LDS friends: I realize the content below may have an upsetting potential. Before reading, you might guess that this as an "anti-Mormon" attack of some sort. If this is the case, or you're already uneasy about the topic, I ask that you please continue reading. Then, if after you've read this post you feel the same as now, please feel free to e-mail me, call me, or get in touch with me here. Let's chat. Come over for dinner; even bring some LDS missionaries if you'd like. Clearly we have some theological differences, but let's have a friendly conversation about them.The Pew Research Center recently released an article titled, "Glenn Beck, Christians and Mormons" that reported that 42% of Protestants say that Mormons--that is, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS)--are Christians. 52% of Catholics agree. What's interesting is how quickly the argument will center on inclusion in Christianity before any effort is made to agree upon the meaning of the word "Christian."
When a word can mean anything, it means nothing.
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis argued that the word "Christian" was becoming a meaningless word. "Now, " wrote Lewis, "if once we allow people to start spiritualising and refining, or as they might say 'deepening', the sense of the word Christian, it too will speedily become a useless word."(1) He first made this argument in a radio broadcast in 1943; how true his statement remains in 2010.
It doesn't really matter if Mormons are identified as Christian if we can't even determine the meaning of the word today. Therefore, I believe it might prove beneficial to discuss who is and is not a Christian. Then, we can see if the LDS theology falls inside our outside the definition.
The word "Christian" comes from the Greek word, Christianos. Its first appearance in the biblical narrative is found in Acts 11:26. Acts 11:25-26 reads: "So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians" (ESV).
Later, Paul was sharing his faith and theology with King Agrippa and Agrippa's response to Paul was, "In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?" (Acts 26:28, ESV). While this passage does not exactly tell us what a Christian is, it does demonstrate that the term being used in Antioch was used wide enough that Agrippa knew it.
Some say that at the point we read the name Christian in the Bible, it was used by non-Christians as a derogatory term. Correct or not, Peter not only uses the term, he instructs his readers not to be ashamed of the name if they are suffering as a Christian (1 Peter 4:16).
At this point, I could work through about 1,950 years of Church history and belief, but instead I'll simply leave it at this: The early church wrote many confessions and creeds to determine what beliefs were required in order to be Christian. They studied and debated and studied some more. They discussed and prayed and fasted and discussed the issues some more. Theologians wrote books. My LDS friends might try to argue that this all happened after the Apostles and therefore happened in what they call an "apostate" time. However, this conversation started with Jesus, and we see it get much more serious with the Apostles.
At one point, John approached Jesus and said, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us" (Mark 9:38, ESV). John's concern seems to be that someone outside the Twelve (not hanging around with them and Jesus) was using the name of Jesus. Jesus responds by saying, "Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:38-39, ESV). It is here that the Mormon is quick to point out that Jesus is part of the name of their church, and also that they invoke the name of Jesus in their religious practices. This is a fari point; however, we must also remain mindful of Jesus' words in Matthew 7:21-23, which in the ESV translation reads,
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?'And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'"In Acts 11 and 15, and in Galatians, we read that there was a group of people who felt that in order to be Christian, one had to practice the Jewish covenant rite of circumcision. An argument was played out by the Apostles. Was circumcision to be a requirement of Christianity? What practice is in and what is out? Who is in and who is out? What belief is required. Who are the Christians? Often Paul has to defend himself as a Christian and Apostle because there we some that didn't see him as a such.
This issue is not new.
These arguments serve to help us understand and define boundaries. If there is no line, there is no in or out. The Mormons understand this well because they have 13 Articles of Faith that build boundaries. Because I do not believe that the Book of Mormon is the word of God (from the 8th Article), I cannot call myself Mormon. It would be wrong for me to do so.
Therefore, by all of the discussions, arguments, and studies among the Christian Church over the past 2,000 years, below is what is generally understood as minimum requirements for Christianity. I argue with Church history and say that being unable to accept all of these statements as they are written places a person out of bounds. At a minimum, can Mormons agree with these boundaries? Can we even come to agreement on the definition? (What even further complicates the matter is that between Mormons and traditionally accepted Christians, the words in these boundaries and definitions also need definitions and agreement in order to come to an understanding.)
1. A Christian must understand that the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit were never created or ever had a beginning, nor will they ever have an end.I speculate that most Mormons do not agree with some of these statements. I hope I am wrong, but I'm also guessing they will not even agree that this is the definition of what beliefs are necessary to be called Christian.
2. A Christian must understand that all things other than the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit were created by God (which is the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit), thus mankind has a beginning and a Creator.
3. A Christian must accept that he or she is a sinner and that God will not permit anyone who has ever sinned (which is all of mankind) to enter into an eternal life in heaven with him apart from the saving work done for us by Jesus Christ.
4. A Christian must understand that Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, was crucified in our place (taking on punishment due to all of the sins of the world, across all time), was buried, rose again to physical life three days later, and after 40 days, ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God.
5. A Christian must understand that in order to have eternal life with Jesus in heaven, the Christian must repent of his or her sins and believe in Jesus Christ as he is written about and revealed in the Bible.
6. A Christian must understand that there is no other way to enter heaven but through repentance and belief in Jesus Christ, because of his absolutely completed and sufficient work.
7. A Christian cannot deny that Jesus was and is both fully deity and fully man.
8. A Christian cannot deny the Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, all equal and of the same substance.
Bruce McConkie, a prominent Mormon, wrote of Christianity in his book Mormon Doctrine, saying, "True and acceptable Christianity is found among the saints who have the fullness of the gospel [referring to those who accept the Book of Mormon as the word of God], and a perverted Christianity holds sway among the so-called Christians of apostate Christendom."(2) McConkie defines Christendom as "That portion of the world in which so-called Christianity prevails [...]. The term also applies to the whole body of supposed Christian believers; as now constituted this body is properly termed apostate Christendom."(3) If Mormons agree with McConkie, who seems to claim that Mormons are the only Christians and all others are not, then Mormons will likely still not be under the tent of traditionally accepted Christianity.
If you would like to discuss any of this in greater detail or if you are interested in learning more about Christ or Christianity, please feel free to contact me.
"What is Mormon Doctrine?"
"It Doesn't Matter Which God?"
"Are All Christians Believers?"
"An Analysis of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormonism)"
1. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: NY, HarperCollins, 1980), XIV.
2. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City, UT: Publishers Press, 1993), 132.
3. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City, UT: Publishers Press, 1993), 131.
*Photo by Phillip Ingham is registered under a creative commons license.