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Are Mormons Christians?

Posted by nebula0 on September 21, 2008


I argue that this question is a very different one thannit asking if Mormonism is a part of Christianity.  Asking if particular Mormons are Christians, or if Mormons can be Christians is an easier topic if anything.  I propose that if you were to go around and ask a random sampling of say, one hundred Mormons what they believed in depth, you’d find great divergences in beliefs between them and to what you might see as Mormonism proper.  I’d suspect that you’d find a majority sincerely believe themselves to be monotheists, not seeing at all that Mormonism posits the existence of more than one God (and more fundamentally, that Heavenly Father is not the creator of the cosmic laws, but is a product of them).  I also argue that you’d see a disproportionate number of Mormons, of the younger generation and especially young converts, speaking in evangelical terms about salvation, were you ask them about that.  This is possible because Mormon theology is nebulous and ill defined.

That is, you’d find a number of Mormons agreeing to basic Protestant propositions about God and Christ’s soteriological role.  Their Mormon-ness would be a product of their acceptance of the Mormon canon and embrace of the basic Joseph Smith story (sanitized, of course), as well as acceptance of Mormon authority as expressed in the priesthood.  The question is, to you readers, are the elements in the last sentence enough to bar them from Christianity?  If you are evangelical, let me pose it this way, can someone sincerely believe that Christ has saved them from their sins through grace, believe in one God and be saved regardless of whether or not they also happen to believe that the Book of Mormon is scripture?  I leave this as an open question.

I would like to comment on another element in the opening paragraph however, on a different note, concerning the nebulous nature of Mormon theology.  Many educated Mormons would probably agree with that diagnosis, but would construe it as a boon rather than a problem.  They may argue that Mormonism is a religion that emphasizes orthopraxis over and above orthodoxy, leaving room for individual members to construct their own theology within certain malleable limits as long as they toe the line with their behavior.  It all sounds so good on paper… is it really though?  The lack of well defined theology is not a product of something inherent in Mormonism that really, from its groundwork, emphasizes good works more than correct belief.  You need only sit through a temple recommend interview to understand that fallacy: do you have faith in Christ?  Do you sustain the leaders?  Do you have a testimony of the restoration?  Having a testimony of the truthfulness of the Mormon story is the cornerstone to being a Mormon.  Sit through any fast and testimony meeting, and you’ll hear member after member testify that they have knowledge, not just belief, that ‘the church is true’.  In fact one of the first things missionaries will try to teach potential converts is to recognize the Spirit testifying of truth.  All this talk about knowledge and truth clearly reveals an obsession with some kind of orthodoxy.  The reason it is ill defined is because Mormonism shuns a professional clergy who could have the training necessary to untangle it all in a clear, and meaningful fashion.

The other tidbit I want to mention is this talk about ‘following Christ’ making someone a Christian.  What does that mean?  There are good people in all religions, including plenty of great atheists who are out to love their neighbors.  That doesn’t make them Christians so why should some vague set of good deeds make anyone else a Christian alone?  It doesn’t work that way.

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15 Responses to “Are Mormons Christians?”

  1. M. Patterson said

    “If you are evangelical, let me pose it this way, can someone sincerely believe that Christ has saved them from their sins through grace, believe in one God and be saved regardless of whether or not they also happen to believe that the Book of Mormon is scripture?”

    Okay, I’m Evangelical, so I’ll give it a shot. Yes. How’s that? I’ve met people of surprisingly different religions who seemed to have a grasp on the concept of salvation through Christ, and invariably one of two things eventually happens. Either they lose their faith in Christ as savior, or they lose the religion that differs from that faith. In the meantime, they are subjected to cognitive dissonance.

  2. Seth R. said

    Evangelicals tend to see Mormonism purely in terms of it being a response to their own religion. Therefore, whenever Mormonism does something differently, they automatically assume that we are doing it because of something they did.

    This is merely self-important and self-centered thinking.

    Mormons today speak more of grace, because that is a correct reading of the scriptures that we always had from the start. We are a young religion and we have room to grow and develop. But the scriptures – particularly the Book of Mormon – have always had a highly developed notion of salvation by grace alone.

    So Mormons are beginning to discover this and Evangelicals immediately interpret it as sneaky Mormon apologists trying to help the LDS Church infiltrate “true Christianity.”

    No, we’re just developing a better understanding of our own scriptures. That’s all. Some of that understanding has indeed been assisted and helped by conversation with theologians of other faiths (as LDS scholars like Robert Millett and Stephen Robinson will probably freely admit).

    But don’t think for a moment that we are slapping some sort of “alien paradigm” we beggared from the Evangelicals onto Mormon belief in an attempt to “fit in.”

    These scriptures were always there from the beginning. We had only to look.

  3. Mike said

    “… That doesn’t make them Christians so why should some vague set of good deeds make anyone else a Christian alone? It doesn’t work that way.”

    You’re right it doesn’t work that way; however, belief in Jesus Christ makes it so. Since most folks try to reinvent the wheel on this fact I’ll keep it simple.

    Christians = Those who follow Christ.
    The Mormons = A revisionist movement that came out of traditional protestant evangelism, that claimed to restore the true Christian church; thus making them, by definition, Christians.

  4. nebula0 said

    Mike,
    You say belief in Jesus makes a Christian, not so, Muslims accept Jesus as a prophet of God, but clearly they are not Christians.

    Yes they claimed to restore Christ’s church as he founded it, but if you look at the theology which ended up being developed by the end of Joseph’s lifetime the picture quickly becomes more complex. By Joseph’s killing in 1844 Mormonism had become a complex theological system completely unique in the religious world, let alone in the Christian one. It radically reinterprets the nature of deity such that God isn’t so much a unique individual as God represents the ultimate state attainable by all human beings, Heavenly Father being our exemplar to follow. Heavenly Father is a being who is fundamentally like us, whose godhood is a product of his following the laws of the cosmos. In historic/orthodox Christianity, God is radically other and is the ultimate ground of reality itself including the laws of the cosmos.

    The problem really is, how do we define Christian so that it is a useful definition? One that immediately includes every basically good person is not a useful definition, neither is one that comfortably fits Muslims in. Should a basic conception of deity as ultimate and truly infinite be a part of the definition? Perhaps.

  5. Seth R. said

    We don’t consider Christ a “great man” or “just a prophet.”

    We consider him to be God.

    Bit of a difference, that.

  6. Seth R. said

    “Heavenly Father is a being who is fundamentally like us, whose godhood is a product of his following the laws of the cosmos.”

    Which our scriptures point out – emanate from Him.

    Really, traditional Christians believe in this too.

    Ask a Catholic theologian sometime if God can make a rock so big He cannot lift it.

    The theologian will tell you it’s a nonsense question because God has to be logical.

    Has to be?

    You mean, like following the laws of the cosmos?

    I fail to see a distinction between that position and the Mormon position.

  7. nebula0 said

    Seth,

    Sure, but that wasn’t my point. Besides that, Mormonism doesn’t posit that “Jesus is God” as is commonly understood in the Christian world, but that “Jesus is a God”, a God of the type that I describe above– but you knew that, and the difference does matter. Is it enough to mean that orthodox Mormons cannot be considered Christian? I’m not sure, it depends on how you define who a Christian is. I haven’t come to a firm conclusion on that.

  8. Seth R. said

    Neither have I honestly. But I’m not willing to give up on the possibility that Mormons are, in fact, Christians.

    And I have to admit that I have a negative gut-reaction to a lot of the orthodox Christian rationale for exclusion.

  9. nebula0 said

    Seth,

    That sounds a lot like the position I held as a Mormon, I went back and forth on whether or not Mormonism is a Christian religion or not. I still do, as you can see.

  10. Mike said

    Good point with drawing the comparison to Mormonism’s closest theological relative in Islam, however I think you’re over intellectualizing this point a bit too much.

    True, the church to the secular observer grew into a “complex theological system” but those within the complexity knew the true message being sent; it was the restored church of Jesus Christ, the son of God, and those who followed the new set of theological practices were in fact following the same practices as those disciples that came before them, of course with the exception of the practices that were specifically saved for the latter days. And that was a run on sentence, I apologize if you actually read that.

    Too be honest, if you’re serious about the question of if a denomination is Christian, it seems as though the LDS church would be the best fit for it claims to have restored the original church of Christ as seen in his lifetime.

  11. nebula0 said

    Mike,

    Lots of churches claim to be the restored church of Christ. Making that claim doesn’t make it so, and Mormonism really isn’t a powerful candidate in terms of really reflecting what the early Jesus movement looked like at all. But to be fair, this is true of most other movements that claim to be like the primitive church.

    None of that addresses the question though. Are those ‘latter day practices’ enough to make Mormonism a separate religion altogether, as different as Christianity is to Judaism? Perhaps. What many Mormons don’t seem to get is just how different Mormonism is from normative/historic/orthodox Christianity. It’s time to own that- and really, why not? Why be so concerned about whether or not some evangelical church considers your religion a Christian one or not? After all, be fair, you’d claim that every member of that evangelical church has to be baptized and confirmed a Mormon in order to inherit eternal life. MOrmonism isn’t exactly an innocent victim in the labeling game.

  12. Darrell said

    The bottom line on this is what is the definition of a Christian?

    As Evangelical Bible Believing Christians commonly define it… no mormons are not Christian. The church teaches several things which set it apart from the teaching’s of historic Christianity. Namely:

    1) They teach a different Christ (as even admitted by GBH). They teach a Christ that is our older brother… the firtborn spirit son of god the father and his wife.

    2) They teach that God the father is an exalted man who “progressed to become” a god. There are many gods but only one god “that we have to do with”.

    3) They teach that man can progress to become a God just as God the Father did.

    These teachings differ greatly from historic Christianity and are radically different from what the bible teaches. So from that standpoint, no we do not consider them Christian because they do not worship the true Christ. They worship a christ that is the figment of JS’s imagination.

    Darrell

  13. Seth R. said

    “These teachings differ greatly from historic Christianity”

    Yes.

    “and are radically different from what the bible teaches.”

    No.

  14. Kristin said

    yes we belive that Christ is a God but we worship God – Christ’s father who is our Heavenly father! we believe that we lived with God in the pre-existance and that we came to earth to prove our selves worthy of liveing with God. to do this we must follow his comandments! that decides whether we can live with him or not. in the end we will be kinda the ones who will decide on the day of judgment if we did not do what we were asked we will not feel comfortable in Gods presance. that is the goal to be in Gods presance and to become Gods and Godesses our selves but we will still worship our one God our heavenly father! We can say our church is the true church because we KNOW!!! i know that the church of Jesus Christ of latter day saints is the one and only true church and i know that Joseph smith was a true Prophet and he restoried the church and i KNOW that President Monson is a true prophet and no one can change that!!!

  15. nebula0 said

    Kristin, okay. Thanks for contributing nothing to the conversation.

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