If we turn to the Bible for information on the term Christian, we find the word is used only three times: in Acts 11:26, 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:16. The only definite information about the origin of the name "Christian" is found in the first of these scriptures. It says the disciples were called Christians for the first time at Antioch. The disciples mentioned were, of course, the followers of Jesus. In its simplest form then, "Christian" is a name reserved for those who are followers of Jesus Christ.
Many Bible scholars agree that the name "Christian" was given to the followers of Christ by those who were perhaps hostile to Christianity: "The name Christian seems to have had its start as a nickname for a very unpopular sect" (A Dictionary of Christian Theology, p. 50). From its earliest beginnings, the Restored Church has been Christian. In giving an outline of the fundamental principles of the Church, Joseph Smith stated:
The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets concerning Jesus Christ, that he died, was buried, and rose on the third day and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 121).There is little doubt that statements such as this shaped the thinking of Roger P. Keller, an ordained Presbyterian Minister, when he wrote the following about Joseph Smith:
The fact that he [Joseph Smith] was a deeply spiritual person and a deeply committed Christian comes through undeniably—thus what can a Christian who is not a Mormon say with regard to this religious leader of the nineteenth century?
First, one must recognize that he was a person who claimed Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Therefore, we are dealing with a Christian (Reformed Christians and Mormon Christians: Let's Talk, p. 13).
In order for critics to claim we are not Christian, they are forced to abandon the simple explanation in Acts 11:26 and use non-Biblical
criteria. It appears that evangelicals have attempted to appropriate the term "Christian" for their own exclusive use, and apply to it an unbiblical meaning. One often-heard position states that because Mormons reject the evangelical doctrine of the trinity, they have no claim to being Christian. If this is a requirement of Christianity, then none of the Bible's prophets or apostles were Christian either. The word "trinity" and its accompanying precepts are nowhere found in the Bible, nor can they be found in centuries of writings by early Christian leaders following the deaths of the apostles.
Bible scholars recognize the trinitarian doctrine as a post-New Testament development. The renowned Bible commentator J. R. Dummelow said:
The exact theological definition of the trinity was the result of a long process of development, which was not complete until the fifth century or even later (The One Volume Bible Commentary, p.cxii).Latter-day Saints reject the creedal concept that God is one indivisible substance manifest in three persons. We define the trinity (although we use the biblical term "Godhead") as being the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as revealed in scripture. We reject the teachings of men as found in such documents as the Nicene and Athanasian creeds.
To insist that a belief in the creedal trinity is requisite to being Christian is to assert that for 300 years after the New Testament was completed, tens of thousands of Jesus's followers were not really Christian—a foolish notion!
Anyone maintaining that Latter-day Saints are not Christian must also ignore the contents of the Book of Mormon or argue that Latter- day Saints don't believe their own book. From the Book of Mormon we leam that whoever is obedient to the Savior:
. . . shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ (Mosiah 5:9).As Christians, we affirm Nephi's declaration:
We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins (2 Nephi 25:26).The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches its members to have faith in the Jesus of the New Testament who was not a mere man, but was the Only Begotten, the divine Son of God.
The author proposes that the true test of whether one is Christian or not lies in whether he is trying to conform his beliefs and behaviors to those of the Savior. An examination of Latter-day Saint doctrines, in contrast with other Christian church doctrines, will reveal that Latter-day Saints are indeed in harmony with Christ. We have rejected such doctrines as "original sin," "infant baptism," and the "creedal trinity" as ideas not found in the teachings of Jesus—indeed not found in the New Testament at all.
As to whether our behavior conforms to that of Jesus, the world must
judge. But if being Christian means that as a people we acknowledge Jesus
as Lord and Savior and that we accept the Bible as God's inspired word
to be obeyed and followed, then indeed we qualify for the label of Christian.