A Baptist minister, Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, recently stated that he believes the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) is a cult and that its members (Mormons) are not Christians. This is the appropriate definition of cult: “a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also: its body of adherents.” In his day, this was an apt description of Christ and his small group of followers, especially as he and they represented a sharp departure from the established church (synagogue).
Jeffress has made these statements within the context of the current presidential campaigns and in conjunction with his support of Texas Governor Rick Perry, whom he considers a Christian but not a cultist. His obvious intention has been to demonize former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who is a member of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, thus making him unfit to be president on religious grounds.
This makes Jeffress unbelievably ignorant of the U.S. Constitution, which has among its requirements for the presidency no reference to religious orientation or lack of same. Indeed, in Article VI it is made quite clear that no religious test is allowed regarding any office or public trust. How Jeffress’s conduct affects his church’s tax-exempt status is problematic at best, condemnatory at worst. Has he been acting as a private citizen or on behalf of his church/denomination?
This is a statement on the official LDS web-site: “If we believe in Jesus Christ, follow His teachings, and repent when we commit sins, His Atonement, or sacrifice, can wash us clean of our sins and make us worthy to return to God’s presence. Christ’s sacrifice and Resurrection also allow us to overcome physical death. Every one of us will be resurrected just like Christ was and live forever in perfected bodies after we leave this life.” It’s doubtful that Jeffress would disagree with that affirmation of faith.
Perhaps the “cult” accusation derives from the importance Mormons place on the writings of Joseph Smith, principally the Book of Mormon. Smith was founder of the LDS in this country in the nineteenth century and was assassinated, along with his brother, in Illinois in 1844. The Book of Mormon has never been a replacement for the Bible, to which Mormons seem to apply for the keystone of their faith, as represented above.
Denominationally, Jeffress is an adherent of the Southern Baptist Convention, made up mostly of conservatives and fundamentalists, though both terms are subject to individual definition. Jeffress may not have as many differences as he believes vis-à-vis the LDS. For instance, he probably believes in foreordination, God’s knowledge before the Creation of everything that would ever happen and everyone who would ever live after and within the Creation. The LDS position is that everyone who has/had/will have life also existed in spirit before the Creation. The two positions are essentially the same.
According to his web-site, Jeffress believes in something called the Rapture, not mentioned by name in the Bible, or probably the doctrine of “once saved, always saved,” while multitudes of other Christians do not. Jeffress would not accept the existence of Purgatory while millions of Roman Catholics do. In other words, within Christendom there are many interpretations of the same scriptures as well as books written about them (Jeffress has written 17 books), and it ill behooves any Christian to make judgments about any other believer’s take on the total picture of belief.
From a scriptural standpoint, the words of Jesus are operative as found in Luke 6:37 – “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven (NIV). I’m a Baptist, mainly because I believe in the priesthood-of-the-believer concept. I do not agree with either the LDS or Jeffress on a number of issues, such as foreordination and pre-Creation spiritual existence, but I reserve to them the right to “rightly divide the word of truth,” as Paul would have it in II Timothy 2:15, as they see it, whether or not it suits me.
From a purely tangible standpoint, the Mormon Tabernacle choir and other elements of the LDS music ministry comprise the only high-profile musical organization performing and preserving the great music of the church (worship and evangelistic) while many if not most of the evangelical churches (especially mega-churches) have resorted to rock bands, praise teams and music so shallow as to be blasphemous and an insult to one’s intelligence. This says something about both.