The "Success" of a Cult

The story of Mormonism is a fascinating one from a sociological and psychological point of view.  But from a spiritual point of view it is a sober warning on the susceptibility of the naive to deceit and fraud.  Both Old and New Testaments warn against false prophets and teachers (Dt 13:1-5; 18: 20-22; Jer 14:13-16; 23:9-40; 27:9-18; Mt 7:15-20; 1 Tim 4:1-5; 6:3-5; 2 Pet 2).  Yet the unwary and undiscerning continue to follow after men, doctrines and organizations that are clearly in opposition to the word of God.

It is amazing that Joseph Smith gained any traction at all based on the history of Smith family in upstate New York.  His father, Joseph Smith, Sr., was known to locals as something of a “mystic” and was preoccupied with digging up his property in search of buried treasure.  He also had a penchant for counterfeiting money.  Smith’s mother was also given to religious flights of fancy and wrote a family autobiography that was later denounced by Brigham Young, apparently for its unflattering portrait of the Smith family.

“Long before the idea of a Golden Bible entered their minds, in their excursions for money digging … Joe used to be … their guide, putting into a hat a peculiar stone he had through which he looked to decide where they should begin to dig” (Dr. John A. Clark, Gleanings by the Way, 1842, p. 225).  In 1823 Smith claimed to have received his heavenly vision from the angel Moroni, son of Mormon, of golden plates on which supposedly a new gospel of Christ had been inscribed.  These “reformed Egyptian” hieroglyphics tell of two mass migrations from the Middle East to Central and South America.  The first of these migrations happened after God confused human language at the tower of Babel, and the second occurred ca. 600 B.C. as Jews fled Jerusalem before Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of the city.  Many credentialed theologians, historians, anthropologists and even the Smithsonian Institution have debunked these claims as being genetically inconsistent with the origin of Central/South Americans (which is Mongoloid, not Mediterranean Caucasoids).  American Indians, the supposed descendants of these migrations, are clearly of Mongoloid extraction, not Semitic.

Smith gradually began to gain influence over a growing number of devotees, and the whole movement eventually moved west to Kirtland, Ohio, where in a six-year span the Mormon community grew to 16,000.  This is where Smith began the practice of polygamy, eventually leading the U.S. government to outlaw the practice.  Not until 1890 did Mormon President Wilford Woodruff officially abolish polygamy, apparently sacrificing the vision of the Lord to the demands of the state.

Fatefully, the Mormon influence spread further westward to Nauvoo, Illinois where not just Mormon leaders but the rank and file began to practice polygamy.  When public sentiment turned against Smith, he and his brother, Hyrum, were arrested and jailed in Carthage.  “However, on June 27, 1844, a mob comprised of some two hundred persons stormed the Carthage jail and brutally murdered Smith and his brother, Hyrum, thus forcing upon the vigorously unwilling prophet’s head the unwanted crown of early martyrdom, thus insuring his perpetual enshrinement in Mormon history as a ‘true prophet’” (Kingdom of the Cults 175-176).

The movement continued under the leadership of Brigham Young, eventually leading his followers to Utah in 1847 where he famously declared upon arrival, “This is the place!”  And so it has been “the place” where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has thrived ever since.  Obviously, much more needs to be said to fill out the historical sketch of the movement, but this article is more about the power of false teachers, teaching, ideas, claims, etc.

The first thing to note is that Scripture always calls upon disciples to use the truths therein as our template for evaluating claims of men.  As shown in the OT, false prophets often invoke the name of God – “God told me …” – when, in fact, God said nothing:  “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran.  I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied” (Jer 23:21).  The only thing that can be trusted implicitly is inspired revelation.  Preachers make mistakes; clerics promote orthodoxy; authors sell books; false teachers are often driven by carnal lusts; and some well-meaning proclaimers are just ignorant.  This is why we at Centreville encourage the congregation to follow in their Bibles, listen to the preacher, take notes if desired, listen to recordings and discuss what does not harmonize with Scripture.

Secondly, as noted above, the integrity of the proclaimer must be taken into account.  Jesus said false prophets would be identified by their fruits; i.e., what is produced by their lives.  This is not a measurement of how many followers, “likes,” congregants, degrees, book sales, etc. one may have.  Rather, it is a call to measure a man’s life by his character:  “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).  On the flip side Paul warns of those who are “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers … unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good … headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure … from such people turn away!” (2 Tim 3:1-5).  By all accounts of biographers and courts of law, of neighbors and townsfolk, of experts in linguistics, anthropology and science – much of which has been denied and suppressed by the Mormon Church – Joseph Smith, Jr. miserably failed this test.

Finally, a healthy dose of skepticism, produced not by a narrow mind but a familiarity with Scripture, is in order when we encounter those who purport to be speaking for God.  Joseph Smith and his other co-conspirators produced their own texts (the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, the Doctrine and Covenants) to supplement and even supplant Scripture.  Added to these are the thousands of additional prophecies and declarations advanced by Mormon leadership through the years, resulting in a rather bizarre body of doctrine.  Contemporary Mormonism does not vaguely resemble the doctrine of Christ and His apostles and prophets who completed divine revelation by the end of the first century A.D.  These inspired spokesmen forewarned Christians to be on guard against “men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.  From such withdraw yourself” (2 Tim 3:7; 1 Tim 6:5).  The measure of a cult movement is not zeal or longevity but divine truth.