What Do You Mean By “Apostasy”?

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.

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38 thoughts on “What Do You Mean By “Apostasy”?

  1. Cult has social implications that are negative. Claiming that all other churches are apostate is pretty much required for a restorationist church.

  2. And just remember, it’s still official doctrine, by any standard of the phrase, that the creeds of Christendom are abominations. I think it’s a toss up as to which is worse: believing in an abomination or being a member of a cult.

  3. “Jeffress probably meant something closer to the common definition of “cult” than any theological definition he could devise.”

    That’s a pretty serious personal charge against a brother. Any evidence of that?

  4. ” Calling someone apostate has negative social implications as well.”

    Fair enough.

    I look at being called an apostate by the LDS the same as claiming the LDS teach heresies. These are theological distinctions that don’t bring up Jim Jones.

  5. Tim: ftr, I thought your friend’s definition “Being in a state where the church organization and priesthood authority as established by Jesus Christ…” was okay* until it got too specific: “…and restored through Joseph Smith is absent or aberrated.”

    *Not great, but okay.

    Gundek: good point. “Heretic” is closer to “Apostate” and neither carries quite the same negativity (today) as “cultist.”

    David Clark: also a good point. But along the lines of Gundek’s point, there is no need to clarify that “abominations” is a theological distinction, etc. the way Jeffress had to clarify “cult.”

  6. Apostasy is a total deviation of the true principles of the gospel AND the total lost of the authority of the priesthood of God in the church of Jesus Christ.
    Without the authority of the priesthood of God no man has the right to run the church of Jesus Christ for the salvation of souls.
    Without the authority of the prieshood of God the church becomes a man-made organization without any approval from God.
    Therefore, withouth the priesthood of God, its ordinances such as baptisms cannot be valid or recognized in heaven.

  7. David Clark: I think it’s a toss up as to which is worse: believing in an abomination or being a member of a cult.

    The latter is worse. Believing in an abomination only means you believe something really wrong (compared to what I believe). Being a member of a cult implies you are acting weird. The public doesn’t care much at all about what you believe (especially if it is a majority belief), it does care if you are acting weird.

  8. The public doesn’t care much at all about what you believe (especially if it is a majority belief), it does care if you are acting weird.

    BS. Try this one out. Go to your nearest black protestant church and say the following statement, “I sincerely believe that black people are inferior to white people.” It’s a mere belief, it’s abominable, but I can’t assure you people will care very much about your mere belief, even if you don’t take action on on it.

    Or, try this one. Go to your nearest synagogue and say the following statement, “I sincerely believe that the Jews merited the Holocaust.” Or try this one, “The Holocaust never happened.” Both are mere beliefs, both are abominable, and the congregants will care very much about your abominable beliefs, apart from any actions you might take.

    Abominable beliefs lead to action. Either one will begin to take action on the abominable belief, or one will indirectly encourage others to do so. Identifying other’s beliefs as abominable means you don’t like what they believe, most likely because you don’t like the actions that will result from it.

  9. Yeah, but I thought we were comparing the relative rudeness/unfairness with calling Evangelical theology an abomination with calling Mormonism a cult. I agree that abominable beliefs lead to bad action but that is not the point. (And although Mormonism hold traditional theology to be an “abomination” that is only in a technical sense. Mormons generally like Protestants, think their beliefs are close to their own, and are culturally similar.

    My point is the majority calling the minority pathologically weird or dangerous is more unfairly damaging than the minority calling the majority drastically theologically incorrect. Its pretty clear that Mormons are not staking out a political position when they call all other Christians apostate (unlike those in your example). If Mormons actually had power or inclination to persecute apostates for their wrong beliefs then the effect of this doctrine would be different. Traditional Christians think Jews are theologically backward, but in the U.S. this belief is rarely taken to be a knock on the Jews and their traditions and position in society. Just like with Mormons and their position on other churches, this belief rarely translates to persecution. Calling Judaism a cult that spreads a dangerous or demonic message is a bit different.

  10. And although Mormonism hold traditional theology to be an “abomination” that is only in a technical sense. Mormons generally like Protestants, think their beliefs are close to their own, and are culturally similar.

    And although Protestants hold Mormons to be a “cult” that is only in a technical sense. Protestants generally like Mormons, think their values are close to their own, and are culturally similar.

    So I guess we can conclude that calling Mormons a cult is much ado about nothing?

    If Mormons actually had power or inclination to persecute apostates for their wrong beliefs then the effect of this doctrine would be different.

    Sure, it might lead to something like the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

    Traditional Christians think Jews are theologically backward, but in the U.S. this belief is rarely taken to be a knock on the Jews and their traditions and position in society.

    Traditional Christians think Mormons are a theological cult, but in the U.S. this belief is rarely taken to be a knock on the Mormons and their traditions and position in society.

    Search ‘n Replace is neat.

  11. For example. A protestant minister can get away with saying Jews are not saved, but calling a Jewish candidate a cult member (e.g. “Zionist”) would cause a national uproar.

  12. I think Protestant’s calling Mormonism a cult in a political context tantamount to calling someone dangerously weird. It’s like calling a candidate a bastard. It adds nothing substantial to any discussion and invokes prejudice. (this is true whether or not the candidate was born to married parents.)

    Traditional Christians think Mormons are a theological cult, but in the U.S. this belief is rarely taken to be a knock on the Mormons and their traditions and position in society.

    Search ‘n Replace is neat.

    This isn’t quite the same. Most of the time the term “cult” is used by protestants in political discourse it is precisely a knock on Mormons and their traditions and an attempt to undermine their position in society.

    So I guess we can conclude that calling Mormons a cult is much ado about nothing?

    In this case I don’t think its that big a deal considering the source, (Many people think that Jeffress is dangerously weird) but I think that its funny that so many defend the practice.

    I don’t think Mormons are any different that anybody else and if they engaged in the same sort of political rhetoric I think it would be equally stupid.

  13. Pingback: Continued Conversation on “Cult” in Idaho Falls « Interstate 15 for God's Glory

  14. Jared,

    You should follow the mainline a little closer, their pretty vocal about Zionism.

    I also take Jeffress at his word, his concern is making Mormonism a legitimate expression of Christianity. This is a typical response to challenges of a political Christiandom. Look at the mainline response to Roman Catholics.

    My concern with Jeffress is not that Mormonism is not heretical, but that he is pushing his political positions in the name of the church. I see this as binding the conscience of believers. I see his type as exactly the same as the liberals in the mainline pushing a political theology.

  15. Gundek said:

    I see this as binding the conscience of believers.

    Could you please explain what you mean by that? That’s a phrase that’s new to me. Thanks!

  16. Ken Silva,

    Mormonism is a non-Christian cult, pure and simple.

    You can “rightly” call anyone a bastard if you define away the legitimacy of their parents marriage. That is what you are doing here.

  17. If I were to believe what’s on that site, I’d have to guess that 90 percent of evangelicals aren’t Christian either. It casts doubt even on the Southern Baptists. Wow.

  18. Eric,

    The best explanation of Christian Liberty can be found in chapter 20 of the Westminster Confession.

    There are 2 parts to this doctrine; 1 “The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the Gospel consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin, the condemning wrath of God…”, and 2 “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to His Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship.”

    From the second part of this doctrine we take that a minister can only “bind” or compel believers only where the Bible has spoken. The Reformers were particularly concerned with binding believers to perform acts of worship that were not commanded, thus a simple liturgy and forms of worship coming from the churches of the Magisterial Reformation.

    In addition to worship “Christian Liberty” extends to matters where the Bible is silent. For instance the drunkenness is clearly condemned in the Bible while drinking itself is not. If an ecclesiastical body condemns all drinking they have gone beyond the commands of the Bible (condemning only drunkenness) and are violates the believers’ liberty.

    As a second example a few years ago the General Assembly of the PC(USA) (the mainline Presbyterians) passed a boycott of Taco Bell in order to show solidarity with migrant workers that pick tomatoes. It is true that the Bible tells us that “shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him”, but it is a stretch to take that into a boycott of local fast food joints.

    Jeffress implies that Christians can only vote for Christians, or the American evangelicals should only vote for fellow American evangelicals. You don’t find this instruction anywhere in the Bible. Jeffress says that he is concerned that if Romney is elected it will give credibility to Mormonism. He may be right but his position is debatable and goes beyond the instruction of the Bible to pray for our leaders, “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way…”

    Jeffress is the same as the liberal mainline Presbyterians, his politics are different but his political theology is the same.

  19. “No need to take offense.”

    No worries, none taken. However, the definition of a non-Christian cult stands.

    If Mormonism drops its claim to be Christian, that would be a different matter.

  20. I can see the billboards now: I believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the creator of the universe. I worship him. I trust in him. I seek to build my life around his teachings and to follow his example. And … I’m a non-Christian.

  21. Ken Silva — I don’t accept your interpretation of LDS belief as my own, so it would be pointless to answer your question to me. I will say, however, that I find the final section of your page — everything beneath “It Was God Upon That Cross” except for the suggestion that my church is part of the Kingdom of the Cults — an accurate summary of my own beliefs.

  22. Ken Silva. –

    However, the definition of a non-Christian cult stands.

    If Mormonism drops its claim to be Christian, that would be a different matter.

    It may “stand” but it only destroys your credibility. The fact that it would change by what LDS call themselves (rather than what they believe and behave) his only shows your definition is completely vacant and is tailored to serve you own agenda or make you feel more right or special. Of course I didn’t expect much more:
    I hear this playing in the background:

    We are the pure and chosen few
    And all the rest are damned
    There’s room enough in hell for you
    We don’t want heaven crammed.

  23. And if you look at Ken Silva’s web site, you’ll see it is indeed a chosen few he’s talking about who have things figured out. By the definitions Silva uses, even our blog host Tim is on the road to apostasy, and once he arrives at his destination he’ll find plenty of Catholics and even many evangelicals already there.

  24. Jared and Eric: if you’re going to carry on this conversation with Ken Silva then you guys should probably be aware that he is a cult. Just to make that clear, I’m going to include for you a definition of the word “cult”:

    cult (n): Ken Silva

    See? Pure and simple.

    Now, if he would drop his claim to know what he’s talking about then that definition would change. (He would no longer be a “cult” and would instead be a “microwave”.) But I really don’t see him changing his mind—which is pretty typical cult-ish behavior.

  25. @Eric: How about an evangelical ex-Roman Catholic who’s tainted because he has Mormon, Hindu, Buddhist and a couple of agnostic/atheist friends ? Do I even stand a chance or should I just give up now ?

  26. “Microwave”

    wow Brian, I hesitate to apply that label, even to cults like Ken Silva. I think you need to re-evaluate your rhetoric. Do we really need to resort to such language to describe our differences? I think its far more realistic to describe a post-cult Ken Silva as a toaster-oven and it avoids all of the negative connotations and accurately describes his tolerance for metal utensils.

  27. “I specifically meant a theological microwave.”

    I’m just saying, theogical or not, dems fighting words where I come from.

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