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Are Mormons Christians?
Are Mormons Christians? Yes, Latter-day Saints are indeed Christians. In fact the official name of the Mormon church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Prophet Joseph Smith explained that Jesus Christ is the central figure in the doctrine of the Mormon Church:
Latter-day Saints believe that complete salvation is possible only through the life, death, resurrection, doctrines, and ordinances of Jesus Christ and in no other way.
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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has always accepted Jesus of Nazareth as testified of in the Bible: the divine Redeemer and Son of God who atoned for the sins of all mankind and ensured our universal resurrection. The church has never ceased to affirm that there is no other name given whereby man can be saved (see Acts 4:12). Another book that the church reveres as scripture, the Book of Mormon, declares on its title page that it was written "to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations."
In LDS belief, Joseph Smith is the prophet through whom God restored the Church of Christ and named it the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (See Restoration of the Gospel home page). He stated that "the fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it."1 Members of the restored Church of Jesus Christ gratefully rejoice in Christ's atonement, confidently anticipate his glorious return, expect to be brought before him when he judges the entire human race, and hope to dwell with him for all eternity. Surely all who profess such beliefs can lay claim to being called Christians.
Obviously there are doctrinal differences between Mormons and people of a variety of other Christian denominations. But Latter-day Saints believe that it must be possible for people to have different points of view and still be Christians. Given the large number of Christian denominations, all of whom disagree on points large and small, this conclusion is inescapable. Latter-day Saints embrace as fellow Christians those who profess faith in Jesus Christ. In the same vein, they believe that no doctrinal difference or variation in practice can loom so large as to cancel out their own sincere belief in and commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Redeemer.
Latter-day Saint beliefs are in harmony with what the Bible calls Christian. The terms Christian or Christians occur only three times in the New Testament (at Acts 11:26; 26:28; and 1 Peter 4:16). In each case these terms simply refer to those who follow Christ, which applies fully to Latter-day Saints.
Members of the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fail to find other definitions of Christianity persuasive-definitions based on interpretations of the Bible by particular denominations or on the interpretations of the classical creeds from the early Christian centuries. Latter-day Saints doubt that anyone has the authority to exclude others from Christianity based on these definitions. As C. S. Lewis observed:
It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the spirit of Christ. We do not see into men's hearts. We cannot judge, and are indeed forbidden to judge. It would be wicked arrogance for us to say that any man is, or is not, a Christian in this refined sense . . . When a man who accepts the Christian doctrine lives unworthily of it, it is much clearer to say he is a bad Christian than to say he is not a Christian.2
Furthermore, any such definitions that would exclude Mormons would expel other groups too-groups that most people would find it very odd to classify as non-Christians. For example, demanding that believers in Christ accept the trinitarian teaching of the Nicene Creed in order to be considered Christians implies that the bishops who voted against that creed at the Council of Nicea were not really Christians. It also questions the Christianity of the many followers of Christ who lived before Nicea, and thus before the full development of classical trinitarian doctrine.
Likewise, Latter-day Saints are puzzled by the declaration that only those people who base their faith and practice exclusively on the sixty-six books of the traditional Protestant biblical canon are Christian-that canonical list was clearly not settled, according to the records of Christian history, until several centuries after the death of Christ, and still is not universally accepted. This definition would banish not only the Latter-day Saints, but also many of the followers of Jesus from the first centuries, about two hundred million Eastern Orthodox Christians, as well as the Roman Catholics who anchor their belief in the authority of apostolic tradition.
Consider further the claim that, because Mormons believe salvation to be connected with the authority of a church, they cannot be considered Christians. This claim also defines out of Christendom many of the greatest of the early Christian fathers, to say nothing of the Church of Rome and virtually all of Eastern Christianity.
In other words, definitions of Christianity based on the specific beliefs of one denomination or group of denominations are not very helpful. They often don't take into full account Christian history, and they don't help determine who is or isn't Christian.
The historical fact is that the word Christian has been used over the centuries to describe a wide range of practices and theological positions, including some that Latter-day Saints find just as seriously mistaken as do their Protestant critics. For instance, the Marcionites rejected the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John. The Docetists denied that Christ possessed a real physical body. Yet these groups and many others are routinely referred to as Christians by the scholars who have studied them most.
Christian teachings and practices can be more or less inadequate, even seriously mistaken, while remaining Christian, just as competing theories of the solar system can vary and still lay claim to being scientific theories. The only definition of the word Christian that accounts for its use through the centuries and that includes all the individuals and groups who are universally regarded as falling under its description seems to be roughly this: A Christian is a person who accepts Jesus Christ as, uniquely, his or her Lord and Redeemer. By this definition, faithful Latter-day Saints, along with hundreds of millions of other believers in Jesus of Nazareth distributed across many denominations over thousands of years and on every continent, abundantly qualify as Christians.
1. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City:
Deseret Book, 1976), 121.
Copyright by FARMS
Some people erroneously believe that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members are not Christian. We have difficulty understanding why anyone could accept and promote an idea that is so far from the truth. President Gordon B. Hinckley has described Church members as a people "bound (together) by a common love for our Master, who is the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world. We are a covenant people who have taken upon ourselves His holy name."
Our beliefs and actions may differ from those of others, but we, as good Christians, do not criticize other religions or their adherents. "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."
A dictionary defines a Christian as "one who professes belief in Jesus as Christ or following the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus," and "one who lives according to the teachings of Jesus." Thus two characteristics identify Christians: First, they profess belief in the Savior, and second, they act in harmony with the Savior's teachings. Faithful members of the Church called Saints or Latter-day Saints, qualify clearly in both characteristics. In our belief and our action, we demonstrate that "Jesus Christ Himself (is) the chief corner stone" of our faith.
For Elder Wirthlin's full comments on this issue, see Christians in Belief and Action.
In recent years the criticism of Latter-day Saints and a movement to exclude them from the category of Christian have intensified. There are those who feel uncomfortable with them because of their belief in modern prophets and additional scripture. Others reject the LDS claim to Christianity because the Church does not subscribe to the creeds of Christendom or is not in the historical Christian tradition. On what basis, then, do the Latter-day Saints themselves claim to be Christian? They believe in Jesus Christ; that he is the Son of the Eternal Father, the Only Begotten in the flesh; that Christ is God, that he is Lord and Savior, the Redeemer of the world; that we are saved by obedience to his commandments and by virtue of his atoning blood; that only through reliance upon his merits, mercy, and grace can people find happiness here and eternal reward hereafter; and that his was the only perfect and sinless life, a life to be emulated and followed. Jesus Christ is the central figure in the doctrine and practice of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That so many misunderstand, prejudge, and exclude is sad and strangely ironic.
The Mormon Faith: A New Look at Christianity
We believe in Jesus of Nazareth, in the One sent of the Father to bind up the broken hearted and proclaim liberty to the captives (Isaiah 61:1; D&C 138:11-18). For us, the Jesus of history is indeed the Christ of faith. He was and is the Only Begotten Son of God in the flesh (John 3:16; 2 Nephi 25:12; D&C 20:21). While some may exclude us from the category of Christian for this or that doctrinal matter, our behavior must be consistent with our profession; those who claim new life in the Spirit are expected to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).
"Are we Christians?" President Gordon B. Hinckley asked. "Of course we are! No one can honestly deny that. We may be somewhat different from the traditional pattern of Christianity. But no one believes more literally in the redemption wrought by the Lord Jesus Christ. No one believes more fundamentally that He was the Son of God, that He died for the sins of mankind, that He rose from the grave, and that He is the living resurrected Son of the living Father.
"All of our doctrine, all of our religious practice stems from that one basic doctrinal position: 'We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.' This is the first article of our faith, and all else flows therefrom."
In the long run, all we can do is live what we preach and bear testimony of what we feel in our hearts and know in our minds. While we do not want to be misunderstood and we certainly would like for others to recognize the centrality of Christ in our lives, we do not require the imprimatur of the religious world to substantiate our claim. We are who we are and we know who we are, and if all the world should think otherwise, so be it. Our primary thrust in the religious world is not to court favor. Our desire to build bridges of understanding does not excuse us from the obligation to maintain our distinctive position in the religious world.
Our strength lies in our distinctiveness, for we have something to offer the world, something of great worth. No one wants to be spurned, misunderstood, or misrepresented. But sometimes such is the cost of discipleship (Matthew 5:10-12).
As to whether we worship a different Jesus, we say again: We accept and endorse the testimony of the New Testament writers: Jesus is the Promised Messiah, the resurrection and the life (John 11:25), literally the Light of the world (John 8:12). Everything that testifies of his divine birth, his goodness, his transforming power, and his Godhood, we embrace enthusiastically. He has broken the bands of death and lives today.
All this we know. But we know much more about the Christ because of what has been made known through latter-day prophets. President Brigham Young thus declared that "We, the Latter-day Saints, take the liberty of believing more than our Christian brethren: we not only believe . . . the Bible, but . . . the whole of the plan of salvation that Jesus has given to us. Do we differ from others who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? No, only in believing more." Our conduct and our way of life cannot be separated from our doctrine, for what we believe empowers and directs what we do. A number of years ago an article appeared in Christianity Today entitled "Why Your Neighbor Joined the Mormon Church." Five reasons were given:
1.The Latter-day Saints show genuine love and concern by taking care of their people.
2.They strive to build the family unit.
3.They provide for their young people.
4.Theirs is a layman's church.
5.They believe that divine revelation is the basis for their practices.
After a brief discussion of each of the above, the author of the article concluded: "In a day when many are hesitant to claim that God has said anything definitive, the Mormons stand out in contrast, and many people are ready to listen to what the Mormons think the voice of God says. It is tragic that their message is false, but it is nonetheless a lesson to us that people are many times ready to hear a voice of authority.
"The Savior taught of the importance of judging things-prophets, for example-by their fruits, by the product of their ministry and teachings (Matthew 7:15-20). He also explained that "Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up" (Matthew 15:13). Evil trees cannot bring forth good fruit. Works of men eventually come to naught, but that which is of God cannot be overthrown (Acts 5:38-39). (1 John 3:7).
In short, we proclaim that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ. We have taken his name upon us, eagerly acknowledge the redeeming power of his blood, and seek to emulate his perfect life.
Delivered at the weekly BYU Devotional in the Marriott Center February 3, 1998
Copyright 1998 Robert L. Millet
Often those saying that Mormons are not Christians do so with the knowledge that the proper name of the Church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They are equally aware that our faith centers in Christ, as do our doctrines. Most will concede that in practice we are a very Christlike people. Why, then, do they persist in labeling us as a non-Christian cult? The answer is in their history, not in our faith.
The historical Christian world has declared the Bible to be complete and the heavens to be sealed to revelation. They have also declared the biblical descriptions of God to be simply metaphorical and accepted in their place a faith in the incorporeal and incomprehensible God of the early ecumenical councils. Because we do not accept as inspired the conclusions of those councils or embrace the notion that the heavens are sealed to modern revelation and that there are thus no apostles or prophets in our day, we are declared to be both unorthodox and unchristian. The irony is that it is our loyalty to Christian doctrines that gets us the label of non-Christian.
The Catholic and Protestant world declare themselves Christian on the basis of their loyalty to what are known as the Apostolic and Nicene Creeds. Thus the creeds become the issue. To fail to pay allegiance to the creeds is to be branded as non-Christian by those who do pay allegiance to them. These creeds, which represent a departure from biblical Christianity to what even their apologists call "philosophical speculation," define the nature of the Father and the Son in such a way that they are not literally father and son. Indeed, they are no longer viewed as separate and distinct personages, nor are they believed to be corporeal beings. The God of the creeds is "without body, parts, or passions," and the Son is merely the mind or reflection of the Father. Thus for the Latter-day Saints to be accepted as Christian by such a standard, we must deny our faith that Christ is actually and literally the Son of God.
Although we are willing to accord to all people the right to believe "how, where, or what they may" (Article of Faith 11), we are not willing to concede the right to determine whether we are Christian or not. Significantly, the Bible gives no definition of a Christian; rather, those loyal to Christ are called "saints" (Acts 9:13; 26:10). The word Christian is found only three times in the biblical text; each time it appears to be an epithet given the Saints by those opposing them (see Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). A dictionary definition of Christian is simply one who professes a belief in or follows the teachings of Christ. Because Latter-day Saints both believe in and follow Christ, we declare ourselves to be Christians.
Answers To Tough Gospel Questions
After being introduced to a few basic doctrines of the Church, the Reverend Charles Taylor, a minister friend of mine, called to tell me of his enlightened understanding of the gospel. With some excitement he stated: "When you take the time to study the teachings and the doctrines of the Mormon Church, it becomes clear that Mormons are truly Christians. In fact, I have never met more Christlike people than the Mormons I have recently become acquainted with."
I responded that I would be interested in hearing his further feelings and understanding after he had had a chance to read the Book of Mormon and could witness its testimony and teachings of the Savior. His response: "I am already reading the Book of Mormon, and it is wonderful to read. It has expanded my understanding of Christ and His mission. I feel a wonderful spirit as I read it."
My friend took the time to learn for himself before forming a judgment. He did not try to influence others based on lack of understanding or misconception. This seemed responsible to me--seeking understanding before judging, and certainly before trying to persuade another to one's own misconceptions.
For Bishop Edgley's full comments on this issue, see his talk A Disciple, a Friend given at April 1998 General Conference.
In this series of articles, Dr. Stephen E. Robinson addresses the fallacies used to exclude Latter-day Saints from the Christian community.