In recent months, I've had a few surprising conversations with members of the LDS church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also knows as Mormons). Most of the conversations are about the same. The most recent LDS gentleman was kind, but the conversation was troubling. When he discovered that I'm a pastor of an evangelical church, he started speaking to me as if both of us are Christians under the same big tent. He fished for me to affirm that I thought either he was a Christian or that the LDS church is but another denomination with the universal Church of the biblical Jesus Christ. I can affirm neither.
I'm confused by the LDS church's recent desire to be viewed as the same as or under the same tent as the Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists.
When I first enrolled in a Baptist seminary, an LDS co-worked took me out to lunch, Book of Mormon in hand. Actually, it was the Joseph Smith History included in the Pearl of Great Price that he opened to read.
I learned that in Joseph Smith's day, a great religious zeal erupted in New York. The enthusiasm included Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists (1). This fervor caused the founder of the Mormon church much confusion (2). So he read James 1:5 and decided to ask for wisdom (3). Smith states that he had a vision of two people he believed to be God the Father and Jesus Christ. He asked them which church he should join: the Methodists, Presbyterians, or Baptists.
Smith wrote, "I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors [referring to the Christian preachers] were all corrupt; that: 'they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof'" (4).
The person in the vision forbid Smith from joining any of these three Christian groups. Instead, the LDS religion was born. Smith returned home and told his Presbyterian mother, "I have learned for myself that Presbyterianism is not true" (5). Something that is not true is false. Smith said the Presbyterianism is a false faith and it is safe to say he felt the same about Methodists and Baptists too.
My co-worker used Joseph Smith's story to try to convince me that the Baptist faith was wrong. A lie. An abomination, detestable, false. He went on to tell me about the Great Apostasy, a belief that after the last New Testament Apostle had died, Christ's Church fell into darkness and was grossly wrong. So wrong that something new had to come to restore Jesus' Church. He claimed that restoration was the LDS church.
Now here's where I struggle. If the Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist creeds were an abomination in the sight of this vision character, why do LDS people want to be seen in the same category as these Christian organizations? Why do they want to be a part of the wrong, offensive, despicable group who hold to doctrines of men not worth joining?
Frankly, the Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists are either still wrong, and the LDS should want nothing to do with the creeds of Christianity these three Christian denominations profess nor the doctrines they teach, or the LDS owes these three Christian groups a serious apology for such harsh statements that they now seem not to believe. I'm not sure which it is, but I'm still confused why I've started having so many conversations with LDS folks who have forgotten that the creeds and doctrines of my faith were as offensive to Joseph Smith as the creeds, articles of faith, and doctrines he wrote are concerning to me.
1. Joseph Smith -- History: Extracts from the History of Joseph Smith, the Prophet. Published by the Church of Jesus Christ Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1981, v. 5.
2. Ibid., v. 6-10.
3. Ibid., v. 11-14.
4. Ibid., v. 19.
5. Ibid., v. 20.