Just over a year ago, I published a blog post that discussed in detail the beliefs of then Fox TV host Glenn Beck, namely his Mormon faith, as it related to Christianity. In that article I discussed how despite Beck’s efforts to blur the lines between his faith and Christianity, even being endorsed as commencement speaker of Liberty University, the two religions are very different. Confusion arises primarily because Mormons like to use the same words from the Bible, i.e. Jesus, salvation, justification by faith, etc., but instead of orthodox meanings Mormons twist and distort their biblical meanings. For example, you may have heard Glenn Beck refer to Jesus and he may even mention His death on the cross, but digging a bit deeper into Mormon beliefs we see that it’s a different Jesus altogether and their belief in Him is not through faith alone, but instead faith + works (see articles below). In that article, I took a lot of heat, mainly because unbeknownst to me several major publications picked up the following quote I made with regards to Beck and Liberty University:
“Alliances such as these are not glorifying to God, in that what association has God with false religions? The tangential dangers when the evangelical community unites with the secular world for the sake of social or political agendas are numerous because it leads to a dilution of truths from the Word of God, opens the door to give credence to non-believers within evangelical circles and ultimately leads to the eternal destruction of lost people.” (see ChristianPost.com link for context )
Well here we are a year later with 2 presidential candidates (Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman) who are Mormons and recently an outspoken pastor, affiliated with presidential candidate Rick Perry, has received criticism for publicly stating Mormonism is not Christianity, but is instead a cult and has traditionally been thought of as such by Protestants. Predictably, this has started a media firestorm and once again thrusts Christianity into the spotlight.
In her USAToday piece, Cathy Lynn Grossman asks, “Is it Christian vs. Christian now in the GOP primary race?” Alluding to Mitt Romney vs. Rick Perry (questions certainly arise over Perry’s dominionist Christian beliefs, but that for another day). What’s fascinating in Grossman’s article is that a Mormon quoted in the article distances his beliefs from that of Christianity, but then asserts “we use the same Bible.” The quote, by Mormon spokesman Michael Otterson, says the following, “It is perfectly true that Mormons do not embrace many of the orthodoxies of mainstream Christianity, including the nature of the Trinity. It is not true that Mormons do not draw their beliefs from the same Bible.” Note here that Otterson says Mormons draw their beliefs from the same Bible as Christians, but do not embrace the nature of the Trinity.
Friends, if you’ve got a different Trinity other than that described from the Bible as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one in which all three are equally God yet distinct in person and one in which the Son, fully God, took on human flesh becoming fully man lived sinless as the God-Man, died on the cross for sinners, and was raised again on the 3rd day then simply put you’ve got a different Trinity, a different god, and you’ve got a false religion. Is that narrow and exclusive? Absolutely, but remember Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes unto the Father but by me.” John 14:6 There is but one way to salvation and that’s through Jesus Christ, His personhood and work on the cross being defined by Scripture alone, not any additional books/thoughts.
Despite this, the public debate seems to be centered not on the differences between orthodox Christianity and Mormonism, but instead on whether the word “cult” can be applied to Mormonism, as Perry’s pastor Jeffress declared. In his article, Ed Stetzer attempts to address this question, but leaves us with additional questions and the definition of a cult being “understood as a religious group with strange beliefs out of the cultural mainstream (which many today increasingly consider biblical Christianity).” But, “Is Mormonism a cult?” even the right question to be asking? Let’s not be so quick to dismiss the differences between Christianity and Mormonism, as it is in fact antithetical to the true Gospel of Jesus Christ (as Stetzer points out) and as such blasphemes the name of the Lord God Almighty and leads many people astray, ultimately to hell. The crux of the issue is a lack of clearly defined terms, in the minds of so many, between Christianity and false religions such as Mormonism, not whether or not it meets the requirements to be classified as a cult.
Largely ignoring this, and muddying the waters further is Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in his CNN.com religion blog. In his article, Mouw, does similar work as Stetzer (though admittedly the latter clearly defines theological differences) in that the question of Mormonism as a cult is his focal point. Again, he is arguing from the wrong presupposition. The question cannot be reduced to “Is Mormonism a cult?” and if it’s not then it’s ok. The central question must remain, “Is Mormonism, Christianity, or is it not?” To this Mouw begins to systematically defend Mormonism and while he admits he won’t go so far as 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.”
Shockingly, Mouw follows up that statement with this one:
“I find Mormons to be more Christ-centered than they have been in the past. 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.”
With this statement we return front and center to the post I alluded to at the beginning of this one, where I mentioned the primary difference between Mormonism and Christianity resides in terminology and the necessity of defining the terms on which we are speaking. Here, Mouw asserts Mormons are “more Christ-centered” than in the past, but he fails to understand that this Mormon Christ is not the same biblical, Son of God.
Interestingly, James White of www.aomin.org , a Fuller Theological Seminary graduate and Christian apologist in the video below systematically refutes the terms thrown out by the very same Mormon Apostle, Jeffrey Holland, that Richard Mouw showed his students (perhaps even the same video).
So what’s a Christian to do and how does this relate to who a Christian votes for? Are we to not vote a person for the presidency because of differing religious views? First and foremost, a Christian’s duty is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and this sometimes means refuting those false gospels. We must make clear the Gospel and if this means we are to clarify what the Bible says as opposed to what false religions and unbelievers think it says, then so be it. But we must do so with grace and truth. Secondly, as to politics, Al Mohler’s article on this very issue offers the following conclusions:
“There is absolutely nothing wrong with Evangelicals stating a desire to vote for candidates for public office who most closely identify with our own beliefs and worldview. Given the importance of the issues at stake and the central role of worldview in the framing of political positions and policies, this intuition is both understandable and right. Likewise, we would naturally expect that adherents of other worldviews would also gravitate in political support to candidates who most fully share their own worldviews.
At the same time, competence for public office is also an important Christian concern, as is made clear in Romans 13. Christians, along with the general public, are not well served by political leaders who, though identifying as Christians, are incompetent….
Furthermore, Christians in other lands and in other political contexts have had to think through these questions, sometimes under urgent and difficult circumstances. Christian citizens of Turkey, for example, must choose among Muslim candidates and parties when voting. Voters in many western states in the United States often have to choose among Mormon candidates. They vote for a Mormon or they do not vote at all.
None of this settles the question of whom Evangelicals should support in the 2012 presidential race. Beyond this, those who support any one candidate for the Republican nomination must, if truly committed to electing a president who most shares their worldview and policy concerns, end up supporting the candidate in the general election who fits that description.”
Summarizing, what’s at stake here is not simply a voter declaring, “I’m voting for a president and not a pastor,” but instead it’s the fundamental misunderstanding between Mormonism and Christianity and this has a great potential to lead people astray, while simultaneously watering down the glorious Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ through inclusivity. Our political decisions take a back seat to the clarity and proclamation of the Gospel, but we must, as Mohler summated, be wise as Christians to vote for a competent candidate that most shares our worldview and policy concerns.
As Christians, we cannot afford to simply bury our heads in the sand when it comes to understanding the religious beliefs of others, especially when they seek our vote for the most powerful political office in the world. In the coming election season, we’ll be engulfed with political ads, propaganda, debates, etc. This will likely spill over into our conversations at work or around the dinner table, but instead of the usual polarizing discussions of Republican vs. Democrat, maybe, just maybe it could be an opportunity to explain the true Gospel of Christ, for it alone “is the power of God unto salvation.” Romans 1:16
For more on Mormonism, see the posts below, especially the comment section where I interact with a commenter who has been teaching Mormonism for the last 20 years: