest terms for Mormonism--including calling it "accursed", a biblical term for false religion. What I have hesitancy in doing is dubbing it a "cult" in the very same category as Branch Davidians and The Peoples Temple among others. Yet you come here falsely suggesting we are about making "the largest man made religious cults in history" to become "mainstream."

Please. If you log on again, make sure you deal with the content of what we write.

With that, I am...

peter lumpkins


Thanks for the kickback. If "cult" and "false religion" are "fairly synonymous" why would you insist on calling Mormonism a cult?

Further you ask, "So if there is a "religion" that believes a different gospel and has extra-biblical texts what would you call them Peter?!" How about Roman Catholics? Or, we could used Paul's term--anathama. Both could fit--one specific the other generic.

Finally, I see your point about both "trinity" and "rapture", an excellent point by the way. My response would be, while "trinity" and "rapture" are extra-biblical terms, both terms ("trinity" perhaps more than "rapture") are arguably implied by the biblical text. In other words, the concept originates within the pages of Scripture. My question is, how does the term "cult" originate within the pages of biblical revelation? What in Scripture necessitates our using "cult" as a descriptor for false religions?

Understand: perhaps we may use the term. But that's not the question. The question involves why we must use the term. I argue that since there are far too many variables with the term "cult" on the one hand, there is a community tendency to dump Mormons in with Branch Davidians on the other (an action as unfair as it is repulsive to the offenders). Add to this the sociological origin of the usage of the term "cult" rather than a decidedly theological origin for usage, and one seems to be justified in concluding the term simply cannot accurately produce what its users pragmatically desire--a one-size-fits-all definition of deviant belief.

Thanks again, Jon. Iron does sharpen iron. Feel free to grind on me anytime my brother.

With that, I am...

peter lumpkins

Thanks my brother Dwight. Be assured God has His 750 prophets in my sphere of thinking who've not bowed their knee to Baal.

We WILL drink coffee sometime, somewhere!

Grace, brother and Lord bless.

With that, I am...

Howell Scott


While I can certainly understand you arguments, I tend to agree with Bro. Dwight and others on the issue of whether or not Mormonism should be classified as a cult. I certainly have no objection to calling Mormonism a "false religion" which preaches and teaches a false gospel. I'm not sure there is much of a distinction -- at least when it comes to evangelism -- between calling Mormonism a "cult" or a "false religion." Of course, the Apostle Paul did have much stronger words of anathema or condemnation for those, like Mormons, who were perverting the true Gospel.

With all due respect to Drs. Land and Stetzer, there smacks of at least an appearance of changing the long-standing classification of Mormonism as a cult, not because of evangelism, but because of politics. Perhaps that is not the reality, just as it may not be the reality with the de-classification of Mormonism as a cult by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, but it's awful coincidental when these moves are made right before an election in which the Republican Presidential candidate just happens to be a Mormon. Even non-predestinarian folks like you can certainly see how this might not be all attributed to "lucky" timing :-)I'm quite certain that if Harry Reid (heaven forbid) -- also a Mormon -- were the Democratic nominee for President that Southern Baptists would be bending over backwards to de-classify Mormonism as a cult so that we could better evangelize Democratic Mormons. (sarcasm off) I do believe that the recent moves by the BGEA and now some SBC leaders will have disastrous unintended consequences when Mormonism becomes seen as a viable "Christian" faith just like any other faith. Thanks and God bless,


Bart Barber


Yours is a helpful critique of my post: It does not live up to its title. It is a critique of Stetzer's piece (which you have endorsed). It does not lay out the definition of the word "cult."

My reason for failing to do so is that Stetzer's piece (which you endorsed, and with which I presumed your agreement) affirms that Mormonism is a "theological cult." I saw no reason to belabor points upon which we appeared to be in agreement.

In this post you helpfully clarify that you are not in agreement with Stetzer on this question. In reply to you, I simply direct you to Josh McDowell's Handbook of Today's Religions. McDowell's area of expertise for all of my adult lifetime and beyond has been this very topic of comparative religion from an evangelical Christian perspective. His book helpfully defines four categories: "World religions," "cults," "occult," and "secular."

I take my schema from this standard approach followed by McDowell and his contemporary colaborers.

peter lumpkins


Always a pleasure to see your name pop up on my comments' section. You almost always post an incredibly insightful piece on the issue you choose to address. Your comment above stands as the proverbial exception proving the rule I just mentioned.

First, I've thoroughly affirmed my categorical acceptance of Paul's anathama toward all false religions and false gospels, including but not limited to Mormonism. The onus remains with those like yourself who insist on employing "cult" as a catch-all for deviant belief systems as diverse as Mormons and Branch Davidians to make your case. So far, the only one I know who has attempted to make a case as to why Mormonism is a cult, and we ought to call it one is Bart Barber. But as I attempted to show here, Barber's case falls well below convincing. If you think otherwise, I'd invite your thoughts.

Second, while I agree with you concerning BGEA's horrendous decision to scrub its site of Mormonism being a cult immediately after promising Romney it'd do all it could to get him elected--an action concerning which I personally wrote Franklin Graham expressing my extreme disappointment--what evidence is there to suggest either Land or Stetzer politically accommodated their views and/or are leading an effort to "de-classify" Mormonism as a cult? Land has been speaking the same way about Mormonism for years. Nor is there the least indication Stetzer's now waffling since Romney is a candidate. While there are few warm and fuzzy things I can drudge up I've spoken about Stetzer's views through the last few years, what I can say with confidence from reading him is, he is not politically motivated to dilute the gospel. To be sure Stetzer is an evangelistic pragmatist (I mean by that to imply no negative connotations). But aren't we all to some extent? Would any of us purposely employ an evangelistic tool we knew had no chance of success?

Stetzer is simply being Stetzer. He says if we are discussing theology, pronounce Mormonism a cult. If we are doing theology (i.e. evangelism), present Mormons to Christ. What is so politically accommodating about that? In fact, how is that so different from what you, Barber, and others do? If a woman joined your church and asked you to visit her sister and family sometime, and upon visiting them, you discover they are Mormons, would you show up ready to peel their hides about being involved in a cult? You wouldn't. I wouldn't. Barber wouldn't. McKissic wouldn't. We'd show up and be as kind as we knew how and preach Jesus to them. "Cult" would undoubtedly show up way, way down the conversational pike if it ever showed up at all.

Now, let me get this straight if I can: we condemn Stetzer as publicly compromising the gospel by avoiding the term "cult" when witnessing to Mormons when we ourselves practice, to one degree or another, precisely what he preaches? For some reason, this seems barely a pint shy of the humorously absurd to me.

I'm still waiting for someone to demonstrate a hermeneutically sound biblio-theological principle which necessitates our use of the term "cult" as a conglomerate category to helpfully house all deviant religious groups as diverse as Mormons and Branch Davidians. If you're up to it, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks again, brother.

With that, I am...


First of all, let me say that Mormonism is a FALSE religion. Period.

I think we might not be taking into consideration how word meanings change over time and how words have meaning in how they are used, rightly or wrongly. It is always part of the communication dilemma.

For a large segment of the population, thanks to the media, the term "cult" conjures up images of David Koresh, the Hale Bop Coment people, etc. For some of us we think of the Hari Krishnas who used to accost us in airports to buy flowers.

But wait a minute. We have "Moonies" who have becomes somewhat mainstreamed as their founder, founded a popular newspaper among Christian conservatives, the Washington Times. What do we do with that and all the donations from Moon to conservative Christian candidates for many years?

The problem with calling Mormonism a "cult" is that the businessman down the street with the immaculate lawn and well behaved kids is a Mormon. My former dentist is a Mormon. A Rotary club peer is a Mormon.They are not 'acting' wierd and separated from society. They "believe" wierd things. And trust me, that will all come out if Romney wins. What a great opportunity for us, if we are wise.

Quite frankly, the Mormons have been very clever. Their church marketing materials look eerily similar to the local "evangelical" mega church materials. The only difference is the tiny logo "LDS".They have been working for years to be mainstreamed.

So once you go down the "cult" road, no one is listening anymore because they know John Doe, businessma,n who is the epitome of honesty and character. Oh, and happens to a Mormon. Welcome to the post Christian society.

I simply say to people (and Mormons) we do not know the same Jesus. While that might not be doctrinally correct to start, it gets attention and the "differences" started. I do not want to allow the "similarities" convo to start because that is what they do if you have interacted with them much. (Especially the pimple faced "elders" who come to your door in ties)

I am wondering why no one seems to think Jeremiah Wright's church does not fit the definition of cult as it has been used by so many Christians recently?

Howell Scott


Sorry to disappoint you with my lack of insight :-) I think perhaps we (and I would include others in that conversation) are talking past each other in our dialogues on Mormonism. Of course, when the religious and the political are so intertwined -- as is the case with Mormonism and the upcoming election -- that is almost inevitable. As to the question that your post poses, the short answer is "no." Neither you nor anyone else "must" define Mormonism as a cult. However, it seems that some are starting to argue -- both directly and indirectly -- that even though they would not define Mormonism as a cult, that anyone else's use of the term "cult" to classify Mormonism is also wrong.

Now, here's where we might agree and disagree. When preaching and teaching, I will continue to define Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnesses as a cult. I will, however, give a more thorough explanation as to why I am using the term that I am using. I could label it a "false religion" and I would still have to give some type of explanation. As to a false religion, I have and will continue to use that language when describing Islam, although I would not use that language to describe Judaism.

As to your examples of personal evangelism with Mormons (or anyone involved in a cult or false religion), I would not go visit someone ready to "peel their hide" for being involved in a cult. They are lost and in need of love, compassion, and the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Would I approach them, knowing that their background is in the cult of Mormonism? Absolutely. But, I would not castigate them for being in a cult. I would try to develop a relationship with them so that I could have an open door to present the Gospel message.

Lastly, I wrote that recent moves by the BGEA and Dr. Stetzer "smacks of at least an appearance" of changing positions on Mormonism because of politics, not evangelism. Stetzer may simply be being Stetzer, but the appearance is nevertheless still there that politics was at least some motivation. That may not be the reality -- and in the case of Dr. Stetzer I do not believe that it was -- but many folks have noticed what the BGEA did and what others have done subsequently with this dialogue and have pointed out what APPEARS to be politics at play. I'll conclude by asking a question based on my sarcastic observation about Democrat Mormon Harry Reid. If he or any other Democrat Mormon were running for President, do you believe that the BGEA or other Evangelical leaders would have made the same moves regarding Mormonism like they did with Mr. Romney, the Republican candidate? For the record, I don't think they would have done that even for a million after-life planets ;-) Thanks and God bless,


Dwight McKissic


Jeremiah's Wright's church believe in an orthodox view of the Trinity. Mitt Romney's Mormon Church does not. And that's the difference historically between a cult,(a group who claims to be Christian, but does not hold a orthodox view of the Trinity)and a true church.

peter lumpkins


Thanks for the log-on. To be precise, I commended Stetzer's (and to a lessor or indirect degree, Land's) position as both a "very good summation on an appropriate way for Christians to view Mormonism" and well as a "helpful contribution in developing a healthy perception toward Mormons and Mormonism" neither of which I'd outright endorse as my own view. From this post, you perceived correctly my reservations stand perhaps more strongly than theirs in employing the term "cult" as a generic brand to label groups as diverse as Mormons and The Peoples Temple.

Albeit, Josh McDowell's view, a man whom I highly admire and appreciate, still the issue is hardly settled pertaining to precisely what a cult is. You mentioned in agreement with Stetzer on your comment thread that "a cult is a group that claims to belong within a larger faith group but does not embrace the core claims of orthodoxy within that group."

If this is so, then presumably it is fitting and proper for Protestant Baptists to count Protestant Presbyterians as a "cult" since Protestant Presbyterians obviously spurn undeniable Protestant Baptist orthodoxy--believers' baptism by immersion only. On the face of this view, every Protestant group has not only the right but obligation to dub every other Protestant group which denies a cardinal distinctive of the Protestant group's theological orthodoxy as a "cult." To Pentecostals, I'm a cult. To Presbyterians, Free Churches are a "cult." I'm not attempting to be facetious. Rather this seems to be how this proposition teases out if the definition of a "cult" is solely based, or even chiefly based, upon group orthodoxy.

I'm at once reminded of Norm Geisler's statement about the definition of "cults" in his work co-authored with Ron Rhodes, When Cultists Ask:

"There is no universally agreed–upon definition of a cult; there are only some generally recognizable traits" (Norman L. Geisler and Ron Rhodes, When Cultists Ask: A Popular Handbook on Cultic Misinterpretations (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1997).

If Geisler and Rhodes are correct about no universally agreed–upon definition of a cult, what does this say about insisting that we pile all the green, leafy-looking stuff we find from our garden into the salad bowl for supper just because it's green and leafy-looking? What ever happened to theological discretion? Proper and appropriate theological distinctions?

For my part, to make no categorical distinction between Mormons and morally perverted murdering religious wackos like Branch Davidians and Peoples Temple members makes absolutely no sense whatsoever--theological or otherwise.

We need a way forward. Unfortunately, I've not yet heard a viable alternative to some form of what both Stetzer and Land embrace. For me, the jury remains sequestered on this case.

Thanks again, my brother. Always a pleasure to exchange with you.

With that, I am...

peter lumpkins


I don't want to 'but in' but...

You state "...that's the difference historically between a cult,(a group who claims to be Christian, but does not hold a orthodox view of the Trinity) and a true church."


I'm fairly confident Jim Jones held an orthodox view of the Trinity. If so, what does that make Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple?

But supposing Jones didn't hold an orthodox of the Trinity, other groups are not called "cults" who deny the Trinity. For example, T.D. Jakes & his church by your definition would be a "cult" instead of embracing Modalism (i.e. heresy). I am unprepared to call Jakes and The Potters' House a cult. But if you are prepared to do so, the floor is yours.

With that, I am...

Dwight McKissic


Jones could not have held an orthodox view of the Trinity since he claimed to have been Christ himself.

T. D. Jakes is on record at The Elephant Room 2, confessing his Trinatarian beliefs. Jakes did not use language that certain evangelicals were comfortable with to describe his Trinitarian beliefs, but in my judgement he never denied the Trinity. He used the same language that Hershel Hobbs used to describe the Trinity-"manifest." It is a misrepresentation of Jakes viewpoint to say that he denies the Trinity.

peter lumpkins


Few will agree with you I'm afraid. Hence, do those who disagree with you not have a right to dub Jakes a cultist given your reasoning? Nor do I think Hobbs's view similar to Jakes'. I'd like the documentation for that please.

Whatever the case, you are simply mistaken to assert that merely denying the Trinity makes a group a cult, Dwight. Not even those who agree that Mormonism is a cult has such a reductionist understanding of what a cult is. If so, please name them. And, since you asserted that the "difference historically" between a cult and a true church is singularly the denial of the Trinity, would you care to explain how that is historically concluded?


With that, I am...

Dwight McKissic


I am going to give a brief response and return to my pastoral duties. People can "dub" Jakes whatever they please, and indeed some have. Based on my reasoning they couldn't "dub" Jakes a cult personality, because Jakes affirms the Trinity.

If you care to research the comment stream at SBC Voices-I believe on one of my posts regarding Jakes musucian being canceled to appear at the SBC Pastors Conference in Phoenix, you will find documentation for this comment. It possibly was Todd Littleton who cited this reference.

If you research all of Dr. Land's published comments on this subject, you will discover that he made the distinction between a cult an an orthodox Christian group their view of the Trinity. When I read that assessment by DR. Land, it reminded me that in the first twenty years of my Christian Discipleship the Trinity was taught as the major distinction between a cult and orthodoxy.

Dwight McKissic


"Few will agree with you I'm afraid." There was one additional thought that I find necessary to share.

In my world just about everyone would agree with me that T. D. Jakes affirms the Trinity, and even a modalistic view of the Trinity does not place one in the category of a cult.

We live in two different worlds. That's why we often see things differently.

peter lumpkins


Thanks. Well, if it's just about affirming "the trinity" then perhaps you should reconsider dubbing Mormons a cult for they also affirm "the trinity" as well.

I have no more time than you, my brother, to go back and ramble thru what Littleton may or may not have written. But if I recall Hobbs correctly, while he made much use of the term "manifestation" it was in the synonymous sense of "person", a view contrary to Jakes' more modalistic leanings.

Finally, the assertion you originally made was that denying the trinity historically represented the sole difference between a cult and a true church. Now, however, I see in your last paragraph, you appear to have peddled backwards a bit and are claiming that denial of the Trinity is but the major distinction between a cult and orthodoxy. We could have saved a lot of exchange had you just asserted that in the beginning, Dwight.

Hope your evening goes well. Always grace, brother...

With that, I am...

peter lumpkins


For the record, I do not think modalism qualifies as a cult either though it has been widely classified as heresy. The problem with your statement is, I think you would be hard-pressed to find a single evangelical scholar who would affirm modalism as classic trinitarianism. I am willing to stand corrected on that point if you'll kindly point out who accepts modalism as classic trinitarianism.

If I am correct, you just cut the knees right out from under your position, Dwight. If modalism is not viewed as trinitarian, then according to your reasoning (at least what you began with) modalists are a cult.

With that, I am...


Dwight, I obviously did not make my point well. which is not surprising!

I do not think your garden variety person out in the world defines the word cult the same way as those who are educated in Christian theology ciecles. perhaps the garden variety person is wrong not to define tt the way you guys do but I think if you did some research on characteristics of a cult as defined today, there are some seemingly Orthodox Christian groups who would qualify. that is why I see a problem with the term cult. we have our own, unfortunately many come from the shepherding movement.

the main characteristic of a cult is concerning control over people.


Hey Peter-

Which is worse calling someone a member of a "cult" or telling them there religion is false? In my estimation (which in my own world is the greatest! ;)) they are both fairly abrasive. But you are telling me that you would not label them a cult because it is an extra-biblical term and is also a newer word. Well, where is the term "theological cult" in scripture? How long has that been used?

I know that in my studies, and soon to be upcoming studies at seminary, I will be studying "cults." If we cannot label the Mormons a cult then we should not label anyone a cult--therefore we should change the name of the courses to "false religions?" I am just trying to clarify this whole thing my head...

Thanks for a great discussion Peter, I am thoroughly enjoying it. Have you been to the website http://www.mormoncurtain.com it is a pretty decent site written from former Mormons.



Forgive the grammatical errors...I should have proofed the text...but alas.

peter lumpkins


Thanks. Well, the issue is not whether a term is more or less abrasive though that may constitute a side issue. Rather it is about whether "cult" is adequate to communicate fairly and accurately such a wide variety of deviant beliefs--from Mormonism which has few, if any, morally warped beliefs to Branch Davidians who literally self-destruct. They simply don't belong together. I don't know how to state this more categorically. If someone can show how they are so similar they do belong together, I'm open.

Nor am I saying I will not label Mormons a cult because it is an extra-biblical term and is also a newer word. Where did I affirm this? Look again. My point about "cult" being both newer and extra-biblical was to object to the insistence upon using "cult" to describe Mormonism. My point was and is, a) we severely criticized Mormonism for upwards toward a century before employing "cult" to describe it. Why is it now absolutely indispensable? b) those who insist on employing the term "cult" as a rhetorical theological necessity are obligated to demonstrate why the term is theo-biblically required when neither the term nor the concept has intrinsic origin within the biblical text (i.e. extra-biblical)

Nor of course is "theological cult" in Scripture and a very good point. My response is, I don't necessarily agree with that model though I surely think it is a step in the right direction. It at minimum recognizes a valid distinction exists between some "cults" and others (i.e. Mormons and Branch Davidians) and attempts to address that. For me, it is not far enough. I frankly think Lydia's model above perhaps has more potential than this distinction. The kickback is, few even want to grant the Land/Stetzer distinction. Go figure.

Grace, brother. I too enjoyed the exchange.

With that, I am...

Robert Vaughn

Peter, you make some valid and needed points to the "Mormonism is a cult" discussion. I have no problem viewing Mormonism as a cult in the way I was raised to understand a cult. With many Baptists wishing to vote for someone who is a member of what they traditionally believed was a cult, it becomes as much an emotional issue as a rational one. I further have no doubt that some are motivated to scrub the term for political expediency. (I do not have a political reason for objecting to it since I'm not voting for Romney.)

It is not a helpful in communicating truth with precision to call (equally) Mormonism, Jim Jones and Branch Davidians cults. With you, I see no reason for use to pledge allegiance to a non-scriptural term.

scott shaffer

What an interesting discussion.

A quick review of recent (since 1950) literature shows that evangelicals widely describe Mormonism not only as a false religion, but also as a cult. While Geisler may have said there is no universally accepted definition of a cult, he had no problem calling Mormonism a cult in “Correcting the Cults” and in his recent blog article. Ergun Caner and Ed Hinson labeled Mormonism a cult in their 2008 work, “The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics”. You can add Josh McDowell, Walter Martin, and Anthony Hoekema to the list. While there may not be an iron-clad definition of a cult, these writers and others have little difficulty developing a list of characteristic traits that cults possess and identifying Mormonism as one.

On the other hand, many people reserve the cult label for followers of David Koresh, Jim Jones, Marshall Applewhite, Sun Myung Moon, and the like. The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology puts it like this, “… in many cases a transition has occurred from a theological argument refuting the claims of various religious groups to a reliance upon psychological arguments which suggest that members of these groups are in some way brainwashed.” The contributor goes on to warn against this psychological argument because some have called conversion to Christianity an example of brainwashing. In other words, the sword cuts both ways.

So, I’m comfortable identifying Mormonism as a cult because they fit the criteria widely used by my evangelical brethren. I’m particularly concerned that some evangelicals have apparently buckled to political pressure by removing the cult label from Mormonism. For that reason alone I’m reluctant to drop the cult label. However, I recognize that not everyone operates with the same definition; consequently, I try to be very clear what I mean when identifying a group as a cult.

Dwight McKissic

Brothers and Sisters,

Let's be honest. If Mitt Romney were not running for President, we would not be having this conversation; nor would we be debating/discussing the definition and declassification of a cult. Therefore, if Mormonism was a cult in 1950, it is a cult today. If we declassify Mormonism as a cult, consistency and integrity demand that we also declassify the rest as cults.

And Mormonism now affirm an orthodox view of the Trinity? Clearly, T. D. Jakes is on record affirming such. Where might I find the Mormon affirmation of orthodox Trinitarinism?


"many cases a transition has occurred from a theological argument refuting the claims of various religious groups to a reliance upon psychological arguments which suggest that members of these groups are in some way brainwashed."

Scott, This is very true. the definition evolved and that change became the mainstream understanding....whether we like it or not. It is now seem more of a behavioral issue than a belief issue as the mainstream meaning. So when calling Mormons a cult we are not on the same page with many who are thinking of the psychological definition.

The problem is that psychological characteristics also include some so called orthodox Christian groups and we don't like that part.

I don't know how many on this thread work in the secular world but I am around Mormons, Muslims, and other non Christian groups all the time and that might color how I look at this issue. Mormons say the pledge, they assimilate, etc. And since most folks outside the ministry field would think of a cult as mostly the psychological brainwashing and control of a group of people, they won't relate to it.

I am not sure the Trinity definition helps much because the Mormons I know affirm a "trinity" but you and I know it is not the same thing when we come to specifics. (Which is why I always start with the "different Jesus" aspect)

Joseph Smith wrote that "we believe in the God, the eternal Father, His Son, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit".

We really are living in a "post Christian" society but
As some have said, we are not an "anti religious" society at all. Our society is more "religious" than ever, if you think about it with tons of different "beliefs". And that makes it even more confusing.

It really boils down to whether our "language" will communicate what we want it to communicate.


So I have two questions that I am still pondering:

1) What is wrong with defining a cult as: any Religious group that claims to be Christian but does not hold to the Christian views?

2) If a group claims to be Christian and they are not what are we to call them?

I am a Southern Baptist and I hold to the view that WE have come to label groups that fall under the above mentioned definition as cults. Yes Jim Jones was a nut job, and so was David Koresch--but so was Joseph Smith and Brigham Young...Mormonism is totally dependent upon the revelations of Joseph Smith, a convicted con-man and polygamist whose “revelations” do not square with the scriptures...

A famous Mormon teaching: “As we are now, so God once was: As God is, so we may become.” Does not sound like a Christian group to me...so we have to label them something or the world will believe that they are Christians...

Thought provoking...I love it!


Dwight McKissic


Since Mormons use our vocabulary and not our dictionary, when it comes to defining the Trinity, we can't honestly say that they believe in the Trinity. Therefore, the Trinitarian definition/distinction between an orthodox Christan entity, and a cult-remains.

If Mormons believe God was once man--how could any orthodox Christian allege--in any sense--that Mormons believe in the Trinity?



You wrote: And Mormonism now affirm an orthodox view of the Trinity? Clearly, T. D. Jakes is on record affirming such. Where might I find the Mormon affirmation of orthodox Trinitarinism?

Mormons do not teach an orthodox view of the trinity. T.D. Jakes does not “CLEARLY” affirm an orthodox view of the trinity. He may believe it, but he is not clear on it. Do you know of a place / time when he has clearly rejected Modalism?


Bart Barber


The definition of a "cult" is not "Baptist orthodoxy," but Christian orthodoxy. You and I both acknowledge a core of Christian orthodoxy that we as Baptists affirm in common with other Christian denominations. After all, although you are calling for us to discontinue the use of the word "cult" with reference to Mormons, you are not, I don't think, suggesting that we should reclassify them as simply another denomination of Christianity alongside Presbyterians and Methodists. Rather, the suggestion from Lumpkins, Land, and Stetzer seems to be that we should push them outside of Christianity altogether and refer to them as another religion.

Now, I'm presuming here that you would not call Presbyterianism or Methodism other, non-Christian Abrahamic religions. Why not? I'm guessing it is because you recognize that Presbyterians and Methodists affirm core Christian truths that Mormons do not affirm. Great! That helps us to understand one another. Those core Christian truths are the tenets of Christian orthodoxy that a group must violate in order to be a cult.

Perhaps this is a more accessible definition: A Christian cult is a group that OUGHT to be classified as another religion, but that insists instead upon identifying itself as Christian.

I'm arguing for the existence of this category as worthy of differentiation both from genuinely Christian denominations on the one hand and from admittedly non-Christian world religions on the other hand.

As to whether "cult" is the right word for that category, I'm willing to engage in discussion to find the right terminology. So far, the discourse among us has not involved which word to use to label the category, but whether the category ought to exist: There's not been a proposal to replace "cult," but merely to do away with it.

The biblical terminology is "so-called brother." The New Testament treats severely those who purport to be Christians but are not. This is a different New Testament category, distinct from those who merely are lost. It deserves its own terminology. I'm open to hearing alternatives to "cult." If there is a better, clearer word to use, I wouldn't be opposed to using it.

peter lumpkins


I'd love to party with you here, but I have a much more important party to attend--my little Sofie's 5th birthday party. So, I'll be out most of the day.

By the way, since my brother Dwight looks as if he has some time now to get back in the thread, I encourage him to go back and tie up all the loose ends he left dangling earlier during our exchange. I challenged his assertions many times but he had to drop out of the conversation. Surprisingly he now is coming back asserting some of the same things on which I challenged him earlier. And, the we-come-from-an-entirely-different-world observation he offered at one point just doesn't cook my bacon hardly crispy enough. ;^). Later...

With that, I am...

Dwight McKissic


If u have not, listen to the Mark Driscoll interview of T. D. Jakes, at "The Elephant Room 2" gathering. There he makes a clear affirmation of the Trinity, and distance himself from Modalism.
BTW, the key question under discussion here is whether or not Mormon's should be labeled a cult? And is belief in an orthodox view of the Trinity the major distinction between a cult and a orthodox Christian group. I am somewhat perplexed why are we discussing T. D. Jakes, inasmuch as he is on record affirming "Clearly" in my judgement, based on the ER2 interview, an orthodox view of the Trinity.


"Since Mormons use our vocabulary and not our dictionary, when it comes to defining the Trinity, we can't honestly say that they believe in the Trinity. Therefore, the Trinitarian definition/distinction between an orthodox Christan entity, and a cult-remains.

If Mormons believe God was once man--how could any orthodox Christian allege--in any sense--that Mormons believe in the Trinity?

Dwight, when is the last time you engaged Mormons? Do you not realize what they have been doing the last 20-30 years? They have constantly been evolving to be more accepted as mainstream Christians and taken up quite a bit of Christian language.

The point is they claim the "Trinity". But it is not the same Trinity as you and I both know. They claim they are "Three gods" united in cooperation. So your definition of a cult when it comes to Trinitarian beliefs does not work when engaging outside most evangelical cirlces.If you are not engaging outside ministerial evangelical circles, then this is not a problem. They simply affirm the Trinity and unless you can engage in depth, it becomes a problem. And becomes an even bigger problem when we affirm others who redefine the Trinity, even subtly, within Evangelical circles.

That is why I have resorted to making the point right away we do not believe in the same Jesus. It at least opens the door to define the Trinity as the One True God-YHWH and what that means when it comes to Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. To be real honest with you, a while back when certain segments of the SBC were heavily promoting ESS, it greatly concerned me for this very reason.It seemed to communicate Jesus Christ as a separate lesser god of sorts. And that is a game changer totally.

The bottomline is that many outside ministry circles define a cult with certain psychological characteristics. Behavioral. And we have some of those ourselves we promote and support. The cult language is simply going to be turned back on us and our opportunity to engage is gone. And that gives us no chance to engage about the ONE TRUE GOD-YHWH and what that means.

Word meanings can change over time and that is what has happened to the word cult, whether those who write Orthodox theological dictionaries want to understand that or not. Mormonism is deadly to the soul. It blasphemes YHWH. I want to start there.

In the meantime, I think it was not very wise for BGEA to take it off their website since it had been on there for a long time.

But I would prefer we refer to them as non Christian. Or even anti Christian. We have allowed them to hijack the term "Christian". But the world outside ministry circles is not going to view them as a cult unless they are Warren Jeffs. But we have our own wackos in compounds in Idaho hoarding grain, too. Both are cults as typically defined today concerning behavior.

peter lumpkins

My brother Dwight,

A quick note while my hunny gets ready to ride...

First, you're probably correct in asserting that if Romney were not running, this discussion would not be taking place--especially on this site. Why would it? My site is SBC Tomorrow, not Mormons Today. The last time I mentioned Mormonism was around 2007. What was the context? Mitt Romney as contender for president!

Nor was I advocating him nor defending him nor voting for him--either in primary or the 08 election. But I had the same reservations on Mormonism then as now and would have the same were Harry Reid running. Albeit his repulsive liberalism cancels him out so far as I am concerned, his Mormonism wouldn't.

Consider: you've never heard any substantial criticism from me concerning President Obama's nominal Christianity. For me, it's his undeniable extreme political liberalism bordering socialism for crying out loud. I've not focused on what I believe to be his inferior religious views. His religion does not forfeit his presidency, but his failed policies should.

Even so, back in 07 nobody as I recall was showing up suggesting I was politically motivated to change my mind on Mormonism like you continue to do. Rather than give those of us the benefit of doubt that we are discussing this issue because it is a timely issue, an issue discussed endlessly in the media...an issue worth discussing because Romney is a Mormon after all, you choose to impose your own ugly ideas upon us, insinuating that we are selling the gospel out for politically motivated reasons.

Second, you query, "And Mormonism now affirm an orthodox view of the Trinity? Clearly, T. D. Jakes is on record affirming such. Where might I find the Mormon affirmation of orthodox Trinitarinism?"

In brief response, please read precisely what I wrote above. I made no such assertion that Mormons embrace an orthodox view of the trinity, and I would kindly ask you to acknowledge that. In addition, either cough up the reference for Jakes' "clear" affirmation of orthodox trinitarianism or stop asserting it. You didn't have time earlier to do so. Perhaps you will now.

Grace, brother.

With that, I am...

peter lumpkins

My brother Dwight,

May I offer one clarification and one concession. First, the clarification: I am the one who brought T.D. Jakes into the thread. And, the reason I brought Jakes up was your initial insistence upon making trinitatrianism alone the criteria in judging whether or not a group is a cult. Here are the exact words you wrote above:

Jeremiah's Wright's church believe in an orthodox view of the Trinity. Mitt Romney's Mormon Church does not. And that's the difference historically between a cult,(a group who claims to be Christian, but does not hold a orthodox view of the Trinity)and a true church" (embolden added here and below)

To which I added, "For example, T.D. Jakes & his church by your definition would be a "cult" instead of embracing Modalism (i.e. heresy). I am unprepared to call Jakes and The Potters' House a cult. But if you are prepared to do so, the floor is yours."

You later reiterated that a group's embracing the "Trinity" constitutes their absolution of being a "cult". You wrote:

"People can 'dub' Jakes whatever they please, and indeed some have. Based on my reasoning they couldn't 'dub' Jakes a cult personality, because Jakes affirms the Trinity"

In addition, you twice wrote after I challenged your questionable understanding of what constitutes a "cult" that trinitarian belief was but one of the factors in judging a group a "cult":

"in the first twenty years of my Christian Discipleship the Trinity was taught as the major distinction between a cult and orthodoxy... .the key question under discussion here is whether or not Mormon's should be labeled a cult? And is belief in an orthodox view of the Trinity the major distinction between a cult and a orthodox Christian group.

I'm sorry to be so pedantic, Dwight, but you need to recall how the exchange went. The reason I brought up Jakes was because you were insisting on trinitarian belief to be the exclusive doctrinal gauge to determine whether or not a group is a "cult", a gauge I insisted has neither historical nor contemporary basis. I challenged you upon that point only for you to ignore my challenge but began nonetheless to back-peddle in what you were suggesting about trinitarianism being the exclusive gauge by which to judge a religious group a "cult".

I quipped somewhere in this thread that we would not even be having the particular exchange (nor would Jakes' name even be brought up) if you hadn't so woodenly insisted that denying/affirming the Trinity was the sole indicator for being a "cult", an insistence you finally and thankfully dropped. Hence, this is why Jakes came up.

Second, my concession: while you failed to give me any solid sources on Jakes, I took the liberty this afternoon to do a little snooping on my own. And, even though I think you overstated what we may imply from Jakes' words on trinitarianism (i.e. you indicated Jakes "clearly" revealed his support of an orthodox understanding of the Trinity in the ER2 dialogs, etc), there were at least some evangelical critical scholars who were "encouraged" by some of what Jakes had to say about his understanding of the Trinity. In other words, it would be wrong, so far as I am now concerned, to definitively describe Jakes as clearly embracing Modalism. Hence, I withdraw my example of Jakes as one who clearly embraces a view inconsistent with historic orthodoxy.

That's not to say Jakes clearly holds to trinitarian orthodoxy as you maintain. Rather it's only to say it's unclear he does not. In other words, while Jakes apparently spoke in terms which pushes him in the right direction in ultimately satisfying perhaps the majority-- or at least a sizable number--of evangelical theologians, no one I found was satisfied he clearly and definitively expunged himself from unorthodox views on the classical formulation of the Trinity. If you or anyone knows of a reputable evangelical theologian/scholar who was satisfied Jakes clearly absolved himself from trinitarian heterodoxy, I'd be interested to know.

Whatever the case, because it remains unclear if Jakes does or doesn't embrace historic Christian trinitarianism, it surely follows that it is entirely unfair to suggest he serves as an example who doesn't. Therefore, I humbly withdraw T.D. Jakes as a definitive example of non-trinitarianism, and offer my deepest apologies and regret. It was dead wrong and horrible argumentation to use an ambiguous example as if it were a definitive example.

Grace, brother Dwight. Always a pleasure; always a learning experience exchanging with you.

With that, I am...

Dwight McKissic


I always enjoy an exchange with you. You are a feisty little fellow.

It was not my intent to accuse you of of holding that the Mormons now embrace an orthodox view of the Trinity. It was my intent to raise the question, in order for you to clarify, what did you mean when you said the Mormons affirm the Trinity? You have now made it clear that the Mormons do not affirm orthodox Trinitarinism, and again, that was the point of the question raised: It was a question I asked; not a declaritive statement.

Neither was it my intent to declare that the Trinity was the absolute, or only way to fefine or determone a cult. But let me hasten to add, I was taught, and I believe that if a Christian group affirms the Trinity, that is a substantial test of orthodoxy, and merits that group being taken seriously. If they don't affirm the Trinity, then, I was taught to dismiss them, and to run quickly from them. I don't think it's an accident that generally speaking, all cults deny the Trinity. Im sure that you are aware that Mormons believe that God was once a man, therfore,any claim that they make to believe in the Trinity can't be taken seriously.

I really enjoyed the exchange, and I hope you don't convince Southern Baptists to drop the use of the word cult. What is the difference between the terms-"false religion" and "cult"?

Tim Rogers

To All,

I am reading a post where Dwight McKissic and Bart Barber are in agreement and they are against the agreeing position of Ed Stetzer and Peter Lumpkins. For those who say the SBC is not united I say just wait long enough for another doctrinal debate and you will see we are in agreement. :)

Brother Dwight,

You are a feisty little fellow.
That is the East Tennessee upbringing. ;)
Dwight McKissic

Bro Tim,

I wish you were right: I'd love to be a feisty "little" fellow. But, unfortunately, I' m a feisty "big" fellow. Maybe on this new diet & exercise program I'm about to start, I'll keep the weight off.

U sure have a way of analyzing things-:).

peter lumpkins


Thanks again. A brief answer to your two questions (emboldened below) follows and then a more-than-you-ever-asked-for-and-then-some-tome ;^):

1) What is wrong with defining a cult as: any Religious group that claims to be Christian but does not hold to the Christian views? A lot actually. For starters, that would make Roman Catholicism a cult--or any group, for that matter, not embracing justification by faith alone the "Christian view."

2) If a group claims to be Christian and they are not what are we to call them? Wrong...False...Counterfeit...Deceived...Deceivers...Anathama...Accursed...Hell-bound...Confused...Sub-Christian...Anti-Christian...Non-Christian...Christless...Spiritually Twisted...Doctrinally Devious...Spiritually Harmful...Spiritual Sham...Phony Christians...Neo-Pagans...Religionists...Unbelievers...Non-believers...Fake Christians...Duped...Pretenders...etc...etc...etc to name but few of the innumerable descriptors we could employ to state our categorical affirmation that the group remains religiously and doctrinally outside broadly acceptable orthodoxy of the historic Christian faith (assuming we agree on the acceptable orthodoxy).

While most of the descriptors above make it undeniably clear the group fails critical tests for acceptable orthodoxy and therefore cannot and should not be considered a part of historic Christianity no matter how much they or others protest to the contrary, none of the descriptors above unfairly lumps groups into a generic category which cannot sufficiently communicate fairly the contents of the category.

The bottom line of my point is very simple, Jon: the term "cult" has evolved (perhaps devolved might be a better choice) in such a way that it fails to do justice to all the groups assigned to its address. Too many people are living in the house. Somebody has to go. Somebody needs to move.

The fact is, Bart Barber had it right--at least almost right--by indicating that if the term "cult" didn't exist, we'd have to invent a term to designate those who fit our objections.

Interestingly, what we meant by "cult" when it first started being used heavily in evangelical circles--made popular if I am not mistaken by the king of cult-watching, the late Walter Martin--was our designating certain groups as "cults" who were masquerading as historic Christianity but were nonetheless doctrinally deviant, embracing theological novelty while claiming historic orthodoxy, and twisting the Scriptures--even "translating" their own Bible as in the case of Watchtower and the JWs--to serve their own fancy.

That's all fine and dandy except for one little linguistic problem--the term "cult" today broadly communicates so much more than it did a half century ago. When the dominant popular nuance of a word definitively changes, we do well to consider the term we have historically used. My KJV from which I preach contains many examples of old English words which do not communicate today what they communicated a few centuries back. That's one reason we make helpful use of modern translations.

Consequently, evangelicals cannot live in a bubble and use terms in one way while the broader culture hears something far different when they hear the term. In my view, what we are doing with some groups (i.e. Mormons) is perpetuating confusion not to mention being entirely and grossly unfair to these groups with which we have severe, non-negotiable theological differences--differences so enormous that we think they constitute spiritual deception and thus preach a false gospel--but nonetheless pose no societal threat or harm to the general welfare of the politic. Even so, we mindlessly lump them into the same generic category (i.e. "cult") as the murdering, devilish societal hoodlums like Branch Davidians. Why? In our brother Dwight's words, "once a cult, always a cult." Sweet heavens! I'm glad his dictum was not and is not applicable to racism for I grew up in a definitively racist environment. Heaven help me if it be true--since I was a racist, I now and always will remain a racist. Maranatha. Come Lord.

Assuming our culture at large ever judged "cults" exclusively on the grounds of Christian orthodoxy in the first place, they surely are not going to embrace that understanding now. Mainstream media and our society at large will continue to communicate the notion of "cults" primarily from a socio-psychological framework. The effect will be some "cults" will have a "Christian" trajectory while others may be rooted in more New Age belief systems, and some may primarily be secularly inspired or particularly personality inspired. And, I'm quite sure the mainstream media will indulge themselves whenever they can to expose a "fundamentalist Christian" as the leader of a "cult." Whatever the religious rootedness uncovered, still the primary traits of a "cult" which will continue to bleed through will reveal a socio-psychological infrastructure.

If I am correct, in order to have a viable voice in the conversation, we must somehow not only acknowledge the reality of the socio-psychological dimension of cultism with which society at large is concerned, and with which we are and remain co-belligerents with American democracy in opposing on that level, but also clearly distinguish our theological reservations we have toward what we've historically identified as "cults" which society at large remains totally carefree and obtuse(can anyone say, "Land-Stetzer Proposal"?). In short, Americans at large don't give two shakes of a gnat's behind whether the Christian church judges Mormons doctrinally deviate. Who cares? They do care if we judge groups like David Koresh and the Branch Davidians as personally destructive and socially dangerous.

Sorry to go on so long, Jon. As simple as I know how to put it, I propose the following to capture what I'm communicating:

all people who are a part of a cult are part of a false belief system but not all people who are a part of a false belief system are a part of a cult.

I think we've got groups (and individuals) which (who) definitively belong to the latter but are unfairly, unreasonably, and non-negotiably assigned to the former. Consequently, we must consider rethinking our categories in evaluating non-Christian belief systems.

Nor is this a political issue albeit the occasion for the question was raised because of political circumstances. The fact is, warrant for the question already existed. We just weren't prepared to raise it. Nor was there a need to raise it really. As I have said, I've been thinking along these lines for a long time but no circumstances arose that forced me to "think out loud" or test some ideas or put anything in writing about it. It took a presidential candidate whose belief system fit the objectionable criteria to catapult the notion into the public square. Now, some are going to continue to suggest it was my commitment to either Romney or the Republican party which inspired me to address this issue. So far as I am concerned, they may continue to believe as they wish. I know that's nonsense; my wife knows that's nonsense; a very, very tight circle around me knows that's nonsense. But especially God knows that's nonsense.* Hence, I will remain content to let them believe as they wish.

Ok. I'm through now. Wishing you the best, brother.

With that, I am...

*by this I am not suggesting I am incapable of being politically motivated nor even incapable of 'falling off the wagon' if you will and erroneously and perhaps unconsciously placing politics above my principled Christian convictions. Even so, I can say with no reservations whatsoever, I abhor, I reject, I condemn such belief and action and would personally do so in a northern minute, repenting in the most vigorous way possible, if I had the least impression whatsoever I was doing so...

peter lumpkins


Thanks for the kickback, brother. I appreciate the clarity you brought. At first, you defined cult as "...a group that claims to belong within a larger faith group but does not embrace the core claims of orthodoxy within that group." I was but using the general criteria you via Stetzer employed when I spoke in terms of Protestantism. Since you have revised the definition of "cult" somewhat, there is no real benefit in teasing out my point further on that.

Your revision states, "A Christian cult is a group that OUGHT to be classified as another religion, but that insists instead upon identifying itself as Christian." Let's assume this definition and proceed for now.

You further indicate, if I understand you correctly, that you're arguing for a third term which differentiates a category of false "Christian" belief from genuine Christian belief on the one hand and self-confessing non-Christian religions from both terms on the other. And, the way I hear you, the cult (false Christian)-Christian (genuine Christian)-other world religion (Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, etc) model serves the distinctions well.

You further concede your willingness to engage in discussion to find the right terminology if "cult" can be shown to be an inadequate term.

The fact is Bart, I can agree with much of what you're suggesting up to this point. But I'm not so sure you've communicated such willingness or openness to find the right terminology thus far in this discussion. Allow me:

--"Why Mormonism Is a Cult, and Should Be Called One"

--"Mormonism is a cult..."

--"...if [Mormonism] is a strong enough word to dissuade the non-Mormon lost people under our influence from being wooed away by Mormonism, then I'm in favor of using it"

--"The clarity of the gospel is at stake. Who is the "church of Jesus Christ?" Are they, or are we?"

--"Would you list for me the groups for which you think we should speak of them in a Galatians 1 sort of way? Can you explain for me how those groups differ from Mormons? Or have we just entirely lost our nerve for such things altogether?"

--"I think it is a biblical and strategic practice to include, as a part of our discourse about Mormonism, an intentionality about identifying it as a cult."

--"I would argue that there is no reason for the theological definition to give way to the sociological definition; that if there were a reason to do so, we would need a new word that actually means what "cult" has meant theologically, rather than abandoning the concept of the distinction altogether; and that Mormonism has met all of the points of even the sociological definition of a cult at points of its history, although it may not meet all of them today."

How one can pen such categorical affirmations as represented above on the one hand and plead openness to dialog on the other will be a white rabbit I'd like to see pulled outta the hat.

Nor were you at your best when you observed in the comment thread, "So far, the discourse among us has not involved which word to use to label the category, but whether the category ought to exist: There's not been a proposal to replace "cult," but merely to do away with it" (embolden added).

And, where might that be, my brother Bart?

In point of fact, I've taken great pains to be as clear as my own meager rhetorical abilities allow on this issue. I've most certainly not questioned the existence of the term but rather the effectiveness of the term. I've questioned not whether there exists "cults" (i.e. David Koresh and the Davidians) but whether Mormonism should be identified a "cult" in the very same way Davidians are identified as a "cult". I've suggested some viable rhetorical solution should be considered--perhaps must be considered if we're going to be a credible voice in the market place--which definitively bleeds out of the inadequate category we presently possess the offensive, unfair, and unreasonable suggestion that a cult-is-a-cult-is-a-cult-is-a-cult which, in effect, makes Mormons and Davidians synonymous.

Aside from the fact that it is sloppy, pathetic thinking which leads us to such absurd conclusions, we do ourselves no pragmatic-evangelistic favors either in the market place of ideas or in the Mormon community itself by needlessly employing a term that's been thoroughly bled out and refilled with all kinds of baggage we didn't intend to communicate in the first place.

Hence, my proposal would not look like doing away with the term per se but rather making sure that the ones who now are in the category actually and rightfully belong in the category (i.e. "cult")--a category in my estimation no longer societally useful to us to exclusively communicate our valid theological objections. It's not subtraction of terms as much as perhaps addition of terms. So, where you're coming from that there's a calling to do away with the term "cult" altogether I cannot tell. It hasn't come from my side of the swamp I assure.

What's most saddening is, we've had the terms to accommodate this linguistic challenge but have been either unwilling to do so or short-sighted about the need to do so or simply asleep at the wheel. For example, to your own quadrant framework (via McDowell) of "world religion," "cult," "occult," and "secular" a fifth could have been added--"sectarian religion." The "sectarian" language attempted to get off the ground in the latter part of the 20th century but fell short. As early as 1960, Reformed theologian, John Gerstner, was using "major sect" to identify several Christian impostors such as Christian Science, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Mormons. I don't know why religious "sectarianism" didn't stick. Perhaps "cult" was much simpler and/or "sect" appeared to be entirely redundant. Or, maybe "sect" was too linguistically close to "denomination."

Whatever the actual reasons for "sectarian" termonology not sticking in popular or evangelical mainstream, it surely would have fit our current crisis (note: perhaps "sect" now has its own unfortunate baggage such that it would be impossible to communicate the difference needed between Mormons and Davidians).


--Example of a Christian cult: Branch Davidians
--Example of a Christian sect: Mormonism

Both are false faiths; both are accursed faiths; both hold deviant heterodox beliefs; both claim to be Christian but are imposters; both are unequivocally outside the historic faith once for all given to the saints. There remains an undeniable difference, however, between the two false belief systems:

Branch Davidians is widely recognized as a Christian cult both inside and outside the church...both by believers and unbelievers in the Christian faith; Mormonism is widely recognized by mainstream Orthodoxy as a Christian sect, a sect which categorically remains outside the historic boundaries of the Christian Church.

Unfortunately, embracing what seems to be a fair and reasonable appraisal of the way we perhaps should view Mormons and Branch Davidians is presently a dangerous proposal. From many of the objections I've encountered, one is made to appear as if he or she is lobbying to dismiss the category of "cult" altogether, and worse, a despicable political compromise because a Mormon may be headed to the oval office (we'll know soon for sure! Nor am I particularly thinking of your objection at this time, my brother).

I hope to think some more on this issue. Hopefully, when it's all said, my conservative brothers and sisters will not have written me off as a flaming Liberal by then ;^(.

Grace, Bart. Your exchange means a great deal to me, brother.

With that, I am...

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