However, in modern times the definition of a cult has come to also include a religious group whose leaders exert authoritarian control over its members and who require its adherents to worship or at least venerate a particular person or idea. Closely associated with this is that cults practice a form of mind control which they use to indoctrinate their members, whereby they are required to mindlessly obey every command given by their leaders. As one person put it, "the hallmark of a cult is that they break down personal barriers, thus making the cult member easier to control."
Since, the LDS Church is viewed by many Christians as being a cult, they have been accused of worshiping or at least overly venerating their founder, Joseph Smith, of forcing their members to submit their will to those in church authority, of not allowing any dissenting opinions, of conforming to prescribe rules for dress, eating, personal grooming, morality, marriage, church attendance and participation in required church service activities known as "callings." They are taught to be "obedient servants," and to perform special sacred rites in buildings known as temples which only selected faithful members are allowed to attend. Those who stray from these teachings are threatened with excommunication or are subject to stand trial before church disciplinary councils that consist entirely of males.
From out outsider's view, all of this sounds like mind controlled behavior where "Mormons" have no free will to live or worship as they chose but are forced to conform to very strict rules established by their church leaders. At least, this is the way the LDS Church is portrayed by those who don't approve of their doctrines. But, is this description accurate? In order to answer that question, we need to examine each allegation.
A cult is most generally built around some individual whom the cult member is required to worship, idolize, or revere as being their supreme spiritual leader and who is to be followed with unquestioning devotion. For Mormons, that person is said to be Joseph Smith, the founder of their religion. He is honored as being a prophet of God who "has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it" (D&C 135:3). For this reason, it is said that the LDS Church fits the first definition of a religious cult.
However, the Jews also revere and hold in high regard the prophet Moses and for the past 4,000 years have faithfully followed the law which he said God gave him on Mount Sinai. They also venerate Abraham and proudly proclaim their linage to him.
The Lutheran church looks to Martin Luther as their spiritual leader and follows his teachings as the basis for their beliefs while the Presbyterian church follows the teaching of John Calvin and the Methodists church follows the teachings of John Wesley. It may be argued that these individuals are not venerated as holy men but, even so, they are viewed as being special men who were led by God's Spirit in doing His work.
But all Christians do worship, adore, idolize, and unquestionably follow the teachings of the man Jesus, whom they call the Christ or the Messiah. The Jews tried to kill Jesus because He said that God was His Father, thereby making Himself equal with God (John 5:18) but Christians to this day steadfastly declare that He is the only begotten Son of God and devoutly follow His every word and proclaim their eternal allegiance to Him. For this reason alone Christianity itself fits the definition of a cult religion.
However, the LDS Church does not worship Joseph Smith. It is true that he is held in high esteem but not any more than the Lutherans, Presbyterians, or Methodists regard the founders of their faith. The only being who Mormons truly worship is Jesus Christ.
It is said that the LDS Church is very authoritarian in its structure with a hierarchy of "priesthood leaders" from the President and Quorum of Twelve Apostles at the head and extending down through a succession of various authorities to a bishop who is responsible for insuring that each member in every local congregation follows and strictly obeys all of the rules.
In a cult, the leaders are held in supreme reverence and expected to be obeyed because it is said they possess superior wisdom or power from God. Therefore the members are treated as inferior beings who must be lead like sheep. Since the LDS Church views the President of their church to be the spokesman for God, it is said that he, along with the members of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, who are revered as "prophets, seers, and revelators" are special emissaries of God and therefore the members of the LDS Church are required to obey their every word.
It is further said that anyone who doesn't adhere to the rules set forth by the Church leaders or who voice objections to them, or who disagree with church policies or doctrines is subject either to church discipline where some of their privileges are taken from them or they are excommunicated and banished from the community of believers.
Although the President of the LDS Church is considered by its members to be a true prophet of God, it is their doctrine that all people are children of God and are therefore all equal before Him. It is further taught that no position in the Church is of any greater importance than any other because all of them are necessary to the proper functioning of the church (see Ephesians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 12:12-22). As a result of this teaching, no one has a morally "superior" position than anyone else. The rules that apply to the newest member of the LDS Church apply equally to everyone, including the President of the Church. However, LDS members obey their leaders, not out of fear or worshipful awe but out of respect for their position and a belief that they have been called of God to lead His people as have all other prophets.
But this is no different than the way all other churches operate. Even members of a small non-denominational church listen to and follow their pastor, not because he is someone extra special but because of his training in the word of God. The practice of larger Protestant churches expect even greater respect and reverence from their members toward their pastors.
Many Protestant Christians today believe that the "church" Jesus talked about was not a formal organization but consisted of individuals who met informally without any real leadership to direct them. However, this is a very different concept than existed less than a hundred years ago. All of the oldest Protestant Christian faiths had a hierarchy of leaders who its members were required to follow in points of doctrine and who were held in high regard because of their position. When someone disagreed with those doctrines what usually happened was the dissenting parties left that particular church on the grounds that they were teaching false doctrine. As a result of this split, they then went on to start their own religious faith. This is what has given rise to tens of thousands of different Christian denominations which includes many one-of-a-kind Christian churches.
The apostle Paul said that there is only "one faith" and that the purpose of the church was to bring its members into "a unity of the faith" (Ephesians 4:5,13). If a church allows its member to believe whatever they want then it stands for nothing.
With so many different political and moral issues facing our society today, it is not unusual for some members of the LDS Church to take exception with the doctrines of their faith on such issues as women's rights, homosexuality, abortion, sexual abstinence before marriage, and gambling, among others. However, the position of the LDS Church is grounded in their scriptural beliefs. If they were to change their position to fit the current fashion of ideas they would destroy their own credibility. In fact, any church who changes the doctrines they once taught as being true can no longer claim they are now teaching the truth because truth doesn't change. What was true yesterday is true today and will still be true tomorrow.
Obviously, the people who have the greatest responsibility for making sure that the teachings of their church remains free of false doctrine are its leaders. In fact, in any religious denomination, the members look to their leaders for guidance, instruction, and enlightenment. If that weren't the case, there would be no need for leaders among the people because everyone's ideas on what the Bible teaches would be equally valid. But if there is to be a leader, whether they are called a pastor, minister, elder, bishop, or Pope, it is the duty of the members to follow their teachings.
Every church who is convinced in the truth of what they teach will not allow someone in their congregation to teach something that is contrary to those beliefs. Should someone do that, it is the duty of the leaders of that faith to ask those who stray from their teachings either to conform to the doctrines of that church or leave and attend another church. In this respect, the LDS Church is no different than any other church.
That used to be the accepted way all churches operated but today, when the LDS Church remains firm in what they believe, instead of changing their doctrines to fit the thinking of the times, and ask that their members faithfully follow those who preside over them, they are called a cult.
However, the LDS Church doesn't administer church discipline for trivial reasons. These actions are reserved for serious transgressions and all efforts are made to help the sinner to repent of their sins and live their lives in accordance with that taught by Christ. As a last resort, those who are unrepentant and refuse to live by the standards that all other members are asked to observe, are "excommunicated." In other words, they are no longer considered to be part of the LDS Church.
And why shouldn't their membership be revoked? There is no organization that would allow someone to continue claiming they are a member when they no longer live by the standards of that organization or teach something that is contrary to what that organization believes. If their membership was not revoked, then others could assume that what that person was doing or teaching is what the organization they belong to believes.
This practice is not unique to the LDS faith. There are other mainstream Christian denominations who follow this same method of dealing with those who stray from the faith. More than that, in the New Testament we read of instances where the earliest Christian churches were counseled to take disciplinary action against members who either did not live according to the teachings of the apostles or who taught heretical doctrines (see 1 Corinthians 5:7, 11, 13).
As we look at the history of the Christian church in the second and third centuries we see they began to take even stronger action in an effort to keep the teachings of the church from being corrupted as more and more heresies began to arise. The reason why this was necessary is because if such actions were not taken the church would split into more and more pieces with each one teaching a doctrine different than the others. Since the purpose of the church is to bring the members of the body of Christ to a unity of the faith, the only way that can be done is to expel those who persist in teaching false doctrine Therefore, such behavior on the part of church leaders can hardly be considered cult-like. If that is not true then the early Christian church must be considered as a cult religion.
Although the critics of the LDS Church don't disagree with this practice in principle, what they do object to is that the LDS Church dictates to its members how they are to live all aspects of their life. For example, the critics claim that the LDS Church requires its members to abstain from drinking coffee, tea, and alcohol as well as not being permitted to smoke. It is said that those who don't adhere to this commandment are restricted in what they can do in the church.
In addition to this, it is said that they require their members to attend church every Sunday and to perform free service within the church referred to as "callings" and they must continue to serve in their particular calling until such time as they are released by a church leader. The LDS Church has a dress code which dictates what kind of clothing they are allowed or not allowed to wear. They required their members to hold special family events once a week on Monday nights called Family Home Evenings and their members are told not to watch any movie that is higher than G-rated. Even the youth of the church must live according to a set of very strict requirements such as not being allowed to date until they are at least sixteen years old and then they must double date.
It is said that the LDS Church also requires its members to give ten percent of their gross income to the church and that once a month they are required to fast for the entire day and donate the money they saved from missing two meals to the church. In the eyes of many people outside of the LDS faith, all of these rules sound like mind-control where the members must strictly obey a long list of ridged rules or face church punishment. However, such a description of the LDS way of life is wildly exaggerated.
None of the rules just mentioned is mandatory although all of them are highly encouraged, just as the New Testament churches were likewise counseled in their behavior. The apostle Paul said that we should "flee fornication" (1 Corinthians 6:8), "flee idolatry" (1 Corinthians 10:14), avoid "profane and vain babblings" (1 Timothy 6:20), avoid strife (2 Timothy 2:23), and "avoid foolish questions… and striving about the law" (Titus 3:9). The Bible also tells us that our bodies are the temple of God and that we should take care of what we put into it, both spiritually and physically.
Since it is the duty of the church to help its members remain faithful to the teachings of Christ as taught by His apostles, it has an obligation to help its members stay on the path that leads to godliness. And the way all churches do that is by setting forth some rules or guidelines of proper behavior.
Members of the LDS Church can eat and drink whatever they want but if they avoid coffee, tea, alcohol, and smoking the Lord has promised that they will have health (D&C 89). But such advice is not unusual because there are many Christian faiths who counsel their members not to smoke and to avoid alcoholic beverages. Yet, if a member does those things they are not expelled from the church and the same is true in the LDS faith. The only difference is that the LDS Church has a few more items on their list of things to avoid. Yet, even so, there is nothing wrong with abstaining from drinking coffee, tea, or alcohol. In fact, most doctors would agree with this advice. These restrictions are not given as mandatory "rules" but rather are given as a "word of wisdom."
Service in the LDS Church is voluntary and no one is made to do anything they don't want to do. However, the desire to want to serve God with a willing heart (Ephesians 6:6) is a sign to God of our faithfulness and commitment to Him. In fact, this is why many people of all Christian faiths go into the ministry. Most of them tell of how God made it known to them that He wanted them to serve Him in a particular way and, as a result, they willing devote the rest of their life to His service. Although the way this call to serve happens is different in the LDS Church than in other denominations, it is left up to each individual to decide for themselves whether or not they wish to serve God as He has called them.
When it comes to the paying of tithing, this too is voluntary on the part of LDS members. But, more importantly, many other mainstream churches also preach the importance of paying a tithe to the church. As for fasting once a month, this is also voluntary and the money donated goes to helping the poor.
There are two forces of evil that are at work in the world today that is tearing apart the fabric of our society. One is aimed at destroying the family and the other is aimed at destroying the spirituality of individuals in the form of sensuality. Pornography is rapidly expanding and is becoming more easily accessible along with more promiscuity, infidelity, and illicit sexual activity. In addition to this, abortion is becoming more prevalent and more accepted.
No mainstream Christian faith, including the LDS Church, endorses these kinds of activity because they are all condemned in the Bible. To help its members be strong in combating these evils the LDS Church has developed the Family Home Evening program for the purpose of strengthening family relationships between husbands and wives as well as between parents and their children. In addition to this, the Church has also established a dress code based on modesty and dating rules for youth, along with guidelines on what kind of music, literature, and viewing materials (TV, movies, and internet) is appropriate to help prevent immoral thoughts from taking hold in the minds of its members and to a provide way for parents to help protect their children from being seduced by these kinds of alluring evils.
A recent study of teenage habits has shown that children of Christian parents engage in sexual activity to the same extent as children of non-religious parents. The report stated, "Almost every medium reinforces the idea that sex is fun, pleasurable and should simply be engaged in at will. This saturation has made it easier for young Christians, like their non-believing counterparts, to fall into temptation."
Rather than trying to force people to live a certain kind of lifestyle, the LDS Church seeks to provide guidelines based on biblical teachings to help prevent their members from succumbing to the decaying morals of our modern-day culture. Those who do not follow these standards are not subjected to disciplinary action unless a serious transgression has occurred but even here its purpose is to encourage people to follow a more Christ-like lifestyle.
However, all other churches follow this same practice. For example, when it was discovered that the hugely popular televangelist, Jimmy Swaggart, was having sexual affairs with prostitutes, he was brought before an Assembly of God court (which is the church he belonged to) and his right to preach was suspended for three months as he repented. But when he was caught a second time having an illicit affair and he refused to step down from his ministry as his church leaders required, they excommunicated him.
Yet, when the LDS Church provides guidelines for its members that are meant to help them stay on the path of godliness they are accused of taking away the freedom of their members to decide for themselves how they want to live their life. Since one of the definitions of a cult is that its members do not have the free will to think and behave as they see fit but must strictly obey the rules set down by their leaders, the LDS Church is accused of being a cult because it is said their members are required to follow the rules without question.
We have already seen how that statement is not true. The "rules" of the LDS Church are guidelines, not mandated behavior. More than that, the guidelines are clearly explained in many different ways so that people understand why they should follow them. Thus, they choose to follow the rules, not because they have to but because they have made a personal decision to do so based on intelligent and well-thought through reasons.
But the assertion that the LDS Church takes away a person's right to choose for themselves is further discredited by the fact that one of the Church's foundational doctrines is that, because of the atonement of Christ which has redeemed us from the fall, man has "become free forever, knowing good from evil, to act for themselves and not to be acted upon,,, [therefore] men are free according to the flesh and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil" (2 Nephi2:26, 27).
The concept of man's freedom to choose for himself is held in such sacred reverence by the LDS Church that it is taught that not even God will violate this right. While God desires all to come unto Him, He will not force anyone to heaven. Therefore, the idea that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a cult because it exercises dictatorial power over its people is patently absurd and is completely without merit.
Another definition of a cult is that they perform special sacred rituals. Since the LDS Church has special buildings known as temples where sacred rites are performed, they are accused of being a cult. Of course, baptism is a sacred ritual which nearly all Christian churches perform and marriage is also considered to be a sacred rite that is performed by all Christian churches. In addition to these, all Christian faiths perform a sacred ritual that commemorates the last supper of Jesus where He took bread and wine and commanded His disciples to eat and drink in remembrance of Him (Luke 22: 19,20).
In ancient Israel, the Jews performed many sacred rituals that were associated with the temple, including the washing of the priests and the anointing with oil of people who were to be set apart for special purposes, yet the ancient Jews are not said to have been practicing a cult-like religion. In the LDS temples, the rituals that are performed there include baptism, washings, anointings, and marriage. In addition to these there is another ritual called the Endowment Ceremony where members further commit themselves to live by God's word and consecrate themselves to helping build His kingdom here on earth.
While this may seem strange to some, it is no more odd than that which many churches practice of dedicating an infant. The difference between these two ceremonies is that the child has no understanding of why they are being dedicated and there is no commitment required on their part, while those who commit themselves to God in the LDS temples are doing so willingly and with a full knowledge of what they are doing.
When we examine every allegation of cult-like behavior within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we find there is no basis for such a charge. More than that, the practices of the LDS Church are very similar to those performed in other mainstream Christian churches. What makes the LDS Church different from all others is not so much what they do as what they believe. But, of the thousands of different Christian faiths in the world, no two of them have the same beliefs. If they did there would only be one denomination.
While people may disagree with the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they have no basis for calling them a cult religion.