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Are Mormons Christian?
Since I joined the Church back in 1963 I have been asked this question many times. The question arises because the people asking it do not know where within he "framework" of accepted theology to place the LDS Church.
It is true that "Mormons" are neither Catholic, Protestant, nor Jewish. The LDS Church was never associated in any way with the Catholic church. The LDS Church never "protested" from, or broke away from the Catholics and therefore cannot be either Catholic or Protestant. The head of the LDS Church is Jesus Christ. The Jewish faith is still looking for the Messiah to come. Mormons then are separate and distinct from all other churches and religions on earth.
Robinson, Stephen E. Are Mormons Christians? Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1991.
Are Mormons Christians?
1 The Exclusion by Definition
What is a Christian? The term is found three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26; 26:28; I Peter 4:16), but it is not defined in any of these passages. According to Webster's Third New International Dictionary the term Christian may be defined in a number of ways, but the most common is "one who believes or professes or is assumed to believe in Jesus Christ and the truth as taught by him: an adherent of Christianity: one who has accepted the Christian religious and moral principles of life: one who has faith in and has pledged allegiance to God thought of as revealed in Christ: one whose life is conformed to the doctrines of Christ." The second most common meaning is "a member of a church or group professing Christian doctrine or belief."
Under either of these two most common definitions in the English language, Latter-day Saints qualify as Christians. Moreover, these are the definitions that most Latter-day Saints themselves would use in applying the term Christian to other denominations. Thus, even though Latter-day Saints feel very strongly that theirs is the true Church of Jesus Christ, they still accept Protestants and Catholics in all their varieties as Christians because these denominations believe in Jesus as the Christ and attempt to follow his teachings, however differently they may interpret them. While it is true that there are doctrinal differences, sometimes serious, between Christian denominations, it is generally accented that each follows Christ as it best understands him. As2
the dictionary indicates, this is the way that most people use the term Christian, as a generic noun that tolerates doctrinal differences and denominational variations among those who believe Jesus Christ to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world. If one understands the term Christian in this way, then the charge that Mormons * are not Christians is a serious charge indeed.
Most of the time, however, those who make this charge are not using the term Christian with this definition in mind at all. He who defines a term controls a term. For example, if the Latter-day Saints defined the term Christian to mean "one who believes in the divine calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith and in the inspired nature of the Book of Mormon," then they would be technically correct (based on their own private definition of the term) in concluding that only Latter-day Saints are Christians. It is unlikely, however, that the rest of the world would agree with such a parochial and distorted definition, and Latter-day Saints would likely (and rightly) be accused of trying to stack the deck through the manipulation of language. For Mormons to define Christians as "people who believe what Mormons believe" and then conclude that non-Mormons aren't Christians would be nothing more than to say that non-Mormons aren't Mormons —without any consideration for what they may or may not believe about Jesus.
In fact, this manipulating of terms is exactly what some do in excluding the Latter-day Saints from consideration as Christians. They define Christian not in the generic sense of common usage, but in a narrow sectarian sense that excludes anyone whose doctrine differs from their own. Individuals who wouldn't tolerate a denominationally exclusive definition of the term Christian if it excluded them will often accept such a tactic if the tables are turned and the trick is played on someone else. Thus on the surface these individuals seem to be making the very serious charge that the Latter-day Saints do not believe in Jesus Christ or do not3
attempt to follow his teachings, but in reality they are only saying that the Latter-day Saints understand Jesus Christ differently and worship him differently than they do.
Any way you look at it, this game is rigged. If you define a Christian as one who believes in the fundamentals of conservative Protestantism, for example, then only fundamentalist Protestants will be Christians. If you define a Christian as one who accepts the leadership and authority of Pope John Paul II, then only Roman Catholics will be Christians. If you define a Christian as one who accepts the authority of Archbishop Makarios or of Pope Shenouda, then only the Greek or Coptic Orthodox, respectively, can be Christians. Playing this kind of word game is like defining a duck as an aquatic bird with a broad, fiat bill, short legs, webbed feet, and brown feathers, and then arguing that female mallards are ducks but males are not because the latter's feathers are the wrong color.
Of course there certainly are those who define Christian denominationally in just this way in order to exclude Latter-day Saints and anyone else whose feathers are the wrong color, just as there are those who define human being as necessarily meaning "male," or "Caucasian," or "Anglo-Saxon." There is usually little that can be done to get such individuals to change their definition to include the whole class and not just those with "the right colored feathers," but we can point out to them the logical fallacy of using nonstandard definitions or an overly specific taxonomy for exclusionary purposes.
It is ironic that one version of the exclusion by definition tactic was used against ancient Christians by pagan opponents who, according to Wayne A. Meeks, "often denounced the new cult as 'a superstition' and its members as 'atheists.'“1 No matter how much Christians protested the unfairness of this charge, insisting that they worshipped God, their persecutors countered that Christians did not worship the gods —that is, the right sort of gods, the pagan gods—and were therefore "atheists." With this specialized definition of atheist, all the charge really meant was that Christians worshipped God differently than pagans, but the slander gave the impression to the masses—as it was designed to—that the Christians were godless and irreligious. Of course this made hating and persecuting the Christians much easier and made it much more difficult for the Christians to get a fair hearing. This same tactic is now being used against the Latter-day Saints by other Christians who don't like the way we worship Christ and would therefore deny us the title of Christian.4
Excluding More Than the Latter-day Saints
If the term Christian is understood to mean someone who believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and the Savior of the world, and who believes that the Old and New Testaments contain his teachings. then the Mormons are Christians. It is simply a matter of historical record that the Latter-day Saints affirm all these propositions. Although the Latter-day Saints may differ in details of doctrinal interpretation (that is, have different colored feathers from other kinds of Christians), they certainly share the basic taxonomic similarities of the class.
On the other hand, if the term Christian is defined in a sectarian way to mean "those who believe as we do," then the sect in question might be able to say Mormons aren't Christians (using the term in their private, nonstandard sense), but all this statement really means is that Mormons aren't Baptists, or Pentecostals, or whatever—and we already knew that. The charge in this case is certainly not as serious as it would be if the excluders used the common definitions. But their use of customized definitions makes their charge against the Mormons not only trivial but useless. It certainly has no bearing on whether Latter-day Saints believe in Jesus Christ.
What the average "Christian" (used here in the inclusive sense) reader needs to bear in mind, regardless of his or her own denomination, is that those who exclude by definition usually exclude considerably more people than just the Latter-day Saints. If one allows the term Christian to be defined in a nonstandard way to mean evangelical Protestantism, for example, then Mormons are indeed excluded, but so are Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and most other kinds of Protestants — any duck whose feathers are not exactly the right color. Even among the most conservative Protestants this same exclusion has recently been used to declare as "heretics" and non-Christians such evangelists as Pat Robertson, Robert Schuller, and Oral Roberts—anyone at all who disagrees with the narrow sectarian view. For those who employ this exclusion, the "family of Christian churches" is usually very small indeed. Their operating definition of a Christian is "a member of the true church [my church]," or "one who believes what I believe." Not even the Latter-day Saints, who feel very strongly that theirs is the true Church, would define being a Christian in such a limited way.
On one occasion, when I was in the East lecturing on this topic to a group of ministers from various denominations, one5
person in particular kept insisting that Mormons were not Christians and that for this reason everything I had said was invalid. So I asked him—with Roman Catholic parish priests in the audience-if Roman Catholics were Christians in his understanding. He replied that they could be, but that they usually weren't, because they believed in salvation through the sacraments of the Catholic church and not through a "being saved" experience alone. I asked him again—with a Greek Orthodox priest present in the audience—if the Eastern Orthodox were Christians. He answered, "Only if they believe what Christians [that is, his kind of Christians] believe." Then I asked him if liberal Protestants who do not accept the fundamentalist Christian theology were Christians. "Absolutely not," was the reply. "They are traitors to the cause of Christ."
While many of the ministers present at that meeting would have agreed originally with this man's statement that Mormons were not Christians, they quickly became incensed when the same charge, on the same grounds and for the same reasons, was levelled against them. In fact, all this particular individual was saying is that Mormons, Catholics, Orthodox, and liberal Protestants alike are not Christian fundamentalists. The hidden premise in his argument was that if one did not believe what he believed, then one was not a Christian. But surely if this hidden premise and the reasoning based upon it are to be rejected when applied to other Christian denominations, then they must be rejected when applied to the Latter-day Saints as well.
Fundamentalists and other sectarians are free, I suppose, to define the word Christian any way they want to for their own purposes. They can define themselves as the only genuine Christians in the whole world and then shut everybody else out, as long as the rest of Christendom understands that that is how they are using the language, and that coming from them the assertion that "Mormons aren't Christians" simply means "Mormons disagree with us."
Latter-day Tracts (Pamphlets) 109 individual tracts
The Church as Organized by Jesus Christ
The Church that Christ Organized had Specific Parts and Practices
The Church of Jesus Christ was built upon the foundation of Apostles and Prophets with the chief cornerstone being Jesus Christ Himself. His Church also contained the little known office of the Seventy who were charged with declaring the Gospel to the world through missionary work. The Savior told of a personal God, indeed His very Father in Heaven in whose literal image man was created . . . . At the same time He testified of His own divinity. He was the only begotten son of God the Eternal Father.
Before He organized His church, He taught the divine significance of baptism by Himself being baptized of John. He later taught that all mankind must be baptized for the remission of sins and set the mode for proper baptism by being immersed in the River Jordan. One of the signs that Jesus is the Christ occurred after His crucifixion. His spirit was reunited with His body. . . .He was literally resurrected and showed Himself to His Apostles.
The Church of Jesus Christ and the Gospel taught by the Savior included much more than is outlined here. But these are scripturally true and basic characteristics of the Church. These beliefs, doctrines, and practices were to remain in the Church, as Paul told the Ephesians, until: ". . . we all come to a unity of the faith." [p.2]
"What The Mormons Think of Christ"
Confusion About Christ
[p.1] Christ is acclaimed by Christians everywhere as the Founder of their faith and the greatest man who ever lived. But there the unity of belief concerning him and his mission ceases.
Violent variance of opinion is found concerning every part of his ministry and mission, and concerning every essential part of the faith be rounded. Salvation itself is at stake in the acceptance or rejection of the various basic doctrines about Christ and his mission, doctrines which often are espoused openly by one body of religionists but shunned and rejected by another.
Is Christ really the Son of God in the same literal sense in which we are the sons of mortal parents? Or is he, as so many seem to believe, only a man, though as all admit, the greatest man and the chief moral teacher of the ages? Did he himself claim to be the Son of God or was such idea merely an afterthought of his mortal associates and followers?
Does salvation really come in and through him and his atoning sacrifice? What is salvation by grace? From what, if anything, did he redeem men? Is there actually cleansing power in his blood? And, if so, for whom?
Is it Christ or the Father who is the Creator of all things? Was Christ known to the prophets before the meridian of time?
[p.2] In what way does he mediate and intercede for us? How is he our advocate? What of his Messiahship? Does the manner in which ordinances are performed have any significance in symbolizing eternal truths about our Lord? In what way is he the Light of the World?
Is there virtue in his name? Do we worship him, or only the Father in his name? To whom has he appeared, both before and after his ministry in the flesh? What is his relationship to the prophets and apostles who have testified of him? And how can he be known and accepted amid the doubt and confusion of this modern world?
A New Witness for Christ
Some people even in this day of education and enlightenment profess to believe that the Mormons (members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) do not believe in Christ, but rather have some mystical theology based on a belief in Joseph Smith, or Brigham Young, or Mormon. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (known informally by the nickname Mormons) believe the Bible. Indeed, so literally and completely do their beliefs and practices conform to the teachings of the Bible that it is not uncommon to hear informed persons say: "If all men believed the Bible, all would be Mormons." Bible doctrine is Mormon doctrine, and Mormon doctrine is Bible doctrine. They are one and the same.
But as is well known, the Bible does not [p.3] contain all the doctrines and truths taught by the prophets and apostles, nor have the teachings preserved in it come down to us in an absolutely perfect form. There are and have been many translations and versions of the Bible, each of which varies from the others.
Sometimes, also, it has been extremely difficult, when, for instance, passages have been translated from Greek, to Latin, to English, to preserve the exact thought expressed by a speaker who used the idiom and vernacular of Aramaic. Yet, with it all, the Bible as now translated is one of the marvels of the ages: and is revered and devoutly believed by the Latter-day Saints.
Mormons fortunately, however, are not forced to rely solely on the testimony of prophets and apostles of Old and New Testament times and lands. They have latter-day revelation, given through prophets of modern times, and also an inspired record of God's dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the American continent.
Joseph Smith was the prophet who, under the direction of Christ, translated and brought forth in modern times the Book of Mormon. This book is a record of God's dealings with a people who had the fulness of the gospel and who anciently inhabited the American continent. Their prophets had the same spirit of testimony and revelation enjoyed by the old world representatives of the Lord. They spoke of Christ, prophesied of his coming, taught his doctrines, had his gospel, and administered the ordinances of salvation with his authority.
[p.4] All of these things are spoken of in the Book of Mormon, and, accordingly, that volume is a new witness of Christ. It is a volume of scripture that supplements and supports but does not supplant the Bible. They go hand in hand in bearing testimony of the divinity of Christ and in teaching his doctrines, but the Book of Mormon has the advantage of plainness and simplicity in style. Indeed, there never were plainer or more powerful prophecies foretelling the coming and mission of Christ than those preserved for us in the Book of Mormon. And these came to the modern world through the instrumentality of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Both the Bible and the Book of Mormon bear the same testimony. Both are records of God's dealings with ancient peoples who had the fulness of the gospel, who knew of Christ and his laws, and who had a sure hope of eternal salvation in the kingdom of the Father. They are in perfect agreement with each other and when taken together give a plain and clear picture of Christ and of the laws of salvation.
It will now be our purpose to inquire, both, "What do the Mormons think of Christ?" and, "What is the testimony and knowledge of Christ that must be gained by all men, if they are to receive the greatest of all the gifts of God, that of eternal life?" The sincere investigator will want to know what the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and latter-day revelation have to contribute to these vital propositions.
In our research, then, we will turn first to the Bible—the book of books—and see what knowledge about Christ is there recorded [p.5] under various important headings. Then we shall want to know how this is confirmed, amplified, and approved by the Book of Mormon, and occasionally by other latter-day revelations. From it all we will come to a true knowledge about Christ which, when confirmed by the Holy Spirit in the heart of each individual truth seeker, will lead such person to eternal life.
I place my humble testimony with those who have gone before. Lastly this I say of Jesus Christ - that He lives. Jesus is the Son of God. He is the only way and means by which we may ever hope to return to the presence of God the Father. In th name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
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