Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Mormons Aren't Christian? WTF Does That Mean?

Over on another blog I replied to a post and asked why Christians think Mormons are going to hell and received the stock answer that it is because Mormons aren't Christian.

I attended an evangelical Christian private school from 1st grade through 6th grade. I had daily Bible study, daily scripture memorization, and was by all accounts a good Christian. These fine Christians taught me that to be saved you needed to believe that Jesus Christ is your personal savior and accept him into your heart. That's it. I'm pretty sure that they were talking about the Jesus that is described in the New Testament. You know, the one that was born in Bethlehem, was baptized by John the Baptist, chose disciples in Galilee, taught the Gospel of love, was betrayed by a disciple with a kiss, and was executed in Jerusalem by the Romans at the instigation of the Jews. I'm pretty sure that that was the one they were talking about. I had no problem meeting their requirements. I confessed Jesus as my savior, tried to understand his life and his example, and tried to pattern my life after that example. I considered myself a Christian through and through.

The only problem I had with their teachings was the un-Biblical teaching that salvation was by grace only and that works don't matter. I also had a problem that they didn't require baptism when even Jesus, who was perfect, required baptism. This didn't bother me because I knew that other Christian sects did place an emphasis on works and baptism by immersion. In other words, I considered that they had a portion of the truth, but not the whole truth. But I still considered them Christian and never would have considered questioning their faith in Christ or their dedication to his teachings. I understood that there were hundreds of different Christian sects that all accepted the Bible, all worshipped the same Jesus, but interpreted the Bible in different ways. I considered Mormonism another one of those sects, and I accepted their interpretation as most correct.

So, I must confess I don't get it. Several years after attending that school my parents tried to enroll my brother. Unfortunately, they wouldn't allow him in because their policy required that at least one parent be Christian and their ministers didn't consider Mormons to be Christian. It seems that their theologians had studied Mormonism and decided that Mormons aren't Christian. My mother was in tears. She was deeply, deeply offended that someone would call her lifelong belief in Christ and her discipleship a fraud. It was such a patently absurd and offensive thing to say that she just couldn't comprehend how one Christian could insult another Christian's faith in such a way. It seemed and seems, well, un-Christian.

The rather trite explanation I've heard since then is that Mormons don't believe in the same Jesus Christ. I've never heard anyone explain to my satisfaction exactly what that is supposed to mean because they'll admit that both believe in the same Jesus Christ of the New Testament. Both agree on all of the Bibilical facts surrounding Jesus. The points of disagreement seem to be completely non-Biblical and revolve around different interpretations of the Bible. They believe in a Trinity whose attributes aren't defined in the Bible in the way that they describe. Mormons believe in a Trinity whose attributes are different than theirs, but is as compatible with the Bible as theirs is. Maybe there is more to it but it doesn't really matter. Rather than be inclusive they have decided to create an arbitrary definition of Christianity that excludes Mormons and perhaps other Christians. In the end, I think it is because Mormons believe in false prophets and in false doctrines. I'll concede those points. but I don't see how that makes them not Christian. If they want to be that way, they could claim that Catholics, Eastern Othodox, Coptics, and everyone else who doesn't accept their radical gracer version of Christianity is not really Christian. Who knows. Maybe they do.

Anyway, good luck to them trying to convince Mormons of the errors of their ways by trying to insult the one point of commonality that they share with them.

16 comments:

Joseph's Left One said...

It all does seem rather petty in the end, doesn't it? I'm consistently impressed with the quality and thoughtfulness of your writing, bull.

Pele's Ale said...

The discussion is largely unfruitful. But, you've nailed the distinction wtih "false prophets and false scriptures". I also find that Morms get hung up on the question "Do you worship Jesus as your God"? Orthodox LDS have to say that Heavenly Father alone is their god.

Arizona Expositor said...

When LDS I had a very similar conversation with my Father-in-law about this. I told him point blank that I accepted Christ as my savior, and that he disagree with other LDS positions but even by his standards I was saved. He didn't have a reply to that, it drives me nuts and this is the main reason I don't have an interest in Evangelical Christianity. They have done a good job of classifying others as cults. I don't have time for finger pointing anymore.

I agree with the left one, great writing...

Bull said...

Thanks for the positive comments.

Part of the problem is understanding that Christianity today is much like Islam. There is not one source that defines official Christian doctrine. In fact, so many sects exist precisely because they cannot agree on a common doctrine. About the only thing that they agree on is that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of the world and you'll even find ordained ministers who don't believe that literally.

BTW, I don't know any Mormons who would not positively answer the question, "Do you worship Jesus as your God." The only resistance that you would receive is that they also worship God the Father and the Holy Ghost as God. They worship those three as God, call it the Godhead, and believe that they are separate personages that are one in purpose, not some mysterious One like most Christians. But they worship God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. But they don't pray to Jesus; they pray to Heavenly Father, just like Jesus did. They also don't pray to Mary or the Holy Ghost or the Holy Mother, or Saints. Again, that doesn't mean that they don't worship Jesus as God. Furthermore, Mormons are polytheistic and while they worship the Godhead, they believe that there are other worlds or universes presided over by different gods. They don't worship those gods, but they believe that the exist. This creeps the heck out of other Christians who forced a polytheistic belief system (Father, Son, Holy Ghost) into a monotheistic doctrine (the Holy Trinity). But it is all splitting hairs, as far as I'm concerned since it really doesn't affect the acceptance of Christ's teachings or diminish the regard of Christ as Savior or change how they believe they should live their lives.

Even more interesting is to realize that during Brigham Young's reign over Utah he insisted that Adam was God the Father and the God of this world that we should worship. He firmly put down anyone who disagreed with this doctrine, such as apostle Orson Pratt, but as soon as he died this doctrine died out which seems to imply that he was the only one who really believed it. BTW, I thought that the Adam/God doctrine was something misinterpreted by anti-Mormons until I started reading better sources of history. It seems pretty clear now that Brigham Young did teach it and believe it. But I don't know that it was an important doctrine for the church, and again it delves into esoteric theology that doesn't really affect the practice of the religion.

Sorry for the long comment.

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

Bull.. loveya love the post, but I think you may have this one wrong...

When I was a young'un, Mormons refused to be called Christians... they gloried in the distinction... it has only been since 70's I think that they changed their minds. And then decided that they did not want to be called Mormons anymore, but Latter-Day Saints. It was very confusing. (I was living in Utah at the time).

Also.. there is more than the divinity doctrine that confuses other Christians... and possibly Mormons have changed these doctrines... or maybe it is the milk before meat thing again..

1-Jesus is Jehovah... After I left the church, I reread my O.T. and N.T. and it is obvious to me that Jesus is NOT Jehovah. But I believed when I was a member.
2-Adam is God of this world. Yea, I know this one has been shoved under the rug by GBH, but it was taught while I was a child.
3-Joseph S. greats the Saints in the hereafter... if this is true then Joseph S. is right out telling us that he is Christ.
4-Mormons worship Joseph Smith more than Christ.... you make the decision about this one... however, while I was growing up Christ was only talked about at Easter and Christmas... every other Sunday.. we talked about the teachings of Joseph Smith.

So ... as a Mormon we may have been Christians.. but it sure didn't look like it to the other Christian groups.

Just say'in...

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

Bull.. Adam/God theory did not die out in Utah... I heard it as a child several times. :-)

Bull said...

Cynthia, I understand what you are saying. Prior to GBH ecumenicalism was a curse word in the church. It was a concept met with open hostility given the fact that it seemed to grant other religions the dignity of having something positive to offer when God revealed to JS that they were inspired of the devil, were part of the great and abominable church, and then reinforced that in the temple ceremony where it was taught until 1990 that Christian ministers were in the pay of Satan. The church very clearly saw the religious world as Mormons and Gentiles with no middle ground and very clearly didn't want to be lumped with THEM. So, Mormons didn't consider themselves protestant; they considered themselves unique: the one true restored church of Jesus Christ and the only way to salvation.

I recall a quote by JS or BY where he specifically says that, yes, Mormons are Christians and then turns around and does the very thing that I disparage in my post and claims that Mormons are the only true Christians in the world. It's been years, but I do believe that I'm correct in stating that Mormons do and always have considered themselves Christins, but did and do consider themselves to be the only true Christians.

Funny, now that you made me think about it, I guess maybe the Mormons are just getting a dose of their own medicine...

Bull said...

Regarding Adam/God: The only thing I ever read about it within the church was an explicit statement by Bruce McConkey that it was a heresy and a false doctrine that had never been taught or accepted by the church. BTW, he and his FIL (Joseph Fielding Smith) both said the same thing and should have known better due to their access and knowledge of the contents of the church archives (JSF was church historian for years and wrote extensively on church history and doctrine).

I grew up in the "mission field" in Iowa and was a child of converts so it is likely that what was taught and known in Utah during my childhood was quite different than the correlated teachings we got in the sticks.

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

Bull :-)

If you want to know what was taught by the early church...and consequently by the original families... I suggest looking in the "Journal of Discourses." Most of the sacrament meeting topics were taken out of that book when I was a child.

:-)... and yes.. there are a lot of things that were not taught to converts. I am sure that they would not have converted if they had known them.

I find it amusing that it is now a restricted book.

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

And yes, you know that the only true church stuff... meant that they thought of themselves as they only true Christians.

Bull said...

JoD restricted? I just checked and you can get an exact photoreproduction of the original, errors and all, for only $549 from deseretbook.com.

But I think I know what you mean. The folks at FARMS and FAIR seem to like to disclaim anything in there from being authoritative or canonical if it is embarrassing or clashes with current teachings. Interesting since they used to be edited by the GAs and were the equivalent of today's conference reports which my sunday school lessons teach should be used as modern day scripture.

Bull said...

Don't believe my previous comment? Check out this quote from journalofdiscourses.org (which sells a CD for $15 instead of the $549 that Deseret Books wants):

The Journal of Discourses deservedly ranks as one of the standard works of the Church, and every rightminded Saint will certainly welcome with joy every number (issue) as it comes forth.
President George Q. Cannon, Journal of Discourses, Preface, Vol.8.

Of course, the church doesn't currently believe that and claims that much of the contents is just fallible mens' opinions. Apparently a prophet's words are only revelation until he dies after which he can be disregarded and contradicted.

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

LOL.. wow.. I wondered how edited the CD version is??? We had better ask JLO.

Anyway... not trying to put too many "flies in the ointment."

Eight Hour Lunch said...

It's purely an exercise in branding. When everyone else is selling the same old bullshit, you need to make your bullshit stand out.

Pele's Ale said...

If the leadership of the church described the "Godhead" the way you say most members believe it exist, then the LDS church would take a big step into orthodox Christian acceptability. That is not so far off of good definition of the Trinity (particularly with the worshipping Jesus bit).

I wonder how many caveats members would want to place on that definition if they were told that they were describing the Trinity?

Anonymous said...

I may not have read the Book of Mormon, but I have several Mormon Friends. Frankly I think Joseph S or whatever is delusional. I mean, it does say in the Bible that anyone who accepts Christ and does not commit the Unforgiveable Sin shall be at peace in Heaven. I believe this and i just do not understand why there need to be a whole bunch of extra stuff about some dude finding some golden plates with a language only he can read..... but whatever.