The God-Talk Club Defines Cult – I

Ellen brought everyone their food and then sat down herself and joined the group.  They were no longer surprised, as this had become a habit with the group, and they all knew Ellen had an arrangement with the owner.

“So why don’t you just let one of the other waitresses serve us?” asked Bob.

“Because I like to do it.  It just feels right.”

“I’m still surprised that you just work as a waitress.  You’re so smart; you could do anything you want,” said Bob.

“But what I want to do is this.  Why is that so hard for you to understand?”

“Bob’s a bit of an elitist,” put in Mac. “According to him, if you’re smart enough to be a scientist, then you should.”

“I’m not an elitist; I just like people to live up to their potential.”  It was rare for Bob to be offended, but he looked offended now.

“But doesn’t it matter what they want to do?” asked Mandy.

“I just can’t see how someone would want to be a waitress if she had other options,” Bob replied, but he was looking at Ellen.

“I think what I want to do is the second most important thing, right after what God wants me to do,” said Ellen.

Jerry said “Amen.”  Bob favored Ellen with a disgusted look.  Mac said, “Well, I agree with the ‘want’ part, anyhow.”

“Ellen,” said Justine, “Why don’t you tell us what you like about being a waitress.”

“I like making people happy.  I like meeting people and getting a chance to chat with them.  Sometimes it’s silly, sometimes it’s annoying, but I’m learning alot while I work here.  It also gives me a chance to be a witness.”

“You mean your boss is OK with you proselytizing?” asked Bob.

“No, not at all.  I don’t want to proselytize.  But my regular customers eventually find out who I am.  Tell me, Jerry.  Haven’t your conversations with me changed your view of Mormons?”

“Well, I still think you’re wrong.”  He grinned.  “But yes, I think I do understand better how you can believe what you do.”

“See?” said Ellen.  “I’m doing some good here.  How many other jobs would have given me a chance to talk to Jerry.  And I’ve learned many things from him as well.  And from all of you.”

There was a pause.

“But that’s just a benefit.  I enjoy serving people.  That’s why I bring the food here even when I’m not on the clock.”  She paused and grinned mischievously at Bob.  “Besides, it annoys you, and I admit I enjoy annoying you.”

There was a moment while everyone was stunned.  Ellen had never needled anyone; it just seemed contrary to her personality.  They wondered what would happen.  Bob was already offended by Mac’s charge of elitism.  Would this make him really angry?

But Ellen had read him right.  Bob laughed.  “OK, you win this round,” he said.  “But I’ll be back for more.”

“But I have a question for all you good Christians,” he continued, “And it has to do with Ellen and her faith.”

“Shoot!” said Mandy.

“Ellen is LDS.  I read up on their beliefs on the internet the other day.  I found any number of Christian sites that attack their beliefs and call them a cult.  What makes a group a ‘cult’?”

[For official LDS information, see mormon.org.  For an example of an orthodox Christian apologetics ministry, see Christian Research Institute.]

“Well,” said Jerry, “I call any organization that claims to be Christian but doesn’t uphold orthodox Christian doctrines, such as the Trinity, the authority of the Bible, the incarnation, they atonement, and salvation by faith a cult.  Often they’re smaller organizations and demand extreme personal loyalty.”

“There are more than 13 million Mormons.  That’s not small as denominations go.”

“Doesn’t that offend you?” asked Bob.  “He’s just called you a cult, and he certainly doesn’t think that’s a good thing.”

“Well,” Ellen replied, “You think my beliefs are stupid, don’t you?”

“Well … ”

“Be honest!  I know you think all of us believers are a few sandwiches short of a picnic.”

“OK, I’ll be honest.  I can’t imagine how you can both be as intelligent as you all appear to be and still believe such ridiculous things.”

“So why should I be offended? I believe that through Joseph Smith and our movement God chose to restore the true gospel that had been lost by the churches of ‘orthodox’ Christianity.”

“But you don’t accept the doctrine of the Trinity, and you accept scripture that is not part of the Bible,” Jerry exclaimed.

“But where in the Bible is the Trinity defined?  We accept that there are three distinct beings, united in purpose.  I think we’re more biblical than you are.  Your doctrines come from early church councils, not the Bible.”

“But the Trinity is a Biblical doctrine.  All the elements of the doctrine are there in scripture.  All the councils did was pull the definition together into one place.”

“And I believe the councils were wrong,” said Ellen.

“And you say you believe this on the basis of the Bible, but in reality you base your belief on the Book of Mormon.”

“I believe God revealed himself through the Book of Mormon, yes.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe the Bible.  I believe orthodox Christianity did not preserve the Bible as they should.  And you have added much to the Bible through various writers and your confession of faith.”

“No, confessions of faith and other writers don’t supercede the Bible.  You accept the Book of Mormon as superceding the teaching of the Bible.”

“I could debate that, but I’d rather ask you whether your church requires people to accept the Westminster Confession.  Do you?”

“Well, yes, we do.”

“Why don’t you just ask them to accept what the Bible teaches? Why do you have to define it more?”

“Well, because many people have misinterpreted the Bible.”

“I agree.  We just disagree as to who has it right and who has it wrong.”

“Which always makes it interesting for an atheist such as myself,” said Bob.  “I not only have the question of whether there’s a god or not, I have a variety of different Christians, all of them claiming I should believe their particular detailed doctrines.”

“I’d suggest that the question of God’s existence might be primary, and that most of the rest of these discussions are rather trivial,” said Mandy.

“Trivial?” exclaimed Jerry.

Bob laughed.  “You see, you guys can’t even agree on what’s important.”

“I’d suggest that you get to decide what’s important,” said Mandy.  “If you look at this as a decision between various groups of people and whether they understand God correctly or not, you’ll always find things confusing.  A spiritual journey is personal in so many ways.  Who you make the journey with is just one aspect.  You don’t even have to agree on everything in order to enjoy the journey together.”

[To be continued …]