Rev. Jeffress and Pastor Mark Driscoll have both stirred up a lot of recent anger by saying that Mormonism is a “theological cult”. I don’t think the term is all that helpful even when thoroughly explained (and Driscoll has a MUCH better definition than Jeffress).
I don’t think the term is helpful because the word “cult” has shifted and is so strongly connected with mind-controlling organizations and brain-washing. It’s such a loaded term than any attempt to nuance it is totally thwarted by the power of of the perceived meaning. It’s like doing surgery with a broad sword. I suggest that those who want to discuss “theological cults” might find it more useful to find a different word all together.
Earlier this week I asked a Mormon friend what he meant by the word “apostasy” because the average Christian is going to find it nearly as offensive. He responded:
Being in a state where the church organization and priesthood authority as established by Jesus Christ and restored through Joseph Smith is absent or aberrated.
I think this definition fails for the same reason any secondary definition of the word “cult” fails. The speaker is talking about something the listener isn’t hearing.
Mormons are fond of defaulting to the common dictionary definition when defending their status as Christians. The dictionary refers to apostasy as:
a total desertion of or departure from one’s religion, principles, party, cause, etc.
In addition to the lack of clarity in meaning for my friends definition of “apostasy”, I think he fails to recognize that when Joseph Smith first introduced the term he meant something closer to the dictionary definition than what he’d like it to mean. Similarly Rev. Jeffress probably meant something closer to the common definition of “cult” than any theological definition he could devise.