What is Mormonism? Some Evangelical Christians refer to Mormonism as a “cult.” I think that term is a little too harsh as well as inaccurate. A “cult,” in the English sense of the word, means: a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious. However, the word has extremely negative connotations that suggest elements of mind-control and abusive practices. I don’t think these negative connotations accurately describe Mormonism at all. In all fairness, I think the best way to describe Mormonism is to simply call it “another religion,” and when I say “another,” I mean a religion that is distinctively set apart from Christianity, even if it has many Christian-like characteristics.
In this sense, Mormonism shares a lot in common with other religious systems that bear common points of reference with Christianity, but are not Christian in and of themselves. We could compare it to Bahá’í Faith, which professes a belief in Jesus Christ as one of the many manifestations of God, but Bahá’í Faith is not Christian, nor does it profess to be. Likewise, Islam considers Jesus Christ to be one of God’s most highly ranked and beloved prophets, but Islam is not Christian, nor does it profess to be. Mormonism shares many common points of reference with Christianity, more so than Bahá’í Faith and Islam, but similar to them, it cannot be considered “Christianity” in the classical and historic sense of the word.
Religious identity is defined mainly around how a religion defines God. When the definition of God changes, a religion changes identity. Judaism, for example, defines God as one. While it could be argued that there is room for Trinitarian-like beliefs in Judaism, at least in some mystical aspects of the religion, that is certainly not the mainstream approach, and most Jews would consider the Trinity unacceptable. Even though Christianity was born of Judaism, and was considered a Jewish faith during the first century, as Christian beliefs about the Trinitarian nature of God crystallized, especially around the divinity of Jesus Christ, mainstream Jews rejected it entirely. This is why Christianity and Judaism are now considered two completely separate religions, and this has been the case for about 1,900 years now. Once the definition of God is different, the identity of the religion becomes different. It’s always been this way, and it always will be. Some Mormons identify as “Christian,” but when they do so, they mean it in a most general kind of way, as to say “a person who believes in Jesus.” But Muslims believe in Jesus, and they don’t call themselves “Christian.” Practitioners of Bahá’í Faith also believe in Jesus, and they don’t call themselves “Christian.” I think in spite of whatever Mormons consider to be the definition of the word “Christian,” there is a very set and clear definition that’s been the standard for some two millennia now.
The Christian Understanding of God…
Christians are Trinitarians. That has been the universal definition of the word “Christianity” for nearly two-thousand years. That’s because Christians define God as being ONE GOD eternally existent in three divine persons. Christians have always believed this. It is taught in the New Testament, but it was the Catholic Church that gave this belief its precise name, some two centuries after the last New Testament book was written, at the Council of Nicea (AD 325). The best way to define the Christian (Trinitarian) belief in God is through a diagram and the Nicene Creed…
THE NICENE CREED
According to Divine Worship: The Missal
I BELIEVE in one God,
the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
begotten of his Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light,
very God of very God,
begotten, not made,
being of one substance with the Father;
by whom all things were made;
who for us men and for our salvation
came down from heaven,
and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary,
and was made man;
and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried;
and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures,
and ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;
and he shall come again, with glory,
to judge both the quick and the dead;
whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost the Lord, the Giver of Life,
who proceedeth from the Father and the Son;
who with the Father and the Son together
is worshipped and glorified;
who spake by the Prophets.
And I believe one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church;
I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins;
and I look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
As you can see by the diagram and Creed, this is the Christian definition of God, as believed by literally ALL Catholics, ALL Eastern Orthodox, and ALL Protestants including Evangelicals and Pentecostals with very rare exceptions. The Trinitarian definition of God is what defines Christianity as a unique religion, and what defines Christians as a unique religious identity, set apart from Judaism, Islam and Bahá’í Faith, all of which believe in Jesus Christ but reject the concept of the Trinity.
So, according to the universal standard set nearly 2,000 years ago, and agreed to throughout the world, believing in Jesus Christ doesn’t automatically make you a Christian, as any Muslim or practitioner of Bahá’í Faith will tell you. Belief in the Trinity, however, does make you a Christian, and you’ll be regarded as one by any Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant church. In fact, the Catholic Church will refuse to re-baptize anyone who has already received Trinitarian baptism in another church, because one can only receive a Christian (Trinitarian) baptism once, and according to Catholic teaching, Trinitarian baptism brings one into the Christian Faith.
The Mormon Understanding of God…
Mormons reject the Trinity. Instead they openly confess that the three Persons of the Trinity are three distinct divinities (gods). Mormons are not monotheists, meaning that they do not confess belief in ONE GOD. Instead they confess belief in many gods. Some have said this makes them polytheists, but that’s not entirely accurate either. A polytheist is a person who believes in many gods, and worships more than one. Mormons, on the other hand, believe in many gods and goddesses, but only worship one of them — the one they call “The Father” or “Elohim” (“Godhood – The Encyclopedia of Mormonism“. EOM.BYU.edu. Retrieved 17 October 2017.). This is technically called henotheism. The word “henotheism” means that a person only worships one god, but doesn’t deny (and may affirm) the existence of other gods. Therefore, Mormons can best be described not as monotheists or polytheists, but rather henotheists.
Mormons also believe that god “The Father” or “Elohim” was once a man on another planet, before he himself was exalted to godhood and became the god who created us (“Gospel Principles Chapter 47: Exaltation“. LDS.org. Retrieved 17 October 2017.). Furthermore, Mormons also believe that human beings on this world may one day become gods and goddesses through a process called “exaltation,” which can be learned through the Mormon Church, otherwise known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Though Mormons believe that human beings can become gods, by faithfully adhering the precepts of Mormonism, they also teach that exalted human-gods, even after obtaining their own worlds to rule as gods, will still worship “Elohim” or god “The Father” (Becoming Like God“, Gospel Topics, LDS Church. Retrieved 30 December 2019). So one thing is consistent through the exaltation process. The god of all humanity is Elohim or “The Father” and he will always be the god of all humanity, even after human beings become gods themselves. All of this is a radical departure from the traditional and historic Christian (Trinitarian) understanding of God embraced by Christianity.
Without diving too deeply into the specific beliefs of Mormons, it should be well understood at this point that the Christian understanding of God (Trinitarian Monotheism) and the Mormon understanding of god (Exaltated Henotheism) are two completely different things. Therefore, because the definition of God is entirely different between the two, Christianity and Mormonism are two completely separate and distinct religions.
In no way should my writings here be misinterpreted as disparaging toward Mormons, Mormonism, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. On the contrary, I have the highest degree of respect for Mormons, and I cannot think of a single bad experience I’ve ever had with one. They’re generally wonderful people. Many of them often stand out as virtuous members of society. They are kind and charitable toward their neighbors, and usually display high moral standards. It is because of my respect for Mormons that I refuse to call their Church a “cult.” But it is this same respect that brings me to acknowledge Mormonism as a separate religion from Christianity entirely, much in the same way Islam and Bahá’í Faith are separate religions that both hold high esteem for Jesus Christ. In my understanding of Mormonism, I rank them alongside Islam and Bahá’í Faith as separate religions that profess faith in Jesus Christ, but just not in the same way Christians (Trinitarians) do.
The Catholic Church, the largest Christian Church in the world, does not regard Mormon baptisms as valid, simply because they are not Trinitarian baptism. Therefore, when a Mormon becomes a Catholic Christian, the Catholic Church will give them another baptism, this time in the (singular) Name of the Trinity (Yahweh or יהוה): Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
So the next time Mormons come knocking on your door, be nice to them. Don’t be disrespectful or rude. Understand that the people at your door are generally good people, who are sincere about their religious beliefs. However, they are very much different in their religious beliefs, like Islam and Bahá’í Faith. They believe in Jesus Christ, and they talk about him. But they don’t understand him in the same way Christians do, nor do they worship him the same way Christians do. They may call themselves “Christian,” but in doing so, they mean it in the most general sense as in “believing in Jesus Christ,” but not in the specific and direct sense of believing in the Trinity, which is to say that Jesus is literally the same God as the Father (Yahweh or יהוה), or the same divine substance as the Father, as has always been the belief of Christians for 2,000 years. If you ask them if they believe in the Trinity, they will honestly tell you “no” in no uncertain terms. They don’t hide this. In denying the Trinity, however, they are denying the faith understood as Christianity for two millennia. They have moved in identity from one religion to another, from Christianity to Mormonism. Be nice to them, but understand that what stands at your door are two members of an entirely different religion, like Islam and Bahá’í Faith. What they preach is not Christian. It’s another religion entirely.
Shane Schaetzel is an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism and was trained as a catechist through the University of Dayton – a Catholic Marianist Institution. Shane’s articles have been featured on LifeSiteNews, ChurchMilitant, The Remnant Newspaper, Forward in Christ, and Catholic Online. Shane is an author of Catholic books, which can be read here.